AWAKE & DREAMING

Thursday, April 20, 2006

NHL PLAYOFFS - EASTERN

After a blackout season which was lost due to disagreements between the league and the player's union, one would have expected the fans to have resentments towards the NHL teams and stay away. Not to be - the 2005-06 season has seen wonderful attendence and exciting games. Now that the regular season is over, the playoffs will begin on Friday for the Stanley Cup - the toughest trophy to win barr non. I will try to give a review for the playoffs, adding my thoughts on the strengths and weakness of the 16 teams that are linedup for glory in the quaterfinals. The lineups are :
Eastern Conference Quaterfinals -
(1)Ottawa Senators vs (8)Tampa Bay Lightning
(2)Carolina Hurricanes vs (7)Montreal Canadiens
(3)New Jersey Devils vs (6)New York Rangers
(4)Buffalo Sabres vs (5)Philadelphia Flyers

EASTERN CONFERENCE

The Ottawa Senators, going into the playoffs have only one worry and that is a major one. Their storied award winning sure bet to become a Hall of Famer goalie 41-year old Dominik Hasek has not yet recovered from injury. They have Ray Emery who did wonderfully well in Hasek's abscence to lead the NHL in most wins in a calender month. But the worry is understandable as Emery is a rookie - will the pressure get to him? Mike Morrison will be backup until hasek is fit. The Sens have an excellent defense herelded by Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips. Anton Volchenkov & rookie Andrej Meszároš who is having a great debut year will be great support. Upfront, Ottawa has the dynamic trio of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza (who has matured into a playmaker) and 50 goal Dany Heatley. No problems should be there in terms of creating and scoring goals as Patrick Eaves, Antoine Vermette & especially Mike Fisher have had career years. Bryan Smolinksy will be able support along with Chris Kelly & Chris Neil. Ottawa are favs to reach the Cup finals. They face defending champs Tampa Bay.

Carolina are back in the playoffs after failing to make it in the last two seasons. the previous year (2001-02) they reached the finals only to lose to the Red Wings. The No.1 choice in goalie Swiss keeper Martin Gerber is a concern as he has had a poor showing in the last 5-6 games. Youngster Cam Ward will provide backup. Their defense core looks much better with Glen Wesley, Aaron Ward,
Bret Hedican, Niclas Wallin & Mike Commodore there to block shots as well as being capable of getting the odd goal. Upfront Eric Staal had a coming out year, although he slowed down a bit during the last few weeks. Captain Rod Brind'amour will provide the experience & leadership along with Doug Weight & Cory Stillman. Ray Whitney also has had a good year and there will be goals from Justin Williams & Matt Cullen but the Hurricanes are missing the fire of Eric Cole who was injured earlier in the season. Carolina almost made it to the top of the east but had to settle for the second seed. They face Montreal.


When you mention the New Jersey Devils, the first thing that comes to mind is stingy defence. Well, that was not the case from October till January as the Devils struggled to settle their defence after losing Scott Neidermayer to the Ducks and with Scott Stevens retiring. Martin Brodeur recovered by January to once again provide consistent playoff caliber goaltending. Scott Clemmensson gets to play so rarely that he should be raring to go if given the chance. the defense is a tight-knit group of Colin White, Tommy Albelin, Paul Martin, Richard Matvichuk & Brian Rafalski. They have started to get stingy as the old Devils defense in recent games. Scott Gomez & Brian Gionta provided a ton of goals for new Jersey in a deadly tandem and if Patrik Elias gets 100% fit then he will also be very dangerous. Jay Pandolfo, Zach Parise & John Madden will be able supporting and try to get some goals as well. But it is the goaltending that sets this team apart. They face local foes New York Rangers.


Daniel Briere is a co-captain along with Chris Drury for the Buffalo Sabres. When he was injured the Sabres struggled a bit and recovered after he came back. Brier will spearhead a team that has hard working players who really gel as a unit. Derek Roy, Ales Kotalik, Chris Drury, Jason Pominville, Maxim Afinogenov will also provide goals to the team. Jochen Hecht, Thomas Vanek will support as well in offense. The defense will be headed by Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder & Jay McKee. The whole team plays as one without relying on huge salaries or stars and it will take great play to unhing that unity that they have. Rookie American goalie Ryan Miller, who is considered the future of not just the Sabres but also of the US national team is the starting goalie but fomer No.1 Martin Biron is almost as consistent in goal and had a wonderful year as a backup compared the last three. That gives the Sabres coaching & management staff some luxury just in case one goalie gets injured. The Sabres will face the Philadelphia Flyers.


The Flyers had a great February but it all came down the following month. Simon Gagne has established himself as a top goalscorer and he would have scored 50+ goals if he hadn't got injured. The Flyers will look to him to provide the majority of goals and to Swedish superstar Peter Forsberg to provide oppurtunities for him. Forsberg has also had a migling injury that has kept him out of a few games this season. Mike Knuble also had a great year scoring 30+ goals. Jeff Carter & Mike Richards, two rookies had great debuts and will be the secondray scoring unit along with Sami Kapanen, R.J. Umberger & Petr Nedved. Donald Brashear will be the enforcer for the Flyers. Defense wise captain Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, Kim Johnsson, Joni Pitkanen & Chris Therien will be a solid group that will try to block all. They have Eric Desjardins back from a long layoff due to injury but it remains to be seen if he can retain his former glory. And in goal, the Flyers are lucky to have two really good keepers. Robert Esche will be the starter but it was a close call between him and backup Antero Niittymaki. Either one could handle the pipes as good as the other. They face the Sabres.

For a team that was picked to finish dead last in the 30 team NHL, the Rangers have done extremly well to end up as the 6th seed in the East. They did not do well in the last few games; although they lead their division for some weeks, they ended up 3rd behind the Devils & the FLyers. But getting to the playoffs is reward enough for NY. A big surprise for the Rangers has been the stellar performance by rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Although short on playoff experience, the Swede will be bouyed by the gold medal he won along with his countrymen in the Olympics. Kevin Weekes, the former Carolina Huricanes goalie, is the backup man. On defense the tough playing Darius Kasparaitis & Tom Poti will lead, with Michal Rozsival, Marek Malik, Sandis Ozolinsh & Jason Strudwick being the other prominent players. A finalist of the MVP of the regular season, Jarimir Jagr is the biggest reason for the Rangers finishing as high as they did, just losing out on the scoring & highest goals scored titles in the last two matches. Petr Prucha, Petr Sykora, Michael Nylander, Marcel Hossa & Steve Rucchin will support Jagr to create and score goals. Jason Ward, Dominic Moore & Blair Betts will provide ample support. The Rangers face their local rivals New Jersey.

The Canadiens, with all their history weighing upon their shoulders, have had a strong streak of wins before losing 2 of 6 towards the end. They traded former MVP & top goalie, Jose Theodore to the Avalance in exchange for David Aebischer, who has not sparkled since the move. Hence the starting goalie will be Frenchman Cristobal Huet, who was brillaint in leading the team since he started getting games instead of Theodore. In defence Mathieu Dandenault will be looked upon for guidance as he was part of three Stanpley Cup wins while with the Detroit Red Wings. Sheldon Souray, Craig Rivet, Andrei Markov & Mike Komisarek will join him in blocking shots as protecting their goalie. Captain Saku Koivu leads a team of attackers who will need to score quite a few goals if they want to progress and do well. Michael Ryder was the top goal scorer & Mike Ribeiro, Jan Bulis, Alex Kovalev & rookie Christopher Higgins are all capable of banging in a few. Richard Zednik, Radek Bonk & Alexander Perezhogin will provide the backup. The Canadiens will have to step up if they want to beat their quaterfinal opponents Carolina.

The defending champs, the Lightning, just about managed to squeak their way through to the playoffs. It would have been a big shame if they would have been the first defending champs not to defend the Cup in the playoffs the following season since the Devils in 1996. To get past the first round, Tampa needs big goals from their big three. Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards & Martin St. Louis will have to be the same force they were in 2003-04 when they seemed the best trio in the NHL. Ryan Craig has had an outstanding debut season. Support is required from Fredrik Modin, Vaclav Prospal, Chris Dingman, Rob DiMaio & Ruslan Fedotenko for goals and assists. In defence Darryl Sydor, Cory Sarich, Nolan Pratt, Dan Boyle & Pavel Kubina will do the opposite and prevent many pucks from leaking through to the goal area. Which provides a dilema for the coach - neither his started John Graeme nor backup Sean Burke have shown enough consistency in goal to bring confidence from their team. The edge may go to Burke since he is more experienced. But they had better shapeup as they will be facing the Sens who have a lot to prove and see this as their year.



Song for the day - "Weight" - COLLECTIVE SOUL

1 Comments:

  • At 8:56 AM, Blogger HLS said…

    Your post was well written and quite informative. You are obviously a person who is not afraid to make predictions. I am a Canadiens hockey fan whas little joy since they last won the Stanley cup in 1993.I still have great memories. See my post of April 20th "MONTREAL CANADIENS, Wonderful Memories on my Bog "Politics and th Law" at hladdie blogspot.com

     

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