And then there were eight ...

Here are some of the things were learned in the first round …

Ottawa needs goaltending help in the worst way ... Anaheim needs to look past Selanne and Niedermayer ... Minnesota must develop an offensive game plan other than Marian Gaborik ... New Jersey must do the same – period ... A young Washington team will be more dangerous in the future now that they have postseason experience ... Boston cannot wait for Tuukka Rask to take over in goal ... Nashville must be excited at Dan Ellis’ remarkable rise ... Calgary has to determine if this season was a blip on the screen for Miikka Kiprusoff.

Makes you wonder what’s next …

Western Conference semifinals

No. 1 Detroit Red Wings (54-21-7, 115 points) vs. No. 6 Colorado Avalanche (44-31-7, 95 points)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Detroit defeated Nashville in 6 games; Colorado beat Northwest Division champion Minnesota in 6 games.

OVERVIEW: Though it’s been more than a decade since Claude Lemieux’s face wash of Kris Draper resulted in a broken jaw and shattered cheek, some fireworks can be expected as the Avs and Wings get ready to meet in the postseason for the first time since 2002.

“If you’re part of that, you remember that. You know the buzz in both cities,” said Colorado's Joe Sakic, one of four Avs players remaining from those battles. “The newer guys that weren’t around for those series are going to get a taste of it right away.”

This time, those fireworks could be from frustration.

Detroit allowed two goals in the first of four regular-season meetings against Colorado in 2007-08 – and that’s all, for a shutout streak of 214 minutes, 4 seconds. That also doesn’t include a 120-minute scoreless run in the postseason.

“They’re a totally different team,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said, dismissing the season series as an advantage. “I don’t believe there’s any transfer whatsoever.”

That’s only a sampling of the recent domination the Wings have enjoyed over their most bitter rivals. Dating back to March 2004, Detroit has outscored Colorado 46-23 en route to a 12-1-1 mark.

HOW DETROIT CAN WIN: Forget the offense. The key will be Chris Osgood in goal ahead of six-time Vezina Trophy winner Domink Hasek.

Against the Predators, Osgood was 2-0 with a 0.39 goals-against average, compared to Hasek’s 2-2 record and 2.91 GAA. For coach Mike Babcock, there was no question as to who will start in Round 2.

“Ozzie’s obviously got the net right now and it’s his job to make sure Dom doesn’t get it back” Babcock said. “But Dom’s going to do everything he can to be ready.”

And Babcock may need to call on Hasek, given Osgood’s playoff history against the Avs. Osgood is 3-10 with 2.92 GAA in 13 career postseason starts versus Colorado, compared to the 43-year-old Hasek – 4-3, two shutouts, 1.78 GAA.

The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings also boast an impressive and balanced offense. Pavel Datsyuk, Jiri Hudler and Niklas Kronwall each recorded five points in the Predators’ series, while Johan Franzen, Brian Rafalski and Henrik Zetterberg each notched four.

HOW COLORADO CAN WIN: Score first, then worry about winning. Besides being blanked in the final three regular-season games against Detroit, the Avs were shutout in the last two games of their West finals matchup with the Red Wings in 2002.

Sakic and Peter Forsberg – first and third, respectively all-time in playoff scoring among current players – will need duplicate the success they had against defense-minded Minnesota in the quarterfinals.

Sakic scored twice, including in overtime of Game 1, and led the Avs with six points. Forsberg, with his balky ankle presumably strong, had a goal and four assists while playing about 18:30 per game.

Jose Theodore has given up only four goals in the final three games of the series against the Wild. He’s never won four in a row, and hasn’t faced Detroit.

SEASON SERIES: Detroit, 4-0.

THE PICK: There will be some mayhem. The Avalanche will finally score, but the Red Wings ultimately will prevail. DETROIT IN 6

No. 3 San Jose Sharks (49-23-10, 108 points) vs. No. 5 Dallas Stars (45-30-7, 97 points)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: San Jose bested Calgary in 7 games; Dallas ousted defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim in 6 games.

OVERVIEW: Any series can focus on goaltenders, but perhaps none more so than this matchup of Pacific Division foes.

San Jose is led by Vezina Trophy finalist Evgeni Nabokov, the league leader with 46 wins, and his 25 one-goal victories were second-most this season behind New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur (26).

Nabokov was a driving force behind the Sharks reaching the conference semis for the fourth straight season, but they’ll need his prolonged durability to make the finals for the first time since 2004. Including a tough seven-game series against Calgary, Nabokov has made 84 starts this season – he hadn’t had more than 50 starts coming in.

“It takes a contribution from every guy in uniform to get to where we want to go,” said Sharks captain Thornton, who had seven points in the first round. “Nobody can do it by themselves.”

Nabokov was 4-3-0 with a 2.56 goals-against average in eight starts against the Stars, including 3-0-0 with a 2.05 GAA over four starts in Dallas. If he falters, Brian Boucher (3-1-1, 1.76 GAA in five games) will be pressed into service.

For the Stars to reach the conference finals for the first time in eight years, Marty Turco will need to continue his playoff turnaround. From 2003-07, he was 5-12 with a 2.45 GAA and three shutouts. So far this year, he’s 4-2, including a whitewash, and a 2.01 GAA.

Turco also has won three of his last four starts against the Sharks. In three games from Dec. 15-March 27 _ all in San Jose _ Turco gave up only seven goals en route to a 2-0-1 mark.

HOW SAN JOSE CAN WIN: Nabokov can keep the puck out with the best of them, but if you said Ryane Clowe would be the offensive sparkplug on this team, you would have gotten plenty of strange looks.

Clowe, limited by injuries to 15 games in the regular season, paced the Sharks in the opening round with four goals and eight points. Diminutive Joe Pavelski notched two game-winners.

After failing to get a point in five games against Calgary, Jeremy Roenick had two goals and two assists to help beat the Flames in Game 7 of that series. At 38, it’s doubtful he has too much left in the tank, but if he does, it can only help.

HOW DALLAS CAN WIN: Confidence is always key, and knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champions in the opening round could have Dallas feeling good about themselves all the way to the finals.

This time of the year is why the Stars swung a trade-deadline deal for Brad Richards. Acquired from Tampa Bay in February, Dallas will need more from the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner. When the Lightning won the Cup, Richards had seven game-winners among his 12 goals, and led the team in scoring with 26 points.

He had five points in the opening round, but the Stars weren’t starved for offense: five players tallied at least six points, led by Mike Ribeiro (six assists, eight points).

SEASON SERIES: Split eight games.

THE PICK: Turco keeps his playoff magic going while the Sharks fold, leaving the future of coach Ron Wilson in doubt and some major personnel changes heading into 2008-09. DALLAS IN 6

Eastern Conference semifinals

No. 1 Montreal Canadiens (47-25-10, 104 points) vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Flyers (42-29-11, 95 points)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Montreal defeated Boston in 7 games; Philadelphia beat Southeast Division champion Washington in 7 games.

OVERVIEW:The Canadiens already dispatched one team they were undefeated against the in regular season. Now, they get to try and duplicate the feat starting on Thursday night against the Flyers as they meet in the postseason for the first time since 1989.

Montreal rookie goaltender Carey Price was all over the map in his first NHL playoff series. In four wins over Boston, he allowed only two goals and had two shutouts. In the three losses, though, he was tagged for 12 goals - seven on the road.

Price, 20, also knows it won’t get any easier from here on out.

“Every round it gets worse,” he said with a shrug. “The traffic is just a log jam in front of the net. That’s how goals are going to be scored - a lot of pushing and shoving. A lot of garbage around the net.”

Montreal, which was 8-0-0 against the Bruins during the regular season, won all four matchups with the Flyers this season. Price notched three of those victories, giving up a total of four goals.

“The regular season doesn’t mean anything now,” said Montreal captain Saku Koivu. “Teams are very different in the playoffs, the intensity level is higher.

After a grueling opening-round set in which the Flyers were up three games to one before dispatching the Caps in overtime of Game 7, Philadelphia now must bounce back quickly, playing its third game in four nights – in three cities.

“We’re going into this knowing we’re playing well,” Flyers defenseman Randy Jones said. “We’re more concerned with our game. We’re going to concentrate on our game. We know when we play our game we can beat any team. We played a pretty good series against Washington and we’re pretty excited.”

Daniel Briere (team highs with six goals, 11 points) is living up to his eight-year, $52 million deal, and trading deadline pickup Vaclav Prospal (nine points, including team-best six assists) has been solid as well.

Briere, a Quebec native who spurned the Canadiens’ free-agent offer, must also close his ears to the boo-birds who gave him grief every time he touched the puck in his two visits to the Bell Centre. They’re only going to be louder this time.

HOW MONTREAL CAN WIN: While it’s clear that the Canadiens have all the confidence in the world in Price, coach Guy Carbonneau had to have held his breath, and perhaps his tongue, a couple of times watching the rook against the Bruins. Montreal’s top two lines – Kovalev, Koivu and Chris Higgins on one, Tomas Plekanec centering for Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn on the other – could mean many long nights for the black and orange.

HOW PHILADELPHIA CAN WIN: For the most part, the defense shut down Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. This time, they’ll need to do the same against the brothers Kostitsyn and Kovalev (eight goals and nine assists combined against Boston.) Martin Biron gave up 12 goals in three losses during his playoff debut, but only eight in the four wins.

SEASON SERIES: Montreal, 4-0.

THE PICK: Montreal holds a 14-7 edge all-time in the playoffs. Price and the Habs will be too much for a tired Flyers’ team. MONTREAL IN 5

No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47-27-8, 102 points) vs. No. 5 New York Rangers, (42-27-13, 97 points)

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Pittsburgh swept defending Eastern Conference champion Ottawa in 4 games; New York defeated New Jersey in 5 games.

OVERVIEW: If there were ever a series that reads like a Len Deighton novel, this is it.

How will youngsters Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin cope in playoff games in the world’s largest media market? (They’ve struggled at MSG, and there will be some moments.)

Will former fan favorite Jaromir Jagr be booed off the ice in Pittsburgh? (As sure as Primanti’s will put cole slaw and fries on the sandwiches they serve.)

Can Henrik Lundqvist continue showing why he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist? (Um, yes.)

And as a side note, can Sean Avery piss off Georges Laraque even more, either by attacking his race or national origin? (That is when he’s not interning at Vogue.)

Say this much: This series pits the Penguins’ talent against the Rangers’ overall experience.

Start with the Penguins’ duo. Crosby missed nearly 30 games with ankle injuries, but last year’s MVP and scored champion still managed to score 72 points. Malkin, last year’s Calder Trophy winner, didn’t show any signs of a sophomore slump, finishing with 106 points _ second only to Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.

But for all the talent Crosby and Malkin possess, they seem to have issues in NYC, totaling two assists there this season.

The Pens come into this series well-rested, having swept defending Eastern Conference champion Ottawa. Crosby and Malkin each had two goals, and combined for 11 assists to finish 1-2 in scoring.

And what of Jagr, who helped Mario Lemieux bring two Stanley Cups to the Steel City in the 1990s and is second all-time among active players playoff scoring? He’s basically persona non grata in western Pennsylvania.

“Basically anywhere you leave, aside from being traded, especially as a free agent, you’re going to get booed,” the Rangers’ Brendan Shanahan said. “The better you are, the louder the boos. That’s why Jags faces that, because he’s a great player.”

At 36, Jagr still showed the ability to dominate, leading New York with six goals and eight points, one more than Scott Gomez – the owner of two Stanley Cup rings while with New Jersey.

HOW PITTSBURGH CAN WIN: If Crosby and Malkin try to not to play like the second coming of Lemieux and Jagr. Obvious comparisons aside, Nos. 87 and 71 have more than enough talent, but need to put it together when playing on arguably the world’s biggest stage.

Marc-Andre Fleury enjoyed a breakout season, high ankle sprain and all, but like Crosby and Malkin, he’s also never played well at MSG: 2-5-2 with a GAA approaching 4.00.

HOW NEW YORK CAN WIN: It rests largely on Lundqvist.

While the regular season is a marathon and a grind, one small misstep in the postseason can be the difference between advancing and going home. He recorded one of his NHL-leading 10 shutouts this season against Pittsburgh, turning aside 18 shots in a 4-0 win on Dec. 18.

In five wins over the Pens, Lundqvist has stopped 107 of 115 shots.

SEASON SERIES: New York, 5-3-0


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