Thursday, April 20, 2006

Playoff Predictions - East Coast Style

**updated with Rick's picks**

Ottawa (1) v. Tampa Bay (8)

This is the most lopsided series in the playoffs. Even without Dominic Hasek, the Senators have the talent and depth to put away Tampa Bay,which just doesn't have the special teams play this year to get out ofthe first round.

Senators in five

It is too bad Hasek's injury has made Ottawa fans even more pessimistic than Edmonton fans.I just heard that Ray Emery has asked Mike Tyson to the give the Sen's a motivational speech before the game tonight -- "Eat'm alive boys! One earlobe at a time!!" (Eat'm Alive - David Lee Roth's first solo album -- it was pretty good, Van Halen was never the same... sigh).

Bottom Line - Ottawa was my favorite team in the East all year (you’re welcome Keith) and they play a great offensive style which I love. Emery will feed off the playoff atmosphere to at least take them to the conference finals. I have seen it before when a top team coasts at the end of the year and then turns it on in the playoffs.

Every game may have more than 10 goals but Tampa is not hungry after winning the cup and they will be like their state neighbors in baseball, the Marlin's, and fade out of the limelight after winning a championship.

They will split the first 4 games and then Sen's will get on a roll and win it in 6 games and have a load of confidence going into the next round.

Fearless prediction - Emery, motivated by Tyson's speech, one punches Burke tonight into his retirement home and then does the same on Sunday with Grahame. The Bolts are then forced to bring their former goalie coach Jeff Reese out of retirement who despite regaining his old Maple Leaf form cannot carry them to beat the Sen's.


I was really hoping for a Sens-Habs match-up in the first round. It could have been fantastic hockey and fed a rivalry that, to my mind (and to the media's discredit) has been woefully underplayed.

I also would have preferred a Habs-Sens match-up as I think the Habs would have continued the Sens post-season misery.

Unfortunately, we got stuck with this mess of a match-up. The best thing that could come out of this series is a plane crash.

Neither team has a legitimate starting goalie.

Ottawa may be more banged up than Britney's baby, but I don't know what game plan the Bolts can employ to win this series. They can't try to run and gun with the Sens with Sean Burke tending goal (was his rookie year in the maskless era?). They're not going to hit the Sens out of the rink with the likes of St. Louis, Ryan Craig and Rob Dimaio. I don't know how the Bolts can shut-down the Sens either - they don't play a team defense game.

The other soft spot on the Bolts? Special teams.

Have you looked at the specialty team differential? Ottawa's fourth best powerplay versus Tampa's 20th ranked penalty kill - in the late season, Tampa's penalty killing made the Doug Carpenter era Leafs look like disciples of Lemaire and Lamoriello.

Prediction: Sens in Five.

CYA prediction: If Tampa can split in Ottawa, they'll take the series to seven games and I'll give even odds that the Sens immolate themselves once again.

Bonus prediction: After the Sens score 5 powerplay goals in one game, Tortorella will stroke out/suffer a grand mal seizure/ spontaneously combust on national TV.


Wow! A "mess of a match-up!" I love it!

Actually, you might be bang on, Mike, if the Lightning can't get some consistency going after an up-and-down regular season.

Dominic Hasek, on the other hand, wishes he could get up and down - then he might be able to stop the puck. Hasek's ailing adductor muscle has become the most talked-about body part since Janet Jackson's nipple, and you know what? I still don't know what an adductor is, and Oxford won't tell me. Apparently, though, Hasek has one, and it still hurts.

As long as that's the case (and with Hasek, who knows?), the hopes of the Senators nation rest on the young shoulders of Ray Emery. What is it with the Sens and "franchise" goaltenders? (We all fondly remember the Tom Barrasso era.)

So the question: Can Emery provide a Ray of hope for Ottawa fans yearning for that elusive trip to the finals? (And will it still count even if the Sens don't have to beat the Leafs to get there?)

Against the Lightning, it probably doesn't matter. Emery did look tired down the stretch, but he's still no worse than John Grahame or Sean Burke at the other end. Hasek aside, the Sens are finally beginning to get healthy again. Most of their defencemen are back, and Martin Havlat looked like a threat to score every shift against the Rangers the other night in just his second game back. Ottawa has perhaps the deepest overall talent pool in the league - so much so that Jason Arnason, the team's "heralded" trade deadline pickup, can't even crack the lineup right now.

Still, don't expect the Lightning to just roll over and play dead. They are the defending champs, after all, and the last few weeks I detected a bit more fire in the eyes of vets like St. Louis and Lecavalier. Their defence and special teams might not keep many opposing coaches awake at night, but this team still has a lot of talent.

If Tampa can steal a game in Ottawa, this series could be more interesting than many expect.

Prediction: Sens in six.

The most examined body part in sports isn't Hasek's adductor (which you can find out all about here, btw) it's the part of every Sen's fans brain that thinks their team is one screwup, one missed open net, one cheap goal or blown call away from abject disaster.

Mike, our Sens-hating but otherwise gracious host, did get one thing right: a Sens - Habs match-up would have been good for him (and maybe even for hockey in general) but a horrible, horrible thing for blinkered Senators fans.

Sure it might contribute to a Highway 40 rivalry, but, a week ago, with the Habs flying and the Sens stumbling I was convinced that a Sens Habs match-up would have been an early exit for my favourite club. In fact, all the intangibles seemed in order for another heartbreaking early-round exit:
• Opposing team with thousands of fans in the Capital? Check.
• Opposing team with a big enough media entourage to ensure Sens fans get (unjustifiably) enraged at slights leveled at their home town? Double check (just as a sidebar...thank GOD Sens fans don't have to read Jack Todd's analysis of their team for two weeks)
• Hot goalie on the opposition side of the ice? Check.

Then the Tampa Bay Lightning came along and stank things up.

Don't get me wrong, there are players wearing Blue, Black and White that any sensible Senators fan is afraid of (Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis have to come out of their season-long mediocrity sometime) but mediocre special teams and questionable goaltending should do them in, in the long term.

As for worry-wort Sens fans, we should all take the advice of the captain, Daniel Alfredsson who was recently quoted as saying: "Everybody's just got to relax."

Sens in five

Bonus Prediction: The Sens give up and early lead in game one (let's say 3-1 at the end of 20 minutes). Scotiabank place feels like a morgue until my hero Mike Fisher scores short handed early in the second period.


Yes, my Sens-loving friend, it might very well be a good thing for Ottawa fans that they dodged a bullet in not facing the Habs in Round 1. But before they rest easy and start cleaning the sludge off the canal for the Stanley Cup flotilla in June, here's a chilling thought: The paranoid, glass-is-always-half-empty hockey denizens of the capital might yet see their nightmares come true in round 2.

Since the above statement offers a pretty strong hint as to which way I think the wind is blowing, I might as well put my two cents in on the Canadiens-Canes series right now.

Led by the breakout seasons of Eric Staal and Martin Gerber, the Carolina Hurricanes had the best regular season in franchise history. They added the likes of Cory Stillman in the off-season and veterans Doug Weight and Mark Recchi at the trade deadline to help offset the absence of the injured Erik Cole. They have a solid, experienced defence corps. They swept the season series from Montreal 4-0. And on and on and on.

To all that, I say: Congratulations, boys, on a wonderful regular season. See you on the golf course soon.

Just about everyone who's ever met me knows how much I hate the Habs. (As a Bruins fan, it's in my DNA.) But I also respect them and the way they compete. Simply put, the Canadiens are the kind of team no one wants to face in the post-season. Thanks largely to the goaltending of Cristobal (Hip hip) Huet, they've been the NHL's hottest team since the Olympic break. Michael Ryder again had 30 goals, Alex Kovalev has the potential to take over a game and they have scrappy guys like Mike Ribiero and Richard Zednick who make life difficult for the opposition. Saku Koivu has the heart of a lion.

Don't get me wrong. The Canes are the better team and, on paper at least, should win this series. But the Habs have a peerless bench leader in Bob Gainey who knows a thing or two about navigating his way through the pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They have a hot goaltender. And they have nothing to lose. See you next round, Ottawa.

Prediction: Montreal in seven.


If the Habs beat the 'Canes (and no, you're not getting my prediction until the END of this little blurb) I'm perfectly happy to face them in the second round. The rust will be off. The Sens will be used to playing with all their bodies back and healthy and Sens fan will be squeezing the remote with just a little less of a death grip.

As for Carolina and it ok to say that I just don't care?I mean, I know this is my adopted home town and all, and it'd be nice to see a Canadien team stay alive in the playoffs (as Mike has pointed out, we Sens fans, unlike Davey and his Bruins loving colleagues, have no pre-existing hate on for le Saint-Maillot) but I just can't feel the fever for this team.

Habs fans in Montreal love the game, and are very passionate, but, beyond Saku Koivu and Steve Begin, there are very few players on this Habs team that I find it easy to like. There are a ton more likable players wearing the Hartford Hurricanes sweater (with it's logo that Richard Labbé called "the swirling movement of a toilet flushing" in La Presse today) to wit: Brindamour, Staal, Weight, Recchi and even Mike Commodore, but who can root for the Carolina Whalers?

All that's left is to play the percentages. Carolina's the better team, but the Habs are playing better right now. Gerber's been shaky in recent starts, the Habs have their choice of two goalies that are going like gangbusters. Montreal is BANANAS for the Canadiens at the moment, Carolina's going to find it hard to sell out it's playoff matches again. And, to top it off, I haven't picked a first round upset yet (and it's pretty hard to go through the first round of the NHL playoffs without at least one, 1, 2 or 3 seed going down).

Prediction: Canadiens in Seven

Bonus Prediction: In a post-game six rage Bob Gainey kills defensive zone laggard and media whipping boy Mike Ribero with his bare hands (Stories months later quote the team physician as saying: "His pulse never got above 120, even when he ate (his) tongue"). To cover for his boss, Guy Charboneau dons Ribero's gear for game seven, breaking up two three on ones and scoring the game-winner in overtime. Habs fans are happy but Gainey's gig is up...

At least Sens fans will have the excuse of running into a hot goaltender (probably Huet) if they do bow out to the Habs in the next round. As for not caring about games involving Carolina, the line forms at the right... :)

I'm struggling with this one and I don't know if it's apathy or just a tough series to call.

The Canes have balanced scoring, great team speed, and a solid mix of veteran leadership and hungry youth. They're well coached, disciplined and played a consistent game from wire to wire. Gerber may be a bit of a variable, but no more than his counterpoint in the blue, blanc et rouge.

Montreal didn't have a single player score 70 points this year, were in and out of the playoff hunt and pretty much owe their post-season appearance to a Swiss goalie no one had heard of until a few months ago (memories of Steve Penny, anyone?)

Everything in this series points to a Carolina win, but I just don't feel it in my gut. This of course reminds me of that great quote from Nick Hornby's High Fidelity:

I've been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old, and frankly speaking, between you and me, I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.
My shit for brains gut says Habs in Seven; my brain says Canes in six.

Let the brain v. gut battle begin...

Well I have to say I am surprised by the number of Habs lovers out East. They have become a small market team so I empathize with them but how can you find a weakness in Carolina? They have been consistently good all year long. I think they are this years Tampa Bay.

I paid dearly for not believing the Bolts were for real in my 2004 Pool and I won't make the same mistake again this year with Carolina, plus Dougie Weight is one of my favorite ex-Oilers.

Carolina still has enough players from their last run at the Cup plus their veteran pickups to take them far into the playoffs. Peter Laviollette’s success in this year's playoffs will be the exclamation mark on one of Milbury's dumbest moves in Long Island. And we all know he has made a few...dozen bad moves. (What do you think Milbury’s worst deal was? My vote is Jokinen and Luongo to Florida for Parrish and Kvasha - then replacing him with cocky Dipietro??)

Huet may steal a game or two but in the end...Canes in 6

If the Sens stumble, I think I like Jersey to go all the way to the Cup final this year.

As I said about Calgary earlier on, the Devils aren't exciting but they have a couple of dangerous scorers, great team defense and the best goalie in the world (who, recently and too late to save my fantasy team, has started to play like the best goalie in the world).

Does anyone think the Prague Rangers are better in any facet of the game besides offence? Does anyone think that offence without winning the defence or goaltending battles wins playoff series?


Thought not.

Devils in six

Special Bonus Prediction: Frustrated with a first round elimination, Jaromir Jagr and the rest of his Czech (team)mates leave the Rangers to buy the Penguins. The unrepentant Euros then spurn offers to move the club to Winnipeg, Portland and Quebec; instead rechristening the team the Brno Tučňáci.

Boy, if Jersey can get to the Finals then Lou Lamorello has my vote for coach of the year.

This team was dead in the Love Canal in January (mourning the demotion of Mogiliny?) and now they are the #3 seed is the East? Wow.

Rangers certainly missed Lundqvist and I not sure that injury will be fully healed until summer so how long he lasts in the playoffs will determine their success.

I certainly think the Rangers can win the series but Jersey has too much momentum.

Devils in 6.

The Devils are the hottest team in the league the past few months, and the Rangers have looked lost in losing their last five games.

The Rangers will miss veteran forwards Steve Rucchin and Martin Rucinsky (both injured).

Look for Martin Brodeur to stand on his head and put theDevils into the next round.

Prediction: Devils in 6


The Devils - Rangers series reminds me of a pre-programmed match from Sega Genesis hockey circa 1991-92.

Neither of these teams strike me as being built for the playoffs - each team over relies on a single line to generate scoring. The Devils don't even have a point man that can put the puck in the net. Consider this: if here were traded, Alexander Khavanov would have lead the Devils D in goal scoring. Yikes.

Both of these teams strike me as being an injury or two away from certain elimination - the trainers may be up for the MVP award in this series.

If the Rangers can contain Gionta, Gomez, Elias - they'll win the series.

If the Devils can avoid the Rangers powerplay, or even just limit their chances, while cashing in their own chances with the man advantage - they'll win the series.

Prediction: Devils in 6


Philadelphia - Buffalo should be a compelling series.

It matches two teams with grit and toughness coached by a couple of the best in the business. Both clubs, however, have goaltending issues.

In Buffalo's case, Ryan Miller had a superb regular season, but he has no playoff experience. (But then neither do Huet and Lundqvist, and I've been singing their praises.)

The Flyers, meanwhile, don't seem to know who their No. 1 netminder is. Robert Esche gets the nod in Game 1, but I have a feeling Ken Hitchcock won't wait too long to go to Olympic hero Antero Nittymaki if Esche falters.

Still, you'd like the peace of mind of an undisputed No. 1 in the playoffs, a luxury the Flyers lack.

Buffalo won the series season between the teams 3-1, but I'm going with my gut in saying Philly will have the last laugh.

Prediction: Flyers in seven


I think this is the classic "Old NHL vs. New NHL" matchup.

The matchup of the Sabres' speed and the Flyers' size of the is going to be a clear litmus test for how the refs will call the playoffs.

To my mind, unless we return to 2004 officiating, this is Buffalo's series to lose. The Sabres are just too mobile, they can score in bunches and they're defensively quite responsible. The Flyers are too big, too slow and dealing with too many injuries.

Let's just make sure that if the Sabres actually do progress through the playoffs and (god forbid) win the Cup that Daniel Briere isn't allowed any champagne.

Dude doesn't look a day over 12 years old.


That's a great observation of new NHL v. old NHL, Keith, and it's something that we really haven't discussed in all this back and forth - what expectation do we have for officiating heading into the post-season? Whatever direction the officiating goes, I just hope it's consistent from period to period, game to game.

As for this particular match-up, the only playoff game I've ever been fortunate enough to attend was a Sabres-Flyers game back in the mid 90s. Half-way through the game, Sabres fans unrolled a gigantic banner from the rafters of the old Auditorium that read, "Hextall your wife's a dyke."

Shockingly, the banner didn't help and the Sabres lost to the Flyers that night and in the series.

Considering that the Flyers may be without Forsberg, haven't won back to back games since mid-March, and (surprise surprise) seem to be having an issue with goaltending - I don't know why I'm leaning towards the Flyers.

The Sabres will win if:

  • They can use their speed against Philly's leadfooted D
  • Their 3rd best powerplay takes advantage of Philly's horrendous penalty kill (26th in the league)
  • Miller continues his strong play in nets

The Flyers will win if:

  • Forsberg can play the entire series
  • Hitchcock outcoaches Ruff
  • A goalie (either goalie) hits his stride
  • Philly can use their size to contain Buffalo's small forwards

Prediction: Buffalo in 7

Bonus Prediciton: Drury will score at least 2 of the 4 GWGs along the way.


Oh yeah, I forgot my:

Bonus Prediction: Dominic Hasek, bored with being unable to play in Ottawa, heads to Buffalo to catch the series between the Flyers and his old team. Cornered by Buffalo journalist (and Fan 590 talking head) Jim Kelly to, once again, prove that he's actually injured, Hasek dons his Czech roller blades and proceeds to beat Kelly unconscious.

Not sure why all these bonus predictions involve so much violence...

Despite Bettman's Sabre Rattling, I think that there will be alot more hacking and whacking in front of the net in the playoffs however they will still crack down on the obstruction.

Lindy Ruff is the Eastern Conference's version of Darryl Sutter - after all they are both Alberta Boys - Yeeehaww! And I think that they are the most cohesive team in the East. He stands up for his players and is a master at manipulating the media about slights against his team. His rant about Tucker's latest chicken-shit cheapshot on Hecht was classic. I can't wait until he and Bobby Clarke start jawing at each other during this series.

Ryan Miller is for real - I saw him play the Roadrunners last year in the AHL and he was awesome. Doug Waddell is as dumb as Milbury for not picking him for Team USA's roster. He is a little cocky too which always benefits a goalie except for maybe Rick DiPietro.

At the beginning of year I thought that Philly maybe loaded up with too many old style, slow NHLers and I am not sure I am wrong about that but they have Peter Forsberg and if he was healthy I would consider taking Philly but their goaltending is suspect, they have no offense from their D so I am picking Buffalo in a close series.

Sabres in 7.


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