Is it really that time of year
again? Seems like just a few months ago we were talking about the Chicago
Blackhawks first Championship in almost half a century. What a difference
another season makes. On the very last day of the regular season, having lost
to Detroit earlier in the day, the Hawks had to go through the agony of waiting
to see what would happen in game 1,230 between the Dallas Stars and Minnesota
Wild before they would know their playoff fate. A win by Dallas and they would
be eliminated from defending their title. Thankfully for them, the Wild beat
the Stars 5-3, sending the Stars to the golf course. Yes, the defending champs
made it, just by the tape on the end of their hockey blades. You want parity
Mr. Bettman? You got it!
So who has
what it takes to win it all? The so-called experts are saying Vancouver. I’m
saying no way in hell (and I’ll tell you why). Many fans in South Jersey/East
Pennsylvania are hoping Philadelphia, and they may be right. Has anybody
noticed the 2007 Cup Champions Anaheim Ducks are the 4th seed in the
West? Better yet, did anybody expect the NY Rangers to make it? Are Washington
and San Jose finally ready to take their game to a higher level? Can Pittsburgh
do it without Crosby and Malkin? Will Detroit get one more before their
veterans ride off into the sunset? And finally, is Tampa Bay for real? It’s
going to be a great ride, again, so as always strap yourself in, and whatever
you do, don’t blink because you’re bound to miss something. After all, these
are the Playoffs, where anything can happen, and usually does!
goes nothing…don’t read too much into this because last year the only one that I
was right about was Chicago coming out of the West. Yet, here is how I see it
for this year. Probably means Nashville will hoist the Cup – right? We’ll see…
San Jose Sharks
Tampa Bay Lightning
Conn Smythe Trophy
vs NY Rangers
Haven’t we seen this movie before?
Bounced in the 1st round last year by the surprising Montreal
Canadiens, a quicker, grittier, more defensive minded Capitals team is
determined not to let themselves lose the dreaded 8th vs 1st
match up two years in a row.
Players to watch:
Washington - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin; New York – Marian
Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Bryan McCabe, Marc Staal
Washington: Mike Knuble, Mike Green (if he can light a fire on the Power Play);
New York – Henrik Lundqvist, Vinny Prospal.
As has been the story for the last three years, if they can get the goaltending
they need and if Alex Ovechkin doesn’t disappear.
NY Rangers could
Henrik Lundqvist steals a game or two.
Capitals in 6
vs Buffalo Sabres
The Philly Flu becomes a Buffalo epidemic
Last year’s Eastern Conference Champions look to retain their title and get
another shot at the elusive mug.
Players to watch:
Philadelphia – Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter; Buffalo – Thomas
Vanek, Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers
Philadelphia – Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino; Buffalo – Ryan Miller,
Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis
Pronger gets and stays healthy. Love him or hate him, he is the straw stirring
the drink on this team. And with three Stanley Cup Finals appearances since the
lockout, including last year, he proves he is still a defensive force to be
reckoned with. A wise man once said “Good offense is a byproduct of good
Buffalo could win
Miller gets hot. He missed some time towards the end of the season due to
injury, so fatigue should not be a factor. Biggest question with Buffalo has
always been, will they get enough offense? I like how Vanek has stepped up this
year, but don’t think for one second Philly won’t be all over him.
Flyers in 5
Boston Bruins vs
33rd playoff meeting between these age old rivals could take their
rivalry to new heights, that is, if recent events are any indication.
Players to watch:
Boston – Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci; Montreal – Carey Price,
Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri
Boston – Tim Thomas, Milan Lucic, Michael Ryder; Montreal – P.K. Subban, Brian
Gionta, Travis Moen
Boston should win
stay out of the penalty box. Chara traditionally has been a real defensive
force in the playoffs, last year’s Conference Semi-Final notwithstanding. If
Thomas continues his record breaking year in save percentage, the Habs are in
Montreal could win
Carey Price doesn’t become Gary Spice. If the team doesn’t let the emotions from
this age old rivalry get to their head, they could make a real series out of it,
as they proved last spring. However, if this series goes like the last couple
of games between these two have, it’ll be short and sweet. Perhaps Ken Dryden
can come out of retirement. No? Oh well.
Bruins in 4
vs Tampa Bay Lightning
A new rivalry is born?
1st ever meeting between these two offensive juggernauts could end up
the most intriguing series of the first round.
Players to watch:
Pittsburgh – Jordan Staal, Alex Kovalev, James Neal, Sidney Crosby (if he
returns from injury); Tampa Bay – Steve Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vinny
Pittsburgh - Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Marc-Andre Fleury; Tampa Bay – Dwayne
Roloson, Ryan Malone, Simon Gagne
Even without their top two centers in the lineup, the Penguins are deep, and
have players who can score. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, more often than not,
no names mentioned, but they aren’t consistent enough. We already know Evgeni
Malkin won’t be back this season, and I’m hoping for health sake Crosby decides
to pack it in for the year. We don’t want/need another Eric Lindros on our
hands. That would be a shameful end for one of the most prolific players in
recent memory. The one thing Pittsburgh does have going for them is they have a
Cup winning goalie, one of only two in this year’s tournament.
Tampa Bay could win
Dwayne Roloson can rekindle the magic from 2006. It’s been a long, tough ride
for Roli the Goalie since Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final (damn you Andrew
Ladd!). We know The Lightning can score and score often, but can they keep the
puck out? Until they got Roloson I would have said no, but now, who knows?
Either way, it could turn out to be his last chance at redemption. I’ve liked
what I’ve seen from this team all season, and if they can get over the playoff
butterflies, they could surprise a lot of people. Roli just needs to make sure
he communicates better with Marc-Andre Bergeron (Take the man, but not into my
crease!). In my estimation, the only thing missing from this team is Fernando
Pisani, but I figure Gagne, Malone or Lecavalier can fill the role. Don’t count
out the Bolts.
Lightning in 6
vs Chicago Blackhawks
So you want the Cup, do you? Come and get it!
President’s Trophy winners in their 40th season look poised to go all
the way. However, the defending champions have their number.
Players to watch:
Vancouver - The Sedin Twins, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler; Chicago - Jonathan
Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp
Vancouver – Dan Hamhuis (if he comes back), Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson;
Chicago – Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith
They translate their regular season success into the post season. If the Sedins
play the disappearing act again, it could be a long summer for the Canucks,
especially since there was so much anticipation going into this year. Losing
Manny Malhotra was a huge blow to this team’s scoring depth, and I’m not
convinced they can ever recover from it, unless Samuelsson shows some of the
flair he used to show with Detroit. Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond give depth
and grit, but can they distract the Hawks long enough to make up for any
shortcomings? Raffi Torres will miss the first two games of this series as he
is serving a suspension. If Vancouver can at least get the split heading to
Chicago, it might not be so bad – if they go down 0-2, look out.
Chicago can defend
their title if:
They do exactly what they’ve done the last two playoffs – get in Vancouver’s
kitchen and make Roberto Luongo look ordinary. Let’s be fair, these are not the
same Hawks who hoisted the Cup last spring, but they still have their bread and
butter, as it were, and they are still deadly on the power play. I have a
feeling the Champs won’t go down without a fight.
Blackhawks in 6
San Jose Sharks vs
Los Angeles Kings
For the first time ever, all three California based teams will compete for a
Stanley Cup. It’s a shame one of them will be going home early.
Players to watch:
San Jose – Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau; Los Angeles – Dustin
Brown, Dustin Penner, Drew Doughty
San Jose – Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle; Los Angeles – Ryan Smyth,
Michal Handzus, Jarret Stoll
San Jose should win
Antti Niemi gives the same clutch performance in goal like he did for Chicago
last year, and if the team lives up to their potential. If it’s true what they
say, you have to lose before you can win, then the Sharks have certainly done
their time on the wrong end of the ledger. This team and this city have been on
the brink for far too long. Now is the time.
Los Angeles could
The former Oilers on this team gel like they did in 2006, and if another former
Duck can give even a fraction of the performance he did in 2007. ‘Nuff said.
Hey Penner! Are you alive over there? Prove it, because from where I’m
sitting, I haven’t seen you since Feb 28! I said it before, and I’ll say it
again – it’s a shame one of these teams will be going home early. I think
it'll take more than a "Miracle on Manchester" for the Kings to upset the
Sharks, at least on paper.
Sharks in 7
Detroit Red Wings
vs Phoenix Coyotes
The Desert Dogs attempt to learn the fine art of hunting Octopi
In this rematch of last year’s Quarterfinal series, Phoenix looks to prove they
Players to watch:
Detroit – Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary; Phoenix – Shane Doan, Radim
Vrbata, Lauri Korpikoski
Detroit – Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper; Phoenix – Ray Whitney,
Adrian Aucoin, Ed Jovanovski
Detroit should win
are we kidding here? The Red Wings are a force every year, and continue to be.
This is Lidstrom’s team, and he’d like nothing more to get one more before he
hangs them up. This team just has an uncanny ability of getting it done when it
Phoenix could win
Bryzgalov has the series of his life. This franchise has never been out of
the first round since moving out of Winnipeg. Here’s an even more staggering fact – the team’s top seven
defensemen have combined experience of more than 4,500 NHL games, yet 0, nada,
zip, zilch in the Stanley Cup department. Unless they can somehow create a
parade to the penalty box from one of the least penalized teams in the league, I
don’t see the ‘Yotes getting revenge in this one. Hopefully it will still be as
fun as last year’s series.
Red Wings in 6
Anaheim Ducks vs
If “Disco Duck” were a country song, would Carrie Underwood cover it?
Back in the
playoffs after a brief absence, the Ducks look to fly high in the Music City,
where the team they’re up against plays a similar defensive style to their
Players to watch:
Anaheim - Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan; Nashville – Mike Fisher, Martin
Erat, David Legwand
Anaheim – Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Jason Blake; Nashville – Steve Sullivan,
Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne
Anaheim should win
continue to receive the balanced attack they’ve received all season long. Perry
was the only NHL player to reach the 50 goal plateau this season, so you know
Nashville will be all over him. However, they won’t be able to stop all of
their other weapons. Selanne has indicated this will be his final season. How
cool would it be if he could get another Cup before retiring? And cool would it
be if Ray Emery could be the goaltender of record when it happens?
Nashville could win
Pekka Rinne continues to play like the #1 goaltender the Predators hoped he
could be. Interesting to see Underwood whooping it up for hubby Fisher – one
can only hope he can actually start scoring for her. Ouch, that didn’t sound
right, I’m sorry. What else would you expect from a guy who lives in Ottawa?
If the Predators are going to pull off the upset, they’re going to have to try
as best they can to win their home games, because the Ducks are lethal at home,
especially in the playoffs.
it the 4 vs 5 match ups are always the most intriguing? Bring it on!!
Ducks in 7
More Puckin' Around...