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!

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