Hello to South Florida from Southern California!!
My latest playoff journey brings me to the left coast for the start of the Western Conference finals between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Edmonton Oilers. I'll be covering this series on NHL Radio with my former ESPN partner Darren Pang (for those of you with XM Radio, you can tune in on channel 204). We had a "warmup" game in the second round as we called Game 5 of the Edmonton-San Jose series at the Shark Tank. I believe it was the first time I had done play-by-play of a hockey game on radio since my last game as the voice of the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League back in April of 1985! It was an interesting experience and I remembered right away how different it is to call a game on radio. It's a challenge to be the eyes and ears of the audience in describing all the action. No wonder Goldie and Red Deer Randy have so much fun!
Both conference finals should be great hockey to watch and very difficult to predict the outcome. The Oilers have the only number one goalie, Dwayne Roloson, who has played in a conference final. He was with the Wild in '03 when they lost in the conference finals to Anaheim. The other three teams each have rookies in net: Cam Ward (Carolina), Ryan Miller (Buffalo), and Ilya Bryzgalov (Anaheim). The Ducks current backup, J.S. Giguere, led Anaheim all the way to Game 7 of the Staney Cup Finals in '03 before losing to the Devils. It's interesting that two of the teams started these playoffs with a different number one goalie: Martin Gerber was the man in Carolina until he lost the first two games of round one to Montreal and J.S. Giguere was replaced by Bryzgalov for Games 5 & 6 of the opening series vs. Calgary.
In the west, the Oilers have beaten the top seed Red Wings and then dispatched the top remaining seed in the second round, San Jose. I think Chris Pronger has been the most dominant non-goalie in these playoffs. But the Ducks have beaten the Calgary Flames (the team everyone said was the most feared in a seven game series) and completely dominated a very good Colorado team. I'm picking the Ducks in a long series. Their young players: Perry, Penner, Getzlaf, Lupul, Beauchemin, Kunitz and Bryzgalov have been terrific.
In the east, the Sabres beat the top seed Senators while the Hurricanes disposed of a Devils team that had won 15 straight. Carolina is one of the few teams that can match Buffalo's quickness, so I'm picking the Canes in another long series.
If I'm right, that sets up a matchup between the '02 Finals loser (Carolina) an the '03 Finals loser (Anaheim). If that happens...I'll take the Ducks in 6.
I'll "talk" to you all again from Edmonton.