2008 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF PREVIEW

ROUND 3 - INSTANT (HOCKEY) KARMA

 

Wow!  What a finish to the second round!  In case you missed it (shame on you!), it took the Dallas Stars the equivalent of 2 hockey games and 9 minutes to eliminate the San Jose Sharks in Game 6.  I was hoping we’d have a long overtime game at some point, the fact it happened in an elimination game made it all the more special.  Both teams left nothing on the bench, the goaltending was superb, the hitting was brutal, the skating was fast and furious – it was a real shame somebody had to lose (and an even bigger shame the referee had to call a penalty to decide it, but therein lies another story for another day!).  The only way the series could have ended on a more positive note is if San Jose had managed to stretch it to 7 games.  Well, technically, they did!  Careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

In any event – we’re down to four teams and we have two more epic series to determine who’s playing for the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.  And not only should we expect to see a little more instant hockey karma along the way (more to come), we have two more bitter rivalries to take us into the finals.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

There are times in this game where the anticipation gets cranked up so high there’s no possibility of the action on the ice even remotely coming close to the hype behind it – unless there’s a good rivalry involved!  From the moment the Philadelphia Flyers got by the Montreal Canadiens, the trash talk between fans of these two Penn State rivals went into quadruple overtime.  The teams’ respective AHL teams are also battling it out in a best of seven series for the right to move on to the Calder Cup semifinals, but it doesn’t matter.  Pittsburgh has been waiting for this rematch ever since Keith Primeau scored in the fifth overtime period in May 2000 in a series Philadelphia would go on to win.  It still holds the distinction of being the 3rd longest game in NHL history.  Given what we just witnessed in the second round, I have a feeling we could see more history made here.  As for the fans, they’re already calling each other’s star players cry babies and dive artists – and this is just barely scratching the surface.

Why Pittsburgh should win: I picked them to come out of the East, and so far they have not disappointed – they’ve only lost one game the entire playoffs so far, and although they’ve yet to face any real adversity, it doesn’t seem like anything really phases them – they’ve played their game to perfection, capitalized on the other team’s mistakes, scored when they’ve needed to, and just dominated in every aspect of the game.  Case in point – Sean Avery, who everyone expected to get under the Penguins’ skin, left the last series with an alleged spleen injury right around the time the Rangers realized they were in too deep to make a series out of it.  Was he really injured?  Was it really his spleen or was the New York Post report of cardiac arrest actually accurate?  Only he and his doctor will ever know.  The only suggestion I have for the Penguins, while Avery takes on his summer job at Vogue magazine, is stay disciplined.  They seemed to cross the line a little bit in the second round (check You Tube for Malkin slew foot) and got away with it – they won’t with Philly.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter who scores for this team – Geno, Sid, Jordan, Marian, or big Georges – they’re scoring and scoring in bunches.  You score four goals, they’ll score five.  Now here's your challenge - can anybody (that doesn't live in Pittsburgh) name two defensemen from the Penguins without referring to the roster?  Me neither, but let me tell you, players like Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik have quietly gone about their business.  Those who were skeptical about Marc Andre Fleury can worry no more (or can they?).  On paper the Penguins should be in the finals, but they will need a lot to go right for them (or wrong, depending on what happens).  So far, so good.

How Philadelphia could win: Push Pittsburgh over the edge and make them pay for the few mistakes they’ll make – plain and simple.  So far the Flyers have managed to take out a confident team led by Alex Ovechkin and a team looking to keep their “Cup every decade” streak alive.  They need to keep giving the puck to R.J. Umberger as he’s been on fire during this playoff run, not to mention keep letting Martin Biron see the puck.  He was always second fiddle everywhere he ever played; now he’s finally getting a chance to show he’s not your average backup goaltender.  Does Philly finally have enough to get to the Promised Land, or will they be guests of Donald Trump in two weeks’ time as they hold their final practice of the year in their Atlantic City rink and chomp on cheese steaks?  One thing I know for sure– Jason Smith hasn’t forgotten the last time he was in the finals, and you can be rest assured he wants to get back there, sooner rather than later.

After calling all four series to go seven games in round two and not getting even one series to go the distance, one would think I wouldn’t be so bold as to expect the Conference Finals to go as far as they can go.  This one could and should go all the way, with the winner well poised to drink champagne from the Cup.  Home ice doesn’t usually matter in the early rounds, but Pittsburgh and Philadelphia’s respective barns will be so loud it won’t be funny.  This one won’t be over until the fat lady sings – and as far as I was aware, Game 7 will be in Pittsburgh, where Kate Smith won’t be able to sing her vintage “God Bless America” captured on DVD for all to see.  Buckle up for what should go down as one of the most memorable series of all time.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Detroit vs Dallas

While we may never know the answer to the age old television trivia question “Who Shot J.R.?” after watching Game 6 of the San Jose-Dallas series we now know the answer to “Whose shot eliminated J.R. from the playoffs?”  The answer would be Brenden Morrow.  Has there been a more noticeable leader in this post season?  We’re about to see Morrow go head to head with him.

Why Detroit should win: Is it just me or has everybody forgotten about Detroit?  It sure seemed like it up until an 8-2 rout in Game 4 in Denver which ended the Avalanche’s season.  Afterwards, everyone was singing the praises of one Johan Franzen, who only broke an NHL record for goals in a playoff series with 9.  The previous record holder?  Perhaps you’ve heard of him before: Gordie Howe.  He once scored 7 goals in a final series against Montreal back in the day.  Franzen also became the first player to score two hat tricks in a playoff series since Jari Kurri did it back in 1985.  Now in and of itself, this is an accomplishment, but the Red Wings have turned on the jets and are showing no signs of turning back.  They’re getting even better goaltending from Chris Osgood than they got in 1998.  They’re getting the power play production they’ve been so desperately looking for from both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.  And I know I said this last round, but it’s worth repeating: Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios just keep going and going.  Lidstrom has been a great leader on and off the ice, and he’s certainly making a good case for himself both in Conn Smythe voting, and in his quest to become the first European captain to win the Stanley Cup.  For the Wings it just seems like we’ve seen this movie before, only now we’re watching the multi-million dollar sequel.  As my uncle in Victoria, B.C. likes to (correctly) point out every time he sees me – Detroit has won three Stanley Cups since 1990.  Only one other team (New Jersey) has managed the same feat.  This time around, the Red Wings are well positioned for a fourth, but only if they can keep it going, because…

How Dallas could win: Keep the magic going from what people have been ridiculously calling a Cinderella run.  Get real!  This team just eliminated the defending Stanley Cup Champions in six games, and one of the teams favored to win the Stanley Cup in seven, I mean, six games.  Trust me, you didn’t hear anybody chanting “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” during this Dallas playoff run, and I haven’t seen any pumpkins turn into a horse and carriage!  I left all those images back in Orlando where they belong.  The Stars have got to where they are right now through hard work, timely scoring, and great goaltending.  Marty Turco has lifted the proverbial monkey off his back and has literally stood on his head.  He even has the patented Dominik Hasek snow angel down pat.  I ask again: has any captain in the playoffs been more noticeable than Brenden Morrow?  He’s done everything – score goals, hit players (and hard, just ask Milan Michalek!), hell, he’s even got the referees on his side.  Most players would have given up and disappeared after having two goals disallowed in the same game – not Brenden.  After waving the white towel a la Roger Neilson, and getting away with it, he went right back out and was a factor on just about every Dallas goal the rest of the way.  He has that look of fire I’ve only seen in a few players.  Mike Modano used to have it (and still does), Steve Yzerman used to have it, Wayne Gretzky used to have it, and The Rocket used to have it.  The tradition continues.  Oh, and did I mention Sergei Zubov is back on defense?  If Brad Richards can ever pot a couple, it’s officially on!  They’ll need to get a lot more balanced scoring than they’ve had so far if they want to get back to the finals, although so far they’ve been able to compensate for a lack of scoring explosion with their defensive play, and Morrow’s desire.  Another song you haven't heard in Dallas' dressing room: "When you wish upon a star..."

Call me crazy, but I think we have another long series coming up.  Only time will tell if I’m right, but this will be a great series.  Unless the roof caves in, Detroit should take it, but this is why we play the games.

Prediction: Red Wings in 6

 

So we’ve had a few days to recuperate from quadruple overtime, and now it’s winner take all – it’s what the game is all about!

Stay tuned next round when I’ll have my usual analysis on the Stanley Cup final, as well as the long awaited return of Along The Boards, where as usual we’ll have a discussion about everything and anything puck related.  Summer’s almost here folks, so enjoy the season as it winds down, yet continues to heat up, both on and off the ice!

I'll be back...

 

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