The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.
The Rangers are a funny team. I'm not sure I can name one of their defencemen. Oh, wait. Bryan McCabe. Then again, remember the Hurricanes in 2006? A bunch of unknowns for the most part on defence and they went the distance, winning the Cup. New York have some fire-power upfront but Callahan broke his ankle, which is a huge loss. Let's face it, unless Henrik Lundqvist stands on his head in nets, this series should be over early.... but I wouldn't bet a plug nickel on the Caps exorcising their ghosts.
But predictions are cost-free!
Washington in 5.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (2) vs BUFFALO SABRES (7)
As stated above, the Flyers struggled down the stretch. It is not always a dire sign re play-off success. Everyone knows the play-offs are different. Last year many said the Flyers were built more for the play-offs than the regular season. While they got in due to that SO victory on the last day, they surprised the Devils, knocked out the Bruins after being down three games to none and then 3-0 in the seventh game, then sent Cinderella home to Montreal, went to the Stanley Cup Final and nearly won it. It's basically the same team this year entering the prom.
Chris Pronger is 'doubtful'. If Pronger is not in top form, meaning playing 30 minutes a night, say goodnight. Love him or hate him he is the glue that holds that team's defence together.
The Sabres languished most of the year among the bottom-feeders, then started winning, then got a new owner, and went on a tear.... the best record in the NHL since the All-Star break. The mirror-opposite of their opponent. This is a team that has been playing play-off hockey for about a month. While the Flyers have three goalies to choose from in-between face-offs, it will be Miller time, IF he is healthy. Some speculate Ryan has a concussion. His replacement recently, Enroth, has been more than adequate. And if push comes to an almighty shove I guess they could go to Patrick Lalime.
This series is an unknown in so many ways. But...I'm going to go with an 'upset' and
pick Buffalo in 7.
BOSTON BRUINS (3) vs MONTREAL CANADIANS (6)
Deja vu all over again. One of the great rivalries in sports' history. Think of the Habs as the New York Yankees to Boston fans. Hated.
On paper and in the weighing scale rooms, this is almost a mismatch.
How do the smurfs from Montreal counter-act Chara and his bruising Beantown buddies? Think of fairy tales and pray for Biblical fables. Jack (coach Jacques Martin) is busy planting bean seeds in the garden; David (owner David Molson) is practicing put stones in his sling shot.
Two years ago the Bruins smashed the Habs and made Carey Price look for holes in his glove/beer hand. Last year, Price lost his job to 'back-up' Halak. Make no mistake about it Hab fans, if the Price is not right this year Alex Auld is no Halak! If Boston smokes Price again, you can sonically add an "S' to "Halak"; it'll be over in 4 or 5.
On paper, the Bruins have a line-up that shouts Stanley Cup contender. That 2nd line of Lucic, Horton, and Krejci gives me the shivers. Then there's the third line and the fourth line... and, while not spectacular, a well-rounded defence... and ... Tim Thomas. How do you beat him four games!!??
So, what's the problem? A slam dunk for the Bears, right? Probably, but I learned many many years ago, you never count out the mystique of the Montreal Canadians, especially against the Bruins.
Boston's problem is internal combustion. Confidence. History. If Montreal gets a good couple of games in Boston, and sneaks a win out of their effort, all bets are off.
Brian Gionta and even Scott Gomez are starting to get going. Despite a terrible season, Gomez is a good play-off player. "Cammy" is back from injury and looking like he wants to, and can, score on every play. P.K. Suppan is ready to rock. Brent Sopel has a ring and was an integral part of the Hawks' win last year, killing penalties and blocking shots. The Habs win the advantage on the specialty teams. The will miss Gorges though on the back-end.
So here it is. If Price steals a game in Boston, don't be booking any tee-off times in April. If Boston gets to him early, put your balls in a bag and go gopher hunting.
Okay, no money on the line. I'm thinking it's time for a Canadian team... er.. a team from Canada... to win the Cup. (I'm hoping that Canadians lose to Vancouver in the Final.)
Est Tu Fou! ?
Oui Oui Monsieur.
Montreal in 7.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (4) vs TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (5)
Get out the coin to flip. It's not so much what these teams have but what they don't have. Obviously Penguins will miss STK, Malkin, and, hate to say it, Matt Cooke (for the first round). If Crosby plays... he shouldn't. Shut him down. Does that mean TB has the edge? Well.... they have a lot of guns and experience upfront. Since Gagne, Malone, and Downie have been back they've been on a roll. Their weaknesses however are on the back end, in comparison to the Pens.
Marc Andre Fleury will likely out-play either Roloson or Smith. As good as Rollie the Goalie can be, he is 41 years of age. He may steal a game early but don't count on him leading the charge game-in, game-out. Goals against? Pittsburgh allowed 199, TB 240!!!! As Vince Lombardi said, offence wins games (advantage TB), but defence wins championships (advantage Pittsburgh.)
Kudos to Stevie Y in his first year as a GM. I picked them to finish 8th; they made it to 5th. A year to build on. Pittsburgh should be able to shut-down the top scorers from Tampa and put enough in themselves to win the series.
Heads Pittsburgh, tails TB.
Heads. Pittsburgh in 6.
Okay, let's pick up out tails and head out West....
VANCOUVER CANUCKS (1) vs CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (8)
It seemed almost fated the last few days that the President trophy winners from Lotusland would get their nemesis in round one. Well, as I said to my buddy Norm, "Let's get this over with!"
How does a Vancouver fan spin this one positively? Let's start with "nobody wanted to face the Ducks".
Okay, so we would have preferred LA or Dallas to get our feet wet in the first round. Dallas had to beat Minnie on the last game of the season.... and blew it. As for Minnie. Isn't that the team that sent us packing a few years ago after we led three games to one? Minnie - who apparently put a posting on their website "You're welcome Chicago".
The C's did win the last two games this year against the Hawks... but Marty Turco was in nets.
Still, Louie had a shut-out in one of those games, a confidence builder against a team that has lit him up to an embarrassing degree, in his own rink, including 7-1 early in the season for example.
Alas this is not the same Hawks' team that dumped us the last two years. (Hopefully not famous last words!) No Buffer in front of the net. Their third line is not as strong and I'm not convinced that Crawford is Neimi. He had a great year but looked very weak on several Detroit goals on the last 'must-win' game, on Sunday. Alas, they still have Kane and Toews and Sharp and Hossa and a dynamite attacking defence. They know they dodged a bullet by getting in due to a Dallas loss.
They are the champs. (Don't let anyone fool ya by calling them the underdog in this series!)
Vancouver had one of those magical years..... despite many injuries on defence. On their last game of the season they finally dressed their top six d-men. They just seem destined to have a very special year, their 40th anniversary. But.... what have ya done for me today? There's no such thing as holding destiny in your own hands or being in control of one's fate..... else it wouldn't be destiny, or fate. All that hoodo voodo stuff is up to the hockey gods.
The best news for Vancouver fans is Louie is rested and has looked unbeatable down the stretch.... well, since December really. His save percentage since then is almost the same as Vezina candidate Tim Thomas. Back-up Cory Schneider is ready if it comes to that. The Sedins and Burrows should provide a lot of offence. (Message to Coach V - put Burrows back with Kesler for this series. Move Samuelsson up with the Twins.) Then it gets iffy. A rebuilt third line has been impaired big time with the loss of Manny Malhotra. Raffi Torres will sit the first two games due to being suspended for an ill-advised elbow to Oiler Jordan Eberle. The C's will miss his grit. Then there's the second line. No problem with Kesler who scored 41 goals but Samuelsson had a less than stellar year and Chris Higgins, moved up to the second line, has not contributed much offensively. The fourth line is also a rotating adventure going into the dance. Finally, there is the President trophy winner jinx. Only 7 of the last 28 have won the Cup. Good on Coach V however when told that by a reporter. he laughed and said "I'll take those odds!" Keep it light.
The key to this series will be for the Canucks to win at home, something that has eluded them previous years against Chicago. (Last year we lost all 3 games in Vancouver.)
In many ways, except in net, these are two evenly matched teams.
So...it's Goaltending folks. It is Louie's time. It's now or never for Luongo. He knows it. His mother knows it. His cousin in Timbucktu knows it. This city knows it!
If you want to be champions you have to beat the champions.
Champions or Champignons? Let's get this over with!!
Nerves of steel. Canucks in 7.
SAN JOSE SHARKS (2) vs LOS ANGELES KINGS (7)
If there is such a thing as a weak sister in the West, it has to be the Kings.
The Sharks were terrific the second half of the season. They are on a mission.
If it's true that championships are won with your third and fourth lines, get ready for an early exit by LA. The Kings may keep it close due to a good defence and a goalie who can steal one on any given night. But without Kopitar - broken ankle - and a less than healthy Justin Williams, their two top scorers, it's going to be hard getting pucks past Neimi.
The only thing going for LA is the element of surprise. We all know the Sharks have a habit of tanking. However, while an advantage to both teams, the Sharks catch another break to start the play-offs - no travel.
In the end, the Sharks have too much scoring power.
San Jose in 5
DETROIT RED WINGS (3) vs PHOENIX COYOTES (6)
Detroit had their share... more than their share.... of injuries to key players and somehow kept in the race for first and second place. They will start this series without Zetterberg but still have enough with Datsyuk and 'the Mule" and others, even Bert! Their top four defence is as good as it gets. Their only worries? If goalie Jimmy Howard goes down their completely fucked. And... of course there's Phoenix.
There's no doubt in my mind however that Detroit wanted to play a solid game against the Hawks on the last day. The last team they wanted to meet was those same Hawks. Beat the Hawks and ya get the Coyotes. Mission accomplished.
Be careful what you wish for? The Coyotes actually won the season series, 2-0-2.
The Coyotes have solid goaltending and are built on team defence. They're a hard working, well-balanced squad, with a great coach in Dave Tippett. They'll remember last year when they lost to Detroit in seven games, at home. If the C's are seeking revenge against the Hawks, the Yotes are chomping at the bit to redeem themselves form last year.
This year however Detroit has home-field advantage and could well take an early 2-0 lead. If that happens, it's curtains for the Desert Dogs.
Neither team is going in on a roll. Of the top 8 in the West, Detroit has the worst record over the last 10 games, at 4-4-2. Like I said, if Howard goes down, they'll probably opt for a haystack and hope for the best.
Time for some serious talk here.
If it was anyone else but Detroit I might be in coin-flipping mode again. No matter where they finish in the standings, it is common knowledge that the road to the Cup always goes through Hockeytown. This year is no different. They're a little older in some ways but their new kids have matured.
While an upset is not out of the question here, Detroit in 5.
ANAHEIM DUCKS (4) vs NASHVILLE PREDATORS (5)
Some pundit said the other night that the Ducks may have the best two lines in hockey. Teemu Selanne is a treat to watch at the Jack Benny age of 39. Cory Perry has been on fire in the second half... and don't forget Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan... and Koivu and Blake.
Make no mistake about it - nobody wanted to play the Ducks!
So, is this a cake-walk to the second round?
Like many teams this year (Philly, Washington), they may have three goalies to turn to. Hiller has not been the same since he took a puck off the mask at the All Star game, still suffering from vertigo; reclamation project Ray Emery was great, winning six in a row, but was been hurt recently, and, like all of us, is listed 'day-to-day'; and then there is, likely first game starter, Dan Ellis, who may be the dark horse; but while he has played well lately, he has a habit of stinking the joint out. It'd be interesting however if he does start - he was Nashville's goalie for a few years.
Nashville oh Nashville. Every year most pundits pick them to finish out of the play-offs and every year, if the Ducks scrap themselves in, the Preds scrape their way in. Why? Excellent coaching. Excellent defence. Excellent goaltending. Get used to hearing this name - Pekka Rinne. He could well be this year's Halak or even Neimi.
Them Nashville Cats were second to the Canucks on the least amount of goals allowed. Think New Jersey in their trapping hay days. Boring? Absolutely. Effective? Oui Oui Monsieur. My only problem is the obvious - scoring. Never laden with too many goal-scorers, Goc and Erat are questionable. Steve Sullivan is out again. And... they let home-ice advantage slip away.
But they should be rested. They played something like 15 of their last 20 games at home. Finally, they won the season series against the Ducks, 3-1-0. Sometimes that doesn't mean much; in this case, it raised my cautionary eyeballs.
Alas, slip sliding away seems to be their theme. They've never won a first round series!
They should have beat the Sharks last year but let it get away on them.
So, what about this year?
I would expect if you woke up a Duck in the middle of the night and asked him which team they didn't want to face in the first round the answer might be Music City.
Get ready for history folks. The Preds have to win a series some time! This would be a good year to do that if only for the fact that if things roll out as anticipated I'd rather have Vancouver play the Preds in the second round, not the Ducks, especially after a long hard series against the Hawks.
Not completely selfishly... Nashville in 7.
Well there ya go. Not my most convincing play-off review. There are always surprises. In that, I am prepared for another early exit by my beloved Canucks. There are no guarantees.
As for a long term look into the crystal balls, I will go out on a limb and say Vancouver-Sharks in a Western final; Washington-Pittsburgh final in the East. Please don't put any money on that!
I'll be back at ya after Round One.
Go Canucks Go!
Clobber Samson is a highly opinionated sports commentator, especially when it comes to Vancouver "Canucks," of the National Hockey League. Expect no balance in his columns. This is good.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.