April 03, 2003

Intermittent NHL Report

It's playoff preview time! I know it's a bit early and there could be some changes before the second season starts, but I wanted to get this posted before the big websites steal my thunder. (Disclaimer: before the season started, I picked San Jose to win the cup.)

(Preview inside)

posted by Samsonov14 to hockey at 11:39 AM - 13 comments

EASTERN CONFERENCE #1 Senators vs. #8 Islanders Key issue: Are the Sens tough enough this year? With the recent additions of Rob Ray and Vaclav Varada, the Sens have added some much needed edginess to their team. But is it enough? Against the Islanders, the answer is yes. The best way for the Sens to silence their critics would be for them to dismantle the Leafs in a later round, but until then team toughness will likely remain a question mark. Prediction: Ottawa in 5 #2 Devils vs. #7 Bruins Key Issues: Can the Madden line shut down the Thornton line, and will Samsonov return at full strength? New Jersey coach Pat Burns stresses defense first, and no Devil has taken his teachings to heart more than John Madden. You can bet the probable Selke candidate, if healthy, will be draped around Joe Thornton like a cape throughout the series. Madden has shown a remarkable ability to shut down the other team’s top line, and the Bruins will need Sergei Samsonov to turn their second line into a legitimate scoring threat. Samsonov had 9 points in 7 games this season before injuring his wrist, and hopes to return for the last game of the regular season. Prediction: Bruins in 7 #3 Lightning vs. #6 Capitals Key Issue: Can the Lightning finally find its scoring touch against the Caps? The Capitals have found surprising success against the Lightning this year, winning the season series 3-2. Tampa Bay has managed to score only 9 goals in the 5 games of the series, which is nearly a full goal per game lower than their season average of 2.7. If Tampa can’t find a way to score, Washington could find themselves advancing to the second round. Prediction: Lightning in 6 #4 Flyers vs. #5 Leafs Key Issue: Can Toronto stay under control? The Flyers have found success this year by playing sound defense and spreading the scoring around. The Leafs play a more offensive system, and rely heavily on the Mogilny and Sundin. The clash of these two antipodal systems should be interesting, and the key to the series may hinge on Toronto’s ability to stay focused. Toronto has the worst PIM for/PIM against average in the league, and Belak, Domi, McCabe, Antropov, and Tucker have a combined 743 penalty minutes this season. If Toronto can manage to stay out of the box, there’s no reason they can’t win. Prediction: Leafs in 7 WESTERN CONFERENCE #1 Stars vs. #8 Oilers Key Issue: Can post-trade deadline Edmonton produce without Niinimaa and Carter? Edmonton looked like a team in trouble when they traded away Janne Niinimaa and Anson Carter, and many hockey pundits commented that it seemed as if they were giving up on the season before the playoffs had been decided. Surprisingly, the trades seem to be bearing fruit for the Oilers, who have had at least one point in all of their games since March 13. Former Ranger Radek Devorak will have to continue to produce for Edmonton to stand a chance of beating the Stars. Prediction: Stars in 4 #2 Red Wings vs. #7 Wild Key Issue: Can the Bad News Bears defeat the reigning champs? Don’t kid yourself, that’s what this is. Last year’s aging champs are still going strong, and have shown no signs of slowing down. But don’t count the Wild out. The season series is tied at 2 apiece, and Minnesota has proven to be a team that can play against the best of them. Can the team with the league’s lowest payroll beat the team with the second highest? Jacque Lemaire may be the best coach in the league – expect Minnesota to play smart, patient hockey. Prediction: Wild in 7 #3 Canucks vs. #6 Mighty Ducks Key Issue: Can anything stop Bertuzzi and Naslund? With 276 goals scored so far this season, the Canucks are the league’s highest scoring team. Amazingly, the tandem of Todd Bertuzzi and Marcus Naslund has provided 38% of these goals. Shut these two down, and Vancouver is just another team. Unfortunately for the Ducks, even the strong defensive play of Keith Carney, Sandis Ozolinsh (never thought I’d say that), and goaltender J.S. Giguere, just isn’t going to be enough to contain the mild-mannered Swede and the boisterous Canadian. Prediction: Canucks in 5 #4 Avalanche vs. #5 Blues Key Issue: Can the return of Chris Pronger lead the Blues to playoff success? Chris Pronger is finally back in the NHL. The big defenseman is back from knee and wrist injuries, and has already scored a goal in his second game of the year. St. Louis will need Pronger to frustrate superstar Peter Forsberg in order keep the Blues chances alive. Prediction: Avalanche in 6 Stanley Cup Finals: Toronto over Dallas in 7

posted by Samsonov14 at 11:53 AM on April 03, 2003

Leafs may beat Flyers but Devils will take Bruins in 5 and Red Wings will take Wild in 4. Finals: Devils over Red Wings in 6, Brodeur pitches three shutouts in the series.

posted by billsaysthis at 12:50 PM on April 03, 2003

Billy, Billy, Billy... If the Devils do as you say and win the Cup, I'll lick my bathroom floor. I don't mean to ridicule your prediction, I'm just gearing up for my 6-years-and-running hatred rooting strategy. With the Rangers not making the playoffs* I'm forced yet again to root against teams rather than for someone. Go Leafs, go 'Ning, go Bruins and go Senators. And overall, I'll stick with my preseason prediction and say the 'Lanche will lift Lord Stanely's cup.

posted by 86 at 01:40 PM on April 03, 2003

Bill, I hear ya about the Bruins/Devils and Wings/Wild series, but only a spineless weenie would do a playoff preview without a few upsets thrown in. To be honest, those two series are about who I want to win as much as who I think will win. The Wild will make some noise in that series, though - there's no way they get swept. I'm not floorlicking sure about that, but I'm relatively sure nonetheless. And I really hope you're wrong about the Devils making it to the finals. They've got to be the most boring team in the league to watch. Except for the Wild, of course, but you can get behind the Wild because they're serious underdogs.

posted by Samsonov14 at 02:02 PM on April 03, 2003

I like the Wild pick. Very gutsy. I think the Oil will go more than 4, but the Stars are sure to win. Though with Billy G nursing a leg injury, I'm not 100%. The Avs are a lock, especially when the G-matchup is considered. I think the Devils are done for as well. The 'Ning will prevail, the Isles could take the Sens, and the Leafs better beat Philly.

posted by garfield at 02:45 PM on April 03, 2003

Tampa Bay is just happy to make the playoffs, they're meat. I will note that the #1 West team has been knocked off a lot in recent years. And I'm holding 86 to the floorlicking. In fact, I'm going to send this thread to the Devils for lockerroom bulletin board inspiration!

posted by billsaysthis at 04:54 PM on April 03, 2003

Stanley Cup Finals: Toronto over Dallas in 7 I find that very weird coming from someone that isn't a die-hard Leaf fan. Not that I'm complaining. I think that Toronto does indeed have a good chance of getting to the finals... but you can say that about every team in the East, really. I'm going to save my picks until the matchups are a little bit more concrete than they are now (Anaheim and Minnesota could very likely flip positions and Vancouver could still likely drop to fourth) -- but I will pick my dark horses: In the west, I think the surprise team will be Anaheim (just edging out Minnesota, in my books.) I think the additions of Ozolinsh and Thomas really help them, and if Giguere can play consistently in the playoffs -- they can certainly surprise. In the East, it's kind of hard to pick a surprise team as any team can win, but my pick is Washington. Sort of like the Leafs, they've underperformed this year. They too had a slow start, but have really come on lately. The Caps have a solid power play squad, a good goalie, and some of the most dangerous offensive threats in the Conference. The Lightning just don't have the experience to go far, in my opinion. And Edmonton-Dallas match-up would be great, as these teams have created quite the playoff rivalry with each other over the last few years. However, what would be even MORE interesting (and it's still possible) is a Minnesota-Dallas match-up. Old Stars vs. new Stars. It's a match-up that I think Dallas would love to avoid (they've had bad luck against the Wild this year).

posted by mkn at 06:01 PM on April 03, 2003

It's hard to pick upsets (that's why they're upsets, after all) and this year is no exception. Thing is, I can't even conceive of any of the top three seeds in either conference losing in the first round with the exception of Tampa. The 4 vs 5 matchups are interesting on both sides, but the first round is mostly a wash. As a Sens fan I'm obligated to bite my tongue at this time of year, but there's no way the Isles can beat 'em. None. Not with Garth Snow between the pipes, and Ottawa firing 40 shots a game at him. Varada and Chara will eat Yashin like a steak dinner. Samsonov14: I was very surprised to see your call of the Buds winning the Cup. They've got their best team in years but they still have problems on defense. With Wesley out, there are still a few pylons back on the blue line, namely Belak, Lumme, and Housley. A fast Philly offense could pick those guys apart. That said, I'm pretty sure the Leafs will beat Philly in what will probably be the best series of the first round. But I don't think Toronto could beat Detroit or Dallas in a seven-game series. Edmonton might shake the Stars up a bit but it'll be the same old story for the Oil. The Canucks don't have the depth to do damage. The Sedin Sisters won't take you to the promised land. Love their team but there's still building to be done. The Bruins don't have the goaltending to make an impact this year, which is too bad because they seemed like a true force in the first half of the season (with a friendly nudge to Samsonov14 *wink* ). My Dark Horse is St Louis. They're due, dammit. I'll make official predictions when the matchups are set.

posted by Succa at 06:24 PM on April 03, 2003

I'm saving my predictions until the playoff spots are settled. But I'll say the only way Toronto beats Detroit or Colorado or Dallas in the finals is if Belfour steals a couple of games.

posted by grum@work at 06:57 PM on April 03, 2003

Or if Cujo is playing for the other team ;)

posted by mkn at 07:50 PM on April 03, 2003

Succa, don't be so confident. Have you seen the size of Garth Snow's pads? For the life of me I can't figure it out exactly, but the guy seems to be wearing extra gear somewhere. I'm looking for an outside opinion on this (I'm naturally biased) and I'm assuming things stay as they are now, but if the Sens and Isles meet*, let me know what you think.

posted by 86 at 12:41 AM on April 04, 2003

It's not just you and Glen Sather that have a problem with Snow's equipment. Here's an article from November about his enormous padding. Those things are ridiculous. The Isles look like they have a Transformer in net.

posted by Samsonov14 at 08:32 AM on April 04, 2003

Best picture I could find of Snow. Hard to see but he certainly does look Optimus-Primesque.

posted by Succa at 12:31 PM on April 04, 2003

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