Monthly Archives: April, 2007

Round 2 Picks

Since my West picks were dead on in the first round, I feel compelled to stick with them, although my reasoning may have changed.

East

#1 Buffalo vs. #6 NY Rangers
We know the Rangers will be well-rested, having pulled off the only sweep of the first round. I wouldn't worry about the Rangers not being up to speed. They earned that sweep by overwhelming the Thrashers. That said, they're running into a much tougher opponent in the Sabres. If Buffalo gets an aggressive forecheck going, they can force the Rangers' somewhat soft defense into taking penalties. I think the Rangers will have enough discipline and offensive punch to push the Sabres to the limit, but Ryan Miller will steal the series in the end.

Prediction
Sabres in 7

#2 New Jersey vs. #4 Ottawa
Can the Senators keep up the edgy game that threw the Penguins off stride? That's a tougher sell against a Devils team that can absorb a lot of punishment. Somewhere along the way, though, I have to believe that Lou Lamoriello's ego-trip firing of Claude Julien will come back to bite him, and I think this round will be it.

Prediction
Senators in 6

West

#1 Detroit vs. #5 San Jose
Calgary left the Red Wings bruised and bloodied. Tomas Holmstrom will miss some time as he recovers from an eye injury, and Brett Lebda is still feeling Daymond Langkow's sucker punch, so he's out with post-concussion symptoms. San Jose is a little hung over from their physical series with Nashville, but not as bad as Detroit. Besides, I can't pick the Red Wings to get out of the 2nd round until they do. I've been burned too many times since Scotty Bowman retired.

Prediction
Sharks in 6

#2 Anaheim vs. #3 Vancouver
Teemu Selanne, allow me to introduce to you Roberto Luongo, Playoff Goaltender. You say you've met Luongo already? That was Regular Season Goaltender. This is Playoff Goaltender. He's better. Wrist shots off the mask don't scare him. He shrugged off net-crashing Dallas forwards. He even owned the Stars in barely broken in pads that match the Canucks' retro uniforms. You think you can beat that? Good luck.

Prediction
Canucks in 5

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Round One and Done

Well, let's see how I've done so far…

East
#1 Buffalo vs. #8 NY Islanders

Prediction
Sabres in 6 if DiPietro plays, 4 if he doesn’t.

Results
Sabres in 5

DiPietro missed Game 1, but came back for the rest. The Islanders made every game interesting, but the Sabres were almost always one notch better. Long Islanders will spend the summer complaining about video reviews and Sean Hill's 20-game PED suspension before Game 5.

#2 New Jersey vs. #7 Tampa Bay

Prediction
Lightning in 7.

Results
Devils in 6

Martin Brodeur looked a little shaky in Games 2 and 3, but he got himself right, and exposed Tampa's lack of scoring depth in the end. There was nobody behind LeCavalier, St. Louis, and Richards for the Lightning. Johan Holmqvist's inconsistency didn't help.

#3 Atlanta vs. #6 NY Rangers

Prediction
Rangers in 6.

Results
Rangers in 4.

This series was just devastating for the Thrashers. After Lehtonen had a bad Game One, coach Bob Hartley yanked him for Johan Hedberg in Game 2. Hedberg was victimized by a crazy bounce on a high dump-in, but was otherwise strong. So, of course, Hartley went back to Lehtonen in Game 3. Fat lot of good that did. Meanwhile, Keith Tkachuk was mostly invisible, Marian Hossa was entirely invisible, and Ilya Kovalchuk only showed up long enough to get in a fight(!) with Sean Avery. (At least he got that, um, chicken Avery to drop the gloves.) Oh, and only 8,800 televisions in Atlanta were tuned in for the games at Madison Square Garden.

#4 Ottawa vs. #5 Pittsburgh

Prediction
Penguins in 7.

Results
Senators in 5.

Maybe it was all those last-second, overtime, shoot-out wins. Maybe it was the third and fourth lines not learning as fast as the first two. Maybe it was Evgeni Malkin hitting the wall in the longest season of hockey he has ever played. Maybe it was Bob Grove's misplaced loyalty in Josef Melichar. (Look! Meli turned it over in his own zone again! Grove will call it a 50-50 puck in the postgame show.) Maybe Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Gary Roberts couldn't carry this entire team on their backs. It was a helluva run while it lasted.

Ottawa, meanwhile, looks determined to shake off the "choker" reputation, with excessive force if necessary. The Sens played with an edge that wasn't there for most of the regular season. And Ray Emery demonstrated what he learned in relief of Dominic Hasek last year.

West
#1 Detroit vs. #8 Calgary

Prediction
Red Wings in 5.

Results
Red Wings in 6.

Jim Playfair is toast. The Flames looked utterly incompetent on the road in Games 1 and 2. Then, in Game 5, he lost all control of his bench. Damond Langkow grabbed Brett Lebda behind the head, and sucker-punched him in the face while they were both getting up from a clean hit by Lebda. Lebda missed Game 6 with a concussion. Jarome Iginla spent a shift stick-fouling anyone with a winged wheel on his chest. And in the most egregious goon job I've seen in years, backup goalie Jamie McClennan was put in long after the game was out of hand, and lasted all of 18 seconds. Most of that time was spent trying to amputate Johan Franzen's legs with a goalie stick. The two-handed chop to the gut after the whistle (for the earlier slashes) earned him a match penalty and a five game "suspension", Playfair was fined $25,000, and the team $100,000. Game 6 went to double overtime solely by the sheer will power of Miikka Kiprusoff, who fought off an onslaught of Red Wings shots. The game winner in the second overtime? Johan Franzen. Ain't karma a bitch?

#2 Anaheim vs. #7 Minnesota

Prediction
Ducks in 5.

Results
Ducks in 5.

Nailed it. Minnesota was all defense, no offense. The most entertainment the series provided was a scuffle between George Parros and Derek Boogaard in the warm-up skate before Game 5.

#3 Vancouver vs. #6 Dallas

Prediction
Heads. Canucks in 7.

Results
Canucks in 7.

Damn, I already spent that quarter. One four-overtime game that ended 5-4 Vancouver, then neither Marty Turco nor Roberto Luongo gave up more than two goals in a game. (There were 2 empty-netters in Game 7.) Given Vancouver's struggles on offense, I think that "stolen series" I figure Luongo would get may have come right here. Turco, on the other hand, may have proven that he can deliver the goods in April, even in a losing effort. Before the Canucks scored in Game 7, Turco had gone over 165 minutes without giving up a goal.

#4 Nashville vs. # 5 San Jose

Prediction
Sharks in 6.

Results
Sharks in 5.

Discipline ruined the Predators' chances. Dumb penalty after dumb penalty against a strong Sharks power play. The final nail in the coffin was Scott Nichol's major/game misconduct for spearing in the second period of Game 5. Patrick Marleau tied the game on the ensuing power play, and San Jose never looked back.

6-for-8. One of my better years, even though I lost a conference semi-finalist in my beloved Penguins. (Homer!) I'll take a fresh look at the second round matchups, and maybe wrap up the Penguins season, tomorrow night.

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11, 608, 628

Those are the DirecTV channel numbers for Pittsburgh's NBC affiliate, Versus, and FSN Pittsburgh, respectively. Those are the only channels I'll be watching for the next month or so, until somebody lifts Lord Stanley's Cup.

If you think that may be a bit much, you may be right. Consider my response to this headline:

Nestle to Buy Gerber for $5.5 Billion

All that registered in my mind was "Gerber" and "$5.5 Billion", and I thought, "Billion must be a misprint, but there's no way Martin Gerber is worth $5.5 Million to any NHL team." Only then did I notice the word "Nestle", and realize that the topic was baby food manufacturers, not backup goaltenders.

And I went to bed after the first overtime of the Dallas @ Vancouver game. Imagine how punchy I'd be if I had stayed up until 3:30 am to see the whole thing!

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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My 2007 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

I fall back on the old Tuesday Morning Quarterback joke: All predictions wrong, or your money back.

Round 1: East

#1 Buffalo vs. #8 NY Islanders

Last 10

BUF: 7-3-0, NYI: 6-3-1

Head-to-head

Sabres, 3-1

Anaheim taught me never to underestimate an 8-seed. Having seen these two teams in action all season… the number of games Buffalo needs to dispatch the Isles will depend on the results of neurological tests Rick “15 Years?!” DiPietro will undergo. If DiPietro’s concussion symptoms are gone, and he is cleared to play, his goaltending will give the Islanders a chance at respectability. Otherwise, Mike Dunham Wade Dubielewicz will be victimized by Buffalo’s high-powered offensive barrage.

Prediction

Sabres in 6 if DiPietro plays, 4 if he doesn’t.

#2 New Jersey vs. #7 Tampa Bay

Last 10

NJD: 6-3-1, TBL: 5-4-1

Head-to-head

Lightning, 3-1

If you look at this series on paper, it looks like a walk-over for the Devils. They have just enough scoring to make the stifling defense and All-Universe goaltending of Martin Brodeur stand up. Yet Tampa Bay won the season series. In their last two wins over New Jersey, the Lightning held the Devils to one goal per game. This series may come down to who prevails: Brodeur, or the dynamic duo of Vincent LeCavalier and Martin St. Louis. Given what Tampa Bay did in the regular season, I’m going to give them a slight edge here.

Prediction

Lightning in 7.

#3 Atlanta vs. #6 NY Rangers

Last 10

ATL: 6-3-1, NYR: 7-2-1

Head-to-head

Thrashers, 3-1

This is a battle of underachievers. The Thrashers climbed out of the Southeast, the weakest division in the league this year. Atlanta got a late season boost from trades that brought Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik. That gave them enough to hold off Tampa Bay down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Rangers were expected to be the class of the Atlantic, based on their stretch run last year. They didn’t live up. Henrik Lundqvist got off to a rough start this year, and the defense stagnated at best. Offense is never a problem when you have a healthy Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander, Brendan Shanahan, and Martin Straka. The Rangers have Shanahan back from a nasty face-first collision with the Flyers’ Mike Knuble, so they have the sort of veteran leadership Jagr has always been reluctant to provide. Ultimately, I think Kari Lehtonen will be the better goaltender, but the Rangers will be the better team.

Prediction

Rangers in 6.

#4 Ottawa vs. #5 Pittsburgh

Last 10

OTT: 6-2-2, PIT: 6-3-1

Head-to-head

Penguins, 3-1

These teams finished the regular season tied in points, with the Senators winning the tiebreaker with one more win. Both teams feature young, up-and-coming goalies, adequate blueliners, explosive offenses, and plenty of “team toughness.” (That means Georges Laraque and Brian McGrattan will throw down before it’s all over.) This will easily be the most hotly-contested matchup of the first round. The difference will be in the intangibles. Ottawa has high expectations every year, and have become notorious for early flame-outs in the playoffs. The scapegoats change, but the song remains the same. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has been playing with fearless bravado since January. The “Cardiac Kids” nickname stopped being funny when one of those last-second game-tying goals actually gave a Leafs fan a heart attack a few weeks ago. But the name is still appropriate. In the last regular-season meeting between the Pens and Sens, Maxime Talbot scored the game-winning goal with 8.9 seconds remaining in the third period. The longer this series go on, the more pressure shifts to the Senators. I think it will break them.

Prediction

Penguins in 7. 

Round 1: West

#1 Detroit vs. #8 Calgary

Last 10

DET: 5-1-4, CGY: 6-4-0

Head-to-head

Tied 2-2

Red Wings hockey is like Kansas Jayhawk basketball. You know they did a convincing job in the regular season, and you know they’re going to hit the wall in the post-season. It’s only a matter of when. Calgary, on the other hand, had to hang on for dear life against a Colorado team that barely missed the playoffs. (This is the Avalanche’s first missed post-season since their last season in Quebec, by the way.) I just don’t think the Flames have anything left in the tank for the playoffs, so the inevitable Red Wings wasted #1 seed will have to wait for a round.

Prediction

Red Wings in 5.

#2 Anaheim vs. #7 Minnesota

Last 10

ANA: 5-3-2, MIN: 7-2-1

Head-to-head

Tied 2-2

Minnesota’s insistence on playing the neutral zone trap makes it painful for me to even consider the possibility that it can contain the Ducks. George Parros should pound the snot out of every Wild skater, just on principle.

Prediction

Ducks in 5.

#3 Vancouver vs. #6 Dallas

Last 10

VAN: 6-3-1, DAL: 7-1-2

Head-to-head

Tied 2-2

Until the last day of the season, these two teams had identical records. All four of their regular season meetings ended with 2-1 scores. The Stars won one in overtime, and the Canucks won a shootout. Excuse me while I fetch a quarter. Heads, Vancouver. Tails, Dallas.

Prediction

Heads. Canucks in 7.

#4 Nashville vs. # 5 San Jose

Last 10

NSH: 5-3-2, SJS: 7-1-2

Head-to-head

Predators, 3-1

On this one, I have to go against the regular season record. As much as I like what the Preds have done this season, I just don’t see how they can get past the Sharks. Joe Thornton is making a habit of going on late-season scoring binges, and he ought to carry it through to the playoffs this year. The addition of Bill Guerin at the trading deadline has added even more scoring punch to the San Jose attack. The high-profile trade for Peter Forsberg, on the other hand, has proven to be only OK for Nashville. Foppa scored 2 goals and 13 assists in 17 games. He’ll have to pick up the scoring pace a bit for the Predators to make the second round for the first time.

Prediction

Sharks in 6.

Round 2: East

#1 Buffalo vs. #7 Tampa Bay

These two teams are built on similar lines, but the Sabres are just a little bit better than the Lightning at pretty much anything you can name.

Prediction

Sabres in 5.

#5 Pittsburgh vs. #6 NY Rangers

Ooh, division rivalry! There are Pens fans who, to this day, curse the name Adam Graves. With one 2.8 second overtime exception (Straka!), the Pens had the upper hand in the regular season.

Prediction

Penguins in 6.

Round 2: West

#1 Detroit vs. #5 San Jose

Uh, oh. The ever-dreaded Red Wings vs. Sharks matchup. I think we all know how this ends.

Prediction

Sharks in 6.

#2 Anaheim vs. #3 Vancouver

Roberto Luongo has toiled in Floridian exile for years. This is his time, now.

Prediction

Vancouver in 5.

Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Buffalo vs. #5 Pittsburgh

The Penguins look an awful lot like last year’s Sabres: Too young to realize that they’re too young to make it this far. Buffalo isn’t too young anymore.

Prediction

Sabres in 5.

Western Conference Finals

#3 Vancouver vs. #5 San Jose

Luongo is going to have to steal a series one of these days. I think he’ll steal this one.

Prediction

Canucks in 7.

Stanley Cup Finals

Buffalo vs. Vancouver

Long-suffering Buffalo sports fans, suffer no longer. It is time to pass your curse on to long-suffering Canucks fans.

Prediction

Sabres in 6.

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My duties have left me remiss in my duties.

Or something like that.

Thanks to a blitz at work, I haven't had time to post any writeups for the last few weeks of the regular season. I'm sure all three of my readers were wondering, um, what to have for dinner tonight, or something like that.

We'll continue our regularly scheduled programming on Sunday, for Game 3 of Pens vs. Sens.

Meanwhile, I'm pulling together my annual sixteen-team exhibition of puck-related stupidity. Stay tuned for the worst Stanley Cup playoff bracket to every be rendered in a browser.

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