Tuesday, April 06, 2004
1 Tampa Bay v 8 NY Islanders -- the Isles have a nice blue line (Aucoin), young goaltending (DiPietro), along with Yashin and Peca, whenever they decide to show up. The Lightning have the electric Martin St. Louis along with veterans Dave Andreychuk and Darryl Sydor. And Nik Khabibulin in net => TB in 5
2 Boston v 7 Montreal -- an Original Six matchup here. The Habs have Richard Zednik, Mike Ribeiro, and Michael Ryder. They have Jose Theodore in net. They definitely have the upper hand in net (Raycroft is formidable, but young), but Montreal could be much better with a healthy Sheldon Souray, who was on fire before he got injured. Boston has a good deal more offensive firepower with Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov, and the deadline acquisitions of Michael Nylander and Sergei Gonchar don't hurt either => BOS in 5
3 Philadelphia v 6 New Jersey => nice rivalry here. It should be excruciatingly physical. There's really only one way to think about this matchup: it should take a hell of a lot to pick against Martin Brodeur. The Flyers have Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, and they have Eric Desjardins back. The Devils have Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rafalski, and the great John Madden. And Martin Brodeur. I just can't pick against Brodeur, sixth seed and not showing up in the big game on the last day of the season be damned => NJ in 7
4 Toronto v 5 Ottawa -- The Sens probably have the upper hand on offense with Marian Hossa, Dan Alfredsson, Martin Havlat, and Peter Bondra if he warms up. Yes, the upper hand even over Mats Sundin, Alex Mogilny, and friends. Brian Leetch is good. Zdeno Chara is gargantuan. Do the Sens have an answer to the bruising play of punks like Ken Klee, Bryan Marchment, and Tie Domi? Do they have an answer to Ed Belfour? I don't know for sure, but I wish I knew they did. Sorry, Jeff => TOR in 7
WEST (I know more about the West, so this should get better)
1 Detroit v 8 Nashville -- The acquisition of Steve Sullivan at the deadline was incredibly key for the scrappy Preds. Tomas Vokoun has been Vezina good in net for the Preds, making Preds fans forget Mike Dunham. Kimmo Timonen is great on the blue line for the Preds. The Preds may hold the upper hand on Detroit in goaltending, presuming Manny Legace starts for the Red Wings, though not by much. I don't know how I can say that after Legace skunked the Avalanche twice in the last few weeks, but I did. Add to this the fact that Detroit is great on the power play and absolutely sick on the penalty kill, and I get => DET in 5
2 San Jose v 7 Saint Louis -- It might be safe to say one team out of Saint Louis and Nashville can thank the LA Kings for finally having their oodles of injuries catch up like they did. Barry Melrose panned the Kings months ago, even saying they were "doing it with smoke and mirrors," though they hung in for quite a while. Hey, didn't Saint Louis just fire Joel Quenneville this year? Obviously, a coaching change usually means that there was some sort of up-and-down in the STL this year. With Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, and the Stanley Cup experience of Chris Osgood, they'd be hard to pick against. Except the Sharks are quite the team this year. Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala have been great in net, and the team has found itself following the Owen Nolan deadline trade of last year. Former Seattle Thunderbird Pat Marleau stepped up this year, along with Jonathan Cheechoo. Throw in the veteran leadership of Vincent Damphousse and the out-of-nowhere offensive power of Nils Ekman and you get quite a team => SJ in 5
3 Vancouver v 6 Calgary -- Jarome Iginla had one hell of a year, and so did the Flames, carried on the backs of Iginla, as well as Shean Donovan, Robyn Regehr, and Craig Conroy. But really, the guy shouldering the biggest load was Miikka Kiprusoff, who may have been the steal of the year, trade-wise. Amazingly, the Sharks didn't lose a step in net, but I digress. The Flames have had a great year. The Canucks had a great start, treaded water for a while, got terrible, got passed by Colorado, had the Bertuzzi incident and hit rock bottom, made deadline moves, then regrouped and reeled off a six-game winning streak to end the season. They just got Ed Jovanovski back, which helps immensely on the blue line, filled with the likes of Mattias Ohlund and big plus-minus man Marek Malik. Geoff Sanderson's lightning-fast speed will be on display if any open ice is available. Markus Naslund is Markus Naslund. Brendan Morrison ended the year on a tear. I know I said that thing about the goaltenders at the beginning of this, and even though Dan Cloutier was in net through all of that six-game win streak, there's a caveat that goes with playoff hockey. But Jovo, Ohlund, and the blue line can be great, and dang it, the Canucks' penalty kill is nuts. Not Red Wing nuts, but nuts. Call me partial here, but...=> VAN in 6
4 Colorado v 5 Dallas -- this one's a barnburner. Just a few years ago, the goalie matchup would have been Belfour against Roy. Last year it would have been Turco against Roy. This year, Aebischer (or Salo if something goes wrong) against Turco. Frankly, Turco is better than both Aebischer and Salo (maybe not Salo of three years ago though). The Avalanche had the complete opposite finish as the Canucks, and they're coming in wondering what the hell is going on with their scoring. When Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne came in, many people thought this Avalanche team was going to be unstoppable. Throw in some injuries, and ineffectiveness by Kariya and Selanne (and quite a few others), and you get a team scuffling. Dallas has Bill Guerin, a return of Sergei Zubov, and a Mike Modano who could warm up at any time. If that happens, lights out. Dallas already has the better goalie, Colorado's awesome top line and blue line be damned => DAL in 6
So it looks like my second round is...
1 Tampa Bay v 6 New Jersey -- again, can I pick against Brodeur...against Tampa? My conscience won't let me do it. Experience is heavily in favor of the Devils => NJ in 5
2 Boston v 4 Toronto -- Toronto will probably pound the B's. Belfour's got way more experience than Andy Raycroft. If the Bruins can manage to warm up their scorers, they could give it a run. I doubt they stop the Eagle though. All bets are off if Belfour suddenly runs out on the team like he did in Dallas => TOR in 6
1 Detroit v 5 Dallas -- boy, COL/DAL and DET/DAL, matchups involving three teams I hate. With no rooting interest, naturally I just hope both teams beat the crap out of each other. Manny Legace and Marty Turco have both been backup goalies behind Osgood/Hasek/Joseph and Belfour, and are probably evenly matched here. Detroit has weathered injuries all year and still came out with the President's Trophy. Dallas is just overmatched here, but should put up a fight. Did I mention the Wings have Robert Lang? => DET in 6
2 San Jose v 3 Vancouver -- the last game the Canucks played in San Jose probably wasn't against the best San Jose team, but I still think the Canucks can take these guys, based mostly on experience, toughness, and the penalty kill. The teams have played fairly evenly matched games this year. I think the Canucks pull this one out though => VAN in 6
4 Toronto v 6 New Jersey -- Right here, I just think the Leafs overall are more healthy than the Devils and have their game in a more-together fashion. Yeah, I just realized I picked against Marty Brodeur. He's gotta lose sometime, right? I also think the Leafs will avenge that one Game 7 against the Devils where they got off something like a measly six shots => TOR in 7
1 Detroit v 3 Vancouver -- This hurts. The Wings are stacked. The Canucks have been hot and everything, but man...even with all their skaters at the top of their game, they probably match even-keel with the Wings. This would mean it would come down to the goalies. Legace and Cloutier. This one hurts. Advantage: Legace => DET in 6
Detroit v Toronto -- one could say I picked the two most stacked teams. Yeah, this one's an Original Six matchup. I can say that Toronto has the more seasoned goaltender. I can say Detroit is pretty much amazing all the way around. The only place that'd be a question mark would be the goalie, and that's Legace, and if the defense is at the top of their game, Legace might not have to face many shots to begin with. I hate both of these teams to an extent. As a rooting interest, I'd pick the Canadian team because dammit, the Cup needs to go back there one of these days. That and Detroit has had it way too many damn times and they were yanked from the playoffs by ANAHEIM last year, for God's sake. But I can't pick against them, they're just too damn good. And they aren't stumbling coming into the playoffs like last year. Another boring winner, but at least a Canadian team is involved in my Final => DET in 6
Needless to say, I want Vancouver to win it all. I just sort of went with what I think is likely here, that's all. I was objective against the Canucks and dammit, IT HURT!! It hurt a ton more than saying the Mariners will finish third and miss the playoffs.
Prepare for the NHL labor stoppage, but for now...GAME ON!!