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The Popsicle Brothers: Pre-Playoff Preview
The teams are listed in the order of the Eastern and Western conference standings entering Friday night’s action in the NHL.
In the East
1. The Washington Capitals should win this first round. Their offense is on speed dial all the time and the question is who can slow them down. It looks like very few defensemen can stop the great No. 8, Alex Ovechkin. Goaltending will be the key in beating the Caps. Jose Theodore must shine for Caps to move on to second round. What line will defend Washington ‘s speed line of Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble?
2. The Buffalo Sabres are a rock steady team that never gets too high after a win or too low after a loss this is a team nobody talks about, winning the cup. Old soldier and Goal Brother Mike Grier should guide the Sabers into next the round with his years of playoff experiences. They have many talents like Olympian Goalie Ryan Miller and Tyler Ennis who has been a scoring machine the last few games.
3. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins are slumping at the wrong time. The Pens are stumbling into the playoffs and that’s bad. It’s very difficult to defend a championship. Pittsburgh is finding that out the hard way. With a bulls eye on there backs they have been hit with injuries all year long. The Crosby, Guerin, Dupuis line might have to work overtime to move this team on to the second round. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has not had a stellar year and might have to show his skills in April for Pittsburgh to move on. The Pens will put Crosby and Malkin together if they can’t score.
4. The New Jersey Devils are always in the hunt for the Cup. Their future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Broduer and the stiffening New Jersey defense with Goal Brothers; Mark Frazier, Bryce Salvador, and Colin White will make this possible… Still think the Devils miss Scott Gomez on offense. Gomez now plays north of the border with the Canadiens. There are former Devils all over the league and many teams have adopted forms of the famous New Jersey left wing lock defensive style. If New Jersey does not go through another scoring draught they should move on to second round no matter who they play.
5. The Ottawa Senators are red hot winning 12 out of 15 games with their big Bull Moose line Daniel Alferdsson, Jason Spezza, and Milan Michalek. This should give any opponent bruises at the end of a seven game series. They have unknown and untested goalie Brain Elliott. This is a very interesting team. Maybe this team can bring the cup back to the Canadian National Capitol they are carrying the Maple Leaf flag in the east.
6. The Philadelphia Flyers still have goaltending issues with Johan Backlund and Brian Boucher sharing duties. Flyers first line Carle, Pronger, Briere, Richards, and Gagne have to bounce or check the enemy into the boards to get the team started. Until that is solved Philadelphia will not win first round or the cup. The Broad Street Bullies do not scare anyone. They also have to stay out of the penalty box, their Achilles heal, if Philly wants to advance to second round, a tall task in Wachovia Center.
7. The Montreal Canadiens are beginning to look like New Jersey with ex-Devils Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. The Habs’ defense Marc Andre Bergeron and Andre Markov have to show up and Goalie Carey Price might have to stand on his head a few times for the Canadiens to move on to the second round.
8. The Boston Bruins have a fine defense unitound match up. G oalies Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask have to really step it up in net now. The question is can the Black and Gold score. V eterans Marc Savard, Miroslav Satan, and Marco Sturm must carry and guide this young team. Zdeno Chara will continue to make plays around the net.
The one of biggest disappointments in the East would be the Atlanta Thrashers. Many hockey fans taught they would make it to Stanley Cup playoffs after the big trade with New Jersey — forward Llya Kovalchuk for defensemen Johnny Oduya and others — but they fell flat and could not score. Wanted to see first round draft choice, Goal Brother, Evander Kane, in the playoffs.
The Thrashers need a solid goal tender to proceed into the Stanley Cup.
The NHL gave Atlanta a tough April schedule.
They will play Washington twice, Pittsburgh twice and New Jersey. What a way to end the season!
Another disappointing team would be the New York Rangers who should have played so much better this spring. New York might have to dismantle this overpaid and underachieving team. Sean Avery has not produced and Goalie Henrik Lundqvist zones in and then fades out from time to time. They follows Lundqvist’s lead and energy. Not impressed with Head Coach John Tortorella because he has too many temper tantrums on the bench and obviously isn’t concentrating on the game at hand. Where is cool, calm, head coach Emile ‘The Cat’ Francis when you need him?
Our predictions first round will be posted next week. One thing to remember, there is a distinct difference in the way the Eastern and Western Conference teams competes. Most good eastern teams play the grind them out, hard clean checks to the boards, keeping the score low.
While in the west, it’s the wild, wild, west, a shootout at the O.K. Corral, wide open hockey with many scoring opportunities. The Washington Capitols are the exception in the East and the Detroit Red Wings in the West.
In the West
1. The San Jose Sharks could be back on track. The Sharks have had two shutouts out of three games. They love playing at home in the “Shark Tank”, which was not the case earlier this year.
Everybody in the Bay wants to play Colorado because of the recent bad history with Detroit and their So Cal cousins in L.A. San Jose has figured out how to score by mixing and matching their three lines. The Sharks first line Thornton, Heatley, and Setagochi or Marley no longer skate together so watch out. ‘Nabbi’ Evgeni Nabokov also maybe back on his game. This should move San Jose into second round. The Bay Area could be witnessing their first Stanley Cup Final at the Tank.
2. The schizophrenic Chicago Blackhawks would also want to face the Avalanche but would be better playing Detroit to force them to focus each game. Spoiled brat Patrick Kane and ex-Devil John Madden have to show up no matter who they play.
The Hawks goaltending could be an issue again this year. Antti Niemi currently is No. 1 in net but Cristobal Huet should be ready to go if needed. Neither have been stellar. I don’t know how many games we will get to see Goal Brothers Nigel Dawes and Dustin Byfuglien or my favorite Jonathan Towes because of the wacky TV coverage with Versus and NBC.
3. The Vancouver Canucks with their speed line should be interesting.
Goalie Roberto Luongo has not been the same since the Olympic Games two months ago. He seems tired in net. The Sedin twins have their hands full trying to lead this team to first round victory. Canucks have not put big string of victories together until the end of the year. If they can produce, Vancouver will be carrying the Maple Leaf in the west.
4. The Phoenix Coyotes are the second hottest team in hockey and the West’s best team at the end of this year. Several no names mark this team led by with veteran goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. This is a very strange situation because the league could influence this team next year as Phoenix is owned and operated by the NHL offices. They’re still seeking new ownership and still might move north back across the Canadian border. It would be the reverse of the Winnipeg Jets moving to Denver and becoming the Avalanche. They went on to win the Cup a year later and this could happen to the Coyotes next year.
5. The Nashville Predators, led by Jason Arnott, Joel Ward, and Jordin Tootoo, should give any team a rough series. My two favorite Predators are Marcel Goc and Colin Ward, a pair of ex-Sharks.
I still don’t understand how San Jose parted with them. Nashville runs hot and cold still can’t see hockey in the hills of Tennessee but the Predators are a dangerous team because many overlook them.
6. The Detroit Red Wings are the team everybody wants to avoid in the playoffs. Detroit has been climbing up the playoff ladder the past three weeks.
Veterans like Todd Bertuzzi, Kris Draper, Tomas Holstrom, and Nicklas Lidstrom knew when to wake up. The Wings have fixed their goal tending issues by benching Chris Osgood for rookie Jimmy Howard. The big question — Has this playoff run taken too much energy out of them to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs and survive the first round?
7. The Los Angeles Kings are a Stealth Bomber team with vast improvements at the end of this season. I love seeing how goalie Jonathan Quick and Goal Brother Wayne Simmons have added speed and scoring power to L.A.’s offense. It’s something they haven’t had in years. I also love to watch Jarret Stoll and his play on the ice. This will be the first time the Kings have been in the playoffs since 2001, in their old Black and Silver days at the Forum.
8. The Colorado Avalanches have my second favorite goaltender in the Western Conference, the Matrix man, Mr. Craig Anderson. He’s held the fort in the nets for the Aves this year, he has earned the nickname.
Milan Hejduk, Adam Foote, and Paul Stastny the veterans must score goals to keep this team moving to the next round.
The one of the biggest disappointments in the Western Conference are the Anaheim Ducks. It appears that their Stanley Cup window just closed this year. They are too old to battle every night let alone stay on the ice for the playoffs. The athletic speed of other teams killed the Ducks this year.
Teemu Selanne, Aaron Ward, Scott Niedemayer, Todd Merchant and Saku Koivu are all 15 year vets.
Anaheim also has to decide which goalie they want to place in net. Jonas Hiller could not replace ‘Giggy’, Jean Sebastian Giguere and it seems like Curtis McElhnney did not show up at all this year. We will see considerable changes in this Southern California hockey team next year.
The San Jose Sharks will be very happy to hear that because the Ducks just owned their Northern California cousin the past two years knocking them out of the playoffs last year.
The second would be the Calgary Flames. This team flirted with greatness last year with a great Stanley Cup playoff run. After January the Flames could not put a string of victories together to move up in the Western Conference standings.
Miikka Kiprusoff did not have the spectacular season like he had last year and back up goalie Vesa Toskala did not step up to fill the void. Many will miss seeing the great skating and scoring talents of Goal Brothers Jarome Iginla and Jamal Mayers .