Second-round breakdown: Red Wings vs. Avalanche
Do you hear the theme from "Happy Days" playing in the background? Holy back to the future, McFly. Not only did the Avalanche advance to the second round on the backs of oldies-but-goodies like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote, but they also get Jose Theodore to channel himself circa 2000 to draw old arch-nemesis Detroit in the second round.
The Red Wings breathed a huge sigh of relief when Nicklas Lidstrom's long, bouncing slap shot jumped over Dan Ellis' shoulder in Game 6 against Nashville, allowing them to avoid the embarrassment of losing to an eighth seed for the second time in three seasons. While the Red Wings wobbled a bit against Nashville, they do boast a balanced attack that is hard to defend. Nine Red Wings players have at least three points in these playoffs, although none has more than five.
The Avs, meanwhile, won three straight to knock off Northwest Division champion Minnesota, and they hit the second round with perhaps the hottest goaltender left in the playoffs in Theodore. Eleven different Avs have scored in this postseason. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in the 2002 Western Conference finals. The Wings erased a 3-2 series deficit to win in seven en route to a Stanley Cup. With guys like Forsberg, Sakic, Foote, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby still around from those bloody playoff wars during the late 1990s, this promises to be a good one.
2. Jose, can you stop 'em? Speaking of the Avs' netminder, has there been a more dramatic reversal of fortunes for one player than the one experienced by Theodore this season? The former Hart and Vezina winner turned his game around when he was named the starter in the second half of the season, relegating Peter Budaj to mop-up duties. Then, against a Minnesota team that entered the playoffs with the seventh-best power-play unit in the NHL, Theodore was outstanding. The Montreal native stopped 188 of 200 shots and almost single-handedly denied the Wild victories in Games 4 and 5. Of course, with a player like Theodore, who has shown to be somewhat inconsistent over recent seasons, the question is whether he can keep it going. If he can, the Avs stand a good chance of upsetting the Wings.
3. The Foote factor. Adam Foote was on the ice most of the time against Marian Gaborik during the first round, and the Wild star finished the series with one lonely assist. Foote likely will see a lot of ice time against the Wings' top duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Foote isn't getting any younger (he's 36), but if he can disrupt the play-making abilities of the talented Red Wings forwards, it will make life easier for Theodore.
4. The Kron-Wall. We're referring to Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who entered the NHL with great expectations but has suffered a series of grisly injuries that have slowed his evolution as an impact player. He is healthy now and made his presence known in the first round against Nashville. Kronwall has been likened to legendary Detroit hitter Vladimir Konstantinov, and his efforts at disrupting the Avs' flow through the neutral zone, especially with young forwards like Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski, will be interesting to watch.
5. Breaking down is hard to do. No discussion of the Avs is complete without the open-ended question of "How long can they keep it up?" We're referring to the play and overall health of the Avs' aging core of veterans. Foote limped into the playoffs, Sakic missed 38 games this season and Forsberg took a long time to get into game shape after joining the Avs at the trade deadline. And then there's Smyth, who will go through a brick wall to make a play and often looks like he has. Through the first round, Smyth, Forsberg and Sakic had 14 points, and they will have to maintain that level of production to keep pace with a deeper, more talented Red Wings team.
• Avalanche: Ruslan Salei, an under-the-radar acquisition at the trade deadline, has three points, is plus-4 and has provided a stabilizing influence along the Colorado blue line. Stastny, who had 71 points to lead the Avs in scoring during the regular season, has but one playoff goal.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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We're down to the final eight teams as the battle for the Stanley Cup continues. Scott Burnside previews the second round:
• No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
• No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 N.Y. Rangers
• 2008 NHL playoffs index
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