Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Stanley Cup Quarter-Finals Begin Tonight

Hockey! Whee!

My previous predictions had a nice mixture of expected results and desired results, with a couple of completely incorrect ideas thrown in for good measure; I'll admit I was originally blind to what are now the very obvious faults of the Predators and Thrashers. Heck if I didn't get a couple ideas bizarrely correct, though. (I'd predicted at least four overtime periods across five games of Vancouver/Dallas; they had six overtime periods across seven games, albeit in a distribution pattern I wouldn't have expected.)

Some thoughts on the first round:

-- Three game misconducts in five games, including a spearing penalty in an elimination game with the team up 2-1? Yeah, go Nashville! Discipline! Whoo!
-- Ho-lee did the Wild ever stink up their series. As much as I hate the approach, even I would suggest that 'Defence First' should not involve sitting in your own end with the puck when you're down by two goals! I mean, geez! A minute thirty to go with your goaltender pulled, and you sat in your own end with the puck? Turns out that was a bad idea!
-- I'd said previously that I'd never seen an Atlanta Thrashers game; I kind of wish I could go back to those days, back when I could at least pretend that the Thrashers would be any good in the playoffs or any fun to watch.
-- Fourth-line centreman, no points in five games, averaged maybe two or three shots a game tops -- boy, that ten-year, $87-million contract for Alexei Yashin just keeps looking better and better, doesn't it? By damn, that's a steal of a deal!

Ah, I love playoff hockey. It's almost always good for some high-quality fun, the game-losing goats it produces are hilarious, and it brings out the best in our favourite teams unless your favourite teams include Nashville, Atlanta or Minnesota. (And my sympathies to you if they do. Er, did.)

Here's what the Second Round shakes out to:

Eastern Conference

(1) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) New York Rangers

If I were a New York Rangers fan, I'd hate to be a parent of a small child right now; imagine having to explain to your child why it's okay to root for Sean Avery but not to ever act like him.

I want Buffalo to win this one, I really do. And I know they're going to be in a lot of trouble with this series, not only because the New York Rangers have everything clicking at just the right time but because Presidents' Trophy teams have a storied history of rolling over and dying at just the wrong moment. But hope springs eternal! Buffalo is a better team than the last series let on, and so far in the playoffs even a sleepwalking Sabres team has proven able to overcome a New York squad that has been hot lately.

The Rangers are a better team than the Islanders, of course; on the other hand, the Sabres can't possibly be less challenging than the Thrashers were. Sean Avery is good at what he does, often shutting down the top scorers on other teams; on the other hand, who do you aim for against a team that had eleven different goal-scorers in a five-game series? And can anybody name the Rangers' current top four defencemen without cheating?

They're both very good teams, and this will probably be the best pure hockey of the second round (assuming the mainstream media will clam up about Avery for even a little while; hey guys, Nylander has eight points and Jagr has seven points in four games, maybe they bear mention too); it may be a little slow to start, because Buffalo last played five days ago and New York hasn't played in a week, but I'm expecting some crazy fast offence and miracle saves to show up.

Whoever wins this series is taking the Conference. This is what I think, and this is what I hope. Especially considering the alternatives.

What I'd Want: Buffalo in five.
What I'll Guess: New York in six.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (4) Ottawa Senators

God, I hate the New Jersey Devils.

It's going to be quite the shift for the Senators; in the second round they'll be playing the team known for solid defence, whereas in the first round they were playing a team that routinely had both defencemen jump in on the rush. (As it turns out, that wasn't such a hot idea. Go figure!) And obviously the Devils aren't going to be deterred by pure offence alone; Tampa Bay's talent trio of Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis combined for twenty-three points in their series against New Jersey, and their team lost.

Earlier this week, Dany Heatley made a point of mentioning to the media that the Senators will be more than willing to play boring hockey in order to win. Yes, player mentality is in the right place when it's deemed more important to win than to be entertaining -- but I'm operating on viewer mentality, here, and as somebody who wants to be entertained I expect I'll be skipping this series as often as possible when other games are on.

God, I hate the New Jersey Devils. Bleah.

What I'd Want: Ottawa in four games that aren't even close, and immediately afterwards Martin Brodeur retires to live off his McCain's Delissio Pizza endorsement cheques.
What I'll Guess: New Jersey in five. Damn it.

Western Conference

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (5) San Jose Sharks

Aside from the part where Detroit actually won a game on the road, their series with Calgary went almost exactly the way I'd expected. On the other hand, I got the Sharks/Predators series so wrong, oh man; San Jose blew through Nashville like a sledgehammer through a paper towel, which makes two years in a row and so far is two-thirds of the Nashville Predators' playoff history. (If Winnipeg got the Predators, they'd be the new Jets in more ways than one!)

You may have noticed in the last series, or across the year, that Detroit's offensive strategy is to shoot from absolutely anywhere on the ice on the grounds that something has to make it in; you might laugh at that, because it is pretty funny to watch, but it certainly helped them beat Calgary. Calgary's strategy was to never ever shoot the puck unless the goalie was like three feet out of position, and then apparently to devolve into a gang of moron thugs when things went badly.

Both of these teams have some depth, but San Jose seems to have more genuinely dangerous offensive threats; a few years from now we're all probably going to look back and be amazed at what a stacked team San Jose had. And while we're looking back, we won't be amazed that Detroit rolled over and died an ignominiously early death in the playoffs despite an amazing season -- because, really, what else is new?

What I'd Want: San Jose in five.
What I'll Guess: San Jose in six, despite the Red Wings averaging thirty-five shots per game.

(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3) Vancouver Canucks

Okay, local media, you can shut up about the multiple Manitoba Moose connections to the series. We get it; there are a lot of them. It's nice to know that Winnipeg can have NHL-caliber talent roll through the city despite our complete inability to afford an NHL team ever again. Thank you. Moving on.

The Canucks/Stars series was surprisingly entertaining (at least, more entertaining than I'd expected), but Anaheim is still more fun to watch than the Canucks are. Also, the Ducks have Teemu Selanne (and Randy Carlyle!) and Vancouver doesn't. So I'm pulling for Anaheim, though I suspect Vancouver will have the edge through sheer Luongo hijinks alone.

If both Vancouver and Detroit make it to the Conference Finals, can you imagine the heat Todd Bertuzzi would draw in GM Place? And how quickly would Jacques Martin be sacked once the Miami media got into the Florida Panthers' connections to the series?

What I'd Want: Anaheim in seven high-scoring back-and-forth thrill-ride games.
What I'll Guess: Vancouver in six, and next year Roberto Luongo has a profile shot of Cain Marko painted onto his helmet.

NHL playoff hockey! It's what's for dinner!

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