(1)Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (7) Montreal Canadiens
The Lightning dispatched the Islanders with the combination of speed and opportunism that propelled them to first place. Fred Modin, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis did most of the scoring damage, though they did not always play together. St. Louis, the NHL scoring champion, gets all the headlines. But the Lightning wear teams down by mixing and matching a pretty good group of forwards and a decent set of defensemen. Someone, it seems, is always threatening to score.
Health: LW Cory Stillman (hip) and D Jassen Cullimore (shoulder) are day-to-day. Of the two, Stillman has been practicing and appears closer to returning.
Trouble: The power play was dismal against New York, going 2-for-23. Captain Vincent Lecavalier is getting a lot of heat for his pointless performance in that series.
The Canadiens, who appeared a wreck a week ago, authored the most remarkable story of the first round by winning three straight elimination games against Boston. They have the hottest line in the NHL: Saku Koivu, Richard Zednik and Alexei Kovalev. Their no-name defense did a nice job of containing a burly and frustrated bunch of Bruins.
Health: D Stephane Quintal (upper body) is sidelined indefinitely. RW Jason Ward (neck) and RW Niklas Sundstrom (ankle) might eb ready for game one.
Trouble: The guy who gave Montreal the most trouble in the first round was Sergei Samsonov, the quickest of the Boston forwards. Tampa has plenty of quick forwards.
The Goalies: Nikolai Khabibulin is on a hot streak for Tampa, recording three shutouts against the Islanders. Montreal's Jose Theodore improved with every game against Boston. Both have also had rough patches this year, so there is no clear edge either way.
The Forecast: Two teams that rely on speed over size at every position; two peaking goaltenders; two defensive groups that prefer to skate their way out of trouble. But the Canadiens cannot match Tampa on the third or fourth lines, and a letdown after the Boston marathon is a distinct possibility.
The Pick: Unless Jose Theodore plays the series of his life, Tampa Bay in Seven.
(3) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (4) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Flyers made quick work of a small New Jersey team. Philadelphia's forechecking wore down the Devils and helped kill the Jersey attack before it got started. Still, the Devils had stretches during the series when they controlled the play, and the Flyers appear vulnerable to a team with any kind of power play. Philadelphia's top asset is the best group of forwards in the East. The defense, though good, is not nearly as imposing and not quite as healthy.
Health: D Eric Desjardins (arm) is out for the season. D Denis Siedenberg (leg) is sidelined indefinitely. D Kim Johnsson will try to play with a broken bone in his wrist.
Trouble: The defense is often too passive, giving up the blue line easily. Rookie Joni Pitkanen has looked especially vulnerable, so if Johnsson is limited by his injury, the blue line is thin.
The Maple Leafs looked ripe for the taking against Ottawa. They mounted little sustained offense and relied heavily on the spectacular show put on by goaltender Ed Belfour. But, like a lot of teams that win at this time of year, they found the goals they needed and appeared comfortable in tight, low-scoring games. Toronto spreads the scoring around and gets great work from defensemen Bryan McCabe and Brian Leetch.
Health: C Mats Sundin (leg) is day-to-day. RW Owen Nolan (leg) probably won't play unless the series goes six or seven games. RW Mikael Renberg (hip) is day-to-day. Assorted other Toronto forwards, inlcuding Darcy Tucker and Alex Mogilny, are said to be playing hurt.
Trouble: The high shot total allowed against Ottawa suggest this team is still working out how to play defense.
The Goalies: Belfour was probably the best goalie of the first round. Robert Esche was nearly as good for the Flyers. But Belfour has done it several times before, while Esche is in uncharted territory.
The Forecast: This one could be a tale of two power plays. Philadelphia is deadly with the man advantage, but Toronto has the much stronger penalty kill. Both goaltenders will have to deal with more screening, bumping and all-around mayhem than they did in the opening round. A long, physical series would be great news for the team that awaits the winner.
The Pick: If it comes down to which goalie blinks first, you have to like Toronto. But the Leafs were not great against Ottawa, and their injuries seem to be piling up. Philadelphia in Six.
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