Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Quest for the Cup: HoG's Stanley Cup Finals Preview

It's crunch time, boys and girls. The NHL Conference Finals are upon us. This is the segment of hockey playoffs where five or six more people start paying attention, and things get really good. And by things get really good, I don't mean Red Wing victories.

Western Conference

Yes, the San Jose Sharks disappointed once again. Their early-semi-final efforts caved, yielding Detroit passage.
Thus the Wings will face the Anaheim Ducks, a matchup with wonderful results the last time it happened, though now I'm feeling skeptical. The Wings are old. The Ducks are swift and have a ferocious D. This is now all about momentum and experience, though, two qualities the Wings possess. I still haven't been able to wrap my head around what happened to those Sharks. They had the old men in the corner. And they let 'em out. Everybody knows you never let the old men out of the corner.

Nevertheless, look for the Wings to come out in force. Not that the Ducks won't. But the Wings can intimidate with slightly superior goaltending and the ability to beat you to most loose pucks along the boards. Oh. And there's this guy. And this guy. And of course this guy. They got a bit of offensive firepower, too. This could be the matchup of the season, the proverbial super bowl before the Super Bowl, also known as the AFC Championship.

Here's the skinny: Anaheim responds to Detroit's physical game early and surprises them by stymying the Dominator. They take an early series lead, one that the Wings counter by tying it. Enter knock down, drag out games three-six, Anaheim getting edged by two goals in Game Seven. I know. I picked the Ducks to represent the west in the Cup Finals. My picks were thwarted by a San Jose bed-shitting, prey that would've been easy for the Ducks to maim. I don't think they can hang through seven with the elderly. They've surprised us before, though. I'd take a poor pick/Wings elimination any day of the year, but right now, my money's on the red-clad AARP 2007 Central Division Champs.

Eastern Conference

The Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators. Interesting indeed. I keep picking these Sens to lose. They keep proving me wrong, and here they are. I'm sticking to my guns on this one, though. No way, no chance they get out of this series alive. They got lucky with a poor New Jersey Devils showing. Buffalo will eat them alive. Don't get out your brooms; I'm not saying sweep. I expect the Sens to notch a W, maybe even two. But I don't see this one going the distance. The Sabres are too stacked, too fast, too tough, and they mind a better net. And, as I said when these playoffs started, Lindy Ruff had his kids storming when the season opened, fury fueled by last year's post-season defeat.

Here's the skinny: Ruff and company will face their former goaltender for the cup championship. They were so close, too. If only fans hadn't stormed the ice. If only the refs would've maintained control (near the end of the third overtime period, but still) the Dominator might've hoisted the cup earlier. Of course, he got to. With the cheater, even. Ah, how things come full circle, though. Ruff will know the trick to find the twine behind Hasek, and he will teach it to his squad. It'll be like Chuckie getting the best of Gannon all over again. Only on ice.

Check back for Finals game-by-game predictions as the Conference Finals progress.