Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Quest For the Cup: HoG's Semi-Finals Preview

Al-right. Giggity, giggity, giggity, even. It's Semi-Finals time, and there're a slew of terrific matchups for this second of four rounds in the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs. First, allow me to say that, after my predictions here, I'm sitting at a 28-15 record, which certainly isn't perfect, but it's not too shabby either, if I do say so myself. Most of the series in the Quarter-Finals had some good competition, and even those that didn't boasted flashes of great hockey in the round that gets underway tonight. This evening, a new era of rivalry will be born. Some teams are tired and sore from round one, which is always the case in post-season hockey, but a new flavor of bitterness, some of which is indeed rooted in the past, will flourish at about the midway point of this collection of four matchups. Let's examine, once the jump has been made.

The West

Anyone who pays any attention to professional sports is aware of the past relations between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings. While much of the Avs' roster consists of throwback superstars, these are far from the days of Patrick Roy and Chris Osgood/every other pretty damn good netmind the Wings have employed over the last 13 years. The Avs are one of a few clubs that surprised me in round one. They struck quick, fell back, and let the Minnesota Wild back in, but then, for the most part, made easy work of eliminating them. Colorado will have no such easy task with this Detroit club. They are, as they've consistently been for over a decade, stacked with nails-for-teeth defenseman, and skilled and talented platoons of forwards. Oh, and some guy named Dominik Hasek plays goalie for them. If the Avs want to see the light of the Conference-Finals tunnel, it'll take more than the miracles of Joe Sakic, the determination of Peter Forsberg, and the swiftness of Milan Hejduk. A good mile-high try, but no wings for the Avs. Detroit wins in six.

Ah, the Dallas Stars. My homeboy Vintage Pancho was stoked to see them send the defending-champion Ducks south for the winter. And, honestly, I was floored. The Ducks skated as if their wings'd been clipped early in the series, and never really came back home to their quick, tough game that brought them the Cup last year. The San Jose Sharks, on the other hand, will be an entirely different matchup for Dave Tippet's club. They're meaner than last year's Ducks, they're tired of early-to-mid playoff elimination, and they may very well have a rejuvenated Jeremy Roenick, a Patrick Marleau playing the best hockey of his career, and a Jonathan Cheechoo ascending to top form. Since they caught me off guard last round, I'll give the Stars two wins in this series, but even though they've had more rest than the Evgeni Nabokov and Co., they can't handle this superior California club. Sharks in six.

The East

Last round, I predicted Sharks/Flames to be the grudge match. This go-round, it's Philly/Montreal. And this is a ballsy pick, given that the Canadiens play the quick/finesse brand of hockey, while the Flyers are more brutish. This sequence of contests will bring out the grit in Montreal, and ask of the Flyers to become larger in the lungs. Philadelphia showed a lot of prowess, and a lot of less-key guys made big plays on big opportunities, and the borderline-amazing play of Martin Biron between the pipes will give them the edge to knock off the number-one seeded Canadiens. Normally, I would never make such a pick, but given that Montreal let an inferior, pesky Boston Bruins club hang around for seven games, that's how I'm calling it. It'll take all seven again, leaving Philly gassed for the Conference Finals, but they'll pull it off. Better luck next year to the Habs.

Finally, there's Pittsburgh/New York. The Penguins handled the Senators, even easier than I predicted they would. I also predicted that the Rangers would lose to the New Jersey Devils, I just didn't anticipate the former Scouts crumbling so easily. The Rangers, nevertheless, look poised to further advance themselves, and Sidney Crosby and Co. will be no easy foe. Both teams are "over-rested," so it's anyone's early game. My thoughts are that Pittsburgh jumps out to an early lead in the series, but then finds they can't keep up with the experienced star power of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. The goaltending matchup is about even in this one, so getting an edge late in the series will lean heavily on veteran leadership. While the Pens have leadership, they are still young at heart. And although it's an odd phenomenon to see New York advancing even one round in the playoffs, I'm going out on another limb and saying that the number-five Rangers send the number-two Pens home late in the series; New York wins in seven.

Take that to the bank and smoke it. Or something like that.


Unknown said...

I'll bet that 90% of the people in the world that "pay attention to professional sports" don't know the first damn thing about the Aves and the Red Wings ... let alone their "storied" history.

Hey, I'm an NHL fan, but don't be foolin' yourself, captain.

I like the Philly pick, but doubt it. The Rangers could win, but I don't think the goaltending is even. Fleury has been inconsistent throughout his whole career. His success in recent weeks is fragile at best. However, their offense can help temper that issue.

The game will come down to the Pens defense. If they stop Gomez, series over in 5. If they don't stop Gomez, then they're in trouble.