First Round Playoff Preview
by Matt Ederer(NHL)
Posted on April 12, 2007, 4:34 PM
Every single year since I was about 13 years old, and I swear to god when I say this, I've heard the theme to "Hockey Night in Canada" on the opening night of the NHL playoffs, and I've gotten chills. Honest to god chills. I adore this time of year. The NHL playoffs are truly the most exciting of the big four in my opinion, and I really enjoy breaking these matchups down, only to have at least 50% of what I say fly back in my face.
This is where heroes are born. This is where legends take their place in history. This is where Canadian girls get so drunk off of an inflated sense of self esteem (one that only the combination of alcohol and victory can provide) that they start randomly showing up naked on the internet. This is the most beautiful time of the year to be Canadian. If you are, and you're reading this, soak it in. If
you're not, and you're reading this, I truly believe you should come here to soak it in. If either Vancouver, Ottawa, or Calgary make a run and you're lucky enough to be in that city, you will never forget it.
Now here's Bob.
Last season’s playoff preview didn’t go too well for yours truly. In fact, I took it on the chin, posting an absolutely embarrassing 4-11 mark; which brought up the rear among all who made their predictions public, both here at the Sports Oratory and at the 2 “major” prognosticating sites, TSN.ca and Sportsnet.ca. The fact that is even more embarrassing is that TSN’s own monkey, Maggie, posted a far superior 9-6 record, and all she had to do was spin a wheel.
There are a few facts that have seriously altered the way I am going to make my predictions this time around: All of the series are far too close to call; with a new job, I don’t have the time to analyze each series in depth; and I don’t want to lose to a monkey this time around. Therefore, I’m going to take a page out of Maggie’s book and randomize my selections. A random number generator will produce a number from 1-8, with the lower numbers representing the higher-seeded team (1=4 game sweep, 4= 7 game marathon); and the higher numbers representing the lower-ranked team. Let’s hope that I can at least call 5 series correctly this way. Right, Matt?
Let's hope, my friend. I mean, anything you can do to get caught up to me, I encourage. After all, I did lead the site in correct predictions last year, going 10-5 if memory serves me.
Here's how we'll do this. I'll lead off, giving my in-depth analysis for every playoff series. Bob will then randomly select an outcome. Later, we'll decide that I'm still the smartest.
As Don Cherry once said, LET'S GO!!!
Detroit vs Calgary
Now, all the talk about Detroit’s tendency to choke in the playoffs may be a little bit out of line. After all, it was only four seasons ago that they were the champions of the National Hockey League. But then again, this is undeniably a “what have you done for me lately” league, and the Detroit has, lately, had some trouble doing it for me.
Here are some reasons why the Red Wings just might be golfing before somebody drinks from Stanley’s mug:
#1 – Henrik Zetterberg has not played regularly in the past two months. I realize this is the NHL playoffs and people tend to play through the pain, but there are limitations to that, especially when a player has a debilitating back injury.
#2 – Pavel Datsyuk hasn’t scored in the post-season since the conference final four years ago. Four years is not a HUGE Stanley Cup draught, but it goes without saying that it’s a huge goal-scoring drought. Having said that, the last time he scored in the playoffs, the Red Wings won the cup, so who knows?
#3 – Dominik Hasek is a flake. You know what you’re getting with Dominik, and that’s an elite NHL goaltender whose feathers are easily ruffled. And what we know about Calgary (maybe all we know about the team that is likely the NHL’s biggest enigma) is that they are more than capable of ruffling some feathers.
#4 – Jerome Iginla, the Flames’ captain, has been nothing short of awesome this year. If he plays a full season, he scores at least 110 points and finishes a relatively comfortable third in the scoring race. As it is, he played 70 of a possible 82 games, and he still managed to put up 94 points. He’s as healthy as a horse, and he’s playing like one.
But conversely, there are a slew of reasons why Detroit will send the 8th seeded Flames home to Canada without a title. They include:
#1 – Calgary seems to lack the capacity to win on the road. They played 41 road games this year, and only won 13 of them, by FAR the worst total of all the playoff teams. This doesn’t bode well when your schedule has you playing the majority of the time on the road and specifically in the Joe Louis Arena, where Detroit amassed the second best total of home wins in the entire NHL. For the record, they were second to Calgary.
#2 – The Flames are coming in cold, having lost their last four games. The Wings, playing their final four games against a relatively soft schedule, went 3-0-1.
#3 – The Wings added a lot of grit and depth at the trade deadline by acquiring Todd Bertuzzi and Kyle Calder. While Calgary did improve their team by adding Craig Conroy, who has been huge, Detroit got a player who is an equal (maybe slightly lesser) role-type guy in Calder, and a player who is one court case removed from being one of the NHL’s 10 best, in Bertuzzi.
This is going to be incredibly tough to call. Here’s the way I see it. Home ice will dictate a lot of this series. In fact, I’d say that the vast majority of games in this series will come down to that and that alone. However, the Flames will come out hot, knowing that a split against the Wings means that they regain home ice advantage. I figure the Flames will win the first game in Detroit, and the home team will win every game after that, until game 6 in Calgary, when the Flames deliver the deathblow.
Pick: Flames, 6.
At the start of the season, I called for Calgary to take the top spot in the Northwest Division, just behind Detroit for top spot overall. I didn’t foresee that Vancouver and Nashville would be as strong this season as they were. Calgary, still a very good team, stayed close to the same, while those around them just got that much better. The Flames still have the capability to duplicate the run made last season by their rivals to the north.
In other news, Detroit is another powerhouse team. Ho Hum. Detroit finished first again. *Yawn*.
The Random Number Generator agrees with me. Detroit is going down. I don’t really think it’ll be a sweep, but apparently the RNG does...
RNG number: 5. PREDICTION: CALGARY in 4.
Anaheim vs Minnesota
To me, this series is really fun to predict, because it’s the Anaheim Mighty Ducks of 2003 against the Anaheim Ducks of 2007. The ducks got in done in ’03 by being the exact team that the Wild are currently; incredibly tight defensively, with a goaltender who has come from complete obscurity to be an absolute rock between the pipes. The ducks in ’07 are a younger, faster, more exciting team, with wily veteran Teemu Selanne at the helm. Essentially, the Ducks are travelling back in time to see if they can vanquish the ghosts of the last truly successful Ducks team. This is tough, because Minnesota is the type of team that can go on a huge run and bust a lot of brackets (not crazy old random Bob’s bracket, obviously). Having said that, I think the Ducks are up to the challenge. There is an x-factor in play here though that can blow everything up. First there’s the difficulty that JS Giguere’s family is currently going through, with the health of their son. JS is a professional through and through, but he has his child’s health and the mental health of his family to worry about, and there is no guarantee that he will be on the ice during this series, not to mention the fact that if he is on the ice, there is no guarantee he will be able to shake it off.
Still, I feel the Ducks will get it done in the clutch, hopefully with JS Giguere at the helm, and if not, with their more than capable backup, Ilja Bryzgalov.
Pick: Ducks, 6.
The single greatest story coming out of Minnesota this season was Josh Harding. Not only did the third string goaltender keep his team in the hunt while Manny Fernandez was on the shelf and Niklas Backstrom needed time off, but he also had a uniform that not a lot of NHL players would wear, not to mention wear with pride. Harding used his helmet as a platform to raise awareness for breast cancer research, a cause that he is far too familiar with. Harding is also raising money for the cause by auctioning off NHL memorabilia at www.fundthefight.com.
It’s no question that Josh’s sister has helped inspire the whole team, but the Anaheim Ducks have an inspiration of their own. Teemu Selanne, who came off a disastrous 03/04 season, was thought to be past his prime playing days when the NHL returned from the lockout season. However, his play this season has brought his team from a projected 6th place finish to second in the conference. Add to that the supporting cast of Andy MacDonald, Chris Pronger, Chris Kunitz, and Scott and Rob Neidermayer, and you have a formidable foe.
Despite the opposition that faces them, the RNG is projecting a second first-round upset.
RNG’s number: 7. PREDICTION: Minnesota in 6.
Vancouver vs Dallas
I won’t be writing a lot about this series. It’s simple. Turco vs Luongo, and whoever plays better gets their team to the second round. I’d say that Dallas has the better supporting cast overall, but Vancouver has the most talented players and the best coaching. Therefore, it’s a complete crapshoot.
If you’re a betting man, and you’ve got faith in Turco, go with the Stars here. If you like Luongo, pick the Cancuks. I like Luongo. And therefore, I pick the Canucks. However, I fully expect Turco to play well, lose, get no appreciation for his effort, and maybe end up in a new city next October. Ask Manny Legace and Curtis Joseph how that feels.
Pick: Canucks, 7.
Back on January 1st, the Vancouver Canucks were ranked 16th in the NHL, averaging just 2.4 goals per game while allowing 2.6 per game. The Power Play was operating at an abysmal 15.9%, and the team was suffering. The Canucks became the best team in the NHL after January 1st, winning 30 games after the turn of the calendar to move dramatically up the standings.
In a rare twist for this series, the underdog (Dallas) actually finished the season with more points (107-105) than the favourite (Canucks). In terms of scoring, there is nothing to choose from for these teams, as Dallas actually had 4 fewer goals allowed than Vancouver, and scored 4 more than the Canucks. In fact, all 4 head-to-head match-ups between these teams ended with a 2-1 score; both teams won 2 and lost 2.
This is a real tough one for me, but the RNG found it easy.
RNG’s number: 2. PREDICTION: Vancouver in 5.
Nashville vs San Jose
This series is going to be fantastic, wide open hockey. Both of these teams play extremely fast paced styles, and both have a great mix of superstars, grizzly vets, and cunning rookies. Also, it’s worth noting that both teams are two goalies deep, as there are literally four all-star caliber goalies in this series.
To me, this series will have to be decided by intangibles, because it is so close to call just talent-wise. Special teams are a big thing, and Nashville has always been a team that needed work staying out of the box. They rectified that problem a little bit this season, but it’s worth noting because the Preds are facing a team that finished #2 overall in the NHL in power play efficiency.
I’ll say this though. Peter Forsberg WILL turn his game up. I fucking guarantee it. You can write it down in stone, tell your friends, and take it to the bank. Joe Thornton, on the other hand, I don’t know. We know that Forsberg has a history of being unbelievable in the playoffs, and we know that Jumbo Joe has a history of looking a lot smaller than he should.
Still, behind the tandem of Nabokov and Toskala, the Sharks will take this series and move deep into the postseason.
Pick: Sharks, 7.
I’ll sum up the key to this series in 2 simple words: Peter Forsberg. If the Predators’ biggest acquisition in team history stays healthy throughout the series, the Predators will advance quite easily. If Forsberg gets injured early, or can’t perform at 100%, the Preds are all but done.
Over on the other side of the ice, the Sharks have a stellar line-up. From Jonathon Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau and Bill Guerin right back through Matt Carle and Craig Rivet to Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabakov in net, the Sharks have the firepower and the defensive capabilities to counter the offensive explosiveness of the Predators line-up.
The Sharks finished the season with 107 points, just 3 fewer than the Predators. The RNG predicts that the 3 point difference will make all the difference.
[UPDATE: As I was typing this, the news broke that the Sharks’ goaltending coach, Warren Strelow, passed away. My condolences go out to the team on this day.]
RNG number: 1 PREDICTION: Nashville in 4.
Buffalo vs NY Islanders
Remember when I told you I wouldn’t be writing a lot for the Vancouver/Dallas series? I’ll be writing even less here. Here’s my synopsis:
Buffalo = amazing.
New York = awful.
In the last game of the season, the Islanders managed to blow a lead in the last second, against a team that had nothing to play for, that played like they didn’t give a rat’s ass for the first 55 minutes of that game; only winning in a shootout because their goalie has the audacity to poke check twice in a row, being able to successfully pull it off because the devils shooters came in incredibly soft. A team playing for its very life plays that game that poorly? And then, after limping into the playoffs as softly as a team ever has, they have to play the toast of the league, the Buffalo Sabres?
If the Sabres don’t win this series, this is officially the craziest sport in the whole world.
Pick: Sabres, 4.
There are 2 key factors that a person should consider when they look at this series. The first is whether Rick DiPietro will be healthy enough to play at all. DiPietro suffered a concussion during a game against Montreal, and has been suffering with the effects of that concussion since. If DiPietro is unable to go, the Islanders will have to look to Wade Dubielewicz to carry them through the post-season, which is a tall order. The second factor is the Ryan Smyth factor. Since being acquired from Edmonton, Smyth has improved the team greatly, leading it to a dramatic last-second win in the final game of the season to get into the playoffs.
Buffalo will likely be too great of an opponent for even the talent of Smyth to overcome. From top to bottom, the Sabres have an impressive roster of talent, one which makes the Sabres an odds-on favourite to take home Lord Stanley’s mug in June.
RNG Number: 2 PREDICTION: Buffalo in 5.
New Jersey vs Tampa Bay
Here’s an interesting stat: Tampa bay has the second best winning percentage vs playoff teams. The first is obvious, the Buffalo Sabres, who won 2 of every 3 games against playoff bound opponents. But Tampa came in a safe second, at a 60% clip. This is good, considering they are facing a perennial playoff team in the New Jersey Devils. The Devils and Marty Brodeur are making this into an art: play boring, low scoring hockey and get a top seed in the east, while Brodeur breaks records all along the way.
This series comes down to a two on one matchup, Tampa’s dynamic duo of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, vs Jersey’s dynamic goaltender, Martin Brodeur. The devils have no scoring to speak of, and by the same regard, Tampa has no goaltending, so one of those two factors will win this series. Personally, I am of the belief that defense wins championships and as such, I’m siding with Jersey here. But if Tampa can solve the dirty defense of the devils, and if Lecavalier can catch a few lucky breaks, the Lightning just may pull off an upset. Still, don’t bet on it.
Pick: Devils, 5.
Lou L’Amoriello made a stunning decision early this month, when he fired coach Claude Julien with just 3 games remaining. L’Amoriello took the reigns of the team, and will be behind the bench for the duration of the playoffs. The stunning change left many wondering why the GM would make such a move, especially at that point.
Tampa Bay has been very inconsistent this season. The dynamic duo of Lecavalier and St. Louis both broke the 100-point plateau, but the team still fought for a playoff spot into the final week of the season. The major factor in this series will be in net, as Martin Brodeur will take on Johan Holmqvist.
I’d take Brodeur and the Devils relatively quick. The RNG thinks Holmqvist will take it.
RNG number: 7. PREDICTION: Tampa Bay in 6.
NY Rangers vs Atlanta
What was the best midseason deal this year? If you answer anything other than Shawn Avery to the Rangers, you are not paying attention, likely blind, deaf and dumb, and definitely French.
That opening line was my tribute to Shawn Avery, the chirpiest, grittiest player in the NHL, who enjoyed a career season this year, while revitalizing the sleeping giants in the big apple in the process. I think the Rangers are absolutely terrifying, playing in front of the goalie who has been maybe the MVP of the entire league since the All-Star game, Henrik Lundqvist. The more I think about it, the more I like the rangers to do some serious, serious damage in the eastern conference. The knock on the predominantly European New York rangers squad was that they couldn’t get dirty enough when it counted. That no longer applies, however, with the midseason addition of Avery, and the reintroduction of Brendan Shanahan (who is just now gelling with the team again after some health issues). Add those players to a team that already boasts great talent like Jaromir Jagr, who scored another 95+ this year while leading a group of skillful underrated types like Martin Straka, Michael Nylander, and Marcel Hossa. They’ll win this series pretty handily I think, and give the untested Sabres a big scare in the coming round.
Pick: Rangers, 6.
Atlanta has a strong roster, with Marian Hossa, Keith Tkachuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Jere Lehtonen leading the team to a fantastic season. The one area that the Thrashers are lacking in is playoff experience, with Tkachuk being the only one out of the key players with significant post-season playing time.
The Rangers have far more playoff experience than the Thrashers, and they have plenty of offensive weapons of their own, with Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan leading the way. Henrik Lundqvist will look to backstop the Rangers past Atlanta.
RNG number: 2. PREDICTION: Atlanta in 5.
Ottawa vs Pittsburgh
Crosby is at least a year or two away. That’s really all I need to say here. Jordan couldn’t do it, Gretzky and Lemieux couldn’t do it, Payton couldn’t do it. All the “next ones” in the world couldn’t win the big one the first time around. The Penguins are too young, too inexperienced, and too wide-eyed to beat an Ottawa team that is just itching to prove to everybody in the world that they still belong in the upper echelon of the NHL. Pittsburgh is phenomenal, they’re a great story, and will continue to be a playoff caliber team as long as #87 is a penguin. However, they are not a final-worthy team; they’re not even a second round worthy team, and everyone who is saying different is stuck in a wild pipe dream. The penguins have vast potential. Potential like the NHL has, maybe, never seen before. But many people are confusing the potential for future dominance with the reality of the present here, and it’s really unfair, I think. Expect the Sens, who may be the deepest team in the entire NHL, to romp to a victory here in a series that will be nowhere near as close as the rest of the world believes.
Pick: Senators, 5.
8 players will define this series in its entirety. For Ottawa, if Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza are on their game, there isn’t a team in the world that can stop them. Combined with Ray Emery in goal, the Senators may finally be able to break the post-season curse.
The Penguins are a strong contender to continue that curse, but they need Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, and Sydney Crosby to be on the top of their game to be able to knock off the Senators. All of that doesn’t matter if Marc-Andre Fleury can’t stop the Senators’ top trio. This one is too close for anyone to call realistically...
RNG number: 2. PREDICTION: Ottawa in 5. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Bob's Last Word:
With the random number generator, the monkey and I agree on 5 out of the 8 picks. Maggie thinks New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Detroit will keep their season going. At least 32 games from now, we’ll know whether I truly am smarter than a 5th grade monkey.
Matt's Last Word:
I guess we will see, once and for all, who is smarter. Man (and a handsome man at that), or this weird Monkey/Machine Hybrid named Bob Davis. My money is on me. Always the safe bet.