Thursday, April 20, 2006

My turn

Eastern Conference

(1) Ottawa vs. (8) Tampa Bay

More on this tomorrow

(2) Carolina vs. (7) Montreal
Neither team is coming into the series particularly hot, and there are now questions surrounding Martin Gerber after he silenced his critics all season long. As well, there is apparently a goaltending controversy in Montreal, which confuses me. Wasn’t the reason the Habs could trade Jose Theodore in the first place was because they had confidence in Christobol Huet’s ability to be a number one goalie? Yeah, David Aebischer had some good games, but I don’t see how this is even a tough call. Go with Huet and if he falters, you have a guy with at least some playoff experience to fall back on. Montreal’s a team I’ve developed a soft spot for, which, if you know me is very strange because growing up they were public enemy number one. What can I say, I like their scrappiness. But I’m just not convinced they have enough of it to hang with the much more talented Canes, who can throw out more offence and have a tough and seasoned defence group, which looks to be the major weakness of the Canadiens. If Sheldon Souray doesn’t rediscover his ’03-’04 game, then guys like Craig Rivet, Mathieu Dandenault, and Andrei Markov are going to have to carry too heavy a load. As we saw the last time we had playoffs, Alexei Kovalev can be a x factor, however, I see Carolina’s D as being much better equipped to handle him than the Bruins were in 2004.
Pick: Carolina in 6
Rooting Interest: Montreal

(3) New Jersey vs. (6) NY Rangers
If the Canes and Habs are coming into the playoffs lukewarm, then the Blueshirts have to be ice cold while the Devils are sizzling. The Rangers have fallen hard and fast, losing five in a row to end the season, and because of that, I don’t think they’ll reach the second round. That has to be disappointing to the Rangers faithful, who a month ago probably thought of a division title and the second round, but considering where idiot pundits like myself had them finishing back when we projected the season, a playoff birth alone is an accomplishment for this franchise. The Devils staggered through the majority of the season but are hitting their stride at the right time, finding their offence while their defensive game has been predictably great/ Like with the Canadiens, my big question mark surrounding the Rangers is their D. With that group, I’m surprised they did as well as they did this year. It’s unfortunate the addition of Sandis Ozolinsh didn’t pan out there because he could’ve really helped them. The big thing to watch will be how Henrik Lundqvist does. He’s been tremendous all season long and he has some big game experience, having won an Olympic gold medal as well as the championship in the Swedish Elite League last season, and it’s not as if he’s as young as his NHL experience might indicate. But he’s still unproven in the NHL playoffs. He’s matched up against maybe the best big game goalie of this generation (a case could be made for Patrick Roy I’m sure), and I wanna see if he will elevate his game, as we know great goalies often rise to the occasion when the guy in the other net is of high caliber. The best part of this series might not even be anything on the ice, but rather, the craziness in the MSG stands that translated over when the Devils hosted games. The ’94 Eastern Conference final between these two was memorable for that reason.
Pick: New Jersey in 6
Rooting Interest: Neither

(4) Buffalo vs. (5) Philadelphia
Special teams might end up being what decides the series. Everyone seems to think there will be an abundance of penalties called during the first round because the league wants to send the message that they’re committed to the new rules, and if that happens here, it will favor the Sabres, who had the 3rd best powerplay in the NHL this season (as well as the 2nd best PK). The Flyers were much further down at 16th, and a big part of that is the absence of Kim Johnsson, who might be as big a loss as Peter Forsberg. A lot is made of whether or not Foppa plays, and it should because he’s a gamebreaker, but Johnsson is a huge part of that team, and without him, their PP is much less potent. And now the Flyers are going with Robert Esche? Seems ridiculous to me, but Ken Hitchcock often does things that make me scratch my head. My bet is he doesn’t last in nets and Nittymaki is playing by the end. However, by then, it might be too late. Buffalo’s speed up front is ridiculous, and they can roll three lines that can score, so Hitchcock’s usual gameplan of match ups to shut down the opponent will be ineffective, as the others can and will burn you. I think it’s going to be a long series for slowpokes like Derian Hatcher, Chris Therian, and Mike Rathje, who’ll be Sheldon Souray-ed with regularity. The questions around the Sabres is their lack of playoff experience, but in the end, I believe their overwhelming talent will supercede all that.
Pick: Buffalo in 7.
Rooting Interest: Buffalo by a WIDE margin

Western Conference

(1) Detroit vs. (8) Edmonton
This won’t make me very popular in the City of Champions, but I don’t see the Oilers faring very well, and I expect a lot of Edmonton players to be playing for Team Canada over at the World Championships. Detroit has too much offence and too good a defence for an Oilers team that barely made the playoffs as it is. On paper, Edmonton has one of the best defences in the league, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t translate to their play. And the guy who was supposed to be the cure to what ails them, Dwayne Roloson, has been disappointing no matter how you want to spin it. Do the Oilers have enough talent that an upset is possible? I suppose. They’re fast and have some finishers. But the Wings have been dominant all season long, and I don’t see it ending here. I would feel bad about it because I usually like Oilers fans, but Matt over at the often headache inducing Battle Of Alberta picked Tampa to upset the Sens, so all niceness is out the window. At least, I think Matt is the one who likes the Oilers. I can never keep track amidst all the other “stuff” that goes on there.
Pick: Detroit in 5
Rooting Interest: Edmonton, I guess

(2) Dallas vs. (7) Colorado
I’m not as ambitious as Mirtle, who picked the entire thing all the way to the finals, but I am going with Dallas the Cup winner, so obviously, I don’t expect them to lose here. I just see the Stars as too deep in every position, and I think Marty Turco’s going to have a monster playoff. Mike Modano’s made me look like a pretty big moron for saying he was done as a top player before the season started, and I don’t see why he would stop embarrassing me now. Colorado does have the potential to make some noise just based on having Joe Sakic and Rob Blake, but it won’t be enough.
Pick: Dallas in 6
Rooting Interest: Dallas

(3) Calgary vs. (6) Anaheim
If that final game of the season is any indication, this’ll be the best series of the first round, and it’s certainly the one I’m having the most trouble handicapping. I picked Calgary to go all the way to the finals at the start of the season, but their offence hasn’t performed like I thought it would. However, we’ve seen that it doesn’t need to for them to win. Meanwhile, the Ducks are playing pretty good ya know, making Brian Burke the new king of Southern California hockey. The goaltending matchup is very interesting, with the Conn Smythe winner of 2003 against the guy who shoulda won it last year. Kiprusoff has been crazy good this season, but quietly Giguere has reemerged as an elite goalie. Will they use this matchup to motivate themselves, hoping to show up the other? I hope so. What it’ll come down to, I think, is can the Flames get even a tad of secondary scoring? Iginla’s gonna get a ton of Scott Niedermayer. Guys like Tony Amonte (remember him?), Kristian Huselius, and Chuck Kobasew better bring their A-game or the Flames will make an early exit. Fortunately, I think they’re up to the task for the short term.
Pick: Calgary in 7
Rooting Interest: Calgary

(4) Nashville vs. (5) San Jose
I like the Preds but they’re just too depleted to be seen as the threat they were a couple months ago. While everyone talks about how big the loss of Tomas Vokoun is, many seem to be forgetting that the status of two other important pieces of the puzzle, Steve Sullivan and Marek Zidlicky, remains in question. Zidlicky hasn’t played in 11 games (and missed the playoffs last year as well) while Sullivan has missed 8. If the Predators are without Vokoun AND these two, forget it, it’s a wrap. The Sharks will walk all over them if that’s the case. Take those two out of the lineup, you’re without 43 goals of an offence that some might say is questionable as it is. Speaking of questionable, is Vesa Toskala good enough to take the Sharks where they want to go? He’s the guy they’re going with, and he’s proven himself capable enough in the regular season, but if I was a Sharks fan, I’d be more comfortable with Nabokov and his 17 games of playoff experience. Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo will continue their magical run while Nashville fans will go home disappointed again.
Pick: San Jose in 6
Rooting Interest: Neither


UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention Tom Benamin is picking the Bolts. If all that Dany Heatley bullshit didn't get him off my Christmas Card list, this certainly will. I'd pick against his team in response, but I'm not very good at handicapping golf games 4500 kilometres away.

3 Comments:

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Matt said...

What! I'm the Flames fan. I'll give you a headache... :)

 
At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Earl Sleek said...

(3) Calgary vs. (6) Anaheim

The goaltending matchup is very interesting, with the Conn Smythe winner of 2003 against the guy who shoulda won it last year.


The comparative stats between the two netminders' cup runs:

Giguere '03 15-6, 1.62 GAA, .945 S%
Kipper '04 15-11, 1.84 GAA, .928 S%

Just looking at the numbers behind the GAA and S%, in order for Kiprusoff to have matched Giguere's statistics, he would have had to:

a) Shut out his opponents for an additional 234 minutes (nearly 4 games' worth)

b) Stop an additional 226 shots on goal (nearly a save a minute).

Additionally, in sudden-death OT, where a goaltender is especially critical:

Giguere '03: 7-0, 0 GA on 95 shots over 168:27
Kipper '04: 5-2, 2 GA on 61 shots over 119:41

This is not to meant to knock Calgary's run or Kiprusoff's performance (or even reflect on their coming series), but there was still a significant statistical difference between the two goaltending performances. Both carried outmatched teams within one game of the finals, but Giguere was more qualified for the Smythe, by the numbers.

 
At 2:36 AM, Anonymous Mike said...

Just an fyi, Chris Therien has been out for months with a concussion, he wont be back. Little Freddy Meyer has been filling in. Dont be surprised if Sami Kapanen gets put back on defense again.

 

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