by Brian Duff
-- Leafs TV
With baseball season in full swing, I shouldn't be too disappointed with a .500 average on my predictions for Round Two. But I am.
After praising the Ducks and Wild, I failed to pick either to advance to the Conference Final.
So, with a playoff mark that now stands at 9-3, it's time to regroup and prepare for the Final Four as we've never seen it before.
Ottawa vs. New Jersey
I'm not sure whether it's age, sleep deprivation, or the medication I'm taking, but I don't plan on complaining about this matchup.
| Duffer thinks Jersey can score enough to come out on top. |
Yes, these teams can play stifling defence. Yes, the goaltenders are among the leagues' best. But why does that automatically mean we're about to be bored to tears?
One thing I find watching games now is that I appreciate more and more the work ethic that goes into strong defensive zone play, not to mention aggressive fore-checking and relentless puck pursuit. If there's no scoring, that's fine. Watch for the one-on-one battles, or the strategy that goes into a breakout or a dump in. It may not appear on the score-sheet, but to see the tireless work that goes into every shift can be fascinating and should be applauded.
And with all that said, I believe the Devils can score, so it should not be the mismatch offensively that some are forecasting.
Both clubs are averaging 2.7 goals per game in these playoffs. (Of the remaining teams, Minnesota leads with an average of 3. The Ducks are scoring 2.4 per game.) Neither the Senators nor the Devils have been pushed to the limit so far.
That will change now.
Although Ottawa looks ready to take that next step, my pre-season prediction had the Devils in the Final. Why change now? New Jersey in seven
Minnesota vs. Anaheim
While others will protest by simply clicking off their TVs in favour of warmer weather, I plan on lugging a 13-inch monitor, complete with rabbit ears, out onto the deck to enjoy even more of this year's playoff run.
And I couldn't be happier for the Wild and the Ducks.
| Duffer likes what he's seen from the Wild and their goaltenders. |
But I wish people would stop saying this is the shocker of all shockers and that it will lead us to the end of the NHL as we know it.
These two teams are pure quality, representing the ultimate definition of T-E-A-M.
Great coaching, exciting offensive stars, reliable defencemen, consistent goaltending, and a belief in one another are trademarks of both.
Both had 95 points, and both were exceptional down the stretch when it mattered most. If you're a true fan of the game, how can you not be intrigued by the opportunity that has presented itself for Paul Kariya, Steve Rucchin, Steve Thomas and the Ducks.
And while many of you were appalled by how the Florida Panthers clawed their way into the '96 Final, don't even think of lumping the Wild in with them. This Minnesota team has more speed than most, along with perhaps the Art Ross, Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy winner of the future in Marian Gaborik (not to mention this year's Conn Smythe). Their power play is all-world right now, and the Wild's unheralded defensive corps seems to be good enough.
As was the case with the Flyers in Round Two, we'll soon learn just how banged up these competitors are, with all eyes squarely on Dwayne Roloson. But then again, if he's hurt, they'll just toss the ball back into Manny Fernandez's court, like they did to close out the Avalanche in Round One.
On paper, the Mighty Ones appear to have the edge in depth.
Where it counts, how can you question either side?
Unable to go against a team that is 6-0 when facing elimination this spring, I offer up this wild prediction. Minnesota in six
See you in two weeks for the Lemaire Bowl!