Welcome back for another edition of End to End, delayed by an unfortunately short playoff run for the St. Johns Fog Devils in which yours truly was quite tied up. Apologies to those who read regularly, I dont anticipate any similar problems for the remainder of the season. This week will be a quick look at each first round matchup, who I think will win, and why. Well start in the East.
(1) Buffalo Sabres vs. (8) New York Islanders
Buffalo has been the toast of the East before the season even started, and I dont anticipate them slowing down for an eight-seed thats been fighting for the past two months just to make the playoffs. The Islanders would have had a hope if Rick DiPietro was healthy, but they certainly wont with Wade Dubielewicz getting the nod. Buffalos incredible depth up front, exceptional goaltending, and extra year of playoff experience should make this a very short series.
Sabres in 5
(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Tampa Bay Lightning
This is an interesting matchup, given Tampas wide-open style and the historically boring play of the Devils. As good as Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Marty St. Louis are, the Lightning have horrible goaltending, bad defense, and limited depth up front not exactly a recipe for another Stanley Cup. And then theres the issue of that guy Brodeur standing in the New Jersey cage, hungry for another Cup of his own.
Devils in 6
(3) Atlanta Thrashers vs. (6) New York Rangers
Even with Sean Avery, the Rangers are not nasty enough for a long playoff run. Atlanta is full of guys who have played in the springtime before for other teams, as well as one of the best goalscorers in the NHL in Ilya Kovalchuk. Kari Lehtonen has something to prove, while none of the heartless Rangers seem to have ever taken that stance about anything. Avery, Henrik Lundqvist, and Brendan Shanahan will all play for keeps, but they arent enough to take four of seven away from a better team.
Thrashers in 5
(4) Ottawa Senators vs. (5) Pittsburgh Penguins
It looks like rebuilding time is over in Steeltown and theyre looking for Lord Stanley. This matchup is intriguing, as it pits a bunch of kids who are too stupid to realize they had no business getting this far against a franchise that is notorious for choking in the postseason. As much as I like the moves the Pens made at the deadline, and the fact that theyre youth will keep them loose and enjoy the ride, Id liken the Sens to the NFLs Colts this season able to dominate in the postseason now that they arent supposed to. I picked Indy to win the Superbowl at the start of the playoffs, and Im picking Ottawa to oust Cinderella Sid and his boys.
Senators in 7
(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (8) Calgary Flames
Detroit always seems to end up with a Presidents Trophy at seasons end, but rarely parlay it into success that matters. Calgary, on the other hand, doesnt seem overly concerned with the regular season and simply look to make something happen in the playoffs. With the road woes seemingly behind them, and more scoring this season than theyve had since they last won the Cup, I think the Flames will be too much for Detroit this time around.
Flames in 6
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Minnesota Wild
I havent been sold on the Ducks this season, right from the hype leading in. Its just something about the teams makeup, like theyre good but not as good as people think. Minny on the other hand, has flown under the radar, but are probably the best team in the NHL that no one talks about. Two great coaches, two great rosters, two great goalies, one great series. Get ready to go wild Minnesota, I think the Ducks are going to be the first step in something special.
Wild in 7
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Dallas Stars
If you want to talk about a boring series that will make you want to cry, this is definitely it. Vancouver cant score and simply look to shut down the opposition on a nightly basis greatly aided by one of the worlds best keepers in Roberto Luongo. Dallas does the same, but with slightly more flair. I cant stand either one of these teams, but I think Luongo has waited too long for this chance to let an average team take it away from him.
Canucks in 5
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) San Jose Sharks
As bad as Vancouver/Dallas will be, Nashville/San Jose should be that much of a treat. Both teams have speed to burn, insane depth, and unsung defense corps, as well as two goalies each that are of NHL-starter caliber. The series has the potential to steal the show in the first round, and it should be very, very close. Flip a coin on this one if you like, Im going to take San Jose and see what happens.
Sharks in 6
Those are my predictions for the NHLs first round. To anyone who recalls my season opening predictions on who would make the playoffs, I called 10 of 16 playoff teams correctly, including three right down to their seeding. Not a great percentage, but not that bad overall I guess. Also, at that time, I picked the Minnesota Wild to beat the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams are in, now its just a matter of how far they both can go.
Anyway thats it for me this week, you can reach me for comment by emailing email@example.com. Enjoy the madness of the first round and Ill talk to you all in a week.
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