Thursday, April 27, 2006

A week into the playoffs (almost)

We are now 6 days into the playoffs, and all of the series have played three games so far. I've only had the opportunity to see a few of them, though I've watched a lot of games. After the disconcerting 4-0 loss in Game 1, the Sharks seemed to have regained their offensive form, winning games 2 and 3 in pretty decisive fashion. Game 4 tonight in SJ is absolutely key. If the Sharks lose game 4, then game 5 is in Nashville, and we could be looking at game 6 down 3-2. We'll be in the driver's seat if we win tonight.

As for the other series, I sure know how to pick 'em. If the current leaders in all the series go on to win, I'll be 2-6. All three of my underdog picks are losing (the Sharks don't count as an underdog), and there are two huge upsets in the works in Edmonton and Montreal. Carolina, while not playing well, managed to win last night, so they could pull it out. Same with Detroit, but the Oilers have a history of being giant killers.

New prediction- Joe Thornton will have 2 points or more tonight.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Eastern Match Ups

Like the West, I'm picking two lower seeds to advance in the Easter Conference first round. Here are my thoughts:

Buffalo vs. Philadelphia - For some reason, the Flyers find a way to win the first round, then lose later. I'm predicting that trend will continue. I must say that this is the series that I'm least informed about- I have only seen Philly play a few times this season, and maybe Buffalo never. It could be that bias that's causing me to pick against the Sabres- a team with balanced scoring but no stars. Afinogenov and Kotalik are good, but Forsberg and Gagne are better. If Forsberg gets hurt and misses a lot of time, I can see the Flyers losing this series. My prediction is that Forsberg stays intact for this round, and the Flyers advance.

New Jersey vs. New York (Rangers) - New York went on a horrible slide to end the season, and the Devils did just the opposite, winning 11 in a row. Martin Brodeur, as always, is the key to the Devils' success. The Devils still play their brand of shutdown hockey, but their D isn't as strong as past years, with Niedermayer and Stevens gone. I think the Rangers' O will overcome the Devils' D, with Jagr, Prucha, and Nylander all scoring. The Devils will need random goals from random players. Brian Gionta has 48 this year (where did he come from??), but after Scott Gomez, the scoring gets pretty scarce. No other Devil has over 20. When it comes down to it, I think the Rangers will have a better shot of shutting down Gionta than the Devils have of shutting down Jagr. This is a HUGE underdog pick, I think the Devils are -240 in Vegas.

Carolina vs. Montreal - Everyone is talking about the loss of Eric Cole, and it does hurt Carolina, but not as much as everyone thinks. I think Montreal may be able to steal a game or maybe two, but the 'Canes are too strong. They have four good centers in Brind'Amour, Staal, Recchi and Weight (Weight is playing the wing now), and plenty of D. Add to that a breakout year in goal for Martin Gerber and the best faceoff man in hockey (Brind'Amour), and you've got a team that is in a position to win the Cup. Les Habitants are similar in makeup to Carolina, but just not as good. Cristobal Huet has really come on late in the season, but neither him nor David Aebischer are playoff tested. I just don't think the Canadians can keep up.

Ottawa vs. Tampa Bay - Scott Burnside in ESPN has picked the Lightning to upset the Sens, but I don't think he could be more wrong. Ottawa has had a terrible reputation for coming into the playoffs as a high seed, and folding in the first round. Everyone in town will be intent on not taking the 1-8 matchup lightly. The Senators will come out fast and hard, and Tampa Bay, while having one of the better defensive corps in the East, do not have the goaltending. They hoped that John Grahame would be the obvious #1, but they've ended up platooning him with Sean Burke. I see some big games in this series from the top line. Even if Kubina and Sydor can shut down the best line in hockey (Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza), Ottawa can hurt you with Havlat, Smolinski, and Schaefer. If Hasek doesn't make it back, I can see the Senators being vulnerable in later rounds, but not in the first round.

Can't wait for the first games tonight!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Matchups are Set In the West

Actually, the matchups are set in both conferences, but I'm only going over the West today. I might be doing a little devil's advocate work here, and pick some underdogs. Unlike ESPN, which makes for some pretty boring articles. Ok, they picked the Sharks, but as I talked about before, that's hardly going out on a limb.

Nashville vs. San Jose - as a Sharks fan it's tough to accurately handicap this series, so I have to go with the Sharks. They have the two hottest players in the league, against a disciplined team with a scrub goalie and several injuries. And their offense isn't that great either. Pop quiz- who has more points- Patrick Marleau or Paul Kariya? Hint: it's not Kariya. The bad news for the Preds is that Marleau isn't even on the top line. Don't get me wrong, the Preds will be a pain in the ass to play against, with Brendan Witt, Kimmo Timmonen and co. on the blue line. But I think our relatively inexperienced blue line coupled with the best goaltending duo in the NHL will be able to solve their offense. And no one in the league right now can stop Thornton and Cheechoo.

Calgary vs. Anaheim - This entire series hinges on one player - Mikka Kiprusoff. If the Kipper can look like he did in the 2003-2004 playoffs (and the regular season this year), the Flames will win. If he stumbles just a bit, the Ducks will steal some games, and the series will be on. My guess is that the complete lack of Calgary scoring will bite them bad, and the Ducks will be able to squeak at least one game out of the first two in Calgary. Anaheim is also a very good team at home, and I could see the series going back to Calgary for game 6 with the Ducks up 3-1. The Ducks' top line of Selanne, McDonald and Kunitz is very good, and it's not all Selanne. Another pop quiz: who has more goals- Andy McDonald or Marleau? Ok, that's cheap - they're tied with 34. I'm going with my gut on this one and picking the Ducks. It won't be a cakewalk by any means; it's going to go at least 6 games, and if the Ducks win, they'll be very beat-up for the conference semis. But I'm still going to be a man and pick Anaheim.

Dallas vs. Colorado - As much as I want to pick Colorado, I can't. The loss of Forsberg, the lack of consistent scoring from Tanguay and Hejduk, and a defensive corps of castoffs like Bob Bougner and Patrice Brisebois adds up to too many mistakes against a solid Stars team. Jason Arnott has been a force, Mike Modano, while rickety, still has some of the best moves in the NHL, and Sergei Zubov has got to be a Norris finalist. If Colorado gets another Conn Smythe performance out of Jose Theodore they might have a shot, but that's a big if considering Theodore hasn't had any quality minutes in months. I doubt this series will even go 6.

Detroit vs. Edmonton - You can say what you want about Manny Legace playoff experience, but the whole Jussi Markkanen-Dwayne Roloson goalie tandem isn't exactly taking the league by storm. Detroit's special teams play just too good, and they don't have any holes other than general age. Without any explosive stars on the Oilers, they don't have much of a chance. This could easily be a sweep.

Feel free to blast me in the comments section, and I'll be back later this week to go over the Eastern Conference.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mea Culpa

I'm a lazy ass. Suffering a little blog burnout here. Doug especially has been really busy. Ok, done with excuses. Now it's time to talk about how bad I screwed up. In the last post, I basically said that the Sharks were done, and would need to go on a crazy tear to make it. I was right about the latter, but wrong about the former. The Sharks have gone 12-3-2 since then, for 26 out of a possible 34 points. They now have 97 points, and are guaranteed at least the 7th spot. They eliminated Vancouver last night, which was particularly sweet. Joe Thornton has had 7 points in the last two games, and is now tied with Jaromir Jagr for the NHL points lead.

What a run! If we win the next two games, we'll clinch the 5th seed, which means we get to play the Predators. Talk about Christmas coming early this year- their all-world goalie, Tomas Vokoun, went out last week with some weird blood disease, and won't be coming back this season. So the Preds will be playing Chris Mason, a 29-year-old journeyman with only 41 games of NHL experience. The old saw says that you win in the playoffs with hot goaltending (see JS Giguere in 2003) and I find it very difficult to believe that Mason will pull it together. The difference between playing Nashville and Calgary will be night and day. Kiprusoff is a Hart and Vezina candidate this year; the Flames could ride him all the way, the way they almost did in 2004. I think that could be a tougher matchup than even Detroit in the first round. If you make it past Detroit, which would be very difficult, you won't be nearly as banged up as making it past Calgary.

Doug and I got playoff tix, so look for a playoff preview once the seedings are set, and game analysis once the games start. I'm so excited! We're going to Fan Appreciation night on Monday too, so hopefully we'll win some free stuff.