Panther fans, once again it’s that time of year for me to pick the winners from this year’s 1st round Stanley Cup series. Goldie and I will go head-to-head with our picks.
Eastern Conference Picks:
#1 Buffalo Sabres vs # 8 New York Islanders
No Rick DiPietro, no chance for Ted Nolan’s boys from “Lonk Eyelund”. Lindy Ruffs Sabres had another incredible year..53 wins, 28 wins on the road…some say they play better away from home. Buffalo will attack the Islander’s suspect defense with 4 powerful lines. Speed will be a factor, and the Sabres process all they need. This one will be over quick.
Buffalo in 5
# 2 New Jersey Devils vs # 7 Tampa Bay Lightning
Defence vs “what defense?”. The Devils will try and win every game of this series 1-0. Marty Broduer will be counted on to make the big saves, and Brian Gionta will feel pressure to score every game. Tampa has the fire power in Vinny Lacavalier, Marty St Louis and Brad Richards to win 7-6 every night….just the defense and especially the goaltending can make a “Freddy Krueger” movie seem like Sesame Street with scary thoughts back behind the ‘Bolts blueline. Could be a long series.
Tampa in 7
# 3 Atlanta Thrashers vs #6 New York Rangers
Does home ice advantage make a difference here? I think not. Both teams will lose 2 games in their own “barn”. Kovalchuck will outplay Jagr, and the Thrashers power play will make the boys from Broadway bleed blue. King Henrick will not be the difference, Kieth Tkackuk will.
Atlanta in 6
# 4 Ottawa Senators vs # 5 Pittsburg Penguins
Best series in the East. Penguins won the season series 3-1, but that won’t matter now. Pittsburg has 15 players tasting their 1st NHL playoff action, and feel no pressure. Sidney Crosby will be a handful for Bryan Murray’s Senators, but watch for Wade Redden to step up and be the pillar of Defense for Ottawa. Danny Heatley is coming off back-to-back 50 goal seasons, but what good is it if Ottawa lets in 4plus goals a game. It will be entertaining and full of heart ache.Bryan Murray and his team will be forced to eat “soup and sandwiches” this spring, while Super Sid will keep Steel City rock’n into May with steak and a sharp knife.
Pittsburgh in 7
So, my good friend Red Deer and I go mano a mano in our playoff picks. Well, the "Gold Sheet" will outpick, if that's a word, the "Red Deer" selections. Let's get it on...it's playoff time. Next year at this time we'll be getting ready for Panthers playoff games so this is the last spring we have this much time to write about other teams!
Buffalo vs. Islanders
It appears to be a major mismatch...the high flying, playoff experienced, best regular season team Sabres against the sneak in on the last day of the season, 3rd string playing goalie, no defense Islanders. But...the Isles are hot, have nothing to lose and with Ryan Smyth on board they won't go easy. Plus, a great storyline exists with NY coach Ted Nolan. Before this season he last coached in the NHL 9 years ago with, you guessed it, Buffalo. Now he's back in Buff with something to prove. The Islanders will win 2 of the 1st 4 games before finally being taken out by the Sabres in 6. This will not be an easy opener for Buffalo.
New Jersey vs. Tampa Bay
Moller thinks Tampa will take out the Devils...maybe if they bring back the Bulin wall!
Hey Moles, were you with me all season when our Panthers pounded the Lightning like David Ortiz hitting the baseball against the Yankees??? The Lightning have no D, no goalie and no shot agianst the NHL's best player, Martin Brodeur. The Devils will score just enough and take out Tampa in 5.
Atlanta vs. Rangers
The Blueshirts are looking to win their 1st playoff game in 9 years. They will get that one and then 3 more. Neither team is too strong on the blueline and both have high powered offense, so goaltending will be the deciding factor. NY's Henrik Lundqvist is red hot coming in and the Garden will be rocking. Rangers will not lose at home and take out the ATL in 6.
Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh
The "Former Panthers Series" is the best 1st round series in the NHL. Bryan Murray against Gary Roberts! The Sens reached the conference finals when Jacques Martin was there. Last year without him they were bounced in the 1st round. This will be the same story. What's that saying about you don't know what you got until it's gone? Sid the Kid and his young Pens don't know any better and will pepper the Ottawa net and fill it up like Moller in front of a case of Molson Canadian!!! Marc-Andre Fleury could be this year's Cam Ward in the Pitt net. Penguins waddle Murray and Ottawa out...in 7 games. Murray better not get too much soup...it's hot! Oh, and the Senators will be sorry they didn't pull the trigger for Roberts at the deadline. (By the way, the Cats made a GREAT deal...Noah Welch can PLAY!)
Western Conference Picks:
# 1 Detroit Red Wings vs #8 Calgary Flames
Classic series for goaltenders….Mikka Kiprusoff against the “Dominator” Dominik Hasek. Is anyone going to score a goal in this series? Jerome Iginla vs Nik Lidstrom. The Red Wings have not had too much success with the #1 seed over the years. Last year was a train wreck, losing to the Oilers in 6 games. The Flames are a tough team to figure out. Great at home, can’t win on the road(yet). This will be the shocker in this year’s 1st round.
Flames in 7
#2 Anaheim Ducks vs Minnesota Wild
Pretty evenly matched series. 4 game season series was split in 2. Expect some top-tier goaltending from the Ducks J S Giguere and Minny netminder Nicklas Backstrom. Can Teemu Selanne continue his “Cinderella” season? Can Scott Niedermayer slow down the Wild’s super fast Marion Gaborik? Minnesota’s Brian Rolston could be the star of this series.
Minnesota in 6
# 3 Vancouver Canucks vs Dallas Stars
Just 2 points separated the Canucks(105pts) and the Stars(107pts) this regular season. Both have all-star goaltenders in Roberto Luongo and Mart Turco. Both teams are excellent defensively. Vancouver had the best penalty killing % over the year, Dallas finished strong, going 8-1-2 their last 11 games. Canucks have the advantage of home ice if it goes to a seventh game. Won’t matter
Dallas in 6
# 4 Nashville Predators vs # 5 San Jose Sharks
Does it get any better? Jumbo Joe Thornton against Peter Forsberg. Great until Forsberg twists an ankle, or a back, or a wrist, or a……..Sharks won the opening round matchup against the Preds in last year’s playoffs in 5 games, but the boys from Music City, USA won 3 out of 4 against the Bay Area Brats in this year’s season series. Could be the most physical series in these years’ playoffs. Can the Sharks handle the aggressive Predators through a 7 game series? I think not.
Nashville in 6
Detroit vs. Calgary
There goes Randy and that western Canadian bias picking the Flames to beat the Wings. Ain't gonna happen. Calgary comes limping in, nearly blowing its playoff spot to Colorado after having a huge lead over the Avs. Hasek is playing for a contract and the Flames stink on the road. Winning at the Joe won't happen and the Wings will fly into the 2nd round. The Motown boys bust out the brooms.
Detroit in 4!
Anaheim vs. Minnesota
What a series early on. The winner could win the Cup...and so could the loser! The Ducks have Pronger and Niedermayer in defense. In a low scoring series these 2 will be the difference. Remember what Pronger did for Edmonton last season until his wife put the family pants on and got out of town! Go get "JS Giggy" wit it! Anaheim in 7.
Vancouver vs. Dallas
First off, congrats to Roberto Luongo. He has had a super season and reached the playoffs for the 1st time. Unfortunately, he'll have an offseason of questions about being able to win in the playoffs. His team is led by the Sedins who will both be blanketed like Molller at a CFL night game in December!!! The Stars scoring from the blueline and hard nosed forwards will win it. And watch out for back-up goalie Mike Smith. If Marty Turco doesn't play well early Dallas won't hesitate to go to the bench early. Smith may be the best golaie you never heard of.
Stars shine in 6.
San Jose vs. Nashville
This is a 1st round doozy and the best series after Pitt-Ottawa. The Sharks beat the Preds last season and they will bite Nashville again. The Cheechoo train got on track late in the regualr season and that thing will keep on chugging in the playoffs. San Jose knows how to beat the Preds. Draw penalties and cash in on the power play.