Stanley Cup playoffs preview


The East– Jon Roe

[1] Buffalo vs. [8] New York Islanders

The New York Islanders snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season and earned themselves the toughest first round match up in the east in the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are the deepest and most talented team in the NHL and if the Islanders take this series to six or seven games, it would be shocking. The Islanders don’t have the depth on defence or on offence to keep up with the Sabres, and with top netminder/indentured servant Rick Dipietro out for at least the first game, their chances are slim.

[2] New Jersey vs. [7] Tampa Bay

After a year, nothing much has changed. The Lightning go into the playoffs as a low seed with questionable goaltending against a top eastern conference team. The Devils have the fourth best goals against average in the NHL and boast Martin Brodeur, the best playoff goaltender. Though the Lightning have two of the best offensive players in the NHL, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, and a playoff performer in Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, those player’s big contracts have made for a pretty slim line-up elsewhere. There are questions about the Devils’ offence, but defence is king in the playoffs, and the Devils have plenty of that.

[3] Atlanta vs. [6] New York Rangers

The Thrashers have finally earned their first playoff berth, but unfortunately they’re matching up with one of the hottest teams in the NHL in the Rangers. Jaromir Jagr was a non-factor in last year’s sweep by the Devils, but is healthier this year, and barring another major playoff injury, should be key for the Rangers in this series. Though Atlanta has plenty of offensive fire power, only the Tampa Bay Lightning have a worse goals against average of the 16 teams who made the playoffs.

[4] Ottawa vs. [5] Pittsburgh

Many thought Sidney Crosby couldn’t step into the league and become as regular of a point producer as he has been over the last two years, and many were surprised by his Art Ross winning season this year. Again critics will question if Sid the Kid can perform in the playoffs, having never played a post season game at the NHL level, but he’ll prove everyone wrong with a solid offensive series. Beyond the Sabres, the Senators are probably the deepest team in the NHL, but they still lack the playoff grit to put them over the top. The Sens made a mistake in not pursuing Gary Roberts at the trade deadline, and it’s going to cost them in this series.

The West– Ryan Pike

[1] Detroit vs. [8] Calgary

Seemingly every year Detroit finishes high in the standings and gets knocked out in the early rounds of the playoffs. The Wings will have to overcome their injury woes and stigma as playoff choke artists. Meanwhile, the Flames are continually stuck in the shadow of the miracle 2004 Cup run, toiling under expectations they cannot possibly reach. While the ’04 team failed due to lack of healthy bodies, and the ’06 version fell due to lack of scoring, the latest edition seems to have filled both those holes. A full-time farm team has allowed minor-leaguers to step in for injured players, and the addition of Alex Tanguay has re-ignited the Flames’ offence.

[2] Anaheim vs. [7] Minnesota

Last year’s conference final runner-ups , the Ducks were good. Then they improved by trading for Chris Pronger. Last year, Ilya Bryzgalov stepped in when goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere under-performed. This year, both goalies are standing tall. Factor in a seemingly-ageless Teemu Selanne head-manning the offence and the Ducks look like a Stanley Cup-calibre team. The Wild rebounded from a disappointing 2006 season by posting their best season ever. This year’s Wild are much more balanced than past squads, and received stellar goaltending from rookie Niklas Backstrom when starter Manny Fernandez got injured. It’s yet to be seen how Backstrom responds to the pressure cooker that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.

[3] Vancouver vs. [6] Dallas

The Canucks haven’t gotten past the second round since their run to the Cup Finals in 1994. None of those Canucks teams, however, have boasted a goaltender as good as Roberto Luongo or an offence featuring the likes of the Sedin twins, and Markus Naslund. While they have been derided as a team with a hot goalie and little else, much like the 2004 Flames, the Canucks will go far as long as Luongo can keep it up. Dallas isn’t as good as in past years. Mike Modano is a year slower, older and closer to retirement, and the mix of young and old on the team has created a strange dichotomy. Once the younger players step up, Dallas will be a very good team.

[4] Nashville vs. [5] San Jose

The Predators look to avenge their early exit at the hands of the Sharks last year. This year, Nashville has a healthy Thomas Vokoun and Peter Forsberg, who can dominate a series. Forsberg hasn’t played a full 82 games in the NHL since 1996, though. San Jose’s offence boasts Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo who provide them with plenty of opportunities to put the biscuit in the basket. The Sharks defencemen aren’t the greatest, but they give the netminding tandem of Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala enough support to keep them in every game.

Picks:



Ryan Pike:

West:

Calgary over Detroit

Anaheim over Minnesota

Vancouver over Dallas

Nashville over San Jose

East:

Buffalo over NY Islanders

New Jersey over Tampa Bay

NY Rangers over Atlanta

Pittsburgh over Ottawa

Jon Roe:

West:

Calgary over Detroit

Minnesota over Anaheim

Vancouver over Dallas

San Jose over Nashville

East:

Buffalo over NY Islanders

New Jersey over Tampa Bay

NY Rangers over Atlanta

Pittsburgh over Ottawa

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