Time for a preview of the Western Conference’s second round (and since I was 8-0 in the first round, you can take these straight to the bank.) One’s enthusiasm is always slightly diminished when one’s primary rooting interest, which looked like a serious contender at the beginning of the year, is hopelessly outclassed in the first round. (They really did leave everything on the ice in Game 6, and it was still only because of Kiprusoff that it was even close.) Bard and Michael, who may be linked or appended later, have no (or only half–sorry about Michael’s angry Penguins. Bring back the scarf!) But if one can’t get over heartbreak, one really shouldn’t be a Flames or Expos fan. Onward:
Detroit (1) v. San Jose (5) This one should be great. In evaluating the Wings , one faces the difficult dilemma: were they really great, or the Flames just really abysmal? A little of both, I guess, but there really is a huge difference between this Wings team and ’04. They’re tough, relentless, gutty, and still have a deep offense, plus Hasek looks healthy. I liked the Sharks more before the season, and you obviously have to love their top-line scoring. They could certainly win. And yet–at times this season they reminded me of the Flames at a higher level of accomplishment, a very good team that should be better. I think the difference will be at the blueline. The Sharks are thin–I still think Hannan is enromously overrated–and not only do the Wings have Lidstrom but Schneider and (amazingly) Chelios played wonderfully in the first round. I wouldn’t bet on the old guys surviving a war with Anaheim, but they’ll win this round. WINGS IN 7.
Anaheim (2) v. Vancouver (3). A similar thing here: do I admit that I was wrong about Turco, or is the Canucks’ offense is really shitty? Again, a little from column A…anyway, if one wanted to be optimistic about the ‘nucks they could be compared to the ’04 Flames or ’03 Ducks–well coached, underrated defense, ace goaltender. But as of now they don’t have a Kariya or Ignila–the Sedins are good but not that good, and Naslund had that ability but hasn’t actually done it for two years. And the Ducks present the kind of challenge that the Ducks and Flames underdogs avoided–a similar but clearly better team. I don’t think there’s any precedent for a team having arguably the league’s two best defensemen, one a burner one a rock, in peak form at the same time. (The Devils were close, but I think by the time Niedermayer fully matured Stevens had slipped quite a bit.) I hate to say this, because I hate Burke, but as long as the two are healthy I think they’re by far the best team in the NHL, and they’ll win this one easily–Luongo isn’t a huge edge over Giguere, and the Ducks are also better offensively and tougher. DUCKS IN 5.
As for the East, because perfection is boring I’ll pick the Rangers in a 7 game upset–for some reason I think the Sabres are a year away, although they’re very good (and in retrospect trading Lydman instead of Warrener was a huge blow for the Flames.) I’ll also take the Senators in 6 in what will be a definitive series for them; I think the Devils, which no longer have an A defense, will have similar problems to the ones they had against Carolina last year.
…Berube’s hogging is here, complete with some valuable historical information about the guy who played pervo stay-at-home defenseman Moe Wanchuk. (“What did ya shay to him, Reg?”) Hopefully in the next round we’ll get more data on Billy Charles-boys, from Moose Jaw, Sakatchewan…