“Never too old, never too bad, never too late, never too sick to start from scratch once again.” -Bikram Choudhury.
It seems just like yesterday that Vancouver fans were rioting in the streets, Boston fans were parading through theirs, and nobody was asking Tim Thomasabout bank bail-outs and big government. Alas, almost a year has passed, along with another regular season... and people in Toronto are sweeping the maple leafs off their grass once again and into the dumpsters. Spring is supposed to bring new buds but not in the centre of the universe. Oh well, there's always next decade Leaf Nation.
Every year it gets more difficult to predict the Stanley Cup play-offs. This year is particularly a hard one. A few new teams; a few old guard teams, like the Sharks, who snuck in, or, like Detroit and Chicago, didn't set the world on fire. And yet there is also deja vu doo all over again as the Canucks win the President's trophy for the second year in a row and Boston, despite some injuries, look ready to rock'n'roll.
For the two Canadian teams, it is mirror-image time. Should the Canucks go out in the first round (or even second one) get the hoses and the riot gear ready - quickly; if the Sens go out in the first round, everyone will say jolly good year, well done and head for Parliamnet Hil to boo Peter Mackay et al and demand a new General Manager.
Well as my old pal Chop Daddy says, pitter-patter let's get at'er.
PHILADELPHIA vs PITTSBURGH
You might wanna check the TV Guide for UFC events, which will have less blood.Every other team in the play-offs is having a MacDonalds' "I'm Lovin' It" moment, hoping these two advesaries pound the snot and piss out of each other for seven games. Don't pencil either of these teams into the Final Four unless Iran or North Korea takes down most of the other cities.
We all know the common refrain in Flyer land. In Chicago it is the Chelsea Dagger; in the city of brotherly love, it is - "it's the goaltending stupid". There's no doubt Philly will miss Prongman but they picked up Kubina and Grossman before deadline day to shore up a weakened defence. They will need to be firm and hold the line cause the other side has a ton of lethal waepons in Gino, STK, Neal... the list goes on and on. Pittsburgh may be one of the best teams in the dance now with a healthy Sid. The Flyers have some shooters as well. It'll be interesting to see what Jagr can bring to the table over a long series which I suspect this will be. If Fleury sucks, the Flyers have a chance... and Marc Andre can go south from time to time. If Fleury is on his game, goodbye Philly..
Pittsburgh in 7
WASHINGTON vs BOSTON
If goaltending questions haunt the Flyers there may be absolute terror in Washington. Due to injuries to Vokoun and Nuevirth, the Caps will have to begin the dance with
third-stringer Holtby. Can he out-duel Tim Thomas? Doubtful. But maybe he can keep his team close enough and steal a game or two. If Washington can put the regular season behind them and Ovie and his cohorts can score a few goals, this could turn into a very interesting series. Washington did win 3 of 4 regular season meetings. That said, Boston did not lose a regular season game when leading after 2 periods. While they have some key injuries, they are still a well-rounded team who know how to win. If the Bruins win two at home off the hoop, the Caps will likely fold. Boston has a better defence - and defence wins championships. Another year of re-assessment for a long-disappointing Caps team. Their window closed faster than other rising teams of yore.
Boston in 5.
FLORIDA vs NEW JERSEY
Dale Tallon is likely GM of the Year by completely rebuilding the Panthers with some not-quite-past-their-prime vets, like Campbell, Theodore, Versteeg, Jovocop
and others. The team faded a bit in the second half but managed to nab third place. On the other side of the pond, New Jersey has had a quiet but excellent
season, very comfortably numb in 6th place. I feel the Devils have a legitimate shot to go deep in the East as long as Brodeur can handle the tough play-off schedule.
Too much up front, they can simply out-score ya. Florida may surprise but may just be happy getting there. Few will watch this series but it could be a very close and exciting one. There will be overtime. The Panthers have a lot of play-off experience with several key ex-Hawks. But there are too many guys on NJ who realize this may be their last hurrah.
New Jersey in 6.
OTTAWA vs NEW YORK
I`m one of those `pundits`who was pretty hard on the Senators in September, picking them to finish 13th in the East. A great caoch, a resurrected Alfie, and more disciplined Spezza, the emergence of Karlsson as a super-star, and here they are dancing with the stars. Losing three games in a row after clinching a spot is not worth the stat to be honest. Don`t worry Sens fans, be happy. The Rangers also surprised many, not by making the play-offs but finishing on top. They may not scare anybody offensively - tie-up Gaborik`s line and one has a better than good chance of knocking them off. Still, like Boston, this is a well-balanced, well-coached team. Both have a nice mix of vets and youts. Maybe I`ll be corrected but from what I`ve seen Ottawa should be able to out-skate the blue shirts. Alas that may be their achilles heal... patience is not Ottawa`s strength, especially on the PP. Ya can`t give up short-handed plays on a regular basis. I like Ottawa`s size and grit. Here`s the problem folks. Goaltending. While King Henrik has a poorer play-off record than one would suspect given his dominance in the regular season, I`m afraid Àndy`will have to play lights-out every night for Ottawa to win the series. I also believe that while there may be more expectations put on New York neither team is under the pressure of some others, like Boston and Vancouver. Could be a fun tilt. Ottawa maybe hopes to have some karma on its bench. As a former top-seed they know what it`s like to be knocked-off by the lowest seed. And hey, every year there`s a surprise. Why not here! On a limb... trying to rectify, balance my pre-season faut pas...
Ottawa in 6
Okay, out west we go...
SAN JOSE vs ST. LOUIS
If you`re looking for a team that`s just happy to be there, look no further than San Jose. A long time perennial favourite to win it all, the Sharks, like the Caps in the East, had a terrible season, just sneaking into the dance in the final few games, mainly becuase the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames collapsed and Colorado ran out of real estate. Look in the dictionary under `loosey-goosey`and there`s a picture of Jumbo Joe. The Blues had a marvellous season especially after changing coaches. Hitcock should win coach-of-the-year and Brian Elliott basically saved..double-entendre meant.. their season early and kept winning. The Blues may be a bit inexperienced on defence however. That will do them in I`m afraid. The Sharks gave up a lot this year and the returns have not proven themselves... yet. They will miss McGuinn. The Blues are a big team. Stop Backes and you go a long way to shutting down St. Louis. San Jose must recognize that the Blues won all four regular season games. Halak will likely start in nets for the Blues, Niemi for Sharks. The Blues will not hesitate to go to Elliott, the Sharks will be more reluctant to switch horses even if they have to. A tough one but I have to go with experience.
San Jose in 7.
CHICAGO vs PHOENIX
I believe I said in September than Chicago could go all the way. How do you feel now Clobber? Not so fast! This is an intriguing match-up. People are probably quick to write-off the Desert Dogs. Not moi. They may not have the star names than the Hawks can put up on the marquee but the Yotes are another one of those well-coached, defensive teams. If Mike Smith plays like he has been down the stretch, the Hawks may get frustrated. Chicago is shakey between the pipes and their defence is also suspect after their top 3-4 guys. They have however no shortage of swagger. Is it earned? Phoenix won 3 of 4 games.Remember Nashville last year? Remember their previous play-off record? They were due to win a series one of these years, and did. Another long, thin limb... get ready for a shocker folks.
Phoenix in 6.
DETROIT vs NASHVILLE
Might not get any better than this for the first round. Two good hockey teams that play the game tight defensively without gooning it up. Is Detroit past its best before date? A lot of injuries over the year leading to a 5th place finish may be deceptive if they start out healthy. Pride is another factor. Nashville is trying to show its for real long-term. Not sure any other team did as much re trades to shore up their chances. Puck luck? Might be the key factor. There will be overtime. Let the hockey gods loose! It's hard knocking off such a vaunted franchise as the Red Wings and maybe there's a pressure to succeed in Nashville that may make them too nervous early. Each team won three games in head-to-head battle. Both have very good home records. Both have great musical histories. Motown vs Country Music City. Kid Rock vs Carrie Underwood. I don't know anybody in Detroit. An old Ottawa friend/musician lives in Nashville. I'm stalling. Coin toss?
Tails - Detroit in 7.
LOS ANGELES vs VANCOUVER
Should I even bother? However I analyse this sucker I'll have trouble not picking my home team, the Canucks. Am I worried? You bet your hockey socks I am. One word - Quick. The Kings goalie could steal this series if the team scores a few goals for him - the lowest scoring team in the dance. Has Mike Richards just been biding his time? Will he and Jeff Carter rock'n'roll with a little help from Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Williams? Doughty was a rock last time we met these guys two years ago but he too has had an awful season.Can he put all that behind him? Will Luongo stand tall or lose his stick and his schtick! One melt-down and it'll be Cory time. Will Daniel Sedin play?
Both teams made some changes in the off-season. Did they work? The play-offs are the grand testing ground. The Kings gave up Jack Johnston for Carter and Wayne Simmonds and others for Mike Richards. At this point, I'd say they aren't as good a team when it gets down to defence and third and fourth lines. For the C's, Sami Pahlsson came in late but has solidified their 3rd line. David Booth has been in and out... a streaky kind of scorer whom the C's will need more from, more consistently. Last year the C's almost smoked the Hawks in four but then had to go to OT in Game 7 to win it. They hopefully have learned to keep the peddle to the metal. Close games will prevail and overtimes will keep eastern TV viewers up very late! In the end, it's a question of depth. The C's have too many secondary choices to go with throughout their line-up, and more solidified third and fourth lines. Nervously...
Vancouver in 6.
Ice the beer! Enjoy.
See ya after Round 1.