Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Playoff Predictions 2007: Eastern Conference

With the Western Conference sorted out, it's time to turn our attention and bad picks eastward.

This year the playoff round table is comprised of yours truly, my pal Rick from Edmonton, Sens' fan Keith from PWI and Steph from No Pun Intended.

As I can't afford a monkey (actually, I probably could afford a monkey and would likely win the Best Dad Ever award from my kids if I did buy one, until the monkey chewed off an ear of gave one of them fleas) but do like to see how our picks stack up against the random walk, I'll be placing the match-ups on slips of paper which I will then draw out of my coffee cup. Games played (4 through 7) will also go into the mug to make it a bit more interesting...

Buffalo (1) v. New York Islanders (8)

I have to be honest and say that as a Leaf fan, I really wish it were the Blue and White taking on the Sabres this year. While I don't think the Leafs could have won the series, I honestly believe it would have made a better match-up and provided some more compelling hockey.

Instead, the braintrust at MLSE got outperformed by Charles Wang and Garth Snow. A sentence I honestly never thought I would type. A career back-up goalie and a guy who thought offering a contract in dog years to Alexi Yashin was a solid idea were able to ice a better team than MLSE. Let's take a minute to savour that shall we.

OK, back to the task at hand.

Buffalo has an abundance of fire power, a great goalie, rabid fans, unbelievable depth (Stafford, plus the return of Afinogenov and Connolly...) solid coaching, playoff experience and blazing team speed. The only aspect of their game that might catch up with them is their inability deal with size down low.

The Islanders have an AHL goalie with a catchy nickname, a coach with a score to settle, and, uh, er...that's about it. Even with the likes of Yashin (snicker), Blake, Smyth and Satan this group of forwards can't run and gun with the Sabres. As much as the playoffs have been rife with stories of rookie goalies getting hot and going on a run (from Dryden to Penny to Roy to last year's Ward and Miller) I don't think Dubie will be able to contain the Sabres over a seven game series (like it's going to go that far). Brendan Witt might be able to play 30 minutes a night, but that still leaves half a game for the Sabres to run it.

What's that leave the Islanders?

Five games before they go golfing, four if they're not careful.

I agree about the Leafs being the more interesting team to have a chance at this match up - I still think it's a shame, after that ridiculous Saturday game, that the Islanders got lucky.

Anyway, as much as I love Ryan Smyth, and as much as a little part of me wishes I had much hope for the Islanders for him alone, I highly doubt they have much of a chance. Buffalo's been a powerhouse this season, even when they were bogged down with injuries - and now those guys are starting to come back too - and if Afinogenov plays the way he did at the start of the season, that's just scary.

Basically the Islanders only chance is if Smytty calls a team huddle, points to the other end of the ice and reminds Marc-Andre Bergeron of his famous goalie-killing ability, MAB puts it to use where it could do some good, runs down Miller, and forces long-suffering Ty Conklin into net where his Post-Traumatic Stress Disease flares up, and while fighting off the flashbacks he lets the ugliest guy the Islanders have score what is essentially an empty netter on him. Again and again. All the way back down to the AHL. (As a disclaimer, I really don't think THAT bad of the guy anymore, I swear.)

That said, Sabres in 5.

Hilarious commentry about Bergeron and Conklin, nice job Steph.

Obviously everybody still has a hangover from the Leafs rollercoaster ride on the weekend.

Don't be sad, there is always next year (and the year after, and the year after ...), right?

Quite frankly, I was cheering for the Habs because they were the best team at the end of the year but they could not stay out of the penalty box when it mattered most on Saturday night. Once they were out, then I was cheering for the Leafs too - anybody but the Islanders and that crybaby Smyth - they are still wiping up his crocodile tears at the Airport.

If he wanted to stay here so badly he should have signed for$100,000 less and be done with it. In the end it will be good thing he is gone, now the Oilers can spend 7 million on true elite player - not sure where they are going to get that player but the money is there?!?!

With regards to this series, I don't think anybody gives the Islanders a chance despite the great coaching job that Nolan has done this year -he has certainly squeezed the most out of that team.

Obviously Buffalo is every body's favorite this year - they were the hot team at our draft last night and the Islanders were about as popular at Ed Belfour at aMiami night club. Buffalo would have been in the finals last year if not for injuries,now they are healthy and the Islanders will just be a speed bump on what should be a long ride in the Playoffs for the Sabres.

Any bets on how long it takes for Ruff to whine to the Media about some perceived injustice against his team - my guess is Game 3.

Buffalo in 4.

Count me as someone (surprise, surprise) who's not saddened that the blue and white aren't in this series.

Sure Wade (Yoda) Dubielewicz isn't the second coming of Billy Smith, but Andrew Raycroft isn't going to make anyone forget Terry Sawchuk any time soon (Did you SEE him in the last game of the season against the Habs?...He had worse control of his glove hand than Dr. Strangelove).

Anyway, we'd have to somehow arrive on Bizarro World for the Isles to have a chance in this series. Guys like Satan and Yashin would have to become playoff performers, while guys like Drury and Briere would have to start playing like, well, Alexi Yashin and Miro Satan.

The AHL castoff goalie (Yoda) would have to play like an all-star and Ryan Miller (who was EXCELLENT last year in the second round against the Sens) would have to play like an NHL castoff.

Buffalo's just too balanced, too well coached and has too much firepower to be threatened in this series. I'll give Teddy Nolan a game on pride, but call it: Sabres in Five.

Did I see Raycroft against the Habs? Sadly, yes.

I was one of the 2.8 million Canadians who watched that game. I know you only need about 1,100 people to have a scientifically valid poll, but if you were to ask each and every member of that national tv audience if they'd have Raycroft as their starting goalie in the 2007-08 season, 2,799,987 million of them would say no.

Unfortunately, JFJ is one of the 13 (the other 12 are likely related to Raycroft or part of his entourage) who think it's a good idea for Raycroft to start 60+ NHL games next year.

I'll put it another way: I watched the game with my mother-in-law who hasn't followed hockey since Stan Makita hung up the blades. This is a woman who needs to be reminded which team is which several times a game ("and which team is in red again?") and even she called for Raycroft to get yanked after the "exploding glove" goal. How is it she can see it and JFJ can't?

Coffee Cup: New York Islanders in 5 (I know that's a lousy pick, but what do you want? I'm an inanimate ceramic object that had two slips of paper pulled out of me. That said, the Leafs are going nowhere with Raycroft between the pipes)

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