Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Round Three And More

I have been working on a number of things as of late, and will have some very interesting items to present in the near future. I have been looking for something to write about on this very blog that will change the way in which hockey is viewed, and I think I've found that topic. More to come on this in the future. Today, however, is the eve of the Conference Finals in the NHL Playoffs which means that I need to throw out my predictions so I can be laughed at once again. There is also some NHL news, some World Championship news, and some random hockey news that I want to explore as well. I am very excited for the Battle of Pennsylvania, so let's get to the meat-and-potatoes of this article!

Eastern Conference

#2 VS. #6
When two teams don't like each other, it makes for a fierce rivalry. I explored some of the best rivalries in the NHL in an article entitled "Best Rivalries". Pittsburgh and Philly made an appearance there, and, with a Stanley Cup Finals invitation on the docket, this rivalry will only go into overdrive. Believe me, this is going to be the best series in the playoffs if both teams make good on their promises, and that bodes well for hockey fans!

Philly will have to rely on getting strong support from their secondary scorers while playing up-tempo, hard-hitting hockey. In their first four games during the regular season, the Flyers hammered the Penguins at every turn and won. They'll need to establish a physical presence to control the Penguins' stars. Martin Biron will be relied on to keep the Flyers in games, and shut down the potent Pittsburgh lineup.

Pittsburgh will continue needing their big stars to step up. Crosby, Malkin, Malone, Hossa, Sykora, and Gonchar will need to use speed and skill to overcome the physical game that Philadelphia will play. Marc-Andre Fleury has been outstanding while steady, and will be counted on to keep Briere and Umberger off the scoresheet. Scuderi, Gill, and Orpik will have to match the physicality of the Flyers to keep Philly's forwards looking over their shoulders.

While I expect a lot of nastiness in this series, I can't see Philadelphia outplaying the Penguins over seven games. Pittsburgh will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in six games over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Western Conference

#1 VS. #5
Detroit and Dallas seems like a mismatch on paper due to the overwhelming talent that Detroit has at every position. However, I think this series will come down to one position: goaltending.

Detroit has been rolling four lines and getting huge contributions from guys like Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler, and Niklas Kronvall, and they'll need those guys to continue chipping in. Where they haven't had an overwhelming performance thus far is in between the pipes. Chris Osgood has been steady and reliable, but hasn't stolen a game yet in the playoffs. Dominik Hasek is probably done in the playoffs unless something significant happens to Osgood. Considering Dallas' success thus far in scoring key goals in the playoffs, Osgood will have raise his level of play in order to keep the Stars at bay.

Dallas' statistical report reads like it did in the regular season: Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards, and Mike Modano are leading the way. Those four will be counted on in this series. If Dallas is to win this series, they will have to continue winning the special teams' battles. Defensively, Dallas will have to keep the Red Wings from buzzing around Marty Turco, and Turco will be once again have to stand on his head in this series. Can he keep the Stars in the playoffs? Can Dallas pull off another upset?

My guess is that with the talent on four lines that Detroit has, Dallas will have their hands full. However, I have picked against them in the first two series, and they have shocked the hockey world twice. Three times a charm? I'm picking Dallas over Detroit in seven games.

Shock The World: Switzerland has done it again. I spoke of their ability to pull off major upsets in the article entitled "Worldwide Game" and how they scare the other international teams.

Switzerland defeated Sweden 4-2 at the IIHF Men's World Championship today by clogging up the neutral zone and taking advantage of some early goals.

"I think we didn't skate enough... they dictated the game from the beginning to the end," Swedish captain Kenny Jonsson said to The Canadian Press. "I hope this is a good wake-up call that we have to play 60 minutes every game. The only time we played with any desperation was in the last five minutes."

Both Sweden and Switzerland advance to the Qualifying Round which starts tomorrow in both Quebec City and Halifax.

Didn't I Say This?: Slovakia has been sent to the relegation series to play Slovenia in what has to be another disappointing World Championship for that country. I made mention of how they continually fall short in international competitions in the "Worldwide Game" article, and they've certainly lived up to that billing this year.

Slovakia and Slovenia will be battling to see who gets relegated to the Division 1 tournament. The winner of the three-game relegation series will remain in the top division and compete at the 2009 IIHF Men's World Championship in Berne and Zurich-Kloten, Switzerland.

Slovakia desperately needs to win this series. Otherwise, this country's international program may need a major overhaul to right what seems to be a sinking ship.

Didn't I Say This Too?: In a major shakeup to the Toronto Maple Leafs' coaching and management situation, the Leafs announced today that they have fired head coach Paul Maurice, and asked the Vancouver Canucks for permission to speak to recently-fired general manager Dave Nonis.

In the article entitled "Dan Ellis: United Steelworker", I had asked why Toronto had not yet looked into the possibility of hiring Dave Nonis. I had proposed that he would be a good fit for the Maple Leafs.

Am I a clairvoyant? No, not at all. My playoff prediction record would indicate that. However, it sounds like the Maple Leafs might be starting to wise up to the fact that they should start looking at qualified hockey men to run their organization. Dave Nonis may not be the right man for the job, but they should interview him at least. He had a good track record in Vancouver, and might be the man to clean up the mess in The Big Smoke. Good on the Leafs for finally doing something pro-active to help their sinking ship.

Major Loss: Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Team USA suffered a major blow on Tuesday when Jeff Halpern suffered a major knee injury in the game versus Canada. Halpern ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, and is looking at being out six to eight months due to the injury, and will require reconstructive surgery to repair the damage.

The Americans will replace the fallen Halpern with Brandon Dubinsky of the New York Rangers. The Americans will also be adding Jordan Leopold of the Colorado Avalanche this week.

Tomorrow sees the Western Conference Final start in Detroit at 7:30pm EDT. The World Championship also continues tomorrow with Sweden playing Denmark at 3:00pm EDT, and the Czech Republic playing Switzerland at 7:00pm EDT in Quebec City. The other pool sees Canada play Norway at 4:30pm EDT, and the USA plays Germany at 8:15pm EDT in Halifax.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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