LAST PINT OF GLORY?

2007 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF PREVIEW

ROUND 3

 

Well, I digress, for all I claim to know about life and this great sport on ice, I’m not perfect (as if you didn’t know already).  Who knew after 10 straight years of playoff disappointment the Ottawa Senators finally appear to have what it takes to go all the way (or so they’d like everybody to believe)?  Who expected the New York Rangers to collapse so dramatically, when it appeared they had their series all but won?  How is it the San Jose Sharks went into the last two playoffs with such high expectations, only to see their dreams shattered in a mere six games of the second round – twice!?  And how is Roberto Luongo feeling nowadays after standing on his head for 12 games and coming up empty handed?

Most importantly – how did my sister, who is six years younger than me, end up beating me to the altar?

What I do know is this – we’re in for a great finish to the 2007 playoffs!  Bring it on!!

 

2006-2007 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

Eastern Conference

#1 Buffalo Sabres (53-22-7 Season, 8-3 Playoffs) vs #4 Ottawa Senators (48-25-9 Season, 8-2 Playoffs) – Season Series: Advantage Ottawa 5-2-1

It seems very fitting we find ourselves looking at this series as the defining moment of these playoffs.  Here we have a rivalry which continues to gain notoriety, the likes of which are only witnessed when Ottawa meets Toronto.

The Sabres, right from the drop of the puck, have been on a mission – redemption for last spring’s puck over the glass delay of game penalty against Carolina which was instrumental to ending their season.  So far, they’ve been pretty convincing and virtually untouchable.

The Senators, similarly, are on a mission of their own – to erase the disappointment of playoffs past.

So far – it’s mission accomplished on both fronts.  Now the fun begins.

Buffalo, for the most part, have made it look easy all year long.  They’ve yet to really face any real adversity.  Their regular season franchise record 53 wins are a testament to their game which is speedy, crafty, brutally honest defensively, and backed up by a brick wall in goal.  Ryan Miller hasn’t had to be sensational, but has made the saves he needs to at the right time.  The defensive corps of Brian Campbell, Dmitri Kalinin, Tony Lydman, Teppo Numminen and Jaroslav Spacek has been able to clear the lanes of traffic and allow the goalie to see the shots.  The usual suspects of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Tomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov have been able to get it done when it counts.  Who knew acquiring Dainius Zubrus would wind up being one of the best acquisitions of the year?  He has 8 assists and is 3rd in team scoring.

It hasn’t been so easy for Ottawa, as they’ve had to overcome the adversity of being a mediocre .500 team at the Christmas Break, and the over analyzed signing of goaltender Martin Gerber, who has kept the bench warm for the better part of the season and playoffs.  Ray Emery has silenced his critics with the 5th best goals against average in the playoffs, and has been a ½ save better than his opponents.  While Marc-Andre Fleury has a long way to go before he can lead Pittsburgh or any other team to glory, Martin Brodeur is no slouch, yet for the second straight playoff year bowed out in five games in the 2nd round.  Chris Phillips, Wade Redden, Anton Volchenkov and Andrej Meszaros continue to have the uncanny ability to feed the puck to two lethal top scoring lines, and after two rounds, the likes Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are among the league leaders in scoring. Gritty guys like Mike Comrie, Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher continue to win those corner battle and provide secondary scoring.

The difference in Ottawa this spring has been the heart and desire the team has shown – the willingness to drop down and block shots (I'm talking about Spezza here!), the willingness to crash the net, the ability to get into the opposing goalie’s head and shoot from anywhere - and score.  It’s a formula lacking from previous playoff appearances.  It’s the old cliché about learning how to lose before learning how to win, and for whatever reason, the Senators, this year more than any other, finally appear to get it, as agonizing a process as it’s been.

It’s a crying shame Martin Biron was traded to Philadelphia at the trading deadline – he, more than anybody, would have looked forward to this series.  While both teams are saying they’re not looking for a repeat of the brawl which ensued after Chris Neil decked Chris Drury, don’t think for one second the bad blood won’t boil over if things escalate on the ice.  Neil, quite frankly, better keep his head up.

When we get to this time of year, it goes without saying, the best players need to be at their best, and need to be patient and stay disciplined.  A parade to the penalty box won’t help either team, as the opposition on both sides have the weapons and ability to make the other pay.

What remains to be seen is which of these two teams have what it takes to take their game to the next level?  As simple as it sounds, can Ottawa avenge three previous playoff failures at the hands of Buffalo, or will they prevail and make their first trip to the finals?  How will either team react if they face adversity in the form of a loss or a series deficit?  Can Buffalo beat the curse which has haunted this city’s professional sports teams for many decades and finally deliver a championship?  I've been picking them all season long, and as much as I like Ottawa, I'm sticking with my predictions from the very beginning.  If I'm wrong, then all bets are off for the finals!

Queue up the movie soundtrack for “Rocky Balboa” and let’s get this party started!  Don’t miss a second of this series, it promises to be a dandy!

Prediction: Sabres in 7

 

Western Conference

#1 Detroit Red Wings (50-19-13 Season, 8-4 Playoffs) vs #2 Anaheim Ducks (48-20-14 Season, 8-2 Playoffs) – Season Series: Even 2-2

Thanks to yet another six game second round meltdown by San Jose, we won’t enjoy the privilege of witnessing a Southern California Western Conference Final series.  What we have, instead, is the top two teams in the conference going head to head for the right to do something special.

Detroit has survived the opening two rounds but with a price – they’ve lost the likes of defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Matthieu Schneider.  So far it hasn’t seem to have phased them.  Thankfully, Tomas Holmstrom returned to the lineup after taking a cut near the eye in the first round, but he’s only a forward.

Anaheim, on the other hand, with the exception of some cuts and bruises, have managed to make it here virtually unscathed.  It really shouldn’t surprise anybody to see this series come to fruition given the regular season records of both teams.

Given how good the Ducks have been throughout the season and playoffs, one glaring concern of one head coach Randy Carlyle has been their inability to stay out of the penalty box. 

"My highest concern right now are the number of penalties we are taking," Carlyle said yesterday. "We can't keep taking them at this rate because teams are going to make you pay."

"During the season we had a lot of fighting majors which is reflected in our penalty minute totals. Now, in the playoffs, there have been less fisticuffs and more minors.  Continue to do that, and the puck will end up in our net."

If it’s true what they say, meaning your best penalty killer is your goalie, it has definitely helped to have Jean Sebastien Giguere in goal – he only has the best goals against average of any goaltender still in the playoffs, a meager 1.28.

One of my lasting memories of this playoff run is the sight of Teemu Selanne taking one for the team - cut wide open in the face, yet remaining on the ice to chip in anywhere he can.  When asked about it, his response was a simple question – When is the next game?

Two players who’ve fully met all expectations – the Niedermayer brothers.  With Scott averaging 25 minutes a game, and defense partner Chris Pronger another 27-30 minutes per game, there isn’t much room out there.  With Rob throwing his weight around, add Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Samuel Pahlsson to the mix, and it’s no wonder the Ducks have only needed 10 games to get to this point.

Dominik Hasek matches up well against Giguere, but he isn’t getting any younger.  He does have a record of six straight playoff series wins going for him, but with a weakened defense, the Red Wings better be wary of the Ducks’ potent attack.  Nicklas Lidstrom needs to keep doing what he’s been doing so well for so many years – defend and put up points.  Robert Lang, Todd Bertuzzi and 1st round hero Johan Franzen need to provide more production to support Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.  If they can’t, I can’t see how the aging defense can keep up with the slick style of the Ducks.

The Red Wings have fought adversity and two very good goaltenders in two playoff series to get here, while the Ducks haven’t really had to deal with being behind in any series they’ve been in.  The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, it was a 4 game sweep by an upstart Ducks team who wasn’t expected to go anywhere.  Now they’re a much better team and expectations have never been higher.  Both teams were able to win on home ice during the regular season and are even against each other.  Don’t expect much to change in this series as both can play a patient style.

It’s a long road to the finals, and this series, like the Eastern Conference, will be one for the ages.  Pick your poison, Roasted duck or Broiled octopus.  In the end, I say it’s no contest.

Prediction: Ducks in 6

 

MIND YOUR OWN BEESWAX

I wrote about this in my Blog recently, and it deserves repeating here because my blood continues to boil at the very thought of it.

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention to how Canada's tax dollars are being spent nowadays, here's a suggestion for Parliament and in particular Ian Brodie and Gilles Duceppe - mind your own beeswax and do some work for a change, rather than criticizing the Canadian National Hockey Team for naming Shane Doan captain. 

I'm really comforted to know that rather than addressing the real issues in this country, they actually are taking time to put their 2 cents worth in on something they have no business even talking about - who's running the team here anyway, Hockey Canada or the Government of Canada?  I mean, I can't even renew my passport without a song and a dance, now they want to interfere with my favorite sport too?!?!  Enough!!!

The sad part here is Doan, being the classy guy that he is, is the type of guy who would step aside if this continues to make headlines.  As far as I'm concerned the right move would be for him, captain or not, to hold his head up high and lead the team to a World Championship.  As of this writing, Canada is a perfect 6-0 and headed to the quarterfinals, on the strength of a hat trick performance from Doan not even 48 hours after this went down in the House of Commons.

The whole controversy is over a cultural slur uttered by one of Shane's Phoenix team mates in 2005 during a game between the Habs and Coyotes.  What was the slur, you ask?  What else?  Something to the effect of a French Canadian referee being called an "F-'in Frenchman".  When Parliament reconvened, Bob Nicholson stepped up to the plate and told everybody present it wasn't even Doan's fault, comments which obviously fell on deaf ears as Duceppe just won't let it go.  In the Bloc Quebecois leader's words, Doan was compared to the likes of a Bank Robber.  "When somebody robs a bank, he's presumed innocent until proven guilty, but I don't know many people who'd name them bank manager while the trial's still on".

Now I'm always one to give somebody the benefit of the doubt regardless of creed, color, race or place of origin, but I must ask - do I really honestly live in a country where people are so shallow?!?  If the answer is yes, is it any wonder we're the laughing stock of almost anybody you talk to south of the border?  This of course in an age where the U.S. President is subject to an equal amount of mockery on a daily basis by the same people who elected him – case in point, the white tie affair with Queen Elizabeth – now there’s a story for another day!

Let's put it this way, the NHL investigated and considered the issue closed more than 2 years ago - so too should the federal government.  The report I read from Sportsnet.ca made reference to the issue being discussed under a solemn picture of the Fathers of Confederation - all I know (if my history is correct) is if this would have happened back in the day the picture was taken, all of these politicians with all this free time on their hands would have been dragged kicking and screaming without warning into Supreme Court and tried for treason.

And yet, I can't refuse to pay taxes on my paycheck, my groceries, my house, or my utilities - perhaps I should have the right to decide what a fair percentage would be.  For the number of days' waste of time I should at the very least be allowed to do my shopping tax free, as by now this has been talked about on the news and at the water cooler for about a week.

Maybe the NHL should intervene here and threaten to move the Habs to Las Vegas...how do you like them apples Mr. Duceppe?!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go now and enjoy the Conference Finals, but be sure and meet me back here as always for more analysis when we know who’s going to play for the Stanley Cup.  God I love this game!

Before I go, a huge heartfelt congratulations are in order to my aforementioned sister Jenn and her new husband Timm, who right around the time you read this will be exchanging their vows somewhere on a bright pink sandy beach in Bermuda.  I'm sorry guys, for not being there, but I will make it up to both of you somehow, and that’s a promise.  By the time they get back, Timm, who is a huge Senators fan, may be in for one hell of a surprise.  Go easy on him Sis’ – it's the playoffs!

Oh yeah, and Go Canada Go!

 

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