Ducks will be in tough

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

What makes this round difficult to pick (and thereby establishes excuses only seven words in) is the style change of the opposition.

In previous seasons, most teams played the same way.

Not any more.

There now are clear distinctions, and an impressive performance in the first round may not matter in the second.

Anaheim-Colorado

This one provides the perfect example. It's one thing for the Ducks' defenders to handle Jarome Iginla and 11 Darryl Sutter clones. Now they're going to be facing the likes of Joe Sakic, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, and a few other forwards who can score.

Goaltending tends to be the key in the playoffs, and based on recent form, that appears to give the Ducks an edge.

But again, the Calgary Flames made the Anaheim goaltending look brilliant. If the opposition never unleashes a dangerous shot, it's not that hard to get a shutout.

Avs netminder Jose Theodore is improving and gaining confidence. He'll allow some goals that other goalies might keep out, but even so, how many will the Ducks score?

There also is a wild card here.

The underrated Steve Konowalchuk is about to return.

Colorado in six

Edmonton-San Jose

All season long, Edmonton personnel insisted if they could get goaltending, the Oilers would be the best team in the West.

There may be some truth to that. They got their goaltending and went out and beat the best team in the West in the opening round.

This should be a delightful series. Both teams can score and neither has a penchant for a stifling defence.

For the Sharks, the determining factor in the last round was the strong play of Patrick Marleau's line, which relieved Joe Thornton's line of a lot of the offensive burden.

If the Sharks can continue to get production from two lines, they'll be too much for the Oilers to handle.

And despite the reliable work from Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson, you have to give a goaltending edge to Vesa Toskala.

San Jose in seven

Buffalo-Ottawa

In the last round, the Sabres looked superb dancing around the slow Philadelphia defence. And they had little trouble handling the Philadelphia offence, which sorely missed Keith Primeau.

The Sabres' speed enables them to do well against speed teams. And it also stands them in good stead against skill teams.

But when they have to play a speed team with skill, they're in trouble. In other words, they're in over their heads against the Senators, whose only perceptible weakness is in goal.

Ray Emery has done a workmanlike job so far, and as long as he doesn't falter, the powerful Ottawa offence will win the day.

OTTAWA IN FIVE

New Jersey-Carolina

Here's another team that is about to face a different style.

The Devils manhandled the New York Rangers, who had their best defenceman, their best forward and their best goalie all hobbled by injuries.

The Devils now are going to face a hot team that has faith in itself and is riding Cam Ward, a hot young goalie who made his mark against a team that tested him severely.

Ward is unflappable and appears totally unconcerned about the so-called playoff pressure. He's playing well, he says, because "that's what goalies do in the playoffs."

At the other end, Martin Brodeur is no slouch, so call the goaltending matchup even.

And there's not a lot to choose between the two teams' defencemen either.

But Carolina has a better set of forwards and a more potent power play.

Carolina in six

FIRST-ROUND RECORD: 4-4


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