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NHL Playoff Preview

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Various other commitments will prevent the usual lengthy analysis, but for fun some quick picks and comments.

West

(1)Det v. (8)Nsh Nashville seems to be a trendy upset pick, and with Lidstrom, Rafalski and Holmstrom all seeming less than 100% and the goaltending dubious I would give Detroit very little chance against San Jose or Anaheim. But I think they’ll get through the first round; Nashville is a similar but inferior team, and I don’t like that matchup. Wings in 6.

(2)SJ v. (7)Cal I’d love to make a case for my beloved Flames here. With one of the top 3 players in the league, a Norris nominee and a recent Vezina winner Calgary has more front-line talent than the typical 7 seed. I always think this is San Jose’s year and I’m always wrong, and people generally overrate late season performance, so in itself I don’t think San Jose’s red-hot finish portends a non-competitive series. But, still, I can’t do it. The Campbell trade — shoring up the overrated defense that has been San Jose’s Achilles‘ heel — really was big, and Calgary is just too mistake-prone on defense and too thin up front to beat what’s probably the best team in the league right now. Sharks in 5.

(3)Min v. (6)Col I hate to pick Quenville over Lemaire, and I like Backstrom over Theodore. But between Minnesota’s depleted defense and Forsberg playing his best hockey in a while I don’t see the Wild winning (and a Colorado/Detroit series would be fun.) Avs in 7.

(4)Ana v. (5)Dal The sooner what has become one of the most loathsome franchises in pro sports goes down the better, but I don’t see it happening here; Anaheim can beat Dallas at its own defensive game and I still don’t believe in Turco. Ducks in 5.

EAST

(1)Mtl v. (8)Bos You have to pick one massive upset for this to be any fun, right? So I’ll be the only person to pick this one. It reminds me a little of Edmonton/Detroit a couple years ago; a team with a defenseman like Chara can always be dangerous, and Thomas is pretty good. And, although I’m probably wrong, I’m still not convinced that the Habs are as good as their record. Bruins in 7.

(2)Pit v. (7)Ott Two weeks ago, Ottawa looked like a live dog (again, “momentum” being Latin for “bullshit.”) Then two of their best forwards got hurt. I don’t see Marc-Andre Fleury being the goaltender of a championship team, but the Hossa-sweetened Pens blow away the Sens and get their revenge to start. PENS IN 5.

(3)Wsh v. (6)Phi I’ll be rooting hard for the Capitals, having seen them twice live this year and been impressed, and I also think they’ll beat the Flyers. Even a Flames fan has to concede that Ovechkin is the runaway MVP, and he has more help than you might think. (I especially like the Federov trade; the fact that he’s no longer a superstar shouldn’t obscure that he’s still a tremendous defensive center.) For once, the automatic #3 seeded team is more talented than the #6. CAPS in 6.

(4)NJ v. (5)NYR Another classic rivalry matchup. It’s probably foolish to bet against Brodeur, but I think the Rangers’ talent edges up front will be decisive. Plus, if I pick against them bean will never forgive me! So RANGERS IN 6.

UPDATE: World’s most dangerous professor and Eastern Conference expert Michael Berube sends on the following predictions:

Rangers over Devils in 6. Yes, both defenses are good and both offenses have been anemic all year. The difference is, the Rangers’ offense actually can score when they need to, and they have two lines to the Devils’ one.

Penguins over Senators in 6. Maybe five! It’ll be payback for last year. The Sens started off brilliantly this year and have been strangely mediocre in the second half. They’ll stay mediocre, even though I have to like Cory Stillman as a last-minute pickup more than Hossa. Stillman is one of those undersung second- or third-liners with a hard nose and a knack for the timely goal, but he’ll be playing golf with the rest of the Senators in about two weeks.

Canadiens over Bruins in 5. Nice to see Beantown back in the hunt. Now get them out of here so we can move on the Habs-Pens conference final.

Capitals over Flyers in 6. Maybe five! Jeez, would I hate to be playing the Caps right around now. A very average team through March, they’re suddenly, what, undefeated in regulation over their last 11 or 12? And they have that guy, whatsisface, with the 65 goals. I hear he’s good. Anyway, the sooner the Flyers and their thuggish West-Coast counterparts the Ducks are watching the playoffs on TV, the better for the game of hockey.

UPDATE THE SECOND: When I picked the Sharks, I was unaware that Greg Kihn would be singing the national anthem…

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