Congrats due to Phoff for picking all the first round winners. I am sure we'll still be hearing about this in September when he makes his picks for the 2007-08 regular season. Hell, presuming we still work in the same office (big if), I'm sure we'll be hearing about it before the 2010-11 regular season.
I'm going to file this under "better late than never," but here are my picks for Round 2 (PS- I'm satisfied with going 6 of 8 in Round 1).
First, the series where I'm truly late in pronouncing my picks:
Anaheim v. Vancouver = Anaheim
The difference between a good team and a team with a good goalie and system was on display in this one, wasn't it? The Vancouver Luongos couldn't stop the Mighty McDonalds and couldn't score with them either. I only saw the highlights of the 5-1 beating, but the grand total of Vancouver's "good" chances didn't amount to the grand total of Anaheim's goals. Also, the Sedins first date with Chris Pronger did not go well, which doesn't bode well for the 'Nucks.
Buffalo v. NY Rangers = Buffalo
I would have picked them before last night's game, but Buffalo showed last night why they'll give any team remaining in the playoffs fits. They're fast, skilled, disciplined, have a very good goalie, and are well coached. The Rangers D looked like they should be playing in a 35+ rec league at a local rink against Briere, Vanek, et al. The only chance NY has is for Jagr to strap this team to his back, and he looked good last night even without putting up any points, but his history of responding well to adversity is sketchy at best.
Now the series that haven't started (and where I, thus, don't have a one game advantage with my picks).
Detroit v. San Jose = Detroit
I think that this series will be very entertaining because both of these teams are well put together from top to bottom (a little too inside, I know). Either team is capable of taking the series and while I don't predict games, I think this one will go the distance. That said, I think Detroit is deeper than San Jose, I think they have the better goalie (if his groin withstands the pressure - that's the weirdest thing I've ever typed), they have more players who know how to do the little things to win a Cup, and Datsuyk seems to have learned what Zetterberg already knew, namely how to bring it in the playoffs. On the otherhand, if Thornton, Cheechoo, Marleau, and Michalek light it up I won't choke on my beer.
Ottawa v. New Jersey = Ottawa
I've been feeling queasy all morning knowing that this one gets going tonight. The Sens looked very good in Round 1 in getting the Gary Roberts monkey off their back (second weirdest thing I've ever typed). They can go toe-to-toe offensively with anyone, but as they showed against a much better offensive team in Pittsburgh, they can shut their opponent down pretty well too. Here's the issue for the Sens, Ray Emery can't outplay Martin Brodeur, it's an impossibility, so Ottawa is going to have to figure out a way to score on New Jersey, which is no easy task. On the other hand, as noted with Datsyuk above, when your best players from the regular season are your best players in the playoffs, it bodes well. Ottawa's top three scorers in Round 1: Alfredsson, Spezza, Heatley...perfect. Two notes to look out for: will Zach Parise keep giving NJ some scoring punch from a line other than the stupidly named EGG line, and will Redden and Meszaros stop giving the puck away low in the defensive end now that they're not being tormented by Roberts in the corners every night. Jay Pandolfo is much less scary.
Congrats due to Phoff for picking all the first round winners. I am sure we'll still be hearing about this in September when he makes his picks for the 2007-08 regular season. Hell, presuming we still work in the same office (big if), I'm sure we'll be hearing about it before the 2010-11 regular season.
I cannot make Phoff's claims to genius, after going a barely respectable 5 for 8 in my first-round predictions, but will nevertheless forge boldly ahead with my thoughts on the second round. In the first round, I was guilty of seriously underestimating the Senators, Red Wings, and Rangers. I was also surprised that the series in the West were not tighter - three of the four ended up being fairly one-sided, with the top four teams all going through; it was far from the crapshoot that many predicted.
In the case of Ottawa and Detroit, I wrote them off based on their habit of having great regular seasons only to make early exits to inferior teams come play-off time. Both have put a stop to that trend, at least for now. The Senators were particularly impressive in disposing of the potent Penguins with relative ease; perhaps all those years of choking will actually prove to be a blessing this time around - despite how good they look on paper, it's hard to take them seriously given their history, which could help relieve the burden of expectations and allow them to play with less pressure. Detroit were impressive, too, but Calgary's awful performances away from the Saddledome didn't exactly make it difficult for them.
One of the intriguing storylines of the play-offs is usually which goalies will go on a hot streak and carry their team, but this year there was no Cam Ward or Dwayne Roloson to propel a weaker team into the later rounds. This time around we are getting to see how some highly touted younger goalies - Luongo, Lundqvist, Miller - will fare against proven play-off veterans like Hasek, Brodeur, and Giguere. It will be interesting to see if one of these younger players will seize the occasion this year to establish their dominance, or if the old guard still has enough left for now. (On the subject of goalies, I'd like to take this moment to honour Mikka Kiprusoff and Marty Turco with the Ron Tugnutt Award for Valiant Effort on Behalf of Losers.* Both of them deserved a much better fate; if goaltending really was everything, their teams would still be alive.)
Another interesting subplot is the performance of players whose ability to lead a team in the play-offs has been questioned in the past. As the spotlight grows more intense, how will Joe Thornton, post-Pittsburgh Jagr, the Senators' big guns, and Pavel Datsyuk perform? So far they've looked good, but it takes more than one round to prove yourself. With most of the NHL's top regular-season scorers already on the golf course, the play of the few remaining offensive superstars could go a long way to deciding who wins the Cup.
On to my predictions:
Sharks vs. Red Wings
Both these teams turned in outstanding first-round performances and look like they have reached peak performance level at the right time. Nevertheless, one of them has to lose, and I continue to believe that the aging Red Wings backline will be their Achilles' heel. The Sharks' speedy, physical forwards won't find it as easy as it was against the Predators, but over the course of the series they'll have edge. My pick: Sharks in 7.
Ducks vs. Canucks
Vancouver is basically Minnsota with a better goalie - they play good team defense and are pretty disciplined, but are short on attacking threat. The Ducks are superior in every aspect of their game, and while it would be nice for my newly acquired hometown team to go deep in the post-season, I can't see it happening; the Ducks will dispose of the Canucks with almost as much ease as they dispatched the Wild. Markus Naslund and the Vancouver power-play were inept in round one, and that won't change against the Ducks' grade-A D. My pick: Ducks in 6 (only because Luongo might steal a couple of games for Vancouver).
Sens vs. Devils
This one seems like the toughest to call in the second round. The Senators looked awfully good against Pittsburgh, but the Penguin's massive inexperience and lack of a money goaltender have to be taken into account. The Devils, on the other hand, have oodles of experience and possibly the best money goalie in the history of the game. Tampa Bay got to him in the early games, but Brodeur found his focus when it was needed and figures to be ready for this series. The Senators' have explosive players on offense, but the Devils are the type of team that can neutralize them, and defensively New Jersey probably has an edge. Which is why I pick: Devils in 6.
Sabres vs. Rangers
The Rangers surprised me with their first-round dominance, but again the weakness of the opposition has to be taken into account. The Sabres are one of the strongest teams in the NHL and have the depth, speed, intensity, and discipline that it takes to win it all. The Rangers don't strike me as a genuine contender, although a massive performance by Jagr could tip the balance in their favour. The match-up of two of the game's best young goalies will be interesting. My pick: Sabres in 6.
*In honour of his 70-save performance in a regular season game for the abject Nordiques at Boston Garden way back when.
Who knew? It seems that I’m an NHL playoff prediction machine. 8 for 8. 100%. El Perfecto. I didn’t get the number of games right, but that’s just a detail.
Now, some of you will say that Shaky was also perfect in his predictions, but, since he posted after me, it’s clear that he simply copied me. Or, maybe he and I were separated at birth.
Now, bragging time is over. It’s time to move on to round 2. Regardless of my superb predicting talent, I have to admit that the 2nd round will be difficult to predict. I will, however, give it a shot.
Detroit v. San Jose
The Wings may have had a relatively easy time in the first round, they have a much bigger challenge ahead of them. San Jose is one of the only teams that has really benefited from their trade deadline acquisitions (Guerin and Rivet). They really impressed me in the first round and play a tough, physical, game.
Detroit, on the other, may be the best “system” team in the 2007 playoffs, By that, I mean that all four lines play their respective roles to perfection and they can easily shut down the opposing offense.
The wild card element in this series is Hasek. If he stays healthy and on his game, Detroit has a great chance to win. If his groin lets him down, the Wings will go down. I think he’ll be fine.
Wings in 7
Anaheim v. Vancouver
Last night, I was really happy that the Sedin sisters woke up in time for game 7 and it was great to see good ‘ol Linden come through in the clutch. Also, the win made me 8 for 8 for my first round predictions (did I say that already?).
Although the Canucks played a great game and closed out the series on a high note, I think things will go downhill from here. Unfortunately, they are not producing enough offense to move on past the second round. The fact that Markus Naslund has disappeared doesn’t help. At this stage, they could replace him with Mats and things would improve.
As for Anaheim, I do think that they peaked earlier in the season, but they are still a better balanced team that Vancouver right now. They are strong up front and have the best defense in the world (on paper, at least).
Luongo can only save the Canucks for so long.
Ducks in 6
Buffalo v. New York Rangers
This, for me, will be a great series to watch. As I said in my first round post, I really think that the Rangers are a better team than their regular season record indicates. Oddly enough, they seem to have been re-energized by the presence of Sean Avery, aka The Mouth.
For Buffalo, this will be a “make it or break it” series. The Rangers are going to come out hitting, hard. Last year, Buffalo lost most of their better players to injury and they have to prove that they can take the heat in the playoffs. If they can’t deal with the physical aspect of the game, they will not make it through this series.
I think that they learned from last year.
Sabres in 6
New Jersey v. Ottawa
In my first round post, I said this: “I think the Sens will actually break the curse this year.” After what I saw in the first round, I am more confident than ever in that prediction.
IMHO, the Sens were probably the most impressive team in the first round. They came out really hard and never let up for even one period. Unlike last year, they show absolutely no signs of a meltdown.
Now, I don’t want to discount the Devils. Any team with Martin Brodeur is almost automatically a contender. He may have seemed semi-human in the first two games of the first series, but he later showed that he is still a freak that is only built to stop pucks.
In the end, this will be an incredibly tight series. The outcome will depend on Ottawa’s ability to get to Brodeur and for Ray Emery to stay solid. They will and he will.
Senators in 7
The Senators won't be the only Canadian flag-bearer in the second round of the play-offs, after Vancouver advanced thanks to a deserved 4-1 victory at GM Place. It wasn't one for the ages, but it was a tense, hard-fought, absorbing game down to the wire.
The Stars played a perfect Game-7-on-the-road first period, keeping the Canucks on the back foot with aggressive forechecking and smothering, physical defense in their own end, and were good for their one-goal lead. But credit goes to Vancouver for elevating their game and dominating the second and third periods. The Sedins in particular were very impressive - they worked hard along the boards and generated most of the Canucks' chances. After being taken out of the series in games 2 through 6, they responded in the best way possible, with heart and clutch goals. Trevor Linden also delivered a big effort; as Markus Naslund continued his invisible-man impression, Linden was promoted to the first unit on the powerplay and came through when it mattered with the sixth Game 7 goal of his career, which says a lot about his leadership and character.
The Canucks also got a big assist from Rob Schick and co., who gave them the benefit of a lot of marginal calls. I'm not a big fan of refs putting the whistle in their pockets just because it's Game 7, but if they are going to call everything, they should at least show a little consistency and fairness. They seemed to be swayed by the frenzied, towel-waving GM Place crowd into giving all the borderline calls in the Canucks' favour, which changed the course of the game - once Vancouver got a string of powerplays in the second and gained some momentum, they never looked back.
Roberto Luongo came out victorious in the much-ballyhooed battle of the goalies, but Marty Turco deserves nothing but praise for the way he answered his critics. He gave his team three shut-outs and kept them in every game, and turned in another solid effort. Luongo made a big stop on Stu Barnes in the third and got lucky when Mike Modano hit the crossbar, but didn't have too much to do in the second and third period; Turco, on the other hand, was under constant pressure and raised his game to match it. The Stars lost, but their goalie is the last person on the team to whom the finger should be pointed; against a lesser goalie, this would never have gone to Game 7. Luongo, meanwhile, has earned his stripes as a first-rank goalie in this series - he has the calm, unflappable, domineering demeanor of a Martin Brodeur, and looks capable of winning a game or a series almost single-handedly.
Watching this game, it wasn't hard to see why the Stars have bowed out in the first round three years running - they have an excellent group of veteran defensemen, but they're severely lacking in offensive depth. Their forwards are able to stifle other teams with their forechecking, they win a lot of face-offs, they're positionally sound, and they block shots ... all fine when you want to stop the other team from scoring, but once they fell behind in this one there didn't seem to be anyone who looked like stepping up to make the big play to get them a goal. Mike Modano is a great player, but not the force he once was, and the likes of post-concussion Lindros and Mike Ribeiro are not game winners. It takes something special to beat Luongo, and no one on the Stars has that something; they are a team which will continue to win plenty of games in the regular season, but unless they add some firepower, they won't be winning a Stanley Cup any time soon.
As for the Canucks, for all the positives that came out of this game, there is plenty to be concerned about. Markus Naslund was a non-factor, as he was through much of the regular season, and he's not the kind of player who contributes even when he's not getting points. The Sedins had a couple of big games, but they were silenced for much of the series by the Stars' D, and it's only going to get tougher against Mssrs. Pronger and Niedermayer. And the rest of the Canucks' forwards really didn't make much of an impression - there is a serious lack of offensive depth and talent. They only looked likely to score on the PP or when the Sedin line was on the ice; that isn't likely to be good enough against the Ducks, although with Luongo in goal they will always have a chance.
Anyone want to revise their predictions made after Game 2? The Flames made the series interesting last night at the Dome with a convincing, yet contentious, 3-2 victory over the Wings. More importantly, I was able to partake in the festivities and am only now enough over my hangover to relate a few points on the match-up.
As is becoming increasingly aware, Calgary coach Jim Playfair has been reading my keen insights on the series as he has followed my recommendations to a T. For one, it is clear that Playfair has gotten on the officiating enough so as to now have the refs calling chintzy penalties against Detroit rather than the good guys, resulting in numerous successful powerplay opportunities. For another, the Flames have finally realized that they might as well use their speed against the experienced yet considerably less fleet-of-foot (fleet-of-feet?) Red Wing defense corps. The team has also gotten its collective head out of its collective ass and stopped playing in the on-ice manner of the Keystone Kops. Rather, they are playing with an increased awareness that making tape-to-tape passes and performing the break-outs that they learned in midget hockey can be effective from time to time.
Dominik Hasek is starting to lose his marbles, to the Wings' detriment, and his confidence is beginning to shake. Detroit GM Ken Holland must be thinking that getting a perennial head-case to backstop their Stanley Cup run might have been a mistake.
I agree with Matt that the Flames are more of a top-heavy bunch than most commentators realize, and that while their defense is still prone to bungling, their forecheck more than makes up for the liabilities of their blueline.
Credit ought to go to Andrei Zyuzin for earning a regular roster rotation during the past two games, and the acquisition of Brad Stuart is looking to be the steal of the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Miikka Kiprusoff continues his MVP-like performance, and the rest of the team is finally following his lead.
The big question is, of course, can the Flames continue their run on the road? It's difficult to say; the hometown crowd is certainly the seventh man for the club, and the line match-ups are going in Playfair's favour. However, one must take into account that only one team has played progressively better in each successive game, and momentum and confidence are worth their weight in gold.
Moreover, while both the Flames and Red Wings have impeccable home records this season, neither one was absolutely perfect. Odds are that at least one or the other will pick up a road win before the series is out, and which ever team is able to do that will move on to the second round.
Therefore, I'm guessing that the series will be over in six and, so, I'm sticking with my original prediction: The Flames will steal one at the Joe and take the series at the Saddle on Sunday.
Anyone think otherwise?
The Calgary Flames climbed back into the thick of things last night at the 'Dome in resounding fashion. They won their battles, they stayed quasi-disciplined, they got their shots, and they walked away with a convincing 3-2 victory over Detroit. They now trail the Wings 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven conference quarter-finals.
- The home town crowd did seem to help jump-start the club. Why they need fans cheering for them to do well is beyond me but I'll take it for the moment;
- The Flames forwards utilized their speed at several key moments, including Lombardi's goal and Iginla's burning past a pinching Lidstrom resulting in the game-winner;
- Persistence for the puck was evident, as was clogging up the middle when they didn't control the play;
- After a couple of bone-headed penalties (though Lord knows why Hamrlik of all people was called in the scrum early in the first), the Flames relaxed and maintained their discipline. Plus, Detroit was getting called for the cheap hooks and holds which were so prevalent to the Flames in games 1 & 2.
- Iginla decided to show up.
Good stuff. Next game is tomorrow night at the Saddle. Look for me there; I'll be the one wearing the red jersey.
It was better, like raising your math grade from 37% to a resounding 42%. The Flames played a reasonable second, controlling the play for a considerable amount of time, even though they only had a paltry three shots and one goal to show for it. In the end, however, it was not enough as the Detroit Red Wings extended their lead in the opening round series, 2 games to nil, with a 3-1 win at the Joe.
Several factors abound in this lop-sided series which have worked against the Flames. Number one is the lack of discipline which results in not only short-handed situations but, more importantly, a loss of momentum. They got to stay out of the box.
With that, Jim Playfair has got to get the refs' attention about the continual mauling of Jarome Iginla by Draper & co. Detroit's good but they're not so good as to keep the guy from getting a single decent chance at a goal in two straight games. Little tugs and grabs have been missed or glanced over by the officiating staff. That has got to change, and Playfair must call them out on it.
An overall lack of consistent effort is also hurting the club. When one line is going, the others sit back, and they take their turns at leading the club. There is no single person or line doing it for any continuous length of time.
Speed kills, but most especially when you're not using it. The Wings are completely blocking the middling with their trap. This means that there is room along the boards to move the puck up. Playfair ought to keep Lombardi on the wing and pair him up with Tanguay and Iginla. Take it up the outside and blow past Schneider and Chelios, and work it to the net. They got to have more confidence in their wheels.
Miikka Kiprusoff continues to make the case for the first Conn Smyth winner whose team is swept out of the first round, but he has got to use his head a bit. While it is difficult to lay any blame on a goaltender who has made 90 saves in 2 games, that third goal was a result of his being too far out of the crease and letting a bad rebound go to the streaking Detroit winger. It is but one flaw in an otherwise outstanding performance.
The final factor which cannot be overlooked is the near-perfection of the Red Wings so far. They have played as close to flawless hockey which I have ever seen and even if the Flames were playing well, they would be hard-pressed to win. There are too many positives going on in Motown to single any person or aspect out, but the guys are on top of their game and have the confidence to show for it.
Game 3 goes tomorrow night in the Saddle.
To those who didn’t watch the Detroit – Calgary game this afternoon, it may seem as if the title is a simple inversion of digits. Alas, no. Those are the actual shots on goal in favour of the Red Wings.
The score ended up being 4 – 1, bit it doesn’t really reflect the outcome of the game. If Calgary’s goalie was an actual human being, the score would have been 9 – 1. To say that Kipper was amazing is an understatement. He was unbelievably amazing.
On the NBC broadcast, Brett Hull said that Kiprusoff should sue his teammates for lack of support and, as cheesy as that comment is, I have to agree. His ‘mates simply left him hanging for 60 minutes and, quite frankly, I hope some of them apologized to him after the game.
Now, does this mean that the Flames are dead? Most might say so, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. As bad as the Flames have been on the road this season, they have been great at home. It is perfectly conceivable that they win the next two games in Calgary, What that means, then, is that they only have one more chance to try to take home ice from the wings.
If they want a chance to do that, they really have to start showing some energy and some grit. The Red Wings are steamrolling over them and, given that they are supposed to be a finesse team, that seems kinda wrong.
Buoyed by positivity, lubricated by spirit (of the Alberta rye variety) and ready to go, it didn't go quite as well for me as I had hoped as the Calgary Flames were trounced by the Detroit Red Wings, 4-1 in round 1, game 1 action.
As any observer could tell you, it could have been plenty worse had it not been for the heroics of Miikka Kiprusoff, who stopped 42 off 46 shots, sometimes in spectacular fashion. 180 feet down ice, Dominik Hasek was good as he had to be -- but not much better -- as he faced only 20 shots his own way.
But let's not kid ourselves; the goaltenders were not the story -- the complete domination of the once-proud franchise known as the Flames is. Detroit outskated, outshot, outhit and outperformed the Cowtown Flarin' Horse Head Nostrils so completely, one might have been excused for thinking Darryl Sutter sent the Calgary Flames Midget 'AA' squad in their stead. Pavel Datsyuk (who will be henceforth known at "Gadzooks") was incredible in all areas of the ice, while the rest of the team followed his leadership and performed above and beyond expectations. They were awesome.
As for their opposition, aside from the occasional shots on goal -- which were most likely unintentional -- there was no reason to suspect that the men with the Flaming C in their chests could be considered anything near professional athletes.
A side-bar to the match was the gad-awful officiating. Once again, your friend and mine, Mick Magoo (he prefers "Michael") was a dreadful-looking sight throughout the game, making call after terrible call while trying to keep his helmet fastened securely to that gargantuan, thick-framed melon which someone, somewhere must call a head.
I just don't mean he was just bad for the Flames (though they got more than their fair share of ridiculous penalties), but he and his partner, who must have been infected by the contagious stupidity abounding in the officials' locker room, did everything in their power to confuse the players and disrupt the flow of their game with their inconsistent, asinine calls. It was nothing to start a fund-raiser over or anything, but the man ought to be taken out to the back and whipped until he comes up with some sort of reasonable explanation as to why he continues to be such a goddamn idiot. He could be set up at the whipping post next to the one holding the dipshit who hired him.
Game 2 will be played at 1 pm, local time, this Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. I only mention that because I hope someone from the Flames organization reads this and actually remembers to get the team to the rink this time.
Maybe it was the bus driver's fault ...
My fearless NHL playoff predictions which are often not worth the keys they are typed on.
Buffalo v New York Islanders
Buffalo in 5
New Jersey v Tampa Bay
New Jersey in 6
Atlanta v NY Rangers
NY Rangers in 6
Ottawa v Pittsburgh
Ottawa in 5
Buffalo v NY Rangers
Buffalo in 6
New Jersey v Ottawa
Ottawa in 6
Buffalo v Ottawa
Buffalo in 6
Detroit v Calgary
Detroit in 6
Anaheim v Minnesota
Anaheim in 5
Vancouver v Dallas
Vancouver in 6
Nashville v San Jose
San Jose in 6
Detroit v San Jose
Detroit in 5
Anaheim v Vancouver
Anaheim in 6
Detroit v Anaheim
Anaheim in 7
Buffalo v Anaheim
Buffalo in 6
Step aside, pretenders. The only predictions which will have any weight come June are found below in this post. Sit back and gaze into the crystal ball that is Bumf.
Buffalo v. Long Island
Kudos to the Isles for making a valiant run at the post-season. Battling through injuries, ridicule, and the looming spectre of trading away their number 1 goalie whose contract will be up in a mere 14 years, the team defied the odds and became the biggest beneficiary yet of the Shoot-Out Era. However, unless the Dubinator goes down and their GM puts on the gear to win the day, this will get bloody.
SABRES IN 4
New Jersey v. Tampa Bay
Two of the most recent possessors of Lord Stanley set to battle in two of the biggest hockey markets in North America (the series will be featured in TO and Montreal on HNIC). Jersey's got the 'tender and the Bolts got the firepower, creating the makings of an epic clash the likes the world has not seen since ABC took "Full House" off regular rotation. The series will be tightly fought and the betting houses can be assured of only one constant -- both rinks will sit half-empty throughout.
DEVILS IN 7
Atlanta v. New York
The forgotten series. Atlanta surprised many with their stunning start and shocked even more by hanging on to capture the Southeast, the division which spawned the past two Stanley Cup champs. Meanwhile, the Blueshirts played under the radar during the entire regular season and did nothing but perform with consistency and character throughout. I like Shanahan and Jagr, and Henrik "the Squeegee Slasher" Lundqvist is one of the best young 'tenders in the league. But the Thrashers have Bob Hartley as a coach, and Bob Hartley cheats.
THRASHERS IN 6
Ottawa v. Pittsburgh
Not only does "Sens-Pens" have a nice ring to it, these are the two most exciting young teams in the league. Both feature high-flying, offensive-minded forwards, not to mention overacheiving defense, goalies with something to prove, and experienced coaching. Eventual Hart Trophy winner Sydney Crosby and most of his young bretheren will be experiencing the playoffs for the very first time while many on the Ottawa roster wish they had never had the pleasure to begin with. The pressures on the Sens.
SENATORS IN 7
Detroit v. Calgary
Tighter than one might think. The Flames possess one of the most talented lineups in the league and revel in the role as underdogs. With Matthew Lombardi purportedly moving to the wing on the Langkow-Huselius unit, they now have a potent 2nd line to open behind Iggy & co. The Wings offense, meanwhile, is vulnerable to a hard-hitting forecheck and a disrespectful defense, and Hasek is going to suffer a nasty injury of some undisclosed variety. Coaching may be a factor, though Mike Babcock's claim to post-season fame so far is a combination of riding oversized goaltender pads to the final coupled with an awful first-round choke. Besides, as the Flames are facing far too many UFAs at the end of 2008, this might be the last time in a few years it could be conceivable to pick them for any success.
FLAMES IN 6
Anaheim v. Minnesota
It's Chris Pronger and a bevy of talent versus a hot backup 'tender and a record skewed by OTs and SOs. The playoffs are not the best format for a team to play for a tie; there are no more shoot-outs for 2 points, and the overtime is played 5-on-5. No contest here.
DUCKS IN 5
Vancouver v. Dallas
The Canucks are this year's version of last year's Flames; sensational goaltending, a couple of stars and a complete lack of offense. A goaltender can stop another team from winning, but he cannot win games on his own. Marty Turco has something to prove, and he has a very complete -- albeit underrated -- roster in front of him.
STARS IN 6
Nashville v. San Jose
When was the last time Joe Thornton led a team to win anything of importance?
PREDATORS IN 5
Ottawa over Buffalo in 6
New Jersey over Atlanta in 5
Calgary over Anaheim in 7
Nashville over Dallas in 7
Ottawa over New Jersey in 7
Calgary over Nashville in 7
Calgary over Ottawa in 5
Peace from Russia.
I was going to call this post, "Spank the Monkey," but I know that Beeg wouldn't have been able to handle it without giggling like a schoolgirl.
Normally, calling me out on a blog doesn't work, but when it's coupled with Phoff's outrageous predictions, or when coupled with his attempt claim that picking Vinny Lecavalier for the Richard trophy is a "new" pick, well I feel compelled to defend reason, honour, and english (that's in advance of Shaky's post).
Since the stupid ass monkey on TSN is allowed to make picks, but not call the number of games I've decided that I deserve the same rights as a monkey (up yours, Dr. Zaius!) and will do the same. Calling games is for fools and Oilers, Flames, and Avs fans. Not me though and not the legion of Sens fans who don't want to guess how many games it will be until Jason Spezza wilts, Ray Emery fights someone and the team falls apart. I will however reserve the right to editorialize.
Without further ado, starting in the West...
1-Detroit vs 8-Calgary = Detroit
- I'd love to pick the Flames, I really would, but I just don't think they are playing consistently enough to beat a Detroit team that doesn't get enough credit for being very good. However, if Hasek hurts himself (likely) or Iginla comes out and starts drilling Red Wings all over the ice, I could see the series swinging. And PS- for all the talk of Calgary's great defensive game Detroit had a better team goals against for the year.
2-Anahiem vs 7-Minnesota = Minnesota
- It seems to me that every year in the West there is a big upset and I'm going to take a flyer and say this is it for 2007. I took a look at this Backstrom kid they've got in the pipes and FYI - he's good. Backstrom led the league in GAA and SV%. Also, one other thing that I've noticed the last few years is that the team that's hot coming in can make a run. The Wild made a run at Vancouver right until the end and is coming in on a 7-2-1 run, while the Ducks are riding a 5-3-2 record in their last ten. I think the Ducks peaked in December and that Lemaire and the boys are going hunting to bag themselves an upset in round 1.
3-Vancouver vs 6-Dallas = Vancouver
- I had a tough time calling this one because frankly I didn't know that the Sedins had led the Canucks in scoring by such a wide margin or that Henrik put up 70+ points with only 10 goals. The margins between these teams are very small. I agree that it's a problem when Rebeiro is your leading scorer, but I think it's a bigger problem when your next two highest scorers are defensemen (Zubov and Boucher) and the guy keeping pucks out at the other end has a legit argument to be league MVP.
4-Nashville vs 5-San Jose = Sharks
- So the Predators acquire one of the better players of the last decade (when healthy) and play worse. So the Sharks push Anaheim for the first part of the season, but Thornton and Cheechoo aren't clicking and they fall off, but Thornton in particular gets it together to push for the scoring title. So the Sharks come into the playoffs on a 7-1-2 run and have the same goal differential as the Preds. Hmmm, it sounds tough to call, but I'm taking the Sharks because I think the Preds rolled the dice on Forsberg and messed up their chemistry.
Onto the East...
1-Buffalo vs 8-NY Islanders = Buffalo
- Debido says the Isles "have no business" being in the playoffs. Well, okay, but Scoreboard being all that matters in sports and since as Bill Parcells once said, you are what the standings say you are, over 82 games Carolina, Montreal, Toronto, and Boston had no more business being in the playoffs that the Isles. That having been said, Buffalo is going to smoke the Isles, especially since it looks like they'll have the Dubester in between the pipes. PS- Is everyone aware that Tom Vanek scored 43 goals and led the league in +/-...Tom "Freaking" Vanek!!
2-New Jersey vs 7-Tampa Bay = New Jersey
- You know, mid-February, when T-Bay was pushing and passing Atlanta in the Southeast division I would've probably picked this differently, but I think we have to acknowledge what John Tortorella won't - despite three excellent forwards and a couple of decent defensement, this team's goaltending is just too poor. They let in more goals than they scored, which is a recipe for disaster. The Devils step it up in the playoffs, especially when their coach gets fired right before they start.
3-Atlanta vs 6-NY Rangers = Atlanta
- I have a vision...Jaromir Jagr is skating toward an opponent who's carrying the puck...he reaches out to hit him, arm first, and suddenly is grimacing in pain after contact...oh, whoa, that wasn't a dream it was Jagr's stupid assed approach to hitting in the playoffs. After a lackluster season in which he only seemed to care in the last month or so I can't see him putting this team on his back and carrying them to a round 1 win. Lundquist and Shanny are important too, but the Thrashers have played well since their deperate trade deadline moves (payoff and job kept for Don Waddell!!) and they have a legit backstop in Kari Lehtonen. They'll get a reprieve until they prove why they may be the 13th best team in the playoffs.
4-Ottawa vs 5-Pittsburgh = Ottawa
- Sigh...this one is torture. As a Sens fan, I like this year's team. I think that there are lots of good, rational reasons that they should beat Pittsburgh and are better than any team in the East other than Buffalo (and they're not far behind them at this point, considering their second half play). Ottawa was 3rd in goals for (between Buffalo and Pittsburgh), 10th in goals against, and 1st in goal differential. They were decent on the PP (14th overall at 17.9%) and tied for the league lead in SHG with 17. They can get scoring from four lines, but have the three superstars who could step up and lead. Their D is deep and healthy, including the underrated Tom Preissing, and they just locked up Chris Phillips for another four years, which should make him a happy kid. But this is Ottawa, and let's be honest, that counts for something too. There are three reasons that Pittsburgh could win this series and no one would be surprised:
1) Sid the Kid and his two "wingers" - Crosby is legitimately the best player in the NHL and at any moment can transcend a situation to make an impact and win a game. When coupled with Staal and Malkin these kids don't "know" that they're not yet ready for primetime and could get in such a zone, so unconscious, that they just light the Sens on fire.
2) Gary Roberts - I wouldn't have taken Roberts in a hockey pool for the last five years; he's been that far below average in the regular season. However, he seems to take extreme pleasure in torturing Ottawa in the playoffs. If he does it again this year I think that John Muckler may get lynched for not acquiring him at the deadline, if only to keep him away from the opposition.
3) Karma - I think that Ottawa is still living down the Daigle pick, not to mention Bonk and Phillips (good guy, solid D-man, not a #1). Some day when pig men roam free we will be able to win a Cup. Until then, let's all raise a glass to Frank Finnigan and hope to hell that Ray Emery has enough aggression built up to beat up Crosby and push the Sens through.
So, Puck This! Was born a year ago and has enjoyed its most productive period during the second season. On the start of the first round of the 2007 playoffs, I hope that there is a flurry of activity on PT this spring.
As you have surely noticed, we have a new member of the team. I’m happy to welcome Debido, an Avs fan recently returned to Western Canada from the Land of the rising sun. From his first two posts, I think it’s fair to say that he’ll be pushing the rest of the team to write more.
That being said, I’m confident Huck and Shaky will contribute, but I’m calling out Ballzov and Beeg. Much like Alex Kovalev in Montreal, they need to step up.
To follow in Debido’s footsteps, here are my predictions for the 2007 edition of the NHL playoffs:
Detroit v. Calgary
The West is a crapshoot. I can’t say that enough. That being said, picks need to be made.
In this series, goaltending and injuries will play an important role. Kipper has been hot and cold and so have the Flames. He needs to be hot for the Flames to have a shot. Hasek, needs to stay healthy for the Wings to have a shot. Also, Zetterberg may not be fully recovered and Bertuzzi is out. On the Flames side, it looks like they Regehr won’t suit up start the series.
All this will make for an interesting series, but in the end, given that the Flames can’t win on the road, the Wings will take it.
Wings in 6
Anaheim v. Minnesota
Even if these teams are technically closer in the standings, I think the series will be more one-sided than the Detroit-Calgary series.
Although I love what Jacques Lemaire has done with team, I don’t think that they have the grit or the intensity to compete here. Also, as impressive as the young Niklas Backstrom has been, he lacks experience and that will show in the 2nd season. Anaheim has better defense and a more experienced roster.
The only aspect that may make me regret my pick is that the Wild are strong up front and can be quite explosive offensively.
Ducks in 5
Vancouver v. Dallas
This will be a great series to watch. I predict a fast pace and great goaltending at both ends.
Although I didn’t call the Canucks’ resurgence, I am happy that they had such a great season. I do think they’re for real and, clearly Luongo is the main reason. Now that the Sedin sisters have matured, they are a force to be reckoned with. I also foresee that Naslund will have his own resurgence in the playoffs.
I can’t bring myself to think that any team that depends on Lindros and Ribeiro for offence is doomed in my view.
Canucks in 6
Nashville v. San Jose
This will, no doubt, be one of the series that will go down to the wire.
The Predators did all they could to get ready for the post-season and, with the addition of Forsberg, they seem to have it all. I don’t, however, think they do. Their defence is still quite young and they are a little less explosive up front. San Jose, on the other hand, is just revving up and they’ve been hot of late.
In the end, Forsberg’s experience is not a replacement for his diminished skills.
Sharks in 7
Buffalo v. New York Islanders
If the 1 v. 8 series is a crapshoot in the West, it will be the exact opposite in the East. This will be a cakewalk for the Sabres.
I was a happy man when the Islanders made sure the Leafs would miss the playoffs, but in the end, they only won the right to be swept by Buffalo. Last year was a great learning experience for the Sabres and they may just use that experience to propel them tot the championship. I’m not making that call just yet, but let’s just say that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it all.
Sabres in 4
New Jersey v. Tampa Bay
For some reason, I have a feeling that this series will be boring as hell. I have great respect for the Devils organization, but man, their style of play puts me to sleep.
In this series, the Lightning have the edge on offence. Vinny and the gang can light it up with the best of ‘em, but I don’t think that’ll cut it here. New Jersey’s strong team defense and superior goaltending is no match for Tampa Bay’s one-two punch of Lecavalier and St. Louis. In addition, Tampa Bay’s goaltending is less than stellar.
Devils in 6
Atlanta v. New York Rangers
As I said in my post yesterday, I really thought the Rangers would be a powerhouse this year. Deep down, I still think they can play better than their rank indicates.
Admittedly, I don’t know much about the Thrashers and I don’t have much interest. Obviously, with Hossa, Kozlov and Kovalchuk up front, they can make you pay for any defensive lapses. On the back end, Lehtonen has been strong all year and there is no reason to think he can’t be good enough to win them a series or two.
The Rangers, on the other hand, may have the hottest goalie in the league right now and bring a combination of grit and firepower that, on paper, should give them a good shot. If Renney can pull it all together and if Jagr can stay healthy, I think they have a shot at upsetting the Thrashers.
Rangers in 7
Ottawa v. Pittsburgh
This is the series everybody wants to watch. These are two truly gifted offensive teams that showed give us a great show.
The Pens have been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season and they have played much better than everyone expected them to. Some might say that they’re punching above their weight, but I think that we’re witnessing the start of something special.
For their part, Ottawa is not the heavy favourite this year and there is less talk of them being Cup contenders. Let’s not be fooled by Brian Murray’s asinine comments, there is a tonne of pressure on the Senators organization to move past the second round. IMHO, his head will roll if they have an early exit in ’07. All that being said, I think the Sens will actually break the curse this year.
Senators in 6
Unlike the West, where I wouldn't be surprised if any of the teams made it to the finals, there are several teams in the East that are just along for the ride. Being in the play-offs will be reward enough for the Islanders, who only made it in due to the self-destructiveness of the Leafs and the Habs, the Lightning, Rangers, and Thrashers. Whichever team makes it out of the West is going to have been through three very tough series, whereas a team like New Jersey or Buffalo could, with a bit of luck, have two relatively easy series along the road to the final. Which is why I like Buffalo's chances of winning it all. But let's not get too far ahead ...
Sabres vs. Islanders
No contest. Everything you need to now about this match up you can figure out by comparing the captains: Chris Drury (a tough, clutch performer who consistently punches above his weight) vs. Alexei Yashin (overpaid and over-rated player who coasts on his talent and had never proven that he can deliver when it counts). The Sabres are a strong team - emphasis on team - who play consistently good hockey and have shown they know how to win play-off series. The Islanders have no business being in the post-season. The only way they have a chance is if their goalie, DiPietro or otherwise, pulls a Cam Ward and someone rips the 'C' off Yashin's jersey and sticks it on that of Ryan Smyth. My pick: Sabres in 4.
Devils vs. Lightning
Goaltending is all you need to know here. Martin Brodeur vs. whoever John Tortorella is least afraid of sticking in net on any give night. Apart from the Brodeur factor, the Devils' depth and experience and play-off savvy should make this one pretty short, despite Tampa Bay's offensive guns. I have a suspicion that Lamoriello's decision to fire his coach a week before the post-season is going to backfire, but not in the first round. My pick: Devils in 5.
Thrashers vs. Rangers
I don't rate either of these teams all that highly in terms of Cup aspirations, but one of them will still end up in the conference semi-finals, and I suspect it will be the Thrashers. Shanahan is a good leader, but perhaps too old to make a major on-ice impact, and Jagr is too temperamental - has he ever been dominant in the post-season when he wasn't playing with Lemieux? The Thrashers, on the other hand, have a good mix of stars, exciting youngsters, and canny veterans like Holik, Tkachuk, and Mellanby. I also think Bob Hartley is an excellent play-off coach who gets the most out of his players. As long as Lehtonin holds his own against Lundqvist, the Thrashers should be in fine shape. My pick: Thrashers in 6.
Senators vs. Penguins
With two offensive powerhouses with suspect goaltending going head to head, I reckon this one will be a shoot-out and the most entertaining series of the first round. The key here may be that the Senators have all the pressure - the Penguins have already surpassed all expectations this year, and any progress they make in the play-offs will be a bonus. The Senators, on the other hand, are expected to do well, and we all know what happens when the Senators are supposed to win - they lose. The Penguins are young and hungry and loose, and they have the best player in the game, which should trump the Sens superior defense and play-off experience. My pick: Penguins in 7.
A year after the offer was originally made, I am at last taking Phoff up on the invitation to add my two cents to this blog. I'll wade right in with my first-round predictions. Despite the absence of my beloved Avs, this year's play-offs promise to be intriguing, especially in the Western Conference, where I will begin.
Red Wings vs. Flames
The Red Wings have made a habit in recent years of flaming out (so to speak) in the first round against supposedly weaker opposition, most recently the Oilers. I don't think they'll be taking the Flames as lightly as they may have taken the Oil, but they still have to contend with the aging population problem among their goalie and defensemen. Their forward group has gotten younger, but not necessarily better, now that Yzerman and Shanahan are gone, but is that enough? The Flames, on the other hand, are, I think, much better than their eighth-place finish suggests. They have the goalie, the D, the grit, the experience, and the superstar necessary to go deep in the play-offs. The big questions are can they win on the road - recent form suggests yes - and will Tanguay turn in the kind of performance that won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Devils or will he fade from view, as he has a bad habit of doing? My pick: Flames in 7.
Ducks vs. Wild
The Wild are a tough team to break down, and unlike past years have a bit of offensive punch in Gaborik and Demitra, but I just don't see them getting past the Ducks, who showed their play-off mettle last year and should be even better this year. The Ducks have the edge over the Wild in every aspect of their game. Provided the Ducks get the goaltending from Giguere, and Pronger and Niedermayer are injury free, they are serious Cup contenders. My pick: Ducks in 6.
Canucks vs. Stars
This one figures to be a pretty low-scoring affair, with two solid defensive teams and excellent goalies ... at least in the regular season. Goaltending - the Canuck's Achille's heel in play-offs past - is likely to be decide this one, and I'd put my money on Luongo to outperform Turco, who flatters to deceive around this time of year. I've seen a few Canucks games recently, and their D and overall team system seem to be extremely solid, and when they do make the occasional mistake, Luongo slams the door. I don't see that changing in the play-offs; the question marks are the form of Naslund, who's been lousy of late, and whether the Sedin girls - uh, twins - can be dominant in the play-offs. I have my doubts, but still think Vancouver will win this one before going out in the next round. My pick: Canucks in 6.
Predators vs. San Jose
That a series like this is happening in the first round proves how strong the Western Conference is. Both of these teams are legitimate Cup contenders, although I like the Sharks' chances better. They're big and tough, with excellent depth in attack and a goalie who can carry the team. I think the Sharks have too much firepower up front and that they will outmuscle and wear down the Predators' smaller forwards. And I think Nabokov is a better money goalie than Vokoun. There's one wild card in this series, though: the Foppa factor. Years of watching the Avalanche have shown me time and again that Forsberg can single-handedly make the difference in a game, if he's healthy. If he outplays Thornton, then the Preds have a chance. My pick: Sharks in 7.
Well, Bumf put himself out there and showed us how unpredictable the NHL can be. These were my predictions and below is how badly I fared in the prognosticating business (my picks in brackets):
1. Buffalo Sabres (1)
2. New Jersey Devils (5)
3. Atlanta Thrashers (9)
4. Ottawa Senators (3)
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (12)
6. New York Rangers (2)
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (7)
8. New York Islanders (14)
9. Toronto Maple Leafs (11)
10. Montreal Canadiens (10)
11. Carolina Hurricanes (4)
12. Florida Panthers (13)
13. Boston Bruins (8)
14. Washington Capitals (15)
15. Philadelphia Flyers (6)
So, I didn’t get much right except for the easy ones, like Buffalo. Much like Bumf, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the rise of the Pens and the fall of the Flyers. The same could be said of the Hurricanes. I took a conscious leap with the Rangers because I was sure that they would battle for the top spot and that Shanny would make a huge difference. I was wrong (but it wasn’t Shanny’s fault).
1. Detroit Red Wings (5)
2. Anaheim Ducks (3)
3. Vancouver Canucks (11)
4. Nashville Predators (1)
5. San Jose Sharks (4)
6. Dallas Stars (7)
7. Minnesota Wild (6)
8. Calgary Flames (2)
9. Colorado Avalanche (13)
10. St Louis Blues (14)
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
12. Edmonton Oilers (8)
13. Chicago Blackhawks (15)
14. Los Angeles Kings (10)
15. Phoenix Coyotes (12)
Not much better here. In my mind, I felt that Detroit had lost too much (Yzerman & Shanny). Also, I really didn’t see the Flames battling for the last playoff spot and Vancouver being so strong. Shows what I know. As for the other teams, the West is so tight that I don’t really think I could have done much better.
Here are my (new) picks for individual award winners (old picks in brackets):
Hart: Crosby, PIT (Miikka Kiprusoff CAL)
Ross: Crosby, PIT (Sidney Crosby PIT)
Richard: Lecavalier, TB (Alexander Ovechkin WAS)
Norris: Lidstrom, DET (Niklas Lidstrom DET)
Vezina: Brodeur, NJ (Miikka Kiprusoff CAL)
Calder: Malkin, PIT (Evgeni Malkin PIT)
Selke: Pandolfo, NJ (Michael Peca TOR)
Byng: Fischer, OTT (Mike Fisher OTT)
Adams: Michel Therrien, PIT (Barry Trotz NAS)
Next up, my predictions for the 2007 playoffs. Let the (real) games begin…
Surprises, shocks and horrors ... and even a little bit of fun! The 2006-07 NHL regular season was full of all of this and more.
I just won't be covering any of it here.
Let's look at the regular season standings, with Bumf picks in brackets:
1. Buffalo Sabres (1)
2. New Jersey Devils (5)
3. Atlanta Thrashers (8)
4. Ottawa Senators (4)
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (12)
6. New York Rangers (7)
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (10)
8. New York Islanders (11)
9. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
10. Montreal Canadiens (6)
11. Carolina Hurricanes (2)
12. Florida Panthers (15)
13. Boston Bruins (9)
14. Washington Capitals (14)
15. Philadelphia Flyers (3)
I missed the boat on most of these, but most especially between the two Pennsylvania squads. I don't think anyone was going to predict the absolute demise of the Flyers in such spectacular fashion, while I was pleasantly surprised by the upstart Pens. The Panthers also made a big move in the second half of the season while Carolina was a big disappointment.
1. Detroit Red Wings (4)
2. Anaheim Ducks (5)
3. Vancouver Canucks (13)
4. Nashville Predators (1)
5. San Jose Sharks (2)
6. Dallas Stars (9)
7. Minnesota Wild (7)
8. Calgary Flames (3)
9. Colorado Avalanche (10)
10. St Louis Blues (14)
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (8)
12. Edmonton Oilers (11)
13. Chicago Blackhawks (12)
14. Los Angeles Kings (6)
15. Phoenix Coyotes (15)
Didn't call the Flames quite right, as the team was plenty of more inconsistent than I would have suspected. I called the top two in both the Pacific and Central Divisions, though in the wrong order. I thought Columbus would have done better but I can be forgiven for Andy Murray's terrific turn-around in St Louis (which might also have something to do with the awful call on the Kings.) The Oilers, Hawks and Coyotes played perfect to form.
My picks for the inidividual award winners (with previous picks in brackets):
HART: Sidney Crosby PIT (Crosby PIT)
ART ROSS: Crosby PIT (Crosby PIT)
RICHARD: Vincent Lecavalier TB (Erik Cole CAR ?????)
NORRIS: Nicklas Lidstrom DET (Scott Niedermayer ANA)
VEZINA: Roberto Luongo VAN (Miikka Kiprusoff CAL)
CALDER: Paul Stasny COL (Evgeni Malkin PIT)
SELKE: Daymond Langkow CAL (Stephane Yelle CAL)
BYNG: Martin St Louis TB (Daniel Alfredsson OTT)
MASTERTON: Joe Sakic COL (Eric Lindros DAL)
ADAMS: Barry Trotz NAS (Trotz NAS)
PEARSON: Crosby PIT (Crosby PIT)
1st Team All Stars
CENTRE: Crosby PIT
RIGHT WING: Dany Heatley OTT
LEFT WING: Thomas Vanek BUF
DEFENSE: Lidstrom DET
DEFENSE: Dan Boyle TB
GOAL: Luongo VAN
2nd Team All Stars
CENTRE: Joe Thornton SJ
RIGHT WING: Jarome Iginla CAL
LEFT WING: Daniel Sedin VAN
DEFENSE: Niedermayer ANA
DEFENSE: Chris Pronger ANA
GOAL: Martin Brodeur NJ
I'll get to the post-season wrap-up and playoff predictions in short order, but I wanted to say a few words about one of the greatest players in the history of hockey. With three points last night, Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic managed to reach the 100-point plateau for the sixth time in his career, and, at the age of 37, became the second-oldest player to reach such heights. (Gordie Howe managed the same feat at the age of 42.) It is to my chagrin, though not entirely at my displeasure, 20 of those points came at the expense of your Calgary Flames.
Moreover, Sakic had led his team to an incredible 15-2-2 run at the 8th-place Calgary Flames until the end of the season, and gave his adopted hometown something to cheer about in an otherwise average season.
He may not win any major awards and he has missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 1992, but the man continues to impress at his advanced age. As he sits one point back of Phil Esposito for eight place in all-time regular season points, Joe Sakic has done nothing but inch his way higher among hockey's pantheon of greats as each season passes.