Net drama, 1-2 punches, slap shots
With the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs under way, our experts took some time to ponder what lies ahead. Scott Burnside, E.J. Hradek and Pierre LeBrun answer these 10 burning questions:
1. Which player is your Conn Smythe front-runner so far?
Burnside: Danny Briere, Philadelphia. He delivered the goods in the first round when it looked like the Flyers were going to be upset by Buffalo. He was the Flyers' best forward a year ago during their march to the Stanley Cup finals and hasn't missed a beat in this year's playoffs so far.
Hradek: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit. Did you watch the first round? He was silly good against the Coyotes, taking his game to yet another level. He was by far the best player in the opening round.
LeBrun: Datsyuk. He played only four games in the first round because he was the single-biggest reason his Red Wings swept the Coyotes. He terrorized Phoenix with dazzling offensive plays and, just as importantly, his usual standout defensive work. He's my man through one round.
Pavel Datsyuk had two goals and four assists in the first round versus Phoenix.
2. Which Roberto Luongo will we see in the second round: the one that got pulled or the Game 7 man?
Burnside: At some point, we're going to see the bad Luongo. The problem for the Nashville Predators is it may not be until it's too late.
Hradek: I think we'll see the goalie we saw in Game 7. The Predators don't have the finishers that the Hawks do. I figure that will make his life a little bit easier.
LeBrun: The Game 7 man is here to stay. The Blackhawks were his playoff demon. They're gone, now. The Olympic champion survived his biggest test in the first round and he'll be just fine now, thank you very much.
3. How many Flyers goalies will we see in the second round versus the Bruins?
Hradek: I say we see just one goalie in the orange and black. It's Brian Boucher's net; he's clearly been their best option.
LeBrun: Just one: Boucher will start and finish this series. He should have started the playoffs to begin with instead of Bobrovsky. Boucher will let in the odd soft goal, but he's calm under pressure. The Flyers just need him to not lose a game; they don't need him to steal one.
4. Which star will have the better series, Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos?
Burnside: Ovechkin. He isn't the same joking, light-hearted Ovechkin of the past. He's dialed in. Stamkos has yet to get his bearings in his first playoff run.
Hradek: Ovechkin will have a better series. He's been through the playoff ringer a couple of times now. Plus, he can make his presence known by running someone over. Stamkos remains in the postseason learning stage.
LeBrun: Ovechkin. He came on late in the series with the Rangers. Stamkos, meanwhile, has struggled offensively despite his team's first-round victory.
Alex Ovechkin had three goals and three assists in the first round against the New York Rangers.
5. Which player really needs to step up his play in the second round?
Burnside: Milan Lucic, Boston. He had 30 goals during the regular season, but was not a factor, at least in a positive way, in the first-round, seven-game set against Montreal. He will have to deliver a better performance against a much better Philadelphia team if the Bruins are going to advance.
Hradek: Antti Niemi, San Jose. The goalie was brutal in the first round and the Sharks advanced despite it. If the Kings would have won the series, they might have mobbed Niemi to celebrate. If he's not better -- much better -- the Sharks will be going home.
LeBrun: Niemi. He got pulled twice in the first round against Los Angeles and the Sharks won despite him. Now, he's got to bring his A-game back against the mighty Red Wings. Anything less than that and the Sharks will be toast.
6. If you were an opposing goalie, which player's slap shot would you fear most: Shea Weber or Zdeno Chara?
Burnside: Weber. It's not just the shot, it's the beard. Think Grizzly Adams in a bad mood.
Hradek: I'd say Chara because when he goes into full windup, his stick looks like it's coming out of the clouds. Weber's shot is no picnic either, though. I'd say keep your mask on tight, boys.
LeBrun: Weber and Chara tied with 21 shots apiece in the first round, among the league leaders for defensemen, so they both tee up their scary shots a lot. In fact, Chara was second in the regular season among blueliners with 264 shots while Weber was third at 254. Uncanny, really. But if you were forcing me to pick, I'd go with the Team Canada Olympian because he seems to get his shot off quicker.
7. Which team has the best one-two punch?
Burnside: I think it's Briere and Claude Giroux of Philadelphia. Both are creative and driven, and they should have a field day against a slow Boston defense.
Hradek: I'll go off the board and take the Predators' top defense pair of Weber and Ryan Suter. There's not a better defensive duo in the league. The Preds don't make the playoffs without those guys, both entering the prime of their careers.
LeBrun: Up front, it's Detroit's Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, no question. They do it all at both ends of the ice. But on defense, the best one-two punch is Weber and Suter. There is no better pairing in the NHL right now. They can shut down the opposition's top threats, plus contribute offensively.
Shea Weber helped the Predators advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history.
8. Will the Bruins finally score a power-play goal in the second round?
Burnside: Yes, but not until the series is out of hand. And no, Tomas Kaberle will continue to be a ghost at even strength and with the man advantage.
Hradek: The law of averages says the Bruins will get a power-play goal soon. I don't know when, but soon. Maybe Lucic will light the lamp. He wasn't much of a factor in the first round.
LeBrun: Yes, and Tomas Kaberle will get an assist on it to justify his presence on the roster.
9. What is the one dream scenario you'd like to see in the conference semifinals?
Burnside: Vancouver GM Mike Gillis complaining about the officiating before Game 7 against Nashville, the Canucks taking 15 minor penalties in a row and the Preds scoring eight power-play goals to advance.
Hradek: How about the Bruins overcoming a 3-0 deficit to beat the Flyers in a seventh and deciding game? Is turnabout really fair play?
LeBrun: I think Nashville and San Jose winning their respective series would be tremendous, if for no reason to see two non-traditional markets getting a chance at the national limelight, in particular small-market Nashville.
10. Which of the remaining eight clubs has the most intimidating crowd?
Burnside: The fans in Washington "rocking the red" have made D.C. one of the best places in the league to watch a game. Very loud.
Hradek: Philadelphia. Those people take things personally very personally. Plus, I don't live too far from there. I don't need anybody showing up at my door to change my mind!
LeBrun: Philadelphia will dominate the answers here, and it is the obvious answer for sure. But a dark horse choice is San Jose. The Shark Tank is sneaky loud, especially at playoff time.