By Chad Huebner
Sorry, NHL execs, no Ovechkin-Crosby matchup for you in the playoffs. That’s what would’ve happened had Washington pulled out a win at home in Game 7. It looked like that’s what was going to happen, right? At least I thought so after they pulled out Game 6 with four straight goals in the third period, and also when they scored first in Game 7 (teams are now 10-2 when scoring first in Game 7s).
This postseason marks the sixth straight time the Stanley Cup Finalists from the previous year won’t even get another chance. The writing was big and bold on the wall for Ottawa, while defending champ Anaheim might’ve taken Dallas for granted, and now might become another one-hit wonder like Tampa Bay, Carolina or Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
If you thought the first round was quite something (answer: it was), then you’ll really like what’s coming up in the semis. You have two teams coming off of seven-game marathons, and two teams playing for the first time in over a week in the Eastern Conference. You have a couple of divisional foes that can both make a solid claim as the second-best team in the Western Conference. Oh, and there’s a very, very familiar playoff matchup that makes me think it is 1996 all over again.
Before I get to my picks, I’d like to apologize to the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars. I totally underestimated the both of you. For the Rangers, I just thought the New Jersey Devils would be more playoff-savvy and take you down pretty quickly. Instead, for the second straight year, you upset a pretty good team, even without Sean Avery waving his stick in the air like he’s at a rave stoned out of his gourd. As for the Stars, okay, perhaps the people of Dallas do know you exist. It’s a simple fact that power plays can win championships, and you shut down a team that was good on the PP in the regular season. Marty Turco finally came through in the postseason, but does he have what it takes for what lies ahead? Let’s see.
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
1. Montreal Canadiens (47-25-10) 6. Philadelphia Flyers (42-29-11)
2007-08 Season Series: Canadiens 4-0
Last Playoff Clash: 1989, Conference Finals, Montreal won 4-2
It’s been a long time since either of these teams won the Cup. It’s been a long time since these teams have faced each other in the playoffs (see above). It’s been a long time period. Being an Old School when it comes to sports, I think back further than the 1989 series. I think of the 70s, when the Flyers, the Broad Street Bullies who would just win on ugly looks alone, looked like they would go on winning with their fight first, fight later, fight later some more and then when all else fails, beat up their grandmother approach. Then come along the Canadiens, Le Habs, the flashy ones led by Guy LaFleur and his flowing locks zipping up and down the ice. Flash beat Ugly in the Cup Finals, and continued to keep on winning with a more open game. Who knows where we’d be right now had the Canadiens not stopped the Flyers’ dominance? Dave Schultz as the NHL commish? I shudder at the thought.
Fast forward to the present, and some things have changed, some have stayed the same. Though not bullies anymore, the Flyers are indeed physical, and even after a grueling seven-game series (in which they saw their 3-1 lead evaporate and needed to win an emotion-packed game in D.C. to move on), they should give the Canadiens a run for their money, or their Price (hyuck, hyuck!). Speaking of the rookie sensation, don’t fret too much if he loses a couple of more games this series. To keep up the comparison between Price and Roy/Dryden in terms of rookie debuts in the playoffs, Roy lost five games in his first try (but still managed to win the Conn Smythe). But the Canadiens are also coming off of a series in which they too led 3-1, but instead dominated the Bruins in Game 7. It should be a fun series to watch, in which both clubs were once the dominant institutions in the NHL, but have had to claw and scratch their way back, trying to break the stranglehold of the Detroit-Colorado-Dallas era.
My Prediction: Canadiens in six, as they carry the torch very high for all of the Great Dominion (not that Dominion, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans!)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (47-27-8) vs. 5. New York Rangers (42-27-13)
2007-08 Season Series: Rangers 5-3 (two OT wins by New York)
Last Playoff Clash: 1996, Conference Semifinals, Pittsburgh won 4-1
It’s rare to see teams with long layoffs battle each other in the next round. There might be a slight bit of rust in Game 1, but the Pens have youth on their side. But don’t think the Rangers are a bunch of old men waiting for the next bus, they just have more experienced people at the controls. The Pens are out to prove that their time is now, that the Lemieux-Jagr era is over and that the Crosby-Malkin era is in full swing. The Rangers are trying to prove they’re this good to make it this far for the second straight season. They certainly proved me wrong, Lundqvist especially, as the young guy schooled the seasoned warrior in Brodeur.
Speaking of Jagr, this’ll be his first postseason series against a former team. Now that should be something when the Rangers play in The Igloo. . . or should I say Igboo? Again, it’s not the Pittsburgh-Washington matchup we were salivating all over ourselves for, but this series should still be pretty entertaining, especially for the Pittsburgh fans.
My Prediction: Pens in six, as another chapter in The Crosby Story is written (and if it isn’t it should be by someone. . . like me? Hello, Crosby’s agent, whoever you are, let’s have a nosh over some pirogues.)
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
1. Detroit Red Wings (54-21-7) vs. 6. Colorado Avalanche (44-31-7)
2007-08 Season Series: Red Wings 4-0
Last Playoff Clash: 2002, Conference Finals, Detroit won 4-3
Forsberg-Sakic-Foote, Draper-Osgood-Lidstrom. Is this 2008 or 1998? All you’re missing is Claude Lemieux to come out of retirement, though I think he’d be shot on sight the moment he stepped on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. Though it’s been a while since these two sides butted heads (among other body parts) in the playoffs, it feels like they’ve been battling each other every year. No one forgets a good, heated rivalry.
The big question for the Red Wings is Osgood or Hasek? Solid goaltending is another key to the playoffs, but is it possible to rotate two pretty good goalies, have one spell the other when things gets rough, just like relievers in baseball? If it works, run with it. Otherwise, this’ll be one of the main bones of contention for Detroit and their frustrated quest to find success in the postseason after a great regular season.
My Prediction: Red Wings in seven, with both teams wishing the U.S. would have free healthcare, just this once.
2. San Jose Sharks (49-23-10) vs. 5. Dallas Stars (45-30-7)
2007-08 Season Series: Tied 4-4, (one OT win and one shootout win by San Jose)
Last Playoff Clash: 2000, Conference Semifinals, Dallas won 4-1
The Sharks, and J.R. in particular, proved they could win when it counted when they beat the Flames in Game 7. It probably didn’t hurt that Flames head coach Mike Keenan has a penchant for pulling goalies if they show even the slightest bit of a slump, thus the insurance goal on CuJo. The Sharks are a perennial playoff team, but people should stop labeling them as a perennial Stanley Cup winner, especially when they’ve only reached the Conference Finals once in 10 tries. Meanwhile, the Stars have at least one championship and have reached the Cup Finals twice in their Dallas existence. But like San Jose, they haven’t gone beyond the second round in eight years. It’s a meeting of a couple of underachieving clubs, and if Dallas had home ice advantage, I’d give the nod to them. But after watching the Sharks pull out a Game 7 at home, I’ll give them the edge in what should be another grueling, seven-game tour through hell and back for them.
My Prediction: Sharks in seven, and maybe they’ll finally realize that that orange in their unis has got to go, GOT TO GO!
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