What an unbelievable finish to an unbelievable
season!! I donít think that weíve seen as intense a playoff race in quite some
time, if ever! After what seemed an eternity, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will soon
begin in earnest. Many surprises await us this year in the playoffs. As
surprising as some of the teams that made it in are the teams that didnít.
Edmonton, Dallas, New York Rangers, Washington, Pittsburgh, Buffalo. With the
exception of the Rangers, all of these teams made it in last year. We can only
attribute it to parity in the league, a topic that weíve heard so much about.
write this column as a slightly disgruntled hockey fan as
we get ready to kick into high gear with 16 teams duking it out for hockey
supremacy. The Edmonton Oilers, having racked up 92 points in the regular
season, are missing out on a playoff berth by a mere 3 points. Well, it could
have been worse, they could have lost the tiebreaker to Vancouver (and they
would have had they managed to tie in points).
In any event, Iím not going to let the misfortunes of my
favorite team cloud my view of the most exciting time of the year, the Stanley
Cup playoffs!! Better luck next year Edmonton (Please?). I promise you all this
is the last time you will hear me mention the Oilers until the Stanley Cup is
awarded. With that being said, letís have a look at the teams that did make it
and the ensuing matchups.
Detroit won the Presidentís Trophy as the NHLís best regular
season team and everybody is picking them as the favorite to win it all. But not
so fast Scotty Bowman!! Here comes Vancouver. The Canucks had the best record of
any team down the stretch and they were rewarded for it with the 8th
and final playoff spot. However, the puck stops here.
To sit back and expect that itíll be a cakewalk for the Red
Wings is silly and will show dire disrespect for the opponent. However, hereís
what we already know; the Canucks have 1, maybe 2 big scoring lines, and they
have Dan Cloutier in goal. Sure, Cloutier has played well during the regular
season, but can he stop everybody on the Red Wings squad? Everybody that is from
Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios, Luc Robitaille.
Donít forget about Mr. Kournikova, er Sergei Fedorov. If Detroit can shut down
the big Vancouver line of Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison, and if they can get
under Cloutierís skin, they should be OK in this series. I have two words for
Vancouver: Dominick Hasek. Perhaps Brian Burke should call up the Manitoba
Mooseís leading scorer in Andre Savage as a decoy; just a suggestion. Or perhaps
the Canucks are more comfortable with Todd Warriner.
Red Wings in 4
2nd vs 7th Ė COLORADO vs LOS ANGELES
Was that the Los Angeles Kings who almost upset the Colorado
Avalanche in 7 games last spring? Well guess what Colorado? Theyíre back in your
yard!! This year the Kings are a much stronger team. They have once again
received stellar goaltending from Felix Potvin. They have added Jason Allison
and Cliff Ronning to their already superb cast of forwards including Zigmund
Palffy, Adam Deadmarsh, and Kelly Buchberger. After that, the Kings are
essentially the same team that took the Avs to 7 games last year. On the
flipside, Colorado held on to their big three, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, and Patrick
Roy. They managed to get Darius Kasparaitus at the trade deadline to make their
defense that much more solid. They will also have Peter Forsberg back, but can
he be a factor after having missed more than a year? Look for this one to come
down to goaltending. Whoever can stop the most rubber will remain standing.
Quite frankly, I donít think that Roy can handle the pressure anymore, based on
his recent performances, or shall I say "Roy-fits". Forget about the fact that
Roy broke Jacques Planteís record for wins this year. Roy is just simply washed
up and should seriously consider retiring. Look for Los Angeles to make good on
their upset the second time around. Donít forget, they beat Detroit in the first
round last year. The Kings could be this springís Cinderella story. Again.
Prediction: Kings in 7
3rd vs 6th Ė SAN JOSE vs PHOENIX
Another goalie duel. Sean Burke vs Evgeni Nabokov. San Jose has
won their first ever division title. Phoenix has yet to win a playoff round
either as the Coyotes or the Winnipeg Jets. The Sharks have Owen Nolan, Mike
Ricci, Vincent Damphousse, Niklas Sundstrom, Todd Harvey, Teemu Selanne, just to
name a few. The Coyotes have Claude Lemieux and maybe Shane Doan? They did make
a nice trade for Brian Savage halfway through the season, but will it be enough?
Sean Burke has been hot, but can he keep it up? Wayne Gretzkyís team will make
it close, but the sea of white will fade to black faster than you can say
"Welcome to the Compaq Center". The Sharks are great at home, period, but so are
the Coyotes. Home ice will play a factor here.
Prediction: Sharks in 7
4th vs 5th Ė ST. LOUIS vs CHICAGO
The mission of each team here: bragging rights on who has the
noisiest crowd and the noisiest goal horn!! I think Chicago gets the edge here,
as the United Center is starting to become everything the old Chicago Stadium
was. Well, almost, but still noisy enough to be a huge factor. If you go to a
game in either teamís arena, youíd better bring earplugs. The Blackhawks are
back in the playoffs for the first time in 4 seasons, and Tony Amonte lived to
tell the story. Gone are Roenick and Chelios. Some would say for the better.
Replacing them are Eric Daze, Alexei Zhamnov, Lyle Odelein, and Phil Housley.
Lots of experience there. The Blues were singing the blues down the stretch up
until their final 3-5 games. They have it together at the right time. Will the
return of Doug Weight be enough to help Keith Tkachuk, Pavol Demitra, Ray
Ferraro and Scott Mellanby score? Should they have brought in Weightís old buddy
Bill Guerin from the Bruins at the trading deadline? Can their Olympic gold
medalist defensive pairing of Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis stop the Hawks from
getting to the net? If they canít, Brent Johnson certainly wonít, or at the very
least hasn't proven to anybody that he can. Why did the
Blues get rid of Roman Turek? Jocelyn Thibault has the edge in this series,
although neither goalie has enough playoff experience to say they will be a
factor. This will be the 10th time that these teams have met in the
playoffs. Chicago has won 7 of those previous meetings, but St. Louis won the
last meeting in 1993 in a sweep. Ancient history, I can assure you. Look for
lots of high scoring, even games. Itís too bad that the NHL doesnít implement
the shootout in the playoffs.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6