THE FINAL FOUR

 

Now the stakes are high

Folks, there just isnít enough room on the ice for four teams. As Iíve said before, only one team can win the Stanley Cup. Itís a shame really, because everybody who has made it this far truly deserves to lift the cup over their head, but only one will.

We are now officially at the halfway mark of the Stanley Cup tournament. The best hockey of the year has yet to be witnessed. I personally havenít witnessed as exciting a playoff in quite some time, so letís get on with it!

Iím pulling out all the stops here and going with seven game series all around for the final four. If you want to win the Stanley Cup, youíll have to earn it.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DETROIT vs COLORADO

Was there ever any doubt that Detroit would be here? Not on your life! Question was, up until the last day, who would they meet? I somehow ended up scoring perfect in my western predictions for round two, picking Detroit in 5 and Colorado in 7. Unfortunately, I wasnít so lucky in picking the East. Itís funny really, in the West it took until the final day of the regular season for seeding to be decided, but the East has had the most surprises. Iíll talk more about that later.

Now, the modern day western rivalry continues, and neither team is taking prisoners!!!

I had wondered if Colorado could even make it through, having now played two seven game series, both against California rivals. Somehow though, we see number one vs number two, as maybe it should be.

Make no mistake, there is a history between these teams, and they make no secret of the fact they donít like each other. Both should consider themselves lucky, if Colorado had never moved from Quebec, theyíd never meet each other unless they were both in the finals. Perhaps that would be a good thing, or not!!

The Avalanche never had the pleasure before now of playing against Dominick Hasek, but the Red Wings know Patrick Roy all too well. Quite frankly, both goaltenders have had their shaky moments this playoff season. Had it not been for the game three 6-1 mishap in St. Louis, Detroit could have swept their second round series. Then again, it had to be nice closing out the series at home. Ditto for Colorado, who took seven games to do it, but did it on home ice, in typical Roy fashion, with his 22nd career playoff shutout. We have to give San Jose a lot of credit, however, they gave it everything they had. A lucky bounce here or there and the Sharks would be here instead. A power play goal in the dying seconds of game seven probably wouldnít have hurt either (ask Kerry Fraser about that one!). Why any referee would call a penalty in the final minute of a game seven is beyond me. This would never have happened if it were the Stanley Cup Final.

Patrick Roy said after game seven that they are really looking forward to this series against Detroit and that they match up well against them. You have to think that something will give here. Colorado cannot start off this series like they started against San Jose, or else this will be over fast. However, if they match up so well, theyíll have to prove it. Theyíve only won the last two games by one goal, one of them in overtime. Detroit will have to continue to fire on all cylinders.

We canít ask for a better series here, the defending champions against former champions looking to retain their title. The Avs have essentially the same team that won them the Stanley Cup last year, minus Ray Bourque. Peter Forsberg has returned to his fine form and is currently leading the league in playoff scoring. Joe Sakic is showing us why he was the MVP of the Olympics. Alex Tanguay, Chris Drury, Dan Hinote, Milan Hejduk, Darius Kasparaitus, Greg DeVries are all names that have figured in the scoring for Colorado. Detroit has more Olympians in Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, and Chris Chelios. Pavel Datsyuk is still on fire in only his rookie season. Nicklas Lidstrom continues to show us why he is again a candidate for the Norris trophy. On paper, youíd have to think that this could be the most offensive oriented series we will see all year. However, Hasek and Roy will do everything they can to keep it a low scoring affair.

If either team wants to advance to the final round, they will have to leave their previous bad blood in the past and play hockey. I canít wait for the puck to drop on this one, it will be a beauty! I have to wonder if the extra rest that the Wings have enjoyed will be beneficial or will the Avs pull another magic trick out of their helmets? All I can say is this, drop the puck and may the best team win!

Prediction: Red Wings in 7

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CAROLINA vs TORONTO

First, Iíd like to tell the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs if they ever meet in the postseason again, theyíre liable to drive me absolutely bonkers! Itís a miracle they havenít already done so. I know one thing, my hairline seems to have depleted somewhat after seven games. What a series!!!

Unfortunately for the Ottawa Senators, third time was not a charm. They just cannot beat the Leafs in the postseason. After it seemed they had the series all but wrapped up, they just couldnít put that final nail in the coffin. Leading one game to none, they lost game two in triple overtime. After coming home and winning game three, they couldnít win game four and put a stranglehold on the series. Then after going to Toronto and getting a lucky break and winning game five, they couldnít come home and close it out. The Leafs just would not be denied in game seven. Just goes to show you can have all the finesse players you want, but if you donít have heart and killer instinct, you wonít go anywhere. I wonít take anything away from Ottawa, they did play their hearts out, but as weíve said many times before, they couldnít execute when they needed to. Even though Toronto had and still has a depleted lineup, they managed to get others to step up when they needed to.

Anyway, we have another series to talk about here. If you thought the Ottawa-Toronto series was intense, you havenít seen anything yet!

Carolina in the final four Ė you donít say! Who would have thought it possible? Not me, thatís for sure! You have to give Montreal credit, they had a great season. The Saku Koivu story is as heartwarming a story as weíre bound to see in a long time. I have to also salute the coaching staff of the Habs for putting Jose Theodore back in goal for the final three minutes of game six. Itís something Iíve never seen before in the playoffs. Another first, Doug Gilmour breaking the seamless glass in the penalty box in frustration after the team was already down 5-1 in the deciding game. Question is, will Gilmour be back or will he retire? The Habs will be better next year, believe me. Jose Theodore will get a lot of consideration for league MVP, along with Jarome Iginla and Patrick Roy, Theodoreís idol.

I really donít know how to read this next series. The Hurricanes are turning heads all over the NHL with their play in the postseason. They got rid of New Jersey and Montreal, two very good teams, and they did it in convincing fashion. Erik Cole continues to explode in his fine rookie season. Arturs Irbe, the last of the standup goaltenders, continues to be stellar. Kevin Weekes isnít bad either. The so called experts say you canít possibly win a Stanley Cup with two goalies, but I say why not? The Canes have a balanced attack, with not only Cole but Martin Gelinas, Ron Francis, Rod BrindíAmour, Josef Vasicek, Jeff OíNeill, Sami Kapanen, Bates Battaglia. Does anybody have even one of these players in their playoff pool? Quarterbacking the defense, they have Glen Wesley, Aaron Ward, Bret Hedican and Sean Hill. If you would have told me at the beginning of the playoffs that this team would be in the final four, I never would have believed it. When fixing a computer, technicians use a procedure called K.I.S.S., standing for Keep It Simple, Stupid. This is essentially what this Carolina team has done so far. They donít try to make the fancy plays, they just play patient hockey, wait for their chances, and when they get them, they capitalize. They outscored Montreal 17-3 in the final 3 games, not to mention they mounted the biggest comeback of the second round. After the Habs appeared as though they would cruise to a 3-1 series lead in game three, the Hurricanes rallied to tie a 3-0 game in the third period and won it in overtime. If you had to pick a turning point or a reason why this team is still hanging around, this would be it. People talk about the shot heard around the world, well Cole and Vasicek both were responsible for two shots heard around Montreal in game four. They werenít pretty shots either, but they counted. Where were the Forum Ghosts when we needed them?

The proverbial southern storm doesnít end here. The Canes will face a Toronto Maple Leafs team who no question has faced some adversity and has risen to the challenge, minus seven of their regular players! You have to wonder just how much longer the Leafs can keep this up. They are bruised and battered, but they have one goal in mind, the Stanley Cup. And itís been a long time coming. Chants of "1967" at the Corel Centre in game three changed to chants of "Na na na na hey hey hey goodbye" at the Air Canada Center in game seven. What a difference a week makes. Given what theyíve accomplished so far, they can probably squeak on through to the final, but only if they can contain the balanced attack that the Hurricanes have displayed so far. As far as the Leafs are concerned, weíve all seen this movie before, in 1993, 1994 and 1999. Will 2002 mark an end to a long 35 years since the last championship? It was mentioned in the Ottawa series to "expect the unexpected". Well I didnít believe in Carolina, until now, and I do expect the unexpected. The Canes are headed for the finals. The Leafs will simply run out of gas, unless they can finally get Mats Sundin back, along with Mikael Renberg and Jyrki Lumme. Gary Roberts canít carry this team forever, or can he? Oh yeah, and did I mention, this is the first ever meeting between these two teams in the playoffs?


Prediction: Hurricanes in 7

 

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