April 7, 2004
Making predictions used to be so much fun. Now 10 teams can brag about a season of 100 points or more and this once light-hearted task has become next to impossible. Nevertheless, I must at least attempt to duplicate last years' relative success.
Tampa Bay vs Islanders
As a growing fan of Rick Dipietro it pains me to not jump on the New York bandwagon as so many have done in the last few days. Simply put, the Lighting have too much scoring depth, a strong enough blueline, and Nikolai Khabiulin--all three will send the Isles to a third consecutive first round defeat. If that's not enough, throw in an aging yet very hungry Dave Andreychuk for leadership, and the coaching of John Tortorella and this one should not go beyond 6 games.
Lightning in 6.
Boston vs Montreal
The B's may have an excuse if the Joe Thornton injury extends beyond the next couple of weeks, but I believe Boston is capable of winning without him in round one. Sergei Samsonov is flying, Travis Green is accepting and succeeding in every role he's been given, the defence is big and mobile, and unless Alexei Kovalev returns to his near 100-point form of three years ago for Montreal, the Canadiens return to the post season will be short-lived.
Boston in 5.
Philadelphia vs New Jersey
For all the negative press this series is getting (boring, tight-checking, clutch and grab, etc.) I can't wait to watch it. It's a terrific rivalry that has produced some of the best regular season games over the past few years. And in case you forgot, it also produced a thrilling rally by the Devils from 3-1 down in 2000 in the Conference Finals, ultimately leading to New Jersey's second Cup.
Brodeur versus Esche seems like a mismatch but I'm will to give the Flyers netminder a chance. If a handful of Devils forwards, beyond the EGG line, come to life (Friesen, Langenbrunner, Kozlov, Hrdina, and Madden) it could spell trouble for Philly. But the same can be said the other way. Roenick, Recchi, LeClair, Amonte, Handzus, Gagne, Primeau and Zhamnov can be a great eight too.
Late nights aplenty, and perhaps a series that goes even longer than that of Toronto/Philadelphia a year ago.
Flyers in 7.
Toronto vs Ottawa
As stated elsewhere on mapleleafs.com, this series is too tough to call. I admire the qualities of both and see no reason why the winner of this series can't go to the finals.
Senators in 6.
Detroit vs Nashville
They have lost in the first round twice in the last three years. In between they won another Stanley Cup. The Red Wings have again dealt with a lot of adversity and yet captured another President's Trophy. At the start of the year I, like many others, predicted an Ottawa/Detroit Stanley Cup. Now is not the time to change.
If you've been a regular viewer of Leafs TV you probably know I have a soft spot for the Predators and am ecstatic for Barry Trotz, Kimmo Timonen, and Scott Walker that they've made the playoffs for the first time. And this rivalry is one that you have to watch. There will be tons of Motor City maniacs in Music City, and Nashville will not roll over.
Senators in 6.
San Jose vs St. Louis
Having met in back to back years (2000, 2001) when the Blues were the favourites, it will be interesting to see how San Jose handles their return to the dance as the number 2 seed. Can Alyn McCauley duplicate his effort of 2002 when he tallied 15 points in 20 games for the Leafs? Are Marleau, Ekman and Cheechoo ready for prime time? Will the Sharks underrated defence be able to handle Tkachuk, Weight, and Demitra now that Blues management has given them a stronger supporting cast (i.e. Sillinger and Savage)?San Jose wasn't expected to finish 2nd. St. Louis was't expected to finish 7th. Seven games should be able to clear things up.
Blues in 7.
Vancouver vs Calgary
Strangely the Bertuzzi incident now seems to have taken some of the pressure off of this Vancouver team, and while rifling through some NHL notes I noticed that Dan Cloutier is 3-0 in playoff overtime games. This series will be tight and low scoring so perhaps Cloutier can match his much heralded yet non-playoff tested counterpart in Miikka Kiprusoff. The Canucks have a better blueline. They also have more scoring even without No. 44. The Flames, having ended their playoff drought, are the nation's sentimental choice.
Vancouver in 6 is the logical choice.
Colorado vs Dallas
Life is rough for the Avs. 100 points and yet nothing but scrutiny at just about every position. Coaching, scoring, goaltending, you name it, people are concerned about it. The Kariya injury didn't help the situation, and the ongoing uncertainty around Forsberg's health makes you wonder. I can't proclaim that Peter will be 100%. If I could, I'd pick the Avalanche for sure.
Dallas looks good for a team that 8 weeks from the end was in tough to make the playoffs.Arnott and Guerin have put up some nice numbers and Marty Turco proved again that the regular season is a walk in the park for him.
It's not quite the Colorado/Dallas matchup of 2000 that was won by Belfour and the Stars, but it is very interesting.
Banking on a fabulous Forsberg ...
Avalanche in 7.