yankee hockey

LET THE SECOND ROUND BEGIN!

Posted in Anaheim, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, NY Rangers, post-season, san jose, stanley cup, Washington by yankhockey on April 28, 2009

Two great game sevens tonight. The final game in the New Jersey/Carolina series was everything you could have hoped for and more. Game seven in the Washington/New York series took a surprise twist. All in all, a great night for hockey.

First we’ll visit Washington who looked like they were going to let the game get out of hand in the first. It was a Rangers sort of game for the first two periods; not a lot of shots, not a lot of space, not a lot of power plays. You could see the Capitals start to find their feet at the end of the second though. Third period was all Caps. Lundqvist played an incredible game, but in the end it was a shot from the face off dot that beat him. Sergei Fedorov raced down the right side of the rink and then hit the breaks. Using the defender as a screen he snapped a wrister right under the bar over Lundqvist’s shoulder to give the Caps a 2-1 lead with just over four minutes left in the third. I was actually thinking right before it happened “Wow, Fedorov still has some wheels.” And he certainly did. It was Fedorov’s 52 post-season goal, and it turned out to be the game winner. Even though there were four minutes remaining the Rangers couldn’t put together even the slightest offense. In the entire third period they had only one shot on goal. The Caps took over that period like pirates boarding a ship. In the last minute and a half, as the Rangers tried to put together a comeback, they couldn’t even get the puck into the offensive zone to get Lundqvist to the bench. In all Varlamov had to make 14 saves in what turned out to be an easy win, but it certainly didn’t look that way at the start.

Washington came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win this one. I thought this team was in over their head. Until game five they looked like they had no idea how to beat the Rangers. Then, suddenly, their talent showed up like it had taken the wrong bus. This team is very good, and who knows how this series would have turned out if they had started with Varlamov instead of Theodore, they probably would have won in five or six. The Rangers are a very good team too. I know I shouldn’t like them, but the personalities on the team are all great guys. I really like Drury, Gomez, Naslund, Lundqvist, Mara… can you dislike a team but like it’s players? With Tortorella behind the bench starting the season next year I expect them to finish better then seventh.

But the game in New Jersey… wow! I wish that it had been on Versus instead of cage fighting. I only saw highlights, but I imagine the game was of the highest intensity. No one expects Martin Brodeur to give up a game tying goal with less then two minutes left to play, so certainly NO ONE would expect Martin Brodeur to then give up the game winning goal with about 30 seconds left to play. You could see it in his face after he gave up that fourth goal. He was already blaming himself for losing the series. And really, who else is he going to blame. All he needed to do was keep the ‘Canes to three goals or less and he failed. When was the last time Brodeur lost in the first round? It’s going to take a little research so allow me a moment… Oh wait, it was last year, how did I forget that? Well that’s two years in a row now that Brodeur has been out early in the post-season, but this year has got to be even more disappointing.

The ‘Canes played a great series and certainly deserved to win. This series was so fun to watch because the two teams were so similar in design. Cagey veterans, speedy youngsters, goal scoring defensemen, cup winning goaltenders… Now the ‘Canes go on to meet Boston which will bring a different sort of game to the table, but that’s for Friday’s entry.

Meanwhile, in the West on Monday two series were decided in six. The eighth seeded Ducks beat the Sharks with ease, while the Blackhawks took care of the Flames.

The Sharks/Ducks series was an interesting one, if only for the ramifications. Once again the Sharks are out prematurely. Even the President’s Trophy can’t save them from post-season disappointment. The Ducks beat the Sharks so easily it makes you wonder exactly what time of year the Sharks believed it was when they got onto the ice. Don’t get me wrong, the Ducks are a good team and they can stand up to any team in the league, but you have to wonder what happened to the Sharks team that was the best in the league this year. So what do you do now? Fire the GM that built the President’s Trophy winning team? Fire the coach that coached the President’s Trophy winning team? Where does the blame lie? They’re going to be looking at the leadership in the team this offseason and I expect changes when the season starts up next year. Don’t be surprised if they make a few trades in the meanwhile.

In Calgary the Flames attempted to match the run-and-gun style of the Blackhawks without success. It was a shoot-out of a series and in the end the young stars of Chicago were no match for an injured defense and old forward line of Calgary. The Flames proved they could score with the best of them, but also proved that they are a team that can no longer prevent goals against. Even their once all-world goaltender fell flat. The Blackhawks move on to the second round not as bruised as they would have been from Flames past. Can Khabibulin play himself back into the Stanley Cup? Well, we have at least one more round to find out.

Tune in Friday for my second round predictions.

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ON TO GAME SEVEN!

Pittsburgh is the next team to move on to the second round with a sound thrashing of Philadelphia on Saturday. The Flyers were up 3-0 until the let the Penguins score four unanswered goals (five if you count the empty-netter) to win the game 5-3. I know the Penguins have Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but when you are up 3-0 in the first you should win the game. This is why they say there is no safe lead in the NHL. Anyway, the Flyers didn’t really deserve to win the series. You have to show up every game in the playoffs or you won’t win. The Flyers showed up two games and one period and that is simply not enough. To be frank, the Penguins didn’t show up every game either, they just showed up more then the Flyers. I’d like to say that it looks like they will be taking on Boston but with both the Rangers/Capitals and Hurricanes/Devils series going on to game sevens it’s too hard to predict the next round.

Game sevens in the Stanley Cup are a thing of beauty, and the two series in the East heading that way should live up to that. The ‘Canes beat the Devils solidly 4-0 in game six last night, Cam Ward playing a helluva game for the shutout. This series has been so back and forth it’s hard to predict who will go into game seven with more momentum. The ‘Canes staved off elimination with  a superb game and will be going into New Jersey with much confidence, but New Jersey will be at home and there’s an age old saying in hockey: “Never bet against Martin Brodeur in the clutch”. Like most game sevens this will come down to goaltending. I said ‘Canes in six… let’s switch it to Devils in seven at home.

Meanwhile the Rangers had the chance to finish off the Capitals at home but were trounced 5-3 and now have to head to Washington to try once again to stop the Capitals onslaught. Lundqvist was not terribly good in this one, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you face the offensive might of the Washington Capitals. This series rests entirely on Lundqvist’s shoulders. If he can keep the goals down to two or less then the Rangers can win, if he lets in three or more the Capitals will win. The real story in this series is the play of rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov who has really played fantastic, much better the Jose Theodore could be expected to play. I had the Rangers in seven and I’m sticking to it.

Meanwhile in the West two series are going into game six. The Blackhawks tore up Calgary on Saturday winning by a score of 5-1. They go into Calgary now for game six. They really got to Kiprusoff in game five. If they can keep a steady attack on Calgary’s defensive end then they stand a very good chance of winning the series in six. If, however, they allow Calgary to dictate the play in the neutral zone then Calgary will put up a good fight. Calgary will try to clog up the neutral zone with bodies and checks, but if Chicago can score a goal or two then they’ll start to open things up. If Calgary scores first they’ll stay back and the game will be very low scoring. I said Chicago in four, let’s make it six.

Also in the West the San Jose Sharks gave their fans a heart attack with a 3-2 overtime win. The Sharks got out to a quick 2-0 lead and then managed to completely blow it in the third. Even though they won the game the Sharks proved that they cannot play with a lead, something so fundamental it’s hard to believe they won the President’s Trophy with such a lack of skill. Going into game six in Anaheim the feeling is that it doesn’t matter if the Sharks score first… or even second and third, because the Ducks know they can come back. If they beat the Sharks tonight there’s going to be a lot of confusing in San Jose, and a lot of nail biting in Detroit. I said Sharks in seven… I said that because of the skill of the Ducks, but the Sharks haven’t shown much skill of their own so I’m going to change it to Ducks in six.

As for the rest of my picks, they’ve been pretty spot on. I said Canucks in five, they did it in four. I said Red Wings in five, they also made it in four. I said Boston in four, spot on. In fact, I’ve only messed up the Philly/Pitt series, and of the series remaining, at least two stand a good chance at meeting my predictions. Not bad if I do say so myself.

A SURVEY OF POOR PLAY

Right now a lot of people are asking “What is wrong with my team?” There are currently six series where one team doesn’t have a win including the surprising Rangers/Capitals tilt, and the not-as-surprising-when-you-think-about-it Ducks/Sharks series. So what is the source of these mysterious sweeps? Let’s take a series by series look to find out.

Rangers/Capitals

Let’s start out East where the Capitals are taking far too many shots from beyond the face-off dots. And why not? They scored a helluva lot of goals from there in the regular season. Right now, though, they are playing an inspired Rangers team backed by an inspired Henrik Lundqvist who is definitely one of the top three goaltenders in the post-season so far. What they need to do is start grinding it out, start pushing back at the Rangers defense which is good, not great. I admit it’s exciting to see Ovechkin cut into the middle after entering the zone and throw a monster wrist shot at the goal. The problem is, Lundqvist is seeing it too. They need to get the puck behind the net and keep possession of it and then find a way to get it on net with bodies in front. For the Caps it’s got to start with puck possession and then continue into gritty goals scored in the paint if they want to get back in this series.

Canadiens/Bruins

There really is no secret to what Montreal needs to do to win; keep pucks out of their net. Some of that weight needs to rest on the shoulders of Carey Price who has not had a good post-season. It’s not all his fault though, the rest of this team needs to be way more responsible with the puck. The defense in Montreal is more the decent and they do well with what they have to work with. The forwards on this team need to be much much more responsible with the puck. It’s the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what position you play you need to be defensively sound. You need to play all sides of the puck, and that includes top and bottom. The front line on this team is so focused on scoring goals (individual goals too) that they can’t see the whole picture of either the game or their own team. To get back into this series their philosophy has got to be we have to learn to skate backwards before we skate forwards.

Flames/Blackhawks

The Flames are suffering from the same disease they had in the last few weeks of the year: Lose the Lead Fever. They are playing very well, strong on the puck, smart plays, scoring goals, until they have a secure lead, then they fall apart. This team can no longer rely on Kiprusoff to keep them in games. He has proved this year that he no longer is the same goaltender he once was. One of their problems is that their tough players seem to be playing fancy, while their fancy players are trying to play tough. Iginla is right where he needs to be and the rest of the team needs to follow. Phaneuf needs to reel in the excitement a bit and start playing smarter. They’re going to have to learn how to clamp down with the lead and play to win, not to score. I’m not sure if that’s possible on a Mike Keenan coached team.

Blues/Canucks

The Blues are doing absolutely nothing wrong, they’re just playing against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks’ defensive core. The problem they are going to have is getting a secure lead against the Canucks. If they can ever get themselves two goals up they stand a decent chance at winning, but as long as Luongo is keeping his team in the game (and boy is he ever) the Canucks will be a hard team to beat. Even when they are down in a game they play with such poise and confidence it’s as if they’re a few goals up. That’s what having a goaltender like Luongo can do for a team. If I was in the Blues dressing room I’d tell them to just keep playing the way they are. They’re skating well, hitting hard, getting pucks to the net, they’re defensively sound, they don’t take many bad penalties (until tonight), and they find ways to get scoring chances throughout the game. They need to take this one game at a time, they may be down 3-0 in the series but they need to approach game four like it’s game one. they can’t think about the ramifications of a loss lest they become distracted and stop playing as well as they have.

Blue Jackets/Red Wings

The Jackets relied on Steve Mason to get them into the playoffs, that needs to stop right now. They need to start relying on their offense to get them on to the next round. You can’t beat the Red Wings 2-1 or 1-0 in the post-season, you have to start scoring goals against them. The more goals Columbus can score, the more weight gets taken off Mason’s shoulders and the better he can play. Osgood is beatable, even in the post-season. You just can’t get overwhelmed by everything. That’s really what I see in the faces of the young, inexperienced Blue Jackets. It’s their first post-season berth and they ended the season on such a strong note. Get back to basics, dump the puck deep, keep possession of it, get shots to the net. Once the shots start going in it’ll all come back to the guys and they’ll remember how to win again.

Ducks/Sharks

The Sharks defense is playing great. Nabokov? Excellent. The forwards? No sir, I don’t like it. Once again captain Patrick Marleau and first mate Joe Thornton have completely disappeared. This is the exact reason why they ran Thornton out of Boston. They actually managed to turn it around a bit tonight, they have to keep it going. All the things they did right tonight, grinding for the puck, getting bodies in front of the net, getting shots from in close not just from the blueline… all good. They have to take tonight as the beginning of a team-wide improvement. They are an excellent team and Nabokov keeps them in the game every night, now what they have to do is get Marleau and Thornton to take some shots, not just pass the puck around the rink like idiots until it’s picked off. Only the Sedins can cycle successfully in the post-season, and they’re twins damnit! The rest of the league has to GET SHOTS ON NET! Like I said, they got a bunch tonight on Hiller and showed a lot of improvement, next game they have to do it again, and then again, and then again, as many times as they can they have to get shots on Hiller. Oh, I almost forgot, get shots on him on the power play.

SPECIAL PLAYOFFS WEEKEND UPDATE

I’m currently watching the Rangers/Capitals game. This has been the best series in the East. I expected Washington to win both games at home but they’ve run into a monster goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. The more I watch this Rangers team, the more I believe they can go really far into these playoffs. They remind me of the Sweden team Lundvist won a gold medal with. They have some speed, some skill, some size… the only thing they are missing is a really good puck moving defense. Nik Antropov was the perfect pick-up (and for only a second!), he can complete the plays started by Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, and Chris Drury. Even if New York wins today, I still think this will be a long series, Washington is too skilled offensively to allow a single goaltender to sweep them.

The series in the East that was supposed to be the most exciting, Flyers/Penguins, has been so very boring. Yes I know they went into overtime yesterday, but there was no drama, it was obvious the Penguins were going to win. It’s too bad, for awhile it seemed that the Flyers had it figured out, but then they started playing scared again. When you play scared you start making mistakes and taking penalties… see the overtime 5-3 for an example. The Flyers really need Darrien Hatcher to come back from his injury. Hatcher is such a great defensemen, he made me want to like the Dallas Stars. I couldn’t, of course, because how can they take a team from Minnesota and move it to Dallas? Plus, in ’99, Brett Hull’s foot was so in the blue paint (it was a stupid rule, but it was still a rule). Hatcher isn’t afraid of anything. If I had to travel through the mystical Realm of Spiders (where everything is spiders) I’d want Hatcher there to carry me. If I had to perform an exorcism I’d want Hatcher there to hold the possessed down. They should make stuffed Darrien Hatcher dolls for children who are afraid of the dark. The point is Hatcher wouldn’t let the Penguins run all over the place like they have been. If the Flyers can’t start playing with confidence it’s going to be a short boring series.

In the West the Blues/Canucks series is the best hockey I’ve ever seen. I guess that’s what happens when the two hottest teams in the league meet in the post-season. The Canucks are up 2-0 in the series, but there should be no shame in the Blues lockerroom. They haven’t lost a game, the games were won by the Canucks and Luongo. Luongo is proving that he really is the best goaltender in the game now. Whatever is in the water in Vancouver the two teams need to bottle it and bring it to St Louis cause these teams are playing better then anyone could have imagined. I hope it’s as electric in St Louis as it was in Vancouver. Last night the players couldn’t even hear the whistles.

I’m looking forward to the second game of the Flames/Blackhawks series. The ‘Hawks started the first game very nervous, but by the end were playing with the confidence they had in the regular season. Calgary is going to see a different team at the start of game two. I wonder if they can match the intensity and tenacity of the young Chicago stars.

WORK ETHIC

Posted in Carolina, Columbus, Philadelphia, post-season, san jose, stanley cup by yankhockey on April 16, 2009

Watching the game ones that were on Thursday and Friday reminded me of something very important in hockey: effort wins games. Washington and New York put on a helluva show, both teams working as hard as they could for the win with New York finally getting the win (and let me thank them for making my prediction that they will win this series a little less absurd). Chicago and Calgary looked like they were going to put on a sloppy show until both teams picked up the play in the second period and turned a lazy game into an incredibly exciting game. The Vancouver and St Louis game was the best hockey game I had seen since the last round one in Vancouver when Vancouver beat Dallas 5-4 in the third overtime, both teams working so hard you could believe they were about to actually sweat blood.

On the other side of the coin there were four teams that I was surprised to see put out nearly no effort at all. Philadelphia apparently decided they didn’t feel like showing up for game one. While Pittsburgh took a cue from their opponent and played tough instead of fancy, the only Flyer I ever noticed during that game was Jeff Carter, unless you count noticing Martin Biron crumbling like a week old cookie (I think the announcers actually mentioned he had never won a game one in his entire career, I should research that). I guess Columbus was so blinded by the glamour of Detroit that they couldn’t see the puck because they played with all the skill of a clown full of cars. For a team that needed to come out of the gate like Sisyphus (look it up) looked more like Sissy-phus. The Hurricanes ran into a Martin Brodeur who remembered to put on his playoff underwear, but that is hardly an excuse to only put 19 shots on him. And Cam Ward looked like he was experimenting with stopping shots with his mind alone. And of all the teams to show up unprepared, the San Jose Sharks played with absolutely no tenacity at all. Except for the defense, the Sharks  were lackluster at best. Annual no-shows Marleau and Thornton had a total of two shots between them for the entire game. I guess Joe Pavelski must really idolize these guys because he had no shots of his own. of 35 shots, 16 came from the D, and another five from Setoguchi. That means that forwards not named Setoguchi had a total of 14 shots in the game.

There is very little, if any, consolation to any of these teams that there are at least three more games to be played. Teams like the Blues and Capitals can hold their heads high knowing that they went out there and were legitimately beat, but that the next game could very well be theirs. If you are Philadelphia, Columbus, Carolina, or San Jose it must feel like you’ve down 3-0 in the series. There is no excuse for showing up for the playoffs unprepared to play. It may be a best of seven, but each game needs to be played like a one and done. Being down one game to none may be acceptable in basketball, but in hockey that is a huge hole to climb out of. Hockey playoffs are grueling, hard fought affairs, and you want them to end as fast as possible. If you’re the Sharks the last thing you want is a five game series against the Ducks. Hell! You can barely stand a four games series. Well guess what, because you couldn’t win puck battles, get shots on goal, or leave your zone with gusto, now you’ve got at least five, likely more now that the other team knows you’re vulnerable.

San Jose is lucky, they have Rob Blake, Danny Boyle, Travis Moen, and Claude Lemieux, all Stanley Cup winners, in their locker room. Those guys can grab their teammates by the lapels and shake them until they shape up. Columbus? Not nearly as lucky. They’ve got quiet Fredrik Modin. The Flyers have Mike Knuble who won the cup his rookie season with Detroit… and then never went back. Of course the ‘Canes have back many of their cup winning players including their goaltender and blog favourite Rob Brind’amor (best hockey name in his generation?), so they may be alright. Only time will tell.

NHL playoff hockey is the best hockey on earth… when everyone shows up to play. These teams will get it right quickly, and if they don’t we won’t be forced to watch them anymore.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PREVIEW

We’re back with the Eastern Conference preview. The East is looking to have a much more interesting first round with teams being closer in terms of skill and a good chance of upsets. So let’s see how they’ll turn out.

1 Bruins vs 8. Canadiens

Bruins’ Strength: Their Own Zone

The Bruins have been killer in their own end of the ice. They have a great defense and a goaltender that was tops in the league in goals against average. Not only that, they have one of the leading Norris trophy candidates in Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas is one of the leading candidates for the Vezina. What does that equal? It equals one tough time for any offense against them.

Bruins’ Weakness: Matching the Regular Season

The Bruins were lights out during the regular season. They were by far the best team in the East, and arguably the best team in the league. Remember, this is practically the same team that was eighth in the East last year and lost to Montreal in the round (wow, what a weird coincidence). Have they been playing above their level are year or were they for real?

Player to Watch: Milan Lucic

Lucic is one of those guys that every team would love to have. he had 17 goals and 136 penalty minutes. He’s what is commonly known as a “fire-cracker”. He needs to continue to play like a bulldozer on skates or the entire team may start to struggle.

Bruins’ Overview:

The Bruins are certainly the best team coming out of the East in the standings, but they haven’t played like the best team for a little while. They were outstanding at the beginning of the year… better then outstanding in fact, but they came back down to earth like all the other outstanding teams in the league this year. They’ll need to get the same all-world goaltending from Thomas if they want to make quick work of Montreal, if he can’t keep his play elevated it’ll be a long series.

Canadiens’ Strength: Montreal

The Canadiens are the life-blood of this city… nay, this province. They know it too. Every single player has the weight of all the history of this team pushing them forward. They know their fans won’t be satisfied with a first round loss, not in this, the hundredth year of their existence. If there has ever been a driving force powerful enough to change a game it’s a packed house at the Forum.

Canadiens’ Weakness: Cohesion

All year the Canadiens have had problems with team chemistry. It almost knocked them right out of the playoffs. If they are to survive the first round they are going to have to play like a team, not a bunch of individuals. It’s up to captain Saku Koivu to right this ship, and if there is anyone in the league who can it’s him. If this team has such little respect for each other that not even Koivu, one of the most respected men in the league, can get everyone to work together there needs to be an upheaval in Montreal this off-season.

Player to Watch: Carey Price

Last year Price backstopped them to first and then fell apart like a Yugoslavian car in the post-season. He’s going to have to find a way to fight those jitters and play like the phenom he’s shown glimpses of in the past. There’s nothing like an out of this world goaltender to change the face of a playoff series.

Canadiens’ Overview:

The Canadiens backed their way into the playoffs just squeezing in at the last moment. Luckily for them the worst teams in the league were in the East or they might have had to fight off Tampa Bay and Toronto, not just Florida. They are the underdogs of the underdogs this year despite having been picked during the preseason to challenge for the Cup. There’s still a chance, a slim one. If they are competitive enough they may be able to grab that chance.

Outlook: Bruins in four

I just think it’s too late for Montreal this year. They haven’t shown that they can compete with the big dogs, and Boston is the biggest dog in the East. While Florida was fighting tooth and nail to get into the post-season Montreal kinda just moseyed in. They aren’t ready to compete as hard as they will need to. Next year expect a much different look from this team, a tougher hungrier look.

2. Capitals vs 7. NY Rangers

Capitals’ Strength: Alexander Ovechkin

What else did you expect me to say… puck handling? Ovechkin is the difference between an ok team and one of the best teams in the league, he is just that good. Sure he’s got some interesting names around him like Semin, Green, and Backstrom, but he means such a huge difference to this team they may change their names to the Washington Ovechkins when he leaves the franchise.

Capitals’ Weakness: Everyone Not Named Ovechkin

Here’s the deal, if you aren’t named Ovechkin you are stoppable. One of the Rangers’ strategies may be to try to prevent anyone else from being effective, make Ovechkin do it all on his own. If they can succeed at that it may be enough to beat the Capitals. There are a lot of good names on this team, and a strategy to just try and stop Ovechkin will certainly backfire, so everyone else on the team better be paying attention or they might be made inconsequential to this series.

Player to Watch: Alexander Ovechkin

What, you thought I’d say Sergei Federov? Look, just watch him. Even if it’s for entertainment purposes only, watch him. He’s more fun to watch then a ball pit full of puppies. He’s more fun to watch then scrambled porn. He’s more fun to watch then a Godzilla marathon. He’s Alexander the Great

Capitals’ Overview:

This this team has been one of the most exciting teams all year, and no, not just because of Ovechkin. Mike Green became the first defensemen in my memory to score thirty goals (ok, so there have been defensemen who I remember who had scored thirty, just before my time). Alexander Semin has also had a break-out year. And Jose Theodore is one step away from proving that the last few years have been the fluke, not his Calder winning rookie season.

Rangers’ Strength: Defense

Here’s something I bet you thought you’d never hear. The Rangers gave up the third least amount of goals in the East. Who’da thunk it? The Rangers, a defensively sound team. It helps to have the best goaltender in the conference not named Broduer, especially when Broduer is out for most of the season. This year the Rangers have been more responsible on both sides of the puck, and while it has cost players points (the Rangers are 24th in goals for), it played a big role in making the post-season.

Rangers’ Weakness: Goal Scoring

I just said it, 24th in the league. With a roster including guys like Markus Naslund, Chris Drury, and Scott Gomez, who would have thought the Rangers would have such problems scoring goals. It’s actually not those three who have played about as expected, it’s everyone else. There’s been very little scoring beyond the top four offensive players. The addition of Antropov and Avery has really helped, and will help them in the playoffs as well, but they really need more goal production if they have any hope of matching the goal scoring of Washington.

Player to Watch: Sean Avery

There’s something about the playoffs that really works for Avery. If he’s a pest during the regular season then he is a super-pest in the playoffs. You will definitely be hearing Avery’s name, both in the “Avery scored” and “Avery was punched in the head by Donald Brashear” catagories.

Rangers’ Overview:

The Rangers are an interesting case. When the year began they looked poised to take the East by storm, then they just started falling like a slinky on a staircase. Luckily for them they didn’t make it all the way to the bottom, but even stopping the slide didn’t win back a lot of confidence. Still, it’s hard to turn your back on a team with Henrik Lundqvist in net and the leadership abilities of Gomez, Naslund, and Drury in the locker room.

Outlook: Rangers in seven

This was a really tough one for me to analyze, and I still don’t like what I just wrote down. The thing is, as poorly as they’ve played in the regular season, the Rangers are made for the post-season. There’s no way they can stop Ovechkin, but if they can score more goals then they allow from everyone not named Ovechkin they have a very good chance of winning it. In a battle of don’t let the puck through between Lundqvist and Theodore, I take Lundqvist.

3. Devils vs 6. Hurricanes

Devils’ Strength: Playing Through Adversity

The Devils lost Martin Brodeur for a very very significant chunk of the season. Any other team in the league that loses a player that means as much as Brodeur means to the Devils would have fallen by the wayside. These guys not only stayed afloat, they kept winning. There’s nothing the Hurricanes can throw at them that they won’t be able to fight through. If there is one team in the playoffs that wouldn’t lose morale down three games to none, it’s the Devils.

Devils’ Weakness: Defense

For years the Devils iced some of the toughest defenses in the league. This year they are surprisingly weak. The Devils are lucky to have had two amazing goaltenders because those goalies have seen a lot of shots. It’s shown in the last couple weeks as even Brodeur couldn’t pull any wins out of his magic goalie mask. The ‘Canes are big up front and it’s going to take a lot of effort from the Devils’ back end to keep them out of scoring position.

Player to Watch: Brian Gionta

He’s been hearing he’s too small to play in this league for years now, but he just keeps putting up big numbers. Gionta plays with the fire and tenacity of a man twice his size. He’s energizing on the ice and in the locker room. He’s going to have to keep up his torrid pace because if he disappears this post-season the Devils are going to find it hard to get the goals they need to win.

Devils’ Overview:

It’s hard to imagine the Devils being where they are having lost Brodeur for most of the season. That they continued to win without him says more about this team then if they had done it with him in net. If there’s been one constant over the last, say, 10 years, it’s that you can never ever count the Devils out, they always find a way.

Hurricanes’ Strength: Intangibles

Is it speed? Is it strength? Is it attitude? Is it puck luck? Whatever it is the ‘Canes have had it for the entire second half of the season. They just putting up amazing numbers, beating every team they face, and impressing folks like me. Whatever it is that is driving them right now it’s going to be hard to face in a seven games series. Intangibles have a way of wearing down the opposing team, so whatever the ‘Canes have tapped into, they should drink deeply.

Hurricanes’ Weakness: Cam Ward

Pointing out Ward as their weakness is in no way disrespecting what he’s done for this team down the stretch. He has been one of the best goaltenders in the league when they needed it most. I count him as their weakness because hasn’t been back in the playoffs since that magical year in 2005. He was the first rookie goaltender to win the Stanley Cup since Patrick Roy, and then he never go them back again until this year. This year he has been fantastic, but if he can’t rekindle the magic of his first post-season there is no reliable back-up to take over.

Hurricanes’ Overview:

These guys were the hottest team since the all-star break. They are on a mad scoring tear, they’ve let in significantly less goals then last year, and they know how to win. This is the best ‘Canes team since they won the cup, maybe even better then the Cup team. The Devils should be very afraid of this team.

Outlook: Hurricanes in six

Like I said earlier, you never want to discount New Jersey. It is very tempting to me to pick them to win this series because I assume they will. But when you start assuming things in the playoffs you begin to make mistakes. Carolina has been the best team in the East as of late, and the Devils definitely have not matched their level of play. I can’t ignore the skill and effort that Carolina has shown, so the only thing to do is pick them to win this series.

4. Penguins vs 5. Flyers

Penguins’ Strength: The Century Mark

In the entire league three people have made it to 100 points, two of them are on the Penguins roster. That is very very hard to ignore. The interesting thing is… they don’t normally play on the same line. That means there are at least two lines that, if you are the Flyers, you have to be very very concerned about. Unlike Washington there’s not just one guy you have to try and stop, there are two and that can really throw an opposing team for a loop.

Penguins’ Weakness: Toughness

In the off-season the Penguins lost Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, and Georges Laraque. And who did they replace them with? Miroslav Satan. This season they traded away their toughest defensemen Ray Whitney. Sure, the guy couldn’t play defense to save his life, but he could add some fire to a team that is ice cold. Watching this team is like watching a bunch of narcoleptics play. For all the goals they score, they are boring. Matt Cooke and Evgeni Malkin add a little spice, but against a very big, very tough Flyers team they don’t add enough grit.

Player to Watch: Evgeni Malkin

He put this team on his back and dragged them all the way to the finals last year. He’ll need to do it again this year too. He’s bigger then he looks, tougher then he looks, and a total bitch to play against. Crosby may be the spiritual leader of this team, but Malkin is who they will be counting on to score the points.

Penguins’ Overview:

This has been a hard team to read this year. First they were out of the playoffs and the way they were playing made it seem like they wouldn’t find their way back in. Then suddenly they’re scorching the league and fight their way to fourth. Which team will we see in the playoffs? Some of the players on the team are liable to relax when they think they get confident, the Penguins staff and other players will have to push those types into playing their best if they want to win this series.

Flyers’ Strength: Special Teams

They rank sixth in both penalty killing and powerplay, but the real secret weapon on special teams is Mike Richards. This year he scored short-handed goals three games in a row, he scored a 5-3 short-handed goal (the third of his career) and basically has written the book on special teams this year. Against a Penguins team with a very poor power-play he could really take advantage of that weakness.

Flyers’ Weakness: Goaltending

Ok, so people say this every year. Martin Biron never gets any respect in this league. The thing is, he’s never stolen a series for the Flyers. With all the goal scoring power on the other end (the same power that beat him in the East finals last year), he’s going to have to put up a wall. If he can show the Penguins that they aren’t going to get easy goals against him I take this all back, but if he lets in one goal he shouldn’t it’s going to simultaneously boost the Pens and sink the Flyers.

Player to Watch: Jeff Carter

Talk about a break-out year! Carter, for a long time, led the league in goal scoring before finally giving way to Ovechkin (but who wouldn’t). Now he needs to translate regular season success into playoff success. If he can be a complete monster in the offensive zone he’ll will cause endless headaches for the Pens. They need him to be the leading scorer of this series or they will struggle to put up enough points to win.

Flyers’ Overview:

The Flyers are like the Sharks of the East. Every year much more is expected of them in the regular season. Unlike the Sharks at least they made it to the conference championships last year, but like the Sharks they never seem to live up to their potential. This year, again, a lot was expected of them. They showed a lot of skill, but not when it mattered. They could easily have locked up first place in the Atlantic as New Jersey had lost their goaltender and Pittsburgh was faltering, but now they are third in the Atlantic, fifth in the East. They need to Beat Pittsburgh to prove they can be a force.

Outlook: Flyers in seven

If the game was “Who Can Be Beat Up the Most” the Penguins would definitely win. The Flyers want to avenge last year and will do it with fists, elbows, hips, shoulders… whatever they can throw Pittsburgh’s way they will. In the end it won’t be about scoring, cause there will be a lot of scoring. Frankly, I don’t trust that Biron has what it takes to be a winning goaltender, and I know that Fleury doesn’t. It’s going to come down to who wants it more and looking at the rosters of these two teams, Philly wants it more.

So there you have it folks. Playoffs start tomorrow and I, for one am incredibly excited. So good luck to everyone’s teams, I’ll see you Wednesday.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS 08-09

Posted in NY Rangers, predictions by amanoidopera on October 8, 2008

4. New York Rangers

It’s hard to beat out Brodeur and the Devils, but finally Rangers fans can say it’s hard to beat Lundqvist and the Rangers. The Rangers did their usual buy-up-older-former-stars deal this offseason, but were significantly smarter about it. They picked up a lot of character players who, in the right situation, can still put up points. Things are looking good for the Rangers this year.

The Offense:

There’s not an analyst in the world who would say that the Rangers are better off with Jagr and Shanahan. They’ll miss the goals, but the leadership they brought back with Markus Naslund, who will probably bring his points back up to the 65-70 range. Scott Gomez will be more relaxed this year, and may even make it back to score 25+ goals. Brandon Dubinsky is going to do really well this year with all the playmakers around him. All in all it’s a pretty impressive offense.

The Defense:

The Ranger defense is not very deep, and if there are significant injuries it will cost them some points. Paul Mara, Wade Redden, and Michael Roszival make up the vets, with young Marc Staal representing the next thing coming. After that there really isn’t much to dwell on on the Rangers’ blueline.

The Goaltending:

Oh Henrik Lundqvist, what can I say about you that you don’t say on the ice with your play. This guy’s already made room in his closet for all the Vezinas he’ll win. Without him the Rangers make it into the post season… maybe. Anyone notice that their over-priced has-been strategy didn’t start working until this guy joined the team? Awesome.

The Fans:

It’s New York so we all know how finicky these people are. They play in Madison Square Garden, one of the most incredibly places to watch a game in the league. And it will be full, but with a population like New York’s there should be fights at the ticket windows for tickets. A friend of mine recently moved to Brooklyn. I told her she had to do everything in New York that I would since I can’t, seeing as how I live on the opposite coast. One of those things was catching a Rangers’ game at the Garden.

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