Friday, May 19, 2006

Conference Final Four Starts Tonight

If you had told me a month ago that Anaheim would be the odds on favorite to win the Western Conference Finals, I would have laughed in your face and said, “Yeah, and they are probably going to play Edmonton for the Title.” Laugh no more.

Two teams I didn’t even give a chance out of the first round are now serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. Did I miss something here? In a Conference that was a “you have to see it to believe it” tournament for a chance at the Cup, Edmonton and Anaheim prove that the NHL has changed for the better and talent can no longer carry you into the finals.

For example, Ottawa has problems. It is now their second attempt to get high talent and literally push their way to a Stanley Cup final. That didn’t happen. Buffalo was on a different spectrum, and no one even knew if this Sabres team was worth the price of admission. But Buffalo was a stronger, more team-orientated club and in the end spelled doom to a well financed machine in the Ottawa Senators.

Talent can only take you so far alone, it is the system in which that talent plays that has teams winning.

Now that I have to dismantle my predictions in the Western Conference, let’s recap quickly my picks from before.

Eastern Conference

Prediction: Buffalo defeats Ottawa in 6 games. Reality: Very close, Buffalo wins in 5.

Prediction: Carolina defeats New Jersey in 5 games. Reality: Dead on, Carolina wins in 5.

Western Conference

Prediction: San Jose defeats Edmonton in 7 games. Reality: WRONG, Edmonton wins in 6.

Prediction: Anaheim defeats Colorado in 6 games. Reality: Close, Anaheim sweeps in 4.

Okay quick notes, Colorado didn’t even show up for this series, only taking one game to overtime. Other than that it was all Anaheim. Edmonton has a way of proving me wrong. Buffalo looked a little too good in the series against Ottawa.

Okay down to fearless predictions.

Eastern Conference Final

Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes – The battle of young goaltenders. Buffalo looks good, no doubt about it, but the Hurricanes now have confidence. I expect that the team that wins the first game, will win the series. Confidence will play into the goaltenders heads, Cam Ward must play well against an offensive nightmare that is Buffalo. In the end these two teams will have lost all respect for each other.

Result: Carolina defeats Buffalo in 6 games.

Western Conference

Edmonton Oilers at Anaheim Mighty Ducks – What to do, what to do… Frankly I never expected for the Oilers to get this far, which makes me root for them as underdogs. But Anaheim looked so good against Colorado that I can’t seriously discount them. Edmonton must find their legs to be effective and this series will be physical. I would imagine some carnage with these two teams.

Result: Anaheim defeats Edmonton in 7 games.

It’s actually kind of funny when I look back at Edmonton’s run. It was San Jose that got the Oilers into the playoffs by defeating Vancouver. Irony is a funny thing.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Conference Semis Features Winners And Losers

First, kudos to the Edmonton crowd. After being told to be on their best behavior after Shark’s fans booed the Canadian National Anthem, the Edmonton crowd cheered so loudly for the American National Anthem that it drowned out the singer. I know some may have done it out of spite, but San Jose is full of idiots. As an American I apologize for the whole bay area, we are waiting for it just to fall off at the next big earthquake.

Okay, I am sucking on my predictions when it comes to the Western Conference. Who would have thought that Craig MacTavish actually had it in him to motivate the Oilers? Right now the hottest team in the playoffs is Edmonton.

So since my predictions are in serious jeopardy, I will have to re-examine my stance in the Western Conference. So give me some time for more fearless predictions. Right now I am going to give you a Puckhead look at some of the winners and losers of the playoffs thus far.


Michael Peca – Talk about a sleeper. Peca has been a shadow for the Oilers until he decided to take game 6 into his hands and secure the win for the Oilers to make in to the Conference Finals for the first time in 14 years.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks – The whole team needed some recognition, which was either the best series played by the Ducks or the worst by the Aves. Don’t worry there is a special place for Colorado below.

Ryan Miller – Being a goaltender for Buffalo can sometimes make one’s hair turn gray, against the Senators Miller could have easily lost confidence. But he didn’t and he maybe the biggest reason the Sabres are sitting pretty.

Cam Ward – This guy is 8-1 for his career playoff starts. Are you kidding me? Looks like a battle of the youngster goalies that will highlight the Eastern Conference Finals.

OLN – A major “A++” to OLN’s coverage of the playoffs thus far. When was the last time ESPN ever cut into the intermission to bring us live look-ins at other games going on? Umm, I will take “Things ESPN Never Does” for $1600 Alex. Not only has OLN given live look-ins, they are actually working with the CBC to get just about every game on including the late games from the Canadian cities. And OLN is not about to cut into the game with the live at-bats of some steroid user trying to chase down the Babe. Besides, ESPN is too jack happy about having Monday Night Football, running promos since March. March for crying out loud!


San Jose’s Fans – You’re just stupid if you booed the Canadian National Anthem. So Sharks fans, where do you think Steve Bernier, Matt Carkner, Jonathan Cheechoo, Ryan Clowe, Rob Davison, Josh Gorges, Scott Hannan, Patrick Marleau, Ayln McCauley, Kyle McLaren, Nolan Schaefer, Mark Smith, Grant Stevenson, Scott and Joe Thornton are from? (Hint: Starts with a C and ends in “anada”) It must be karma though, because now all the Sharks fans have to look forward to are their commutes to San Francisco.

Colorado Avalanche – How about showing up for a game?

Zdeno Chara – Tall guys are just not supposed to raise the Cup. Chara never was a factor in this series, and all of Ottawa is just scratching their heads. What do you have to do to win?

Marty Brodeur – He just didn’t look like himself in goal against Carolina. Bottom line for the Devils, if Brodeur isn’t playing well, New Jersey doesn’t play well.

A Winner Honorable Mention – Dwayne Roloson. He is just making Wild fans upset, and as you can see, his teammates don’t mind.

So we are all set for the Conference Finals. Buffalo against Carolina, and Anaheim matched with Edmonton. And I will have to make a serious effort at my picks this time.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Conference Semifinals Fearless Predictions

It’s the top four ranked teams in the East, and the four bottom ranked teams in the West. This could be an interesting final. While the Eastern Conference seems the status quo, the Western Conference has been anything but predictable.

Colorado, San Jose, Edmonton and Anaheim have turned the West upside down with their upsets in their series. The biggest upset and probably the best series thus far by 8th seed Edmonton. Not only did they knock off the best team in the NHL, but have thrown a wrench into my fearless predictions.

With the Playoffs set to start again on Friday night, it’s time to again pick some winners and pick some losers. Since my Eastern Conference picks came out the way I pretty much thought they would, so let’s start there.

Eastern Conference

(4) Buffalo Sabres at (1) Ottawa Senators – The Sabres are on a high, a goal scoring high. Winning their series against Philadelphia 7-1 is a message to the Senators. “Here we come.” Senators will have to bear down and play a solid team that knows how to put the puck in the back of the net. Ottawa may have the regular season series with Buffalo well in hand (5-1-2), but it’s the playoffs and anything can happen. I look to see Senators have their hands full with a little Sabre rattling.

Result: Buffalo defeats Ottawa in 6 games.

(3) New Jersey Devils at (2) Carolina HurricanesCam Ward not only saved the Hurricanes’ bacon, but also my fearless prediction. After a rocky start Carolina has stormed back to take their series against a solid Montreal Canadiens team. The Devils are the hottest team in the NHL right now winning 15 straight. Martin Brodeur will have to be even better against Carolina. But the Devils may have too much confidence for this one. I am sticking with my earlier prediction.

Result: Carolina defeats Devils in 5 games.

Wild, Wild, Western Conference

(8) Edmonton Oilers at (5) San Jose Sharks – In the biggest upset of the playoffs in the best series thus far, Edmonton knocked off NHL’s best team Detroit Red Wings. Dwayne Roloson’s play has put Edmonton into the second round. But they face a team that has been red hot since the trade for Joe Thornton. The Sharks are riding the Thornton train and it should take them far in the playoffs. Edmonton will have to continue to play with heart, because on paper, they don’t match up.

Result: San Jose defeats Edmonton in 7 games.

(7) Colorado Avalanche at (6) Anaheim Mighty Ducks – Colorado bought enough time for the return of Steve Konowalchuk to the squad. Konowalchuk should bring another weapon for thier offense. But the key in this game will be defense. The team that can shut down the other’s offense should be able to take this series. Teemu Selanne has to carry the Ducks on his shoulders, which may be tough with Rob Blake between him and the Aves goal. Goaltending in this series will be spotty, but shouldn’t be the factor to either one having a leg-up on the other.

Result: Anaheim defeats Colorado in 6 games.

Okay, let’s get down to brass tacks. It was literally a coin toss to decide who would win in both Western Conference Semifinals. The sexy pick would definitely be Edmonton to take out the Sharks, but San Jose is on such a good roll. In the East, things are progressing pretty much as planned, but it gets more interesting as we are getting closer to the Cup.

My Finals picks are still intact from my first predictions. All there is left to do is to strap on the skates and hit the ice.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

One Round Down

Round one is in the books. If the rest of the playoffs are in any way like this round was, the NHL has very little to worry about. In a round that featured unpredictability, amazing goals, and even a game seven series thriller (not), and only a couple of teams were a disappointment (Rangers, we are all looking at you).

So I made some fearless predictions about the first round. So now it’s time to pay the piper. Let’s see how I did…

Eastern Conference

Prediction: “Ottawa defeats Tampa Bay in 5 games.” – Reality: Ottawa defeats Tampa Bay in 5 games. Nailed it! Uh yeah. Pretty predictable, Tampa Bay just didn’t look comfortable in this one, and the Senators came prepared.

Prediction: “Carolina defeats Montreal in 7 games.” – Reality: Carolina defeats Montreal in 6 games. One game shy. Carolina wins four straight to take the series in 6 games. Montreal nearly stole this series away from Carolina after winning the first two games. But Carolina switches goalies and Cam Ward wins his first four playoff starts.

Prediction: “New Jersey defeats New York in 5 games.” – Reality: New Jersey defeats New York in 4 games. A game shy again. I thought there would be a little fight in the Rangers. Instead Jaromir Jagr fakes a shoulder injury when things go bad. And when Jagr is out, where is the rest of this team? Guess it was all Jagr this year for the Rangers.

Prediction: “Buffalo defeats Philadelphia in 6 games.” – Reality: Buffalo defeats Philadelphia in 6 games. Can I call it or what? An injured Peter Forsberg is not quite the dismantling of the Flyers like the Rangers were without Jagr, but it was a factor. Flyers didn’t even show up for game 6 getting murdered 7 to 1. Ouch.

As far as the Eastern Conference goes it went just how I predicted with a few surprises here and there. At first I was concerned that Carolina wasn’t going to escape that series with Montreal since I have them winning the Cup this year. But all is well, so far.

Western Conference

Prediction: “Detroit defeats Edmonton in 6 games.” – Reality: Edmonton defeats Detroit in 6 games. Right number, wrong team. Edmonton was clearly the team that worked for every goal, every hit, and every save. Dwayne Roloson was the Oilers savior in this series. I knew the Red Wings would let their overconfidence be their down fall (they awarded the President’s Trophy before the season ended for crying out loud), I just thought it would be in the second round.

Prediction: “Colorado defeats Dallas in 7 games.” – Reality: Colorado defeats Dallas in 5 games. Efficient. Dallas just didn’t look like it was ready for the Avalanche at all. I figured that this would be a hard battled series, instead it was a minor glitch in Colorado’s machine to make it deep in the postseason.

Prediction: “Calgary defeats Anaheim in 5 games.” – Reality: Anaheim defeats Calgary in 7 games. Way off. The Ducks seemed to put it together for the playoffs. A lot more than I thought they were. Although the Ducks have played well, Calgary’s offense was missing. Can’t win if you don’t score.

Prediction: “San Jose defeats Nashville in 5 games.” – Reality: San Jose defeats Nashville in 5 games. Nailed it. Anyone could see that the Predators were becoming predictable as the year moved on. San Jose is playing good hockey right now, and I don’t see signs of that changing.

Okay so my Western Conference pick were a little off, but who would have guessed that Detroit would be surprised by Edmonton before this series was played. Even some Oilers fans were given this series up and talking about next year. Instead in a dramatic 3 period of game 6 in Edmonton, the Oilers scored 4 goals, sealing the Red Wings fate.

My overall grade on my picks: B-

All of the series have had their moments. I can’t wait for the playoffs to start up again. I will have to think about the games coming up and we will go for our fearless predictions once again.