2004 STANLEY CUP
PLAYOFFS - ROUND 1 PREVIEW
upon a time, a team could be virtually guaranteed a playoff spot if they could
manage 82 points during the regular season. Well, not anymore!
go again, with the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and not one team challenging for
the beloved Holy Grail has less than 90 points. An unprecedented 10 teams have
100 points or more. The Eastern Conference could almost be renamed the
North-Eastern Conference, as four out of five teams in the Northeast Division
are represented here. We haven’t seen four teams from any division qualify for
the playoffs since the days when we only had four divisions. Only one team is
here from the Southeast Division, but somehow they managed to secure first place
in their conference. The defending Stanley Cup Champions from New Jersey are as
much of a threat as ever, even though they only placed 6th out of 8th.
The final playoff spots in the Western Conference came right down to the final
weekend, again, with Nashville getting in literally by the skin of that big fang
on their logo! It’s almost not fair for the teams on the outside looking in,
but this is how the cookie crumbles! With so much parity in the league today a
good case can be made for a change to the existing playoff format, but maybe
(hopefully) this will be explored by the league at a later date.
much uncertainty over whether or not we’ll even have a season next year, most
Canadian hockey fans can cheer hard as five out of six Canadian teams are in, at
least for the first round, as two out of the five will be going home early.
teams, one champion. Who will it be? You could probably flip a coin and have a
better chance at analyzing each individual match up, but what fun would that
be? I’ll tell you what, I’m certainly glad I’m not in charge of making the odds
in Las Vegas. There isn’t one team without a legitimate shot at hockey’s
ultimate prize, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if my predictions turn out to
be 100% wrong. Don’t let the final standings and playoff positions fool you,
it’s just been too close all year long, and now the fun begins.
Bay (46-22-8-6) vs #8 New York
Season series: Advantage New York (3-1-0-0)
always said you have to learn how to lose before you can win in the NHL, and
nowhere is this more evident than with this year’s edition of the Tampa Bay
Lightning. After having their most successful season in club history last
season, they bowed out in the second round to this year’s defending Stanley Cup
Champions. Fast forward to this season, and the Lightning went undefeated
against New Jersey on their way to a 106 point season, good enough for the best
overall record in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay has the luxury of being able to roll four quality lines, and have two
goaltenders who feed off each other and can both get the job done. Led by Art
Ross winning and Hart trophy contending forward Martin St. Louis, the Lightning
have a slew of players who can score, most notably Vincent Lecavalier, Brad
Richards, Cory Stillman, and Fredrik Modin. This is complemented by veterans
Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor. Darryl Sydor has brought experience and has
been a welcome addition to an already solid blue line consisting of Dan Boyle,
Pavel Kubina, Cory Sarich and Jassen Cullimore. Nikolai Khabibulin picked up
where he left off last year, and John Grahame has proven he can step up to the
plate if needed (I’ll never let him live it down, but he just needs to hang on
tight to his stick).
there’s one uncertainty heading into the playoffs with these powerful Bolts,
it’s their depth. They haven’t had to deal with any major injuries, and have
rolled along because of it. Many of the contenders from the East have had to
deal with injuries all season long, and while they aren’t making excuses, the
impact has been felt in the standings.
York Islanders are one of the few teams in the East with a winning record versus
the Bolts this season, winning all but one meeting in their season series. The
Islanders are heading to the post season for the third straight year after what
seemed like an eternity of futility (their cousins the Rangers know exactly what
I’m talking about), although again they weren’t able to place higher than the
final playoff berth. It goes without saying they were scoreboard watching down
the stretch as Buffalo made an interesting charge to make it within one win and
six points of kicking the Isles out of contention. Of course it didn’t happen,
and the entire team can thank goaltender Rick Di Pietro for stopping the rubber
more often than not.
Aucoin again led the team in defensive ice time, but had some help on the back
end with former Edmonton D-men Janne Niinimaa and Roman Hamrlik, as well as
Kenny Jonsson and Eric Cairns. Up front they have 10th year NHLer
Michael Peca, Alexei “the 9 million dollar man” Yashin, Mark Parrish, and Oleg
Kvasha. Rookie sensation Trent Hunter was in contention virtually all year for
the Calder Trophy, but fell short during the stretch run. Nevertheless he had
an impressive first campaign on Long Island and will be a star in this league.
Mariusz Czerkawski is enjoying his second stint with New York and can literally
score at will. Jason Blake is an offensive-defensive specialist, and will see a
lot of time on the penalty kill. Cliff Ronning was signed halfway through the
season to be an offensive spark plug, but his offense has come in spurts.
question mark for me after an otherwise satisfactory season is Yashin. Will he
disappear again now at the most crucial time of the year as he has in playoffs
past? Also questionable is Di Pietro – is he the answer in goal or will “the
Snowman” Garth Snow be forced into action?
teams can stay healthy this could be a long series, one in which Tampa should
prevail if for nothing else but their recent success. The Lightning just seem
to have more chemistry playing as a team and have more offensive weapons, where
the Islanders still seem to rely on individual efforts. As expansion cousins of
the Ottawa Senators, Tampa seems to have built their team in a similar fashion,
sticking with what they have, and they now have an opportunity to reap the
benefits of a few years of patience with the younger players. The Islanders on
the other hand haven’t forgotten the fact they’ve been eliminated in the first
round two years in a row and should make it interesting. Give the edge to the
Bolts given they have the most experienced coach of both teams in John
Tortorella. The Islanders with first year coach Steve Sterling have already
exceeded everybody’s expectations.
Lightning in 7
#2 Boston (41-19-15-7) vs #7 Montreal (41-30-7-4)
Season Series: Advantage Boston (3-0-1-2)
the dreaded #2 vs #7 match up, almost as precarious as 1st vs 8th.
Just ask the Detroit Red Wings about last year’s series against 7th
place Anaheim. Well, maybe not, but it seems almost fitting these two age old
rivals are meeting yet again in the postseason. We can’t, however, question the
fact this is the positional match up which has yielded the most upsets in the
first round ever since the NHL started using the current playoff format. Given
these two play in the same division, this time it won’t be much of an upset no
matter who wins.
Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens both came into this season looking to
better their results from a year ago. Boston finished in 7th and
faced New Jersey in Round 1. Before they knew it they were playing golf.
Montreal failed to qualify for the playoffs at all after making positive strides
the year previous. What a difference a year makes.
Bruins kept us all on edge until Game 82 before taking the Northeast division
title, on the road in New Jersey no less. Led by Calder Trophy candidate Andrew
Raycroft in net, they boast two of the most potent scoring lines in the league,
with Captain Joe Thornton leading the way. He’s questionable for the start of
the series, however, as he suffered an “upper body injury” over the final
weekend of the regular season, but indications are he shouldn’t be out long.
The team fared alright in his absence, as go to guys like Glen Murray, Sergei
Samsonov, Brian Rolston and Travis Green have all lit the lamp. Patrice
Bergeron had an outstanding rookie year stopped short with a shoulder injury
just after the All-Star break.
the need to get better defensively, the Bruins brought in veteran defenseman
Jiri Slegr, who won a Stanley Cup in Detroit, and they were one of the first in
line when Washington held their fire sale before the trade deadline, landing
Sergei Gonchar who has helped improve Boston’s power play. Already with solid
blue liners Hal Gill, Ian Moran, Sean O’Donnell and former Ottawa 67 Nick
Boynton, the B’s think they now have enough depth to make some noise.
has managed to clean up their act both on and off the ice, right from the hiring
of general manager Bob Gainey. Gainey has instilled confidence in a team guilty
of underachieving and through coach Claude Julien has made every player
accountable for their actions. For the most part, he stuck with the roster he
had, calling up some players from their AHL affiliate in Hamilton. Gainey
managed to claim checking forward Steve Begin off waivers, and the move paid
off. Starting in goal, Jose Theodore has put last season’s abysmal play behind
him and played like the player we saw when he won the Hart trophy. Michael
Ryder led all rookies in scoring and should get as many votes as Boston’s
Raycroft for the Calder trophy. Michael Ribeiro was given an opportunity to
develop and he ended up the team’s points leader. Saku Koivu had a tough season
with both his team and the media, as his captaincy was questioned. The team
pulled through and silenced the critics, for now. Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis
continued to contribute, and Yanic Perreault remained a face off specialist.
Liking what he saw, Gainey decided to give the Habs some more help at the
trading deadline, acquiring Jim Dowd and Alex Kovalev, both veterans in their
“Broken Wood” Brisebois led a defensive corps solidified by former New Jersey D
Sheldon Souray, who had an outstanding year despite suffering yet another “upper
body injury” late in the season. He is still good enough to be effective, but
the Habs really missed his offensive prowess on the power play down the stretch,
but have Craig Rivet, Stephane Quintal, Andrei Markov and Francois Bouillon to
pick up the slack.
the 30th time both teams have met in the playoffs. The Habs hold a
22-7 advantage all time in postseason play. The last time they met two years
ago, Montreal won the series in six games. Even though the Bruins have improved
significantly since then, don’t expect much to change this time around.
Montreal has been given a mindset which was missing from this team for a long
time. Gainey helped the team realize the tradition of what it means to wear the
“CH” logo and while I expect Boston to put up a good fight, I just don’t see
them overcoming the adversity of losing Thornton and having an inexperienced
playoff goaltender. They do have Felix Potvin to put in if needed, but he
hasn’t seen as much playing time as Raycroft has. Boston held a slight
advantage in the season series, but it’s the overtime record which concerns me,
as they failed to win once against the Habs in the extra frame. This will just
not get it done in the playoffs. My colleague uLAr boldly predicted Montreal to
win the Stanley Cup by 2010, but if they have their way, it will happen this
year or next. Expect another classic, and expect the Blue, Red and White to
Canadiens in 6
#3 Philadelphia (40-21-15-6) vs #6 New Jersey
Season Series: Advantage Philadelphia (3-2-1-0)
placed 3rd and 6th in the conference standings
respectively, but only one point decided home ice advantage and the Atlantic
division title for Philadelphia. Given neither team has to travel very far,
will home ice even matter in this series?
Flyers held the advantage against the defending champions, winning 3 and tying 1
during the regular season, but don’t think for one second this automatically
makes Philadelphia the favorite in this series. It is a given they have enough
offensive stars to get the job done, with the former Chicago connection of
Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and Alexei Zhamnov, veterans Keith Primeau, John
LeClair, Claude Lapointe, and Mark Recchi, along with the often underrated Simon
Gagne. Primeau and Roenick are both returning from concussions, Roenick from a
broken jaw, so their effectiveness remains to be seen.
Desjardins returns from a broken arm, but if he doesn’t get it done on defence,
Philly will have to rely on sophomore Kim Johnnson and rookie Joni Pitkanen.
Danny Markov will bring some experience, but will it be enough?
Robert Esche will be up against his biggest NHL test yet. If he doesn’t get it
done, the Flyers have Sean Burke to bring some stability, but neither goalie
comes even close to the man at the other end.
Devils have faced their own adversity this season, most notably Scott Stevens
who suffered a concussion in January and hasn’t played since. He may not
return, and at this stage the team can’t even tell us where he is, let alone
give an idea as to when and if their captain can lead another charge to the
Promised Land. Brian Rafalski suffered a leg injury during the second half, but
seems to be back just in time for the series. The only question is he 100% or
making like Bobby Baun? With two gaping holes on defense, Scott Niedermayer has
had to pick up the slack and has met the challenge head on. Colin White has
gotten himself into penalty trouble and will have to tone it down for this big
series. Tommy Albelin should be ready to fill in for Stevens and has the
experience to make a difference. Bottom line, New Jersey’s defense should be
though Joe Nieuwendyk left for free agency and Ken Daneyko retired, New Jersey
still has a potent offense which can still get it done. Proven playoff
performer Grant Marshall is also injured, but may return in time to salvage a
game or two. John Madden and Patrik Elias represent the biggest offensive
threat, along with Jay Pandolfo and Brian Gionta. David Hale and Paul Martin
(not to be mistaken for Canada’s Prime Minister) have both been impressive
rumored and hoped by New Jersey fans and media the organization would bring in a
man destined to be a Devil, Miroslav Satan of Buffalo, but it wasn’t to be.
Instead Viktor Kozlov and Jan Hrdina were brought in as defensive specialists
who should fit into New Jersey’s defensive style, although they’ve yet to prove
anything. Of course, let’s not also forget 43 year old workhorse Igor Larionov,
who doesn’t replace Stevens or Nieuwendyk, but still brings leadership.
Jersey could win this and any series with goaltending alone. Martin Brodeur is
clearly the man, and everybody in the East knows the road to the Stanley Cup
will go through New Jersey. Pat Burns and Ken Hitchcock will match wits, but at
the end of the day whoever can stop the puck will win, period. The Devils go
into the playoffs with the least amount of goals against over any team in the
league, proof Brodeur still has it.
Devils in 6
#4 Toronto (45-24-10-3) vs #5 Ottawa (43-23-10-6)
Season Series: Advantage Toronto (4-1-1-0)
every cliché you know and throw it out the window. The circus has officially
arrived back in town. This is Round 4 of the always entertaining Battle of
Ontario, and this promises to be the most fun filled series yet!
have two teams, equally deserving to move on to round 2, but one will not. Both
teams have faced adversity all year long with injuries and not always meeting
the expectations of fans and media alike. Nobody is making excuses and both
teams look ready to go. This time at least there aren’t any complaints over the
comes into this year’s edition of the playoffs
healthy and stocked up, with the exception of one Owen Nolan. On paper if you
go up and down both rosters you’d have to wonder how Ottawa can even win a
game. You have Ed Belfour with all his playoff experience and one Stanley Cup,
Joe Nieuwendyk with three, his most recent one coming just last season, 41 year
old Ron Francis who enjoyed some playoff success with the Carolina Hurricanes a
couple of years back, former New York Rangers captain Brian Leetch who has a
Stanley Cup, Gary Roberts who has vivid memories of his Stanley Cup with
Calgary, and current Leafs captain Mats Sundin who would like nothing more than
to give the fans in Leaf Nation their first championship since 1967. The names
I just mentioned would be any team owner’s dream roster, but it doesn’t stop
there. Alexander “Al-Mo” Mogilny, Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Matt Stajan and Alex
Ponikarovsky round out an impressive roster, but is it a case of too many cooks
spoiling the broth? We’re about to find out. John Ferguson, in his first year
as Leafs general manager, certainly hopes not, although he’d better not plan the
victory parade just yet.
trade which moved Leetch from Broadway to the Air Canada Centre improved an
already solid defense. Calle Johansson came out of retirement on trade deadline
day to join the likes of Brian McCabe, Bryan Marchment, and Tomas Kaberle.
only thing I can foresee being detrimental to Toronto’s playoff run is the
collective age of all the players, not to mention the lack of a proven backup
goalie should “Eddie The Eagle” Belfour’s back woes come back to haunt him.
With eight players over 35 and 17 over 30, the time is clearly now for the Leafs
to get the job done. Then again, this team has placed a skeleton crew roster on
the ice before, so from the get go the sky is clearly the limit.
Ottawa Senators had a good season despite backlash from fans and media over
their often times lackluster play on the ice. They still finished strong with
102 points, one point removed from home ice advantage and two points removed
from clinching the Northeast division. After their pedal to the medal
President’s Trophy winning season from a year ago, I get the impression this was
intentional, but you’ll never get the players to admit it. This is a team with
all the pieces needed to go all the way, now they just need to prove they’re
worthy and make it happen. They led all teams in scoring with 262 total goals,
7 more than Detroit, and were up there with the best of them in goals against,
proving their goaltending situation isn’t as bad as everybody thinks. For
whatever it’s worth Patrick Lalime has the best playoff goaltending record over
the past three seasons (1.72 GAA), yet he is questionable with a lingering knee
injury which should be fine for the series start. For the time being both teams
deservedly get some much needed rest.
has the deepest defense of any team in the Eastern Conference. Wade Redden
along with Chris Phillips both have shown they’re ready during the final
stretch. Anton Volchenkov returns from a shoulder injury and has already proven
to be very effective. Newly acquired Greg De Vries has a Stanley Cup ring from
Colorado, as does Curtis Leschyshyn. Let’s not also forget the tallest player
ever to play in the NHL, Zdeno Chara, a whopping 6’9’’ off skates. This guy is
so tall he somehow managed to take out one of Florida’s broadcasting cameras
with his stick, giving new meaning to “high sticking”. Brian Pothier has done
well in his first full year since being traded here from Atlanta, and Todd
Simpson has fit in nicely since his trade from Anaheim. The Senators have the
luxury of rotating all of these defensemen, something not too many teams can
say. They even have more defensive depth on the farm in Binghamton if needed.
The Leafs are clearly outnumbered here.
offense, take your pick of Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Radek Bonk, Martin
Havlat, Antoine Vermette, Peter Schaefer, Brian Smolinksi, Josh Langfeld, Mike
Fisher, Shaun Van Allen, and Todd White. I don’t care how many future Hall of
Famers Toronto thinks they have in their lineup, they aren’t going to be able to
stop everybody. Maybe Bonk will make up for a sub par season by his standards
and surprise everybody. He certainly has the ability and an opportunity here to
redeem himself, and it has to happen now.
Senators also added grit last year with Rob Ray but never had an opportunity to
make use of him as they never faced Toronto. He came out of semi-retirement
midseason to rejoin the Senators as a free agent (he was actually doing color
commentary for Buffalo when John Muckler came calling!). Chris Neil is also a
tough customer but he needs to keep his emotions in check. Rugged winger Vaclav
Varada has also returned in record time from an ACL tear which was expected to
keep him out of action until at least May, but he will be back as well. He too
needs to concentrate more on the intimidation factor but not take dumb
penalties. Unless Tie Domi or Darcy Tucker does something stupid, he should
just stay away from both of them and concentrate on getting Sundin, Roberts or
Mogilny off their games.
got a huge scare during the last game of the regular season as newly acquired
Peter Bondra was hit from behind by Tie Domi and was listed as day to day with,
you guessed it, a “lower body injury”. He seems to have shaken it off and
should be fine for Game 1. Sophomore forward Jason Spezza was also missing from
the lineup and was day to day, but apparently will be ready to go. For the
first time ever the team seems to show the sort of “swagger” general manager
Muckler has been looking for and actually talks about winning it all. After all
if you can’t talk about winning the Cup, you can’t be expected to do it. Now is
when we will see if all the so-called smart moves will pay off, or to use
another cliché, this is where we separate the men from the boys.
on this series being another emotional one, with both teams wanting to put the
other away early. It has all the makings of another classic, and although they
say home ice means nothing in the playoffs, the Leafs always seem to come
through when it matters most. It will be up to Ottawa to match their work
ethic, or else it will be another bitter end for
Canada’s capital. I’m a little bit baffled over the fact almost everyone is
counting out the Senators, including their own fans, yet the series has yet to
begin. Sure, history may repeat itself if they come out stale from the gate,
but consider this: in 2001 the Senators had home ice advantage and the third
best record in the conference, only to lose Game 1 in overtime and eventually
get swept in four straight. While I’m not suggesting
Ottawa will turn the tables and sweep Toronto, I
don’t think they can be counted out, and while a sweep is definitely possible,
not likely against a team who wants it just as much as they do. They gained
valuable experience in their run last year, and if they can get away from the
Toronto karma and mind games and just play their game, they will be alright. I
can guarantee you one thing: if they play the way they did during the last game
of the regular season versus these same Leafs, they will be done in four
straight like everyone seems to be predicting. If they come out strong with the
same kind of emotion and poise shown in the game the previous night in
Philadelphia, they will beat the Leafs for the first time in their playoff
history. It’s now or never, for both teams. Bring it on!
Senators in 6
#1 Detroit (48-21-11-2) vs #8 Nashville
Season Series: Advantage Nashville (3-2-0-1)
the President’s Trophy and winning the Stanley
Cup are expected to go hand in hand, but don’t tell the Detroit Red Wings.
They’ve posted the best overall NHL record now for a fourth time since 1990, the
most of any team, but only have one cup to show for the feat. Nevertheless,
there’s a reason why they call Detroit “Hockeytown”. The organization has built
and sustained a tradition of winning, winner of 11 total Stanley Cups, 3 since
1997. Only two teams in NHL history have more, Toronto (13) and of course,
what started out as a season of uncertainty for Motown with the Hasek vs Cujo
goalie controversy along with several major injuries (Derian Hatcher, Henrik
Zetterberg, Steve Thomas), the Wings continued to get it done with not only
their depth but with All-Stars Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Brendan
Shanahan and Nicklas Lidstrom. General manager Ken Holland once again resorted
to free agency and the trade winds to complement these veterans well with folks
like Robert Lang, Ray Whitney, Steve “Stumpy” Thomas. Flashy players like
Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk represent the future for the team, now. The
“Grind” line of Kris Draper, Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby is as strong a
checking line as you’re bound to see. Another variation of this line also sees
Tomas Holmstrom fill in nicely.
defense, Chelios and Lidstrom could win a Stanley Cup all by themselves, but the
addition of former Dallas captain Hatcher added a new dimension to the Red Wings
blue line. Mathieu Schneider could challenge Lidstrom for the Norris trophy,
and Jiri Fischer pairs up well with Mathieu Dandenault to give Detroit much
biggest question mark season long was in goal. Dominick Hasek came out of
retirement and was expected to be the go to guy, at least until his groin gave
out. Curtis Joseph has filled in fairly well, yet has been hampered with an
ankle problem he’s had ever since he played in Toronto. Everyone had expected
him to be traded but management stuck with the rabid dog. This leads us to
Manny Legace, who is starting to prove he’s worthy of more than simply backup
status, and could actually end up starting this series if Cujo isn’t 100%
ready. The Wings also have rookie Marc Lamothe who I’ve seen play a couple of
times and have been very impressed with.
other end of the ice will be the Nashville Predators, as they qualify for the
postseason for the first time ever, and it wasn’t easy. They built up quite a
rivalry with Detroit along the way, going almost even in the season series,
proving along the way they can keep up and match the Wings’ one on one. The
playoffs, however, are a different story, for two reasons: 1) Detroit hasn’t
forgotten about Anaheim last spring, and 2) Nashville doesn’t have a proven
goaltender or the experience needed to win. This isn’t to say Tomas Vokoun
won’t make a few heads roll. He finished the season with 34 wins, tied for
third best in the league, and was named to the Western Conference All-Star team.
front, Greg Johnson and deadline acquisition Sergei Zholtok are faceoff
specialists on a team with some modest firepower. Martin Erat, Vladimir Orszagh,
and Andreas Johansson make up the speedy European line, Scott Hartnall, Adam
Hall and the “Tootoo Train” rookie, Jordin Tootoo, make up a fine checking
line. Steve Sullivan, acquired from Chicago in another deadline deal, has
increased scoring tremendously on a team which is defensive minded for the most
part. This was arguably the biggest trade for any team this year, as Sullivan’s
speed mixed with his ability to light up the lamp is a major reason why the
Predators are in the playoffs to begin with.
defense, Nashville is mediocre at best, with Kimmo Timmonen, Jason York, Marek
Zidlicky, Mark Eaton, and rookie Dan Hamhuis. Brad Bombardir and Shane “The
Sheriff” Hnidy were summoned into Music City at the deadline to give the
Predators more options.
hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing a coach get fired yet, as Barry Trotz has
instilled a system into the squad similar to the style played by Minnesota and
Anaheim. With teams in the East aware of what’s going on, will it be enough to
help the Preds pull off the upset? I give them a home game or an overtime win,
perhaps even a win on the road, but one thing they will not do is sweep
Detroit. Goaltending issues aside, even without Sergei Fedorov, the Red Wings
are still the team to beat in the West. This looks like the only series
which will be over early.
Red Wings in 5
#2 San Jose (43-21-12-6) vs #7 St. Louis
Season Series: Advantage San Jose (2-1-0-1)
Sharks were picked by many last season to go deep in the playoffs, but they
didn’t even make the playoffs, and ended up in a semi-rebuilding phase, sending
Owen Nolan to Toronto, and allowing Teemu Selanne to sign in Colorado. They
started off this season just as flat, getting almost a quarter of the way
through before they finally scored a win at home. From there they never looked
back, and won the Pacific division.
had so much depth in goal at the beginning of the season, they allowed Mikka
Kiprusoff to get away to Calgary, as Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala held the
fort all year long. Believe me when I tell you the Flames owe a lot to this
team for helping Kipper develop into the player he is. Nabokov is expected to
be the man in the playoffs, and he should be able to get it done.
brutal backend in 2002-03 got it together for 2004, as Brad Stuart, Mike Rathje
Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren looked pretty good as they helped teach the ropes
to newcomer Tom Preissing.
came from everywhere, as five players scored 20 or more goals. Unfortunately,
one of those players was Marco Sturm, but the Sharks still have Patrick Marleau,
Alyn McCauley, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Nils Ekman. Vinny Damphouse, Scott
Thornton and Mike Ricci bring much needed experience. Alexander Korolyuk had a
great year on the fourth line with strong Wayne Primeau and Scott Parker.
24 year playoff streak very nearly came to a grinding halt as they were on the
outside looking in until they smartened up and clinched themselves their 25th
straight playoff berth with literally one day to go in the regular season.
Ironically enough, it was a win against Nashville which sealed the deal for the
proven goaltender Chris Osgood, and a thin defense led by Chris Pronger, Eric
Weinrich and Murray Baron, the Blues for the most part rely on one big line for
all their scoring. Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and Pavol Demitra are the team’s
most lethal scoring line, and Scott Mellanby adds needed scoring depth. Put
simply if San Jose can stop these three, they shouldn’t have a hard time in this
series. The Blues are missing a couple of their big names in All-Star
defenseman Al MacInnis, who many think won’t play again, and last year’s Calder
Cup winner Barret Jackman.
the easy part. This match up has yielded some interesting results in the past.
The first time around in 2000, it was San Jose taking the series in 7 games, in
what was an entertaining 8th vs 1st upset, in a year St.
Louis had the best overall record in the NHL. A year later in 2001 St. Louis
got revenge over the Sharks in 6 games going in as only the 4th
seed. This one is tough to call as during the season the teams only met four
times and results were fairly even. The Sharks are coming off their best
offensive year both goals wise and in the standings, and St. Louis doesn’t want
to be left singing the blues after the first round. Goaltending will tell the
story in this one, as it usually does. I had to flip a coin in this one because
I like both teams (why not flip a coin for all the match ups this year?!).
Given the history between these two I’m picking a long series.
Sharks in 7
#3 Vancouver (43-24-10-5) vs #6 Calgary
Season Series: Advantage Vancouver (3-2-1-0)
8 seasons of hard work and determination, the Calgary Flames are finally back in
the postseason. Just to give one an idea of how long it’s been, there’s only
one member of the current Flames roster who played the last time the team made
the playoffs, their captain Jarome Iginla. Back then he was called upon as a
rookie against Chicago, but it wasn’t enough and for some reason the Flames
haven’t seen the playoffs since.
leads all Calgary Flames in scoring by a long shot (which is probably why
everybody who’s entered our hockey pool has picked him), but he isn’t the only
means of offense this team has. Craig Conroy, Shean Donovan, Matthew Lombardi,
and Martin Gelinas along with newly acquired veterans Chris Simon, Ville
Nieminen and Marcus Nilsson will all have to light the lamp if this team has any
hope against the Northwest division winners from Vancouver.
has a very talented and balanced defense made up of Jordan Leopold, Rhett
Warrener, Robyn Regehr, Toni Lydman, Andrew Ferrence, and Denis Gauthier. The
biggest defensive player of them all comes in goal with Mikka Kiprusoff. The
Flames knew what they were doing when they acquired Kipper from San Jose, and
they never looked back since. In February, Kiprusoff posted a record of 5-3-0
and a goals against average of 1.98. The numbers weren’t far off all season,
and clearly the reason the Flames are here is the goaltending. They need this
to continue if they’re going to get by the Canucks.
have said the Vancouver Canucks tarnished their chances of coming out of the
West the second Todd Bertuzzi sucker punched Colorado’s Steve Moore. Of course
as we all know by now, Bertuzzi won’t play, taking away the “two” in the team’s
1-2 punch line. If the Canucks miss Bertuzzi, you’d never know it from their
play during the final week, yet they did struggle significantly down the
will clearly go as far as their goaltender can take them, and Dan Cloutier has
to find a way, although backup Johan Hedberg has proven in the past with
Pittsburgh he can take a team on a run as well, so fans don’t have too much
Naslund needs to find his scoring touch, and to
help him will be a whole team of proven veterans and skill. Matt Cooke will
need to step up big in Bertuzzi’s absence, along with Geoff Sanderson, Trevor
Linden, Brendan Morrison, Mike Keane, and the Sedin twins.
shouldn’t be a problem, with Sami Salo leading the charge with Brent Sopel, Ed
Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund, and Marek Malik.
is the first time Vancouver and Calgary have met each other since 1994, a series
won in seven games by the Canucks on their magical run to the finals in which
they lost in Game 7 to Mark Messier and the New York Rangers. Trevor Linden was
around for Vancouver then, but admits it is unfair to compare this team today to
the team then, and he along with the team firmly believe this is the year the
Canucks can make some noise in the West. They’ll have to beat a very good
Flames team to do it. Look for this to be the most exciting and entertaining
series of the first round, one which will most likely go the distance. It’s a
shame one of these teams will be going home, but that’s how it goes in the
Canucks in 7
#4 Colorado (40-22-13-7) vs #5 Dallas
Season Series: Advantage Colorado (3-1-0-0)
Colorado faces off against Dallas in this year’s playoffs, they’ll have to play
without one of their big forwards in Paul Kariya, as he is out indefinitely with
a sprained ankle suffered in the last game of the regular season against
Nashville. But don’t let the loss of one forward dampen the spirits of an
Avalanche team still hot under the collar after losing an opportunity to win
their division for an unprecedented 10th season. This team is every
bit as dangerous without Kariya as they are with him.
The Avalanche come into this series having won 3 out of 4 meetings
against Dallas. The Stars were strong down the stretch and managed to secure
their position with a win on the final day of the season.
everybody was and still questions whether or not David Aebischer can get the job
done in net for Colorado, the team seemed to do just fine. Just in case, Pierre
Lacroix acquired Tommy Salo at the trade deadline and he will play the role of
backup if push comes to shove. Aebischer is up against Marty Turco at the other
end of the ice, a goaltender who was asked the same types of questions after
taking over for Ed Belfour. He, like Aebischer, seemed to answer the bell quite
nicely, thank you.
series will clearly come down to a goaltending duel, with both teams capable of
scoring when it counts. Colorado has the usual suspects of Joe Sakic, Milan
Hejduk and Peter Forsberg, and have added Steve Konawalchuk, Chris Gratton,
Matthew Barbaby, Teemu Selanne, and Andrei Nikolishin. Dallas will counter with
Mike Modano who needs to redeem himself after a sub par season by his standards,
Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott, Jere Lehtinen, Stu Barnes, Scott Young, and newcomer
teams have oodles of playoff experience on defense. Colorado has Rob Blake,
Derek Morris and Adam Foote. Dallas has Sergei Zubov, Jon Klemm and Teppo
should be a dandy series ahead, but a very good team will again be going home
early, something neither team is used to as these two usually match up closer to
the Conference finals. I’m going to go with experience over unproven
goaltending and pick the Stars to come out on top, even though Colorado has home
ice. It doesn’t mean a thing here, because as good as David Aebischer has been
and as good as he may be, he isn’t Patrick Roy, and if the Avs end up having to
go with their backup Tommy Salo, they’re in big trouble.
Stars in 6
before I sign off, I’d be remiss if I didn’t wish all the best to Adam Oates
after a stellar 19 year NHL hockey career. He recently announced his retirement
after Edmonton’s Game 82 loss to Vancouver, a game which broke the hearts of the
Oilers and Alberta hockey fans (well at least half of them, given Calgary is
in). Oates amassed 1,420 total points, 1,079 of them assists. He reached the
100 point plateau four times and was known as a proven playoff performer who
made it to two Stanley Cup finals, most recently with Anaheim last spring. He
was an outspoken veteran presence for every team he played for, and led by
example both on and off the ice. He should be all but guaranteed a spot in the
Hall of Fame. Without question he taught the young Oilers team a thing or two
about how to win, and you know they will be a better team for it when the NHL
drops the puck on their next regular season.
with that, bring on the playoffs and may the best team win! Join me after the
first round for more predictions, and keep track of our annual hockey pool
results. The link is on the left navigation bar.