RUSSIAN ROULETTE

2010 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

ROUND 1

 

Well, here we go again.  Yet another regular season has passed, leaving with it, 16 teams in its wake, all with one ultimate goal.  By now we all know what the goal is, the question is – who has what it takes?

If you use the final standings as an indicator, there are easily 8 teams with a legitimate shot at the Cup.  So as always, strap yourself in and get ready for the ride of your life!

 

EARLY CUP PREDICTIONS

I don’t know if I’m ready to predict a third straight Pittsburgh-Detroit final series, but some pundits are already betting the farm on it.  Ironically enough, until somebody knocks one or both of them off, they will serve as my dark horse picks.  Personally, I think the time for a Russian Captain to hoist the Stanley Cup has come, but that’s just me.

Eastern Conference Champion: Washington Capitals

Western Conference Champion: Chicago Blackhawks

Eastern Conference Dark Horse: Pittsburgh Penguins

Western Conference Dark Horse: Detroit Red Wings

Stanley Cup Champion: Washington Capitals

Conn Smythe Trophy Winner: Alex Ovechkin

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Washington Capitals vs Montreal Canadiens

Headliner: History meets mystery, or maybe the other way around.  The most explosive team in hockey meets the most storied franchise in hockey.

Players to watch: Washington – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (if he plays), Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, Jose Theodore; Montreal – Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Andrei Markov

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: Washington – Alex Semin, Mike Knuble; Montreal – Mike Cammalleri, Travis Moen, Jaroslav Halak

Washington wins if: They keep doing what they’ve been doing all season, scoring and scoring often.  If Ovechkin gets his way, this series will be short and sweet.  Home ice throughout the playoffs for winning the President’s Trophy can’t hurt either.

Montreal upsets if: Jaroslav Halak stands on his head and if the team’s top scorers can get to Theodore.  The Habs have a rabid home crowd, they will want to use it to their advantage.

Prediction: Capitals in 5

 

New Jersey Devils vs Philadelphia Flyers

Headliner: First playoff meeting since 2004, series won by the Flyers.  The Devils will be looking for some long awaited revenge, best served on ice.

Players to watch: New Jersey – Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrick Elias, Martin Brodeur; Philadelphia – Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: New Jersey – Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston; Philadelphia – Dan Carcillo, Claude Giroux

New Jersey wins if: Kovalchuk produces, Brodeur keeps making the saves as he has throughout his career.

Philadelphia upsets if: Pronger leads the blue line charge and Brian Boucher can somehow rekindle past magic.

Prediction: Devils in 7

 

Buffalo Sabres vs Boston Bruins

Headliner: Anybody else remember the “Mayday” call from 1993?  Who will be the hero this time around?

Players to watch: Buffalo – Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly; Boston – Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm, Zdeno Chara

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: Buffalo – Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller; Boston – David Krejci, Mark Recchi

Buffalo wins if: Miller carries over his MVP regular season into the playoffs.

Boston upsets if: They can shake the inconsistency monkey off their backs.  Chara could learn a thing or two from Chris Pronger.

Prediction: Sabres in 6

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators

Headliner: The rematch Ottawa has been waiting for since the 2008 sweep.  The defending champions go up against a team still searching for their playoff identity.

Players to watch: Pittsburgh – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury; Ottawa – Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher, Jason Spezza, Anton Volchenkov

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: Pittsburgh – Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin, Tyler Kennedy; Ottawa – Matt Cullen, Peter Regin, Chris Phillips, Andy Sutton

Pittsburgh wins if: They use last year’s experience to their advantage and execute their game plan, which proved successful through 82 games.  Repeating as champions is never an easy feat – just ask Mario Lemieux.  This Penguins team still has many of the tools which made them successful last year, so there’s no question they will be the team to beat.

Ottawa upsets if: Brian Elliott gives his team the same goaltending he gave them in the regular season.  At some point the Senators players are going to have to realize the past is the past, time for them to make their own future.  In order to be the best, first you must beat the best, although I’m still not convinced after all these years the team buys in.  I figure they probably have a better chance without enigmatic winger Alex Kovalev hogging the puck, but time will tell.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

San Jose Sharks vs Colorado Avalanche

Headliner: Do the Sharks finally have what it takes to go all the way?  Not if the upstart Colorado Avalanche can help it.

Players to watch: San Jose – Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau; Colorado – Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Matt Duchene

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: San Jose - Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Rob Blake; Colorado – Ryan Wilson, Adam Foote, Milan Hejduk

San Jose wins if: They can rid themselves of the “Ottawa Senators West” moniker and play like they are capable of playing.  Goalie Evgeni Nabokov can’t just be good enough to win, he will have to be great.  Big Joe must score and be a factor.

Colorado upsets if: Goaltender Craig Anderson can step up his game.  After an outstanding start, the Avs were in danger of missing the playoffs before putting together a strong run at the end, capped by a timely (and unlikely) shootout win in Vancouver.  There will be no such margin for error here, especially against this team.

Prediction:  Sharks in 5

 

Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators

Headliner: Offense meets defense, as a city and team on the verge of greatness goes up against a determined division rival.  Many are picking this as their upset.  I’m not so sure.

Players to watch: Chicago – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith; Nashville – Steve Sullivan, Patric Hornqvist, J.P. Dumont

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: Chicago – Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Kris Versteeg; Nashville – Shea Weber, Martin Erat, Jason Arnott

Chicago wins if: Antii Niemi really is as good as team management hopes he is (otherwise they would have traded for a goalie at the deadline).  Losing Brian Campbell to injury will hurt, but only if the team can’t make up for it on the scoreboard.

Nashville upsets if: They can shut down the explosive attack of the Hawks. The Predators have always had a defense first philosophy, and they will have to continue to play this way or else they’ll get blown out.  I heard one analyst call Pekka Rinne the best goaltender in these playoffs, and to beat Chicago, he will have to play like it.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

 

Vancouver Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings

Headliner: Former Smythe Division foes hook up for what is certain to be a battle for the ages.

Players to watch: Vancouver – Daniel & Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler; Los Angeles – Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: Vancouver - Mikael Samuelsson, Pavol Demitra, Roberto Luongo; Los Angeles – Ryan Smyth, Wayne Simmonds, Michal Handzus

Vancouver wins if: The Twins produce and Roberto Luongo plays like Roberto Luongo can, Olympics included.  Samuelsson was a great off season addition, and is about to show everybody why.

Los Angeles upsets if: The former Edmonton players from the 2006 team get the rest of the team to believe and buy into the notion that anything can happen.  Ryan Smyth, Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene have been the underdog before, question is – can they do it again?  I don’t know if Jonathan Quick can equal Luongo save for save, but he will have to for the Kings to have a prayer.  Maybe they can get inspiration from tape of the Apr 1 game between these two, an 8-3 blowout.

Prediction: Canucks in 7

 

Phoenix Coyotes vs Detroit Red Wings

Headliner: They don’t serve Octopus in the Desert, do they?

Players to watch: Phoenix – Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Matthew Lombardi; Detroit – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom

Unsung heroes/Difference makers: Phoenix – Keith Yandle, Ed Jovanovski, Ilya Bryzgalov; Detroit – Brian Rafalski, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen; Jimmy Howard

Phoenix wins if: Bryzgalov plays the way he did over the regular season.  If not, the Coyotes better hope Gary Bettman decides in the 11th hour to decide playoff games via a shootout.  Then, and only then can you include Adrian Aucoin in the Unsung heroes section.

Detroit upsets if: Like Pittsburgh, use past experience and execute their game plan.  And let’s be fair, even though this team has played a lot of hockey in recent years, they still know how to get it done when it counts.  If the Red Wings didn’t lose so many man games to injury over the course of the season, they would probably be right up there in the Top 3 again.  Even though this would be an upset on paper, it’s the only one I feel safe in predicting.

Prediction: Red Wings in 6

 

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