Well, what can I say?
Being a spectator isn’t so bad after all. After all, at least until next
season, I don’t have to live and die with every faceoff, every puck chiming off
the post, and every goal scored (or not), every player who gets creamed into the
boards or the ice. Yes, I must say, the first round of the playoffs was a lot
of fun, and it’s only going to get better.
I must say this –
the first round was a ramblin’ roarin’ good time – I don’t remember a first
round being as physical than what we just witnessed. Nashville, for starters,
well known as not being tough enough in the past, let their emotions get the
better of them as Alex Radulov took things a little too far against one of San
Jose’s best players. Pittsburgh’s Colby Armstrong almost decapitated Ottawa’s
Patrick Eaves. Calgary tried to impose their will as opposed to their skill (or
lack thereof), not to mention fists, on Detroit – bad move. And of course, we
have the New York Rangers’ Sean Avery, who not only got into it with Atlanta’s
Ilya Kovalchuk, but also elevated his offensive game. Where last year was the
year of blocked shots and delayed shots over the glass, this playoff season is
quickly becoming Fight Club on Ice.
As far as my predictions go,
I got 3 series completely right – Buffalo in 5, Red Wings in 6 and Canucks in
7. In the rest of the other series I picked the right team in all but one,
Nashville actually got beat in 5 games by San Jose instead of winning in 7.
What do I know, I call them as I see them on paper, only the players themselves
truly know what they can do.
don’t mess around – the second round is here!
2006-2007 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview
#1 Buffalo Sabres (Season:
53-22-7; Playoffs: 4-1) vs #6 New York Rangers (Season: 42-30-10; Playoffs: 4-0)
– Season Series: Advantage Buffalo 4-0
The biggest surprise of round
one was the first
round sweep the Rangers handed to Atlanta. Even though I picked the Rangers to
win the series, I never expected to see a team in their first ever playoff
series get tossed aside so easily. There wasn’t even an overtime game, and one
of the Ranger wins in Game 3 was downright embarrassing – a 7-0 drubbing. It
was the type of score you would have expected from the Buffalo-Islanders
series. I guess if history has any say, it’s par for the course – Atlanta teams
have only managed to win 2 out of 19 playoff games if you go back to the days of
the Atlanta Flames – they too were swept in their first ever playoff series
against Philadelphia back in 1974.
on the other hand, it wasn’t so surprising to see them dispatch the eighth
seeded NY Islanders in five games. It was one of only 3 total predictions I
actually got completely right the entire first round. Now they go up against a
much more dangerous team. As I mentioned in the first round, don’t let the 6th
place finish fool you.
has heated up at the right time, and Jaromir Jagr seems to have regained his
form which has made him such a dominant player throughout his career. It’s no
secret he was hurting during last year’s four game sweep at the hands of New
Jersey, and this year he’s put his money where his mouth is. Emotions are in
motion, to say the least.
putting his mouth where perhaps it doesn’t belong, as usual, is Sean Avery.
While he’s backed up his words with some encouraging play so far, some of the
trash talk I’m hearing leading into this series is just wrong. “I’m going to
hurt them, I’m going to hit them, I’m going to be in their face as much as I
can,” were his words when asked about how he views the challenge of playing the
President’s Trophy winners. I know it’s Avery’s job to antagonize the
opposition, but the sad part is he even has coach Tom Renney in on the act. “I
don’t know if they’re the cream of the crop right now”. Excuse me? Seems to me
somebody didn’t see the first round of the playoffs outside of the
on the other hand, chose to take the high road.
“They’re allowed to think whatever they want. They feel good about themselves,
they’ve had a tremendous record. They swept Atlanta, a very good team. They’ve
got a lot of aspects of their game that are going well. We know this will be a
tremendous challenge.” About Avery: “They’re agitators, their goal is to try
and get people off their game. My goal is to keep our players on their game. I
have to succeed in that.”
“I’m not going to comment on him (Avery). He’s just a player on their team.
We’re not trying to get the focus on him.”
“I think he’s an extremely talented player beside all the other stuff. The
Rangers, they’ve been on a tear” (since the trade) “Our focus is more on how
good a player he is rather than the other stuff.”
it’s a story of a team showing respect for their opponent, while the Rangers
seem to be exhibiting the New York stereotypical attitude.
be a much better goaltending exhibit in this series than what we saw in the
lopsided Rangers-Atlanta series – Ryan Miller at one end, and Henrik Lundqvist
at the other, and two backups with a little bit of experience – Ty Conklin and
Kevin Weekes. Lundqvist is no Rick DiPietro, and Miller is no Kari Lehtonen.
have only managed to sweep a series four times in franchise history if you
include this year. The three previous times they pulled it off, they managed to
advance to the finals. Don’t expect them to go 4 for 4, as the Sabres are
nothing but a huge brick wall blocking the Rangers’ path. They can attempt to
go around it, over it, or through it, but unless somebody can somehow sneak some
dynamite into the building, it will be a lost cause. The Sabres are clearly on
a mission, and have yet to break a sweat.
Sabres in 6
#2 New Jersey Devils (Season:
49-24-9; Playoffs: 4-2) vs #4 Ottawa Senators (Season: 48-25-9; Playoffs: 4-1) –
Season Series: Advantage New Jersey 3-1
It’s the rematch everybody in
Canada’s Capital has
been waiting for – and do you know what? It’s payback time – or so everybody in
Ottawa seems to think, anyway.
forget the classic 2003 Conference Final series which saw New Jersey face the
supposed high flying top seeded Ottawa. Senators fans remember all too well, a
late goal from Jeff Freisen in game 7 ended a long cup run cut short.
That was then, this is now.
between this year’s teams versus the 2003 editions start and end with Martin
Brodeur in net for New Jersey, and players Sergei Brylin, Jamie Langenbrunner,
John Madden, Mike Rupp, Brian Gionta, Jay Pandolfo, Colin White and Scott Gomez
are still on the roster. For Ottawa, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Wade
Redden, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Peter Schaefer, Mike Fisher and Chris
Neil remain from the team which got a small taste of what it takes to go all the
way, and quite frankly have been trying ever since to get back there. How
fitting is it, then, to have to once again go through Jersey for a shot at
were lucky in round one, and they know it – and they also know something else –
even after 3 Stanley Cups they may not yet garner the respect they deserve
outside of the Continental Airlines Arena, but they still have the resources and
the philosophy of play that wins. In round one, although the Tampa Bay
Lightning relied heavily on one scoring line, often times the dynamic presence
of Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier gave Brodeur and the
Devils’ defense fits, all too many times catching them out of position and
capitalizing on their chances. It didn’t take long, however, for New Jersey to
figure out Tampa’s strategy and before the series was 4 games old, they were
finally able to make their shots count. On the road, in an overtime thriller,
the turning point of the series came. Down 2 games to 1, the “EGG” line with
Patrick Elias and Gionta set up Gomez for the winning goal – and all of a sudden
the best of 7 became a best of 3. In the end, the Lightning didn’t have enough
gas left in the tank and the Devils prevailed in 6 games, a series too close for
comfort, but a hard fought victory they can be very proud of.
The Ottawa Senators
more than had their way with the upstart Pittsburgh Penguins, with their slick
moves, tough as nails defense, and gritty forwards. In the end, their superior
playoff experience and hard checking game was no match for Sid the Kid and
company. It’s been reported now Sidney Crosby played on a bad ankle, but in
fairness, he wasn’t given a lot of room to strut his stuff, and when he did
manage to get free, it was often too late for it to count. It was a rough, five
As much of a cliché as it is, the team who can get the
timely saves from their goaltender and whichever team can get the most
production from not just their best players but also their 2nd and
even 3rd line, should move on. On paper, it goes without saying
Martin Brodeur has the most experience of the two goaltenders, or just about
every other goaltender left in the playoffs for that matter. Outside of the EGG
line, New Jersey must continue to get secondary scoring from Jamie
Langenbrunner, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, and will require all hands on
deck. This isn’t even mentioning the impact of players like John Madden, Brian
Rafalski and even Jay Pandolfo.
Ottawa, as well, can roll
four lines and can emulate any style the other team wants to play. Mike Comrie
is proving his stock to this team, as short as he is, he’s been able to bring
not only soft hands and quick moves but a little bit of sandpaper – something
everybody has said the team lacked in previous playoff runs. Whatever he’s
doing, it’s caught on like wildfire. Spezza and Heatley have 4 points apiece,
but so does Joe Corvo, Chris Kelly and Anton Volchenkov. When you can get
secondary scoring from Comrie, Tom Preissing, Chris Neil and Dean McAmmond, it
has to help. Alfredsson has led by example, as every good captain should, but
will it enough to get beyond the second round?
The biggest question
this series begs an answer to – can Ottawa execute their game plan or will they
be intimidated by New Jersey’s patient attack? It’s unfair to call the style of
hockey both teams play “boring”, as both can open it up when they need to, but
both are sound defensively as well. To those fans and media types who act as
though both of these teams are still playing like it’s 2003, I say watch a
couple of games of this series and call me in the morning.
can’t get it done, it will just be another thorn in the side of this team’s less
than illustrious playoff history, and if they can, maybe finally they can start
shedding the choker label. Until they do, they can’t ever be considered a
contender. This is probably the best shot they’ve had in a long time – theirs
for the taking. Quite frankly – even though I live in Ottawa and laugh out loud
at some of the things I hear on the radio – they've been saying "better the
Devil you know", but I’ll simply believe it when I see it because they’ve proven
nothing thus far.
Devils in 7
#1 Detroit Red Wings (Season:
50-19-13, Playoffs: 4-2) vs #5 San Jose Sharks (Season: 51-26-5, Playoffs: 4-1)
– Season Series: Advantage San Jose 3-1
Here we have the two victors
of the two most violent series of the first round. I mentioned at the very
beginning the hit Nashville’s Radulov put on San Jose’s Steve Bernier. In the
Detroit-Calgary series, Johan Franzen was slashed by backup goalie Jamie
McLennan. How ironic, then, was it for Franzen to get the last laugh with the
series clinching overtime goal in Game 6? Radulov should be so lucky.
Who was it who
said Pavel Datsyuk can’t score in the playoffs? In what was a low scoring
Calgary series, he led Detroit with 3 goals and averaged 20 minutes per game.
The critics have been silenced – for now.
A huge loss
on the Red Wings roster is Tomas Holmstrom, as he took a stick in the eye in
Game 6 and could be lost for the entire series. It will be up to Robert Lang,
the aforementioned Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom to remain hot. A little
contribution on the score sheet from Todd Bertuzzi won’t hurt either. Johan
Franzen is a name everybody better start getting used to, as his big overtime
goal can only lead to more from the youngster.
As always, Detroit will look to
Chris Chelios and Lidstrom for leadership, but keep an eye on Brett Lebda and
rookie call up Kyle Quincey. Henrik Zetterberg is the go to guy on the power
play, but Lebda has a cannon from the point and should use it more often.
As for San Jose –
they certainly hold the size advantage and will be looking to build on what was
a disappointing end to their season last year. Detroit will have to be wary of
Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek, and when
they do go on the offensive, will have to contend with the likes of Craig Rivet
and Curtis Brown, two instrumental shut down guys in the Nashville series. Both
went up against the likes of Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg, and obviously got
the better angle on both.
is legendary to say the least. What haven’t we already heard about Dominik
Hasek and Evgeni Nabokov. Before you answer, just remember, this is a family
game. The big concern would be can Hasek continue to keep his cool? He’s still
got the snow angel move down pat, as witnessed many times before.
If the Sharks
take anything away from the scouting report on the Red Wings, they’ll want to
crash, bang and grind at every opportunity. Neither team was intimidated by the
rumble and tumble tactics of their first round opponents, and both would be wise
to just open it up and go for it – after all, this is the second round and the
Cup is up for grabs! It’s a coin toss series, with both teams worthy of moving
on to the Conference Finals. For my money, I say Detroit has learned their
lessons of years past and aren’t about to go down without a fight. I of course
say that tongue-in-cheek, because in fairness, when you’ve won three Stanley
Cups in 10 years, how can you call minor setbacks like losing in the first or
second round failures? The biggest question – how much longer can the old
codgers carry the torch before it’s time to hang them up, and are they destined
for what would probably be one last hurrah? We’re about to find out.
Red Wings in 7
#2 Anaheim Ducks (Season:
48-20-14, Playoffs: 4-1) vs #3 Vancouver Canucks (Season: 49-26-7, Playoffs 4-3)
– Season Series: Advantage Anaheim 3-1
Just as I
was about to say something cheeky about Henrik’s twin getting the winning goal
in the Dallas-Vancouver series in what I think was Game 7, Henrik Lundqvist’s
twin Joel that is, Henrik Sedin himself went and tied the score and from there
it was all Canucks. It was essentially the Roberto Luongo show, as he
stole a little thunder right out from underneath Marty Turco. The critics
who’ve all labeled Turco a non playoff performer can stop criticizing.
Even though the Stars lost in 7 games, you can’t hang it all on him. It’s
a shame how just about every Western Conference first round series would have
all been great substitutes for the Western Conference final and every bit as
entertaining, but you can’t pick your opponents.
One would have to think Brian Burke is thrilled to high heaven with this
matchup, even if he's not admitting it. When faced with the questions
about facing his old team - a team he was single-handedly responsible for
building into what they are, the response was "to me it's a non-issue.
It's another team we have to play." Further downplaying the physical
aspect Anaheim's game strategy, the answer was "that's how we play." Walt
Disney must be turning over in his grave.
If any team is
lucky to get out of the first round, it’s the Canucks. After having been down
3-1 in playoff series and after coming back to win those series, one would think
the Canucks of all teams would have had the wherewithal and experience to be
able to put away a team when they’re down. It didn’t happen. Not only did the
Stars battle back to send the series to a 7th and deciding game, they
were well on their way to winning it until the sleeping giants of Vancouver
finally woke up and realized there was no tomorrow for the loser.
Two observations –
1) Vancouver better stay out of the penalty box – we’re talking discipline, 2)
Vancouver better be able to score on the power play. 2 for 34 will not get it
done against this team. Do you sense a bit of a theme here? The power play was
Anaheim’s bread and butter all season long – and little wonder with twin towers
Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on defense who can both blast the puck, not
to mention the rarely mentioned Francois Beauchemin. The potent attack of Ryan
Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, and Scott’s brother Rob often is enough.
to advance past the second round for the first time since 1994, Roberto Luongo
has to continue to play lights out every night, and the Sedin twins need to
produce, not just in a quadruple overtime game. Trevor Linden needs to get on a
roll after leading by example in Game 7. Taylor Pyatt needs to stop being
Taylor “Quiet” – I know he had the overtime winner in Game 3 of the Dallas
series, but ever since then he’s just been #9 wearing a powder blue jersey.
And for crying out loud, can Jeff Cowan actually try and hit the net and stop
looking for women’s panties to hit the ice? Thank you.
the Canuckleheads can’t dilly dally around like they did against Dallas – they
won’t be given the opportunity to. The first round lasted for what seemed like
9 games, and this will play right into the well rested wings of the Ducks. I
say it’ll be a fowl Western Conference final with Anaheim and Detroit. One way
or another, Southern California will be represented. How do you like them
Ducks in 5
So there you have it - the
second round broken down. Before I close this edition, just want to send a
shout out, a good night and good luck to Scott Mellanby, who has announced his
retirement after 21 NHL seasons. Forever remembered as the pioneer of "rat
fever" in Florida in 1996, chances are we'll be seeing him on Hockey Night In
Canada someday. He's the son of former executive producer Ralph Mellanby.
had but a day’s rest between rounds, and now it’s time to crank up the air
conditioning, light the BBQ and get ready for more insanity on ice. Make sure
you don’t miss a minute of the action, and meet me back here for Round 3, when
things will really start heating up. And don’t forget, if you can’t get near a
TV set, my daily (sometimes hourly) blog will keep you abreast of what’s
happening, with barn burner alerts as they happen. The link is where it always
is on the left side.
Booyah, here we go!