Well, it's that time of year again, and I'm going to do what pretty much everyone else is doing. Looking at the playoff match-ups, who's going to have what advantage, why this team will lose, why this team has to win, etc. etc. Here goes.
Detroit Red Wings (1st) vs. Calgary Flames (8th)
This is going to prove to be a very interesting match-up. Lets look at each team individually.
Detroit- The Wings are a very solid team, which is the cause of their success. On offense, the core group consists of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Tomas Holmstrom. As the season ended, they also recieved good offense from Jiri Hudler, Todd Bertuzzi, and Kyle Calder. Also, they have Nicklas Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider have each scored 50+ points from the blueline. On the defensive side, Lidstrom and Schneider are still the leaders, but Brett Lebda, Chris Chelios, and Andreas Lilja are good as well. Forwards Kris Draper, Datsyuk, and Hudler are all responsible defensively. In goal, both Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood have Stanley Cup experience.
Calgary- The Flames have more of the same. On offense, Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius and Matthew Lombardi all have reached the 20-goal mark. Also, Craig Conroy has been hot since re-joining the Flames, scoring 21 points in 28 games. Dion Phaneuf and Roman Hamrlik provide the main offense from the blueline. On the defensive side, Robyn Regehr, Hamrlik, Phaneuf, and Rhett Warrener are solid. Marcus Nilson and David Moss are good on the defensive side. In goal, Miika Kiprusoff was the man in net for the 04 cup run, but Jamie Mclennan doens't have that much playoff experience.
The could-be result- Well, here's the thing. The Red Wings have had poor playoff seasons and last year they were beat by a team who, at the time, were considered a very weak team, and they struggle to score in the playoffs. The Flames also were kicked out in the first round last year, but against a team that had finished strong. But they also have been slagged for a lack of offense. This match-up will probably go 6-7 games, with my guess being the Flames coming out the winners due do more depth on defense.
Anahiem Ducks (2nd) vs. Minnesota Wild (7th)
This series will be the one everybody watches. The two teams have had strong seasons, but have each been attacked by the injury bug.
Anahiem- The Ducks have a great group of players. On offense, they have the top line of Teemu Selanne, Andy McDonald, and Chris Kunitz have been great all year. But, unlike last year, those players aren't the only ones who have scored. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Dustin Penner are Anahiem's youth line, and Travis Moen scored 11 goals and 21 points from the third line. Defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger provide a high-scoring defense. In their own end, the Ducks have Niedermayer, Pronger, Francois Beauchemin, and Sean O'Donnell to take care of business. Todd Marchant, Samuel Pahlsson, and Rob Niedermayer are all responsible in their own end. In goal, the Ducks have two proven playoff men. Jean-Sebastien Giguere won the Conn Smythe trophy in 2003, and Ilya Bryzgalov was great in last year's playoffs.
Minnesota- The Wild have plenty of experience as well. When it comes to scoring goals, the Wild can look to Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra, Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikko Koivu, Todd White, and Mark Parrish. Also, Brent Burns and Kurtis Foster can score when it's asked of them. In the defensive end, Keith Carney, Burns, and Martin Skoula are the main D-men on that job. Forwards Dominic Moore, Wes Walz, and Wyatt Smith work the penalty-kill. In goal, the Wild are spectacular. Manny Fernandez, Nicklas Backstrom, and Josh Harding have all proven them self worthy.
The could-be result- I see this depending on goaltending. Each team may be able to score with the best of them, but who can stop them? I see this as a 6-game series, with The Wild coming out on top. The starting goalies, assuming that Fernandez and Giguere start, will be injured, and Backstrom will shine with Bryzgalov struggling. It's a bold prediction, but I think it'll come true.
Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. Dallas Stars (6)
I'll admit, I am slightly biased on this one as my favorite team is the Stars, but I am going to be as fair as possible.
Vancouver- The Canucks have less offense than you might think. Once you get past Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Taylor Pyatt, Brendan Morrison, and Markus Naslund, everyone else is really just a 30-and below point scorer. Mattias Ohlund and Kevin Bieska are the only true offensive D-man. On the defensive side, Sami Salo, Rory Fitzpatrick, and Brent Sopel provide consistency, while forwards Bryan Smolinski and Jeff Cowan can kill a penalty in necessary. In goal, well, that's the Canucks biggest strength. I'm talking Roberto Luongo, possible league MVP, and 47-game winner, heck, the backup has only made appearances in 9 games. If the Canucks are to go anywhere, it will be with this man in front, err, back.
Dallas- The Stars are normally a strong offensive team, but have struggled to score this year. Mike Ribeiro, Ladislav Nagy, Brenden Morrow, Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, and Niklas Hagman are the main scoring threats, while Sergei Zubov and Phillipe Boucher can score from the blueline. On the defensive side, the Stars have a whopping advantage. Trevor Daley, Jon Klemm, Mattias Norstrom, and Stephane Robidas all like to stay in their own end, while forwards Modano, Lehtinen, Jussi Jokinen, Stu Barnes, and Joel Lundqvist successfully defend in their own end. In goal, the Stars have two strong players. Marty Turco is the starter, and he always has exellent regular seasons. His post-season record is unimpressive, but Mike Smith, the back-up, won 12 of 23 appearances as a rookie and had a good AHL playoff with Iowa last year.
The could-be result- This match-up will definitley go 5-7 games. The Stars are a little more comfortable in goal, having another option if Turco starts losing again. The Canucks will not want to rely on Dany Sabourin if Luongo goes down. The Stars appear to have a slight disadvantage because of their lack of goal scoring this year, but have a stifling defense. If it comes down to injuries, the Stars have been bitten way more. I see the Stars winning a close 7th game in overtime, 1-0. And, guess who will score the winner. Jeff Halpern, the dissapointing free agent pick-up. Once again, bold, but it could happen.
Nashville Predators (4) vs. San Jose Sharks (5)
A repeat of last year's first round, this will be a tight match.
Nashville- The Predators are one of the deepest offensive teams in the league. Paul Kariya, Jean-Pierre Dumont, David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, Peter Forsberg, Jason Arnott, Scott Hartnell, and Alexander Radulov all scored over 30 points. Kimmo Timonen, Shea Weber, and Marek Zidlicky are threats on 'D'. In their own end, the Predators have Greg Zanon, Ryan Suter, Vitaly Vishnevski, and Dan Hamhuis to join Timonen, Zidlicky, and Weber as all are good in their own end, and Vishnevski is among the best hitters. Forwards Vernon Fiddler and Scott Nichol specialize on defense, but nearly every forward has a positive plus/minus rating. In goal, both Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason got 20+ wins. Neither of them have an abundance of playoff experience, but Vokoun was in net for the Predators first playoff series, and Mason was in net last year.
San Jose- The Sharks have a similar line-up. Offensively, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, and Bill Guerin are the main guys. Ryane Clowe has also performed well in the latter half of the season. Matthew Carle, Christian Ehrhoff, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic score points from the blueline. On the defensive side of things, Vlasic, Kyle Mclaren, Craig Rivet, and Scott Hannan take care of business. Mike Grier, Curtis Brown, and Mark Smith are the defensive specialists. In net, both Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov are great playoff performers.
The could-be result- This series will last 5-6 games, with the Sharks ultimatley coming out on top. Nashville does have a lot of great performers, but many of them have never been past the first round. Actually, only Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, and Jason Arnott have been truly far in the playoffs more than one year. San Jose gets its edge that way. The whole team has playoff experience, and even the rookies (Carle, Vlasic, Clowe) have some other playoff experience (College, QMJHL, AHL).
The Predicted second round: Calgary vs. San Jose, Minnesota vs. Dallas.
Buffalo Sabres (1) vs. New York Islanders (8)
The Islanders have come off a miraculous regular season, but face a tougher challenge in the first round.
Buffalo- The Sabres are an amazing team. Danny Briere, Thomas Vanek, Chris Drury, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Maxim Afineganov, and Dainius Zubrus are the highest producers. Drew Stafford came in late and has produced wonderfully. D-men Brian Campbell, Dmitri Kalinin, and Henrik Tallinder are all capable of producing points. In their own end, Jaroslav Spacek, Teppo Numinen, Nathan Paetsch, and Toni Lydman are solid, while Vanek, Roy, and Jochen Hecht are all great. Paul Gaustad was the main shadower, but he is lost for the season to injuries. In goal, Ryan Miller was great in last year's playoffs, while Ty Conklin journied all the way to the Stanley Cup finals as a backup.
New York- The Islanders have more depth than expected. Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth, Miroslav Satan, Viktor Kozlov, Mike Sillinger, Alexei Yashin, and Trent Hunter all scored well. D-men Marc-Andre Bergeron and Tom Poti run the power-play. On the defensive side, Radek Martinek, Brendan Witt, and Sean Hill take care of business. Forwards Shawn Bates, Andy Hilbert, Richard Park, and Sillinger can run the penalty-kill. Chris Simon was the team's leading positive plus/minus forward, but is suspended for the playoffs after his attack on Ryan Hollweg. In goal, none of Rick DiPietro, Wade Dubielewicz, or Mike Dunham have had a lot of playoff experience, but DiPietro and Dubeilewicz have had good regular seasons.
The could-be result- This series could be anywhere from 4-7 games. The Sabres could sweep the inexperienced Islanders, or they could be upset in 7 by the desperate Isles. However, since the Islanders haven't been past the first round in several seasons, it appears that the Sabres will come out on top. I see it lasting 7 games, with the Isles winning the first two, losing the next three, and then winning one, and losing game seven by a score of 5-4, after giving up a 2-0 lead in the first. Once again, I make a bold prediction. Can't help it, I like being specific.
New Jersey Devils (1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (7)
This match-up is intriguing. On one side, you have a team that can shut out the opposition every night, but they might have trouble winning because they don't score. Opposite on the other side. A team that could score 6 goals in a game, but might have to win 6-5 because they can't keep the goals out.
New Jersey- The Devils offense is actually better than I make it sound. Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Travis Zajac are the main contributors. D-men Brian Rafalski and Paul Martin can join the rush as well. On the defensive side, the Devils have their strength. Every defenseman, the top seven being Raflaski, Martin, Brad Lukowich, Johnny Oduya, Colin White, Richard Matvichuk, and Andy Greene are all great in their own zone. Forwards Sergei Brylin, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Mike Rupp, Erik Rasmussen, and Jim Dowd are excellent defeinsive specialists. In goal, Martin Broduer set a new record for single season wins, and with Scott Clemensen a very capable back-up, the Devils are set.
Tampa Bay- The Lightning have most of their upside on offense. Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, and Vaclav Prospal are the main weapons, but the next highest forward is Eric Perrin with 36 points. Dan Boyle has quietly scored 20 goals from the blueline, and Filip Kuba is strong in that facet as well. On the defensive side, Paul Ranger, Shane O'Brien, Cory Sarich, and Doug Janik are stay-at-home types, while only Tim Taylor and Nick Tarnasky are checking forwards. In goal, Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis have been wildly inconsistent.
The could-be result- This match-up could be the fast one of the first round. With a potential disaster area called Tampa's net, the Devils should be able to put a few in the net. My guess is a 5-game series similar to last year's Avs-Stars series. The Devils will take the first three with style, and lose the fourth to a desperate Lightning team. The fifth game will go to overtime, where Marc Denis will give up a trademark soft goal.
Atlanta Thrashers (3) vs. New York Rangers (6)
This round will be watched closely. The Rangers were last year's first round flop, but Atlanta has never been to the playoffs as a team.
Atlanta- The Thrashers are a great offensive team. Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, Vyacheslav Kozlov, and Keith Tkachuk are the main threats, but Eric Belanger, Jon Sim, and Pascal Dupuis have scored timely goals. Defensemen Alexei Zhitnik and Greg De Vries are good on offense. On the defensive side, Niclas Havelid, Garnet Exelby, Andy Sutton and Shane Hnidy are great. Forwards Belanger, Dupuis, Scott Melanby, Bobby Holik, and Jean-Pierre Vigier are defensive specialists. In goal, Kari Lehtonen has been good in the regular season, but back-up Johan Hedberg is the only one with post-season experience.
New York- The Rangers are also skilled up front. Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Michael Nylander, Brendan Shanahan, Sean Avery, Matt Cullen, and Petr Prucha are the big guns. D-men Michal Rozsival and Karel Rachunek are the most offensivley inclined. Defensivley, the Rangers have Thomas Pock, Fedor Tyutin, Daniel Girardi, and Marek Malik to do the dirty work. Forwards Jed Ortmeyer, Marcel Hossa, Blair Betts, and Ryan Hollweg are best in their own end. In goal, "King Henrik" Henrik Lundqvist is spectacular, while Kevin Weekes' veteran experience is valuable.
The could-be result- I predict a surprisingly long match-up of 7 games. Lehtonen will be brilliant, but beat out by Lundqvist in a shootout after the teams battle to a 1-1 tie. Rookie Ryan Callahan will be an excellent surprise with 4 points in 7 games, while the Thrashers will fall due to a sudden failure of Ilya Kovalchuk in his first true high-pressure situation. Man, I get too detailed.
Ottawa Senators (4) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)
This match-up will be huge, as "Sid the Kid" makes his playoff debut.
Ottawa- The Senators have perhaps the most depth on offense this year. Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson are the main weapons, but Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette make unheralded contirbutions. Joe Corvo, Tom Preissing, and Wade Redden score from the blueline. On the defensive side, Anton Volchenkov, Andrej Meszaros, and Chris Phillips are more defensive than the others. Forwards Fisher, Dean McAmmond, Oleg Saprykin, and Chris Kelly are better in their own end. In goal, Martin Gerber has the experience of going to the Stanley Cup finals, albeit most of it on the bench, and Ray Emery has experience from last year as well.
Pittsburgh- The SuperPens have a lot of offense. A lot. Sidney Crosby leads the way, with Evgeni MAlkin, Mark Recchi, Michel Oullet, Jordan Staal, Gary Roberts, and Colby Armstrong following. Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney have both had 55+ point seasons. On the defensive side, the Pens have had some trouble. Mark Eaton, Alain Nasreddine, and Brooks Orpik play in their own zone, but only Staal, Armstrong, Erik Christensen and Maxime Talbot play well in their own end consistently. In goal, Marc-Andre Fluery has been brilliant, but he has never been to the post-season. Jocelyn Thibault needs to regain his previous play.
The could-be result- I see the Penguins winning in 6. The Sens will have injuries to Heatley (game 3-4, wrist) and Volchenkov (game 5, shin) while they were doing thier job will cause the Pens to gain an advantage. Crosby will have 8 points in 6 games, while Ryan Malone will recover from a rough season to score 5 points in 6 games. Gerber gets the start in game 1, but gives up three first-period goals and gets replaced by Emery for the series. I'm bold to the finish.
The Predicted second round: Buffalo vs. NYR, New Jersey vs. Pittsburgh.
Tonight, the playoffs begin, so I'll be watching Ottawa play Pittsburgh to see just how wrong I am about game 1.
- The Blackhawks have won the draft lottery, so be prepared to see either Patrick Kane, Jakub Voracek, or Alexei Cherepanov in the red and black. The Hawks want to find a linemate for Martin Havlat, so those three will be the most likely choices. The Flyers pick second, and they would also like a center. Sam Gagner and Logan Couture are likely choices. The Coyotes pick third, and since they have several forwards (Blake Wheeler, Martin Hanzal, and Peter Mueller) so they might target a defenseman, in which case Keaton Ellerby and Karl Alzner are good choices.
More either tomorrow or later today.