And now the second season begins, and it should be a classic. Two months of — what we wish the rest of the season was like (although, to be honest, the last couple of weeks were pretty good, too).
Here in the west, there are no underdogs, there can be no cinderella, no upsets. the teams are too closely matched. Of course, having said that, we’re going to lose at least two teams in the first round that will consider that a season failure. that’s how strong the west is.
My cut on the matchups:
Detroit(1) vs Calgary: For a team that “snuck” into the playoffs and eliminated Colorado at the last minute, the Flames are a dangerous team. This series comes down to whether Kiprusoff can outplay Hasek, and whether Hasek can stay healthy through the grind of the series. Detroit has more offense, but Calgary has younger legs. It can go either way, honestly, but I’ll pick Calgary in 7. Why? Mostly a hunch, honestly. I just think the young legs will win ot.
Anaheim(2) vs. Minnesota(7): this one could be interesting, in the way a good pitcher’s duel is in baseball — it could go 7 games, each one 1-0 in overtime. But I think the goaltending in Anaheim, plus the Selanne-Penner-Pronger-Neidermeyer talents, will win out. I’ll take Anaheim in 5, but toughly fought. Anaheim was the ONE team I didn’t want to see San Jose play in the first round, mainly because while they handled Selanne pretty well, it seemed Penner gave them fits and he was a key factor in the season series.
Vancouver(3) vs. Dallas (6): Is Turco up to the task of taking Dallas deep into the playoffs? Maybe. But playing against Luongo, does it matter? I’m not so sure. I really like the canucks, and I really like how they match up against Dallas. I’ll take Vancouver in 5.
Nashville (4) vs San Jose (5): flip a coin. It’s hard to quantify advantages here. I could give a slight edge to San Jose goaltending, but it’s very slight. I think San jose is a little faster, a little bigger, a little more physical, but Vokoun and Kariya and Peter Forsberg have even more to prove than Joe Thornton does. I just hope there’s enough left of the winner to go deep, but these two teams could take each other apart such that the winner can’t survive round two. I’ll take six games, and flip a coin (San Jose, heads. please). And, of course, whoever wins out probably sees Anaheim in round too. Joy.
My choice out of the west: San jose, followed by Anaheim, followed by Vancouver, followed by Nashville. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the eight get on a roll and come out of the west.
Eastern Conference: Not so tight, and without the strength in goal across the board. But still some interesting match ups.
Buffalo (1) vs. Islanders(8): the Islanders made the playoffs — good for them. Now, will they win a game? I hope so. But Buffalo in 5.
New Jersey (2) vs. Tampa (7): As long as Brodeur stays healthy, it’s no real contest. New Jersey in 5.
Atlanta(3) vs. New York Rangers (6): Congrats to the thrashers for making the playoffs. Good luck to them, because I think they can take the Rangers, but this will be the closest matchup in the east. Rangers could well win this, but I’ll go Atlanta in 6.
Ottawa(4) vs. Pittsburgh(5): and let’s not forget how amazing it is that the Penguins are playing in the playoffs at all. In theory, Ottawa should win this fairly easily, but the Penguins are playing with someone else’s money (so to speak), and have nothing to lose, and that’s scary for the opposition. If they get on a roll, watch out. But I’ll go for Ottawa in 6, if only because I’m planning on betting with my senators-fan friend if they go deep, so I hope they do.
My choice out of the east: it’s buffalo’s to hand back. I don’t think they will. If they do, I’d bet on Ottawa, with Atlanta an interesting dark horse.