Race for Stanley Cup Heats Up

The 2006 NHL Playoffs began its conference semifinals last Friday. Half of the initial 16 teams have been eliminated from the tournament thus far, leaving only four from each conference to fight for the championship. Below you can find the current conference semifinal matchups.

Eastern Conference

Buffalo Sabres (4th seed)
Ottawa Senators (1st seed)

The Sabres haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001 when they lost in the conference semifinals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a seven-game series. Center Tim Connolly leads his team in playoff points, accumulating a combined 11 from the series against Philadelphia and the first game against Ottawa.
Ottawa, on the other hand, visited the playoffs in 2004. However, they didn’t make it far since they lost to Toronto in the conference quarterfinals. Left wing Daney Heatley leads his team in playoff points, accumulating 12 thus far.
Neither team has won the Stanley Cup in the past. However, Buffalo enters the series with the upper hand. Having a 12-point advantage of Ottawa as well as the Game One victory, the Sabres appear to be the safe bet.

New Jersey Devils (3)
Carolina Hurricanes (2)

The Devils ended their eight years of attending the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, but they return this year hoping to take the championship. Currently ranked third in the Eastern Conference, they faced off against the New York Rangers in the quarterfinals only to sweep them in four games.
However, they didn’t live up to their standout past in their first game in the semifinals, losing 6-0 to the second-ranked Carolina Hurricanes last Saturday. This is Carolina’s first trip back to the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2002 when they lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals.
New Jersey has many Stanley Cup championships under its belt while Carolina has none. However, they trail Carolina by eight points and have a tough Game One shutout loss to recover from. If Carolina can hold onto this lead they should have little difficulty overpowering the three-time Stanley Cup champions.

Western Conference

Edmonton Oilers (8)
San Jose Sharks (5)

With their improbable series win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Edmonton Oilers advance to the conference semifinals. Edmonton has made it to the playoffs four times in the last seven years; each time they lost to the Dallas Stars. The team hasn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1990 and is currently ranked eighth in the Western Conference.
The Sharks, on the other hand, have never won a Stanley Cup championship and have an overall playoff record of 43-46. They’re ranked fifth in the Western Conference and trail the Oilers in points accumulated during the playoffs (as of Saturday, May 6). Don’t expect to see San Jose in the conference finals despite the four-point advantage they have over the eighth-seeded Oilers.

Colorado Avalanche (7)
Anaheim Mighty Ducks (6)

Colorado has two Stanley Cup championships under their name, unlike their current opponents, and return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Thus far they’ve accumulated a total of 51 points in the playoffs, led by right wing Milan Hejduk. Their last playoff visit was in 2004 when they defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 in the quarterfinals.
The Ducks, on the other hand, haven’t been in the playoffs since 2003 when J.S. Giguere was known as the goalie you couldn’t get past. This year the Ducks’ goaltending stands out again, but not because of Giguere’s glove. Rather, it’s the steady hand of Ilya Bryzgalov helping the Ducks’ progress.
Anaheim has a playoff record of 23-20, but with point leader Teemu Selanne, as well as the 5-0 Game One victory, I doubt Colorado will survive this series.