Poignant-yet-predictable playoff prognostications

Make no mistake, the Ottawa Senators are the best team left in the playoffs, and they have been the best team since their opening round brush-off of the pesky Pittsburgh Penguins. With their top three scorers placing among the league’s top four in scoring, timely goaltending from Ray Emery, and only three losses hung on their board so far–they’re looking like a mighty fine Stanley Cup-winning machine for the first time outside of prognosticators’ pre-season predictions. As for their opponents the Anaheim Ducks, despite having only one more loss to their name, and coming out of a much tougher Western Conference, they now sport a “Hello we’re the underdogs” label.

Defence has been the name of the Ducks’ game so far in these playoffs, with former Hart and Norris winner Chris Pronger leading the charge and the team in scoring with 14 points. But after finishing ninth in the league with 3.10 goals per game in the regular season, the Ducks’ goal scoring has dried up. In the playoffs, they’ve averaged half a goal per game less, largely due to drop-offs on their top line. Teemu Selanne, who finished third in the league with 48 goals, has only five so far this post-season. Andy McDonald, who picked up 78 points in the regular season, has snagged only seven, including just two assists after 51 helpers in the regular season. And Chris Kunitz, who is unlikely to return in the playoffs, only had six points before he broke his wrist. Though former Calgary Hitman Ryan Getzlaf has been a force of reckoning for the Ducks with 13 points, the Ducks will need more goal scoring from their top line to get their names engraved on the mug.

As for the Sens, their Stanley story is not about their top players pulling a Houdini for the first time in recent memory. But now, secondary scoring has dried up. Behind Daniel Alfredsson, who’s currently third on the team and fourth in the league in scoring, their next-highest point-getters are d-men Joe Corvo and Wade Redden, who have eight points apiece. Trade deadline acquisition Mike Comrie had the hot hand early on, picking up three points in the series against the Penguins and provided the Sens with the backup points-accumulation they needed, but has since disappeared. Comrie has only two points in his last 10 games. If the Alfredsson/Spezza/Heatley line gets shut down by the $14 million-a-year, Norris-nominated tandem of Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, then they’ll need someone to squeak a few goals in.

In the crease, though Anaheim’s J.S. Giguere is the better goaltender, and has the stellar playoff credentials to prove it, Emery has been good when he’s needed to be for the Sens. Giguere, after starting off hot against the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, both teams who couldn’t buy a goal, struggled against the Wings, letting in three goals four times. Though three of those games were Ducks wins, his save percentage dropped from .951 against the Canucks and Wild to .909 against the Wings.

Defence wins championships–or so the old adage goes, and the Ducks hold the edge talent-wise, if not stats-wise in that respect. But the Sens have looked too good in all aspects of their game. The cup is coming back to Canada, Sens in six.

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