Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Into The Crytal Ball Round 2

Well, I went 6-2 in the first round, only missing the Ottawa Senators’ victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings’ victory over the Calgary Flames, but, in fairness, the Flames were just one shot away from Game 7. With the second round getting underway tonight, it’s imperative to update my crystal ball.

Eastern Conference

Conference Semi-finals

(1) Buffalo Sabres vs. (6) New York Rangers:
How much of the Rangers’ manhandling of the Atlanta Thrashers was due to the Thrashers’ own playoff inexperience is an open debate, but you can’t deny that the Rangers looked very good in doing it. The Sabres, on the other hand, weren’t *as* great in defeating the New York Islanders, but they didn’t have to be, as Buffalo was clearly superior. A lot will be made about how Sean Avery will affect the Sabres, but this series will again come down to talent and again there’s just no comparison. The Sabres may lack a Jaromir Jagr or a Michael Nylander, but their third and fourth lines are far better than the Rangers’, and Chris Drury has really come on as a capable playoff leader. The Rangers will make this a series, but it’ll be Buffalo coming out on top. Buffalo 4, NY Rangers 2.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (4) Ottawa Senators: Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Ottawa looked great in the first round, winning in five games against an opponent they clearly outmatched. Yeah, happened last year against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and in Round 2, they were similarly smoked by Buffalo, continuing a run where the Senators have yet to defeat a team after they defeated them (they did beat these Devils in 1998, but the Devils got payback in 2003). Sure, the Senators look like a quality Stanley Cup contender after knocking off Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, but the Penguins were inexperienced and the Devils are proven playoff champions. Let’s also not forget that while Ray Emery is good, he’s not Martin Brodeur. The X-Factor will be how focused the Devils will be in this series, because they were inconsistent in beating Tampa Bay this year, but like all champions, they got the job done. The Senators might make this go seven, but that’s as close as they’ll come. New Jersey 4, Ottawa 3.

Conference Finals

(1) Buffalo Sabres vs. (2) New Jersey Devils:
Ryan Miller vs. Martin Brodeur, the Sabres’ high-flying offence against the stingy Devils defence. On talent alone, Buffalo has the edge, but New Jersey is a different beast than the Rangers will be, and will probably give Buffalo a run for their money. However, what was consistent in the Sabres’ games against the Devils was how many chances they created, and, no matter how good New Jersey may be on defence, their offence can’t match against Buffalo. It’s going to be a tough series, but Buffalo should come out on top. Buffalo 4, New Jersey 3.

Western Conference

Conference Semi-finals

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (5) San Jose Sharks:
Detroit vs. San Jose, fondly remembered for those who remember the Sharks’ upset win in 1994, but this isn’t an upstart Sharks team. Legitimate Cup contenders for the second straight year, they again clobbered a Nashville Predators team that just didn’t have an answer for the Sharks for the second straight year. The Red Wings were similarly good in dispatching the Calgary Flames in the first round, but the Sharks have more talent than the Flames do. This one will again go seven as it did in 1994, with the same result. San Jose 4, Detroit 3.

(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3) Vancouver Canucks: The Ducks may have gotten by the Minnesota Wild, but that Wild team is woefully thin on talent and the Canucks are not the same. Vancouver may have had problems scoring against the Dallas Stars, but when it mattered most, the Canucks took advantage, snapping a streak of six straight losses in elimination games with a convincing 4-1 win in Game 7 against Dallas Vancouver simply has more talent than the Ducks do, because Anaheim are still just a one-line team and the Canucks can boast two solid scoring lines and two decent checking units, which should handle Teemu Selanne and Andy MacDonald quite easily. The Ducks may try to muck it up against the Canucks in an effort to throw them off their game, but that will just put them in penalty kill mode, and the Canucks’ power play is due. Expect a series but don’t expect this one to go the distance. Vancouver 4, Anaheim 2.

Conference Finals

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (5) San Jose Sharks:
These two teams are, without a doubt, the class of the West, so it should be fitting that they’d make it to the Western Final. Both teams have stellar goaltending, decent offensive depth and great checking units. What this’ll come down to is depth, and the Canucks are a hair better than the Sharks, especially in net. Evgeni Nabokov may be a world-class goaltender, but Roberto Luongo is still the better goaltender and that will be the ultimate difference. Vancouver 4, San Jose 3.

Stanley Cup Finals

Buffalo Sabres (East #1) vs. Vancouver Canucks (West #3): This series will come down to the Sabres’ superior offensive depth against the Canucks’ superior goaltending. Yes, the Sabres beat the Canucks 4-3 in a shootout in January, but that was with Dany Sabourin in net. The question then is whether or not Luongo can handle the added pressure on his net. He won’t have faced a team quite like Buffalo in the run-up to the Final, but he has shown time and again this season that he can handle the pressure. However, that may depend on whether or not the Canucks can score enough to relieve him of that, and that’s not a certainty with Miller at the other end. It’ll come down to the wire, but it’s Buffalo’s year for the Cup. Buffalo 4, Vancouver 3.



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