Sunday, April 08, 2007

 

Leafs suck, Habs suck, Eastern playoffs

Just a week ago, it looked like almost certainly one of Montreal or Toronto would make the playoffs, and if things really went bad, both of them might get it. At that point I probably wouldn't have even bothered to watch the playoffs. But luckily, the New York Islanders came through to save the post-season after all. On Tuesday I went over the remaining league schedule, and figured out that 5 games had to go just right. The odds were long, but there is always hope. The Rangers came through by beating Montreal, 1/5. The Islanders kept the dream alive with a victory over Toronto, 2/5. The took care of more business by beating Philly on Saturday afternoon, 3/5. Things were looking good, but I knew it would likely come down to the evening's contest between Montreal and Toronto. The Leafs had to win to keep New York's hopes alive, and they did so in a wild back-and-forth game, also eliminating Montreal in the process, 4/5. So it all came down to the Islanders at the Devils. The Isles looked headed to the post-season, yet New Jersey somehow tied the game with less than a second remaining. Jubilant leaf fans lept up from Easter dinner to watch an OT and shoot-out that would decide their fate. The teams traded goals in the first round, but Viktor Kozlov gave the Isles the lead with a second round goal. Ryan Smyth had a chance to bury the game, but missed, putting all the pressure on rookie third-stringer Wade Dubielewicz. Dubie delivered with a poke-check save, and with that, the Leafs and Habs were headed to the golf course, 5/5. Crack out the champagne, because them both being out is my Stanley Cup. But there are in fact two months of playoff hockey ahead of us:

#1 Buffalo vs #8 NY Islanders

History: Not much when it comes to the playoffs. These teams last met in 1980.

Interesting Fact: Islanders coach Ted Nolan returns to face the team that fired him 10 years ago.

Outlook: The Isles celebration might be short-lived. Buffalo has a top-notch goaltender and incredible forward depth. The defence is the only possible weakness, but when you can score 6 goals with ease, that shouldn't matter. New York will be riding high, but it would be a big upset. But as we we've been shown the last few years, just get into the playoffs and anything can happen. You can bet that's what Ryan Smyth will be telling the boys in the locker room. Still, the Islanders may be spent after charging hard just to snare eighth place.

Prediction: Buffalo in 5.

#2 New Jersey vs #7 Tampa Bay

History: The Devils defeated Tampa in the 2003 Eastern semi-final.

Interesting Fact: The Devils won the Cup in 2000 after a late-season coaching change.

Outlook: These teams are polar opposites. The Devils are low-scoring and dependant on goalie Martin Brodeur to win games for them. The Lightning have 50-goal scorer Vinnie Lecavalier and former Hart Trophy winner Martin St. Louis, but their goaltending might be the worst of the 16 playoff teams. It's generally safer to bet on good goaltending over high scoring, but I've had the feeling New Jersey was cruising toward an upset for some time now. The coach firing wont save the Devils this time. Tampa Bay will be hungry after winning the Cup and losing early last year.

Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6.

#3 Atlanta vs #6 NY Rangers

History: None to speak of

Interesting Fact: The Thrashers are in the playoffs for the first time ever; New York hasn't won a playoff game since Gretzky and Messier led them in 1997.

Outlook: The Rangers are quietly on a roll heading in, without a lot of fan-fare. The team looks more mature after last year's post-season debacle against the Devils, and Brendan Shanahan's presence cannot be under-estimated. Atlanta is in a similar position to that of the Rangers last year. They struggled down the stretch and almost missed the playoffs entirely, but righted the ship just in time. The concern has to be the fact that they're led by Ilya Kovalchuk, Keith Tkachuk, both selfish individuals, and Marian Hossa, who has a history of choking with Ottawa. Atlanta is more skilled on paper, but the playoffs are a different animal.

Prediction: New York in 6.

#4 Ottawa vs # 5 Pittsburgh

History: They've never met in the playoffs.

Interesting Fact: Will the Ottawa playoff choke show carry on another season?

Outlook: This series has been highly anticipated, given the fact that it has been probable for about a month now. It's the same old story in Ottawa: will guys like Alfredsson, Spezza, Redden, and Heatley come through after great regular seasons? Sidney Crosby is good enough that he'll almost certianly deliver, but it will be interesting to see how other youngsters like Malkin and Staal handle the playoffs. The Penguins were not even expected to make the playoffs, so they've really got no pressure to speak of. Marc-Andre Fleury vs Ray Emery in goal may be the deciding factor in a series that is very tough to call, but you can't help but overlook the inexperience of Pittsburgh's blueline.

Prediction: Ottawa in 7.

Comments:
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