Popsicle Brothers Report (Part Seven)

By Michael-Louis Ingram & Gary Norris Gray
Updated: April 14, 2009

CALIFORNIA — Now the National Hockey League has cut the number of teams to the Sweet 16. By the end of the next two weeks it will be down to the elite eight. Now America will see the best hockey of the year.

This year, five of the six NHL original teams made it to the playoffs. This bodes well for the NHL as only the Toronto Maple Leafs did not make it this year, which will likely predicate a shakeup in the Maple Leafs front office.

Eastern Conferencetheast Division in the East Conference. They play the Montreal Canadians another member of the Original Six.

The Bruins will go as far as Yelle, Savard, and Recchi will take them. If Tim Thomas fails in net it is nice to know you have veteran Manny Fernandez to go into the nets. Bruins have tough defense and Zdeno Chara has been a beast all year.

The number two seed Washington Capitals clinched the Southeast Division and finished second in the Eastern Conference. Ovechkin keeps proving that he is better then Pittsburgh’s wunderkind Sid Crosby, and Mike Green is proving he’s the best offensive defenseman this side of Paul Coffey.

The Capitals’ Russian crew (Alexander Semin must play well) has Washington on track to play the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. This will be a very interesting series because of the contrasting styles and contrasting momentum. The Caps are hot the Rangers are not; and Henrik Lundqvist will be called upon to win at least two 2-1 victories if the Broadway Blues are going to advance.

The New Jersey Devils clinched the Atlantic Division title and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey should go very far in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals because of the 50 game absence of Martin Broduer. The Devils have won the last four games and solidified their defense but still need work before the playoffs begin.

New Jersey beat their playoff opponent Carolina 3-2 in overtime Friday night. The Devils have had command lead of this series all season at 3-1, but Carolina’s Eric Staal has been white – hot over the last couple weeks, and the ‘Canes went 12 -3 down the stretch. Cam Ward is a Stanley Cup goalie, so New Jersey must get it together on team defense if they expect to advance.

The Philadelphia Flyers clinched the fourth seed with 99 points and a playoff spot by beating the Florida Panthers Tuesday night. The Flyers lost the season home and home series against the hated New York Rangers, but now end up with their dance partners in the conference championship from last year in the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Most teams don’t want to play this team because of Philly’s big front lines, who will push you around if you let them. Philly leads the league in shorthanded goals and finally has a decent power play; but the question remains who will be in net during the playoffs – Martin Biron or Antero Niittymaki?

Since the tragic death of Pelle Lindbergh, the Flyers have been unable to solve the problem of a franchise – quality goaltender; and this Achilles heel may come back once again to haunt Flyer fans further along the path to the Cup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins with 99 points are now 20-3-4 since the coaching change to Dan Bylsma. The Penguins squeezed into fourth to pick up the home game advantage, but we’re still not impressed with this team all year long they have not (with the exception of Evgeni Malkin), played with fire needed to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe the coaching change has helped them but still see them as one and done this year.

The Battle for Pennsylvania will be interesting – Eastern Pa. vs. Western Pa. should be a hot rivalry that would whet the appetite of the TV Gods; but now we can only hope Versus can find Pennsylvania on the map…

The Winners

The Carolina Hurricanes with 97 points have won nine in a row and 12 straight at the RBC Center. The ‘Canes lost their season ending game Saturday at New Jersey. Carolina has to steal a game at the Rock. Don’t see Canes winning this series, Jersey in five games.

The New York Rangers clinched a playoff spot and eighth seed by beating the Philadelphia Flyers twice in one week. They have worn out Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Many New York fans still question the acquisition of Sean Avery by the Rangers.

Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund have not played well in the Ranger free fall this year. The New York Rangers could be one and done this year in the Stanley Cup Finals playing the hot Washington Capitals. Washington moves on…

The Montreal Canadians with 93 points have a tough end to their season with the lose of defensemen Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider, who are finished for this season. Canadiens could be very tired going into the playoffs and the Boston Bruins maybe too much for them. The Bruins get the nod.

Western Conference

The San Jose Sharks, leaders of the Pacific Division (117 points) and President’s Trophy winner slid into first place with losses by Boston and Detroit. The NHL can now send the President’s Trophy to San Jose, California. The Sharks surprised everybody losing Saturday night, against the Los Angeles Kings 1-0; however San Jose has righted the ship after a midseason slump and seems to be ready for the playoffs Mike Grier and Claude Lemieux return this week in the nick of time.

The Sharks have the best home record and they might need that playing their first round against the dangerous Anaheim Ducks who are the League’s best road team with 27 victories.Cheechoo, Clowe, Setoguchi, and Thornton are scoring again. Evgeni Nabokov the last line of defense in net looks more relaxed and ready for the playoffs.

The Detroit Red Wings are mad because they could have garnered home ice advantage throughout the playoffs while the Sharks went into a tail spin last month. Detroit never could catch San Jose. The Red Army returns to the playoffs again. Surprise — not! This team is loaded with savvy veterans and nothing seems to bother them.

The Red Wings only weakness is their erratic goaltending – Osgood and Conklin have not been stellar, but Osgood will get the nod because he has the champion pedigree and the ring to show for it.

You must have good goaltending to win the Stanley Cup this could be the downfall of Detroit. They play the upstart and underdog Columbus Blue Jackets, who will be getting their first shavings of playoff ice in team history. Well, you can’t say they won’t be legit after having to face Datysuk, Lindstrom and company.

The Vancouver Canucks with 100 points are playing the St. Louis Blues. Vancouver battled the Calgary Flames for their division with by jumping over the Flames the last day of the season, and Canucks’ goalie Roberto Luongo is the kind of goalie who can carry a team to the Cup.

The Chicago Black Hawks are the surprise team in the Western Conference with 104 points. The Hawks ended their season correctly winning four of the last five games. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has reconstructed “The ‘Bulin Wall,” keeping the Hawks in almost every game he has been in net. Jonathan Toews, Martin Havlat, Jonathan Kane and Dustin Bygflien will lead this team in April.

The Calgary Flames, second in the Northwest with 96 points, ended this season with a home-and-home series against their Northwest rival the Edmonton Oilers. The Flames are our dark horse to upset either San Jose or Detroit.

We love watching brother Jarome Iginla play. Big Olli Jokinen will clear the way for the Flames and Miikka Kiprusoff will stand tall in net. They’ll play the Chicago Black Hawks.

The St. Louis Blues with 92 points stormed down the stretch to knock out the Nashville Predators, but their reward will be playing The Vancouver Canucks. Two teams that America will finally get to see.

The Columbus Blue Jackets with 92 points made history with its first-ever playoff berth. People in Ohio are very proud of this team for those who are too young to remember Ohio had a team called the Cleveland Barons. This team is so much better then the Green and Red Clad Barons.

The Anaheim Ducks with 91 points grabbed the last spot and now play San Jose, as the Northern California vs. Southern California war is on again! In the past there have been some great playoffs.

This could be Captain Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Bret Hedican, and Teemu Selanne’s last big chance at Lord Stanley’s Cup. Don’t think they can beat the Sharks this year. San Jose in seven a very tough series.

We also say Calgary over Chicago in six, Detroit in five over Columbus, and Vancouver in six over St. Louis.

Game On!!!!