Stanley Cup Preview
Michael | 4/20/2010, 10:46 p.m.
The Stanley Cup. Courtesy Photo
On Sunday, April 11 , everyone knew who the first four teams in both NHL conferences would be. However, the mad dash to the finish line was definitely on. This year, five teams had 100 points while 10 and more teams had 50 victories. The new overtime rules might be attributed to this proliferation of points.
The bottom half of each conference could be best described as freshly made scrambled eggs. By Sunday night, everybody knew where they were they would be playing opening playoff games Wednesday and Thursday nights.
The Washington Capitals won this year's Presidents' Trophy as the team the with most wins and points in the season. We don€t know whether that is a good or bad thing because the team that has won this trophy has been escorted out of the playoffs in the first round the last four of five years.
While the first round will be very entertaining for the average hockey fans there are a few questions that will be answered the next two weeks.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators
The defending Stanley Cup champs have a hard way to go. The Penguins will have to go through the two beasts of the east -- Washington and New Jersey Devils to reach the finals. They might get by one, but they will not get by both. First they have to defeat the vastly improved Senators. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have to carry the load again for Pittsburgh. Players like right winger Erick Godard and left winger Chris Kuntiz have to step up to relieve pressure on the Pens' number one line. It€s very hard to repeat and the Penguins know this. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has to shine in this series to keep their hopes to repeat alive. This could be the big upset in the first round in the East Conference. Ottawa's big Bull Moose Line of right winger Daniel Alfredsson, center Peter Regin or Jason Spezza, and left winger Jarkko Ruutu can slow down the Crosby line that will be the key in this match up.
Prediction: Senators in seven.
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
Will Washington keep up that high octane offense through the second and third rounds? The media wants this team in the finals because of Alex Ovechkin, the new great "Super 8." What Versus and NBC desire is a Pittsburgh-Washington Eastern Conference Final. Capital goalie Jose Theodore returns to Montreal and this could be his revenge match. The Caps should move on to second round over the Canadiens because they have too much fire power for Les Habs. The Montreal administration did a great job rebuilding this historic franchise Goal brother right winger Georges Laraque, ex Devils and first line-mates center Scott Gomez and right winger Brain Gionta should make this series interesting.
Prediction: Washington in six.
#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers
Goalie Martin Brodeur and New Jersey are still smarting from being ousted by Carolina in last year's playoffs. They still can€t figure out how the 'Canes scored two goals in less then a minute. During last two weeks of the regular season, Jersey has been focused and ready to go the distance. They have a proven sniper -- left winger Ilya Kovalchuk -- that can score anytime or anywhere on the ice. Brodeur got a 14-day vacation after the Americans beat the Canadians early in the Olympics. That might be the best thing to ever happen for the Devils, because he was much sharper after the break.
Still, there were two teams the Devils did not want to face in the first round. Philly eliminated one of them -- the Rangers in the last day of the regular season. The other New Jersey will have to eliminate themselves. Goal Brother Ray Emery's injury still leaves in the City of Brotherly Love in a state of flux for netminder Brian Boucher. New Jersey will not shrink from the goon tactics of the Broad Street Bullies at Wachovia Center . Right winger Danny Briere, defensemen Chris Pronger, center Mike Richards and left winger Simon Gagne will have to skate, not fight New Jersey. Big question -- Can Boucher stop the powerful Kovalchuk line?
Prediction: Devils in seven
#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Boston Bruins
The Bruins are carrying the hopes of the Original Six as they play the Sabres. Buffalo has the best goalie pair with Olympian Ryan Miller and backup Patrick Lalime. Our Goal Brother, wily veteran and ex-San Jose Shark, right winger, Mike Grier will help this young team in the playoffs. Boston is putting most of their eggs in goalie Tim Thomas' basket. I love the way Boston €s defensemen Zdeno Chara, right winger Mark Recchi, and left winger Marco Sturm play. I think the two-headed goalie monster beats Boston .
Prediction: Buffalo in seven
#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche
The Sharks have to shake the early first round exit blues. The second line of right winger Devin Setoguchi, center Joe Thornton, and left winger Dany Heatley will be the key to this series. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov is a constant Jekyll & Hyde personality in net. €Nabbi€ has to keep an even keel for Sharks to win. They play the young and fearless Avalanche who don€t know they are not supposed to be in the playoffs. Craig Anderson "The Matrix Man" will be in goal and he will be BIG for Colorado . He had a few games off at the end of this season so Anderson should be rested. Center, Paul Stastny will have to guide these youngsters into the playoffs.
Prediction: Sharks in six.
#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators
The new favorite to win the West could be the explosive Blackhawks with Goal Brothers right winger Dustin Byfuglien and center Colin Fraser. The trade for right winger Marian Hossa two years ago is paying off. Chicago still has issues at the goalie position. Will it be Antti Niemi or Cristobal Huet in net? The Hawks play the Flyers West in Nashville, a very physical team with centers Jason Arnott, Marcel Goc and Colin Wilson, defenseman Francis "Cube" Bouillon and wingers Joel Ward & Jordin Tootoo. These Predators are not known to most avid hockey fans but might become household name if they upset the Hawks.
Prediction: Blackhawks in six
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings
We're very happy that the hockey world will finally get to see Goal Brother Wayne Simmonds, a budding star for L.A. We love to watch Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll for the Kings, and Jonathan Quick is one of the up and coming goalies in the league. They'll battle Vancouver, but the Canucks just keep winning and nobody notices. The Sedin twins and defensemen Sami Salo will pump the offense while goalie Roberto Luongo has to improve his play in order for Vancouver to move onto the second round.
Prediction: Canucks in six.
#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
This could be the biggest upset in the West as the upstart Coyotes play the Red Wings. Could this be the end of Detroit's run? They made a mad dash into the playoffs from ninth place to fifth. The question now is did they run out of gas? Rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard kept them in the hunt. Everyone is forgetting old veteran Chris Osgood. He can give advice to Howard about the playoffs because he has been in a few.
For the old guard of defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, centers, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterburg with right wingers Tomas Holstrom and Todd Bertuzzi, this could be their swan song. Phoenix is hockey's version of the 1972 Miami Dolphins with their €No Name Defense.€ Nobody outside of the state of Arizona knows who these guys are, but they will after this series. Especially goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and right winger Shane Doan. They are howling for joy in the desert because they know this team will be a force in the league for many years after they clean up their administration issues. Head coach Dave Tippett has the Coyotes' attention. The Wings can't escape this one.
Prediction: Coyotes in seven.