Thursday, April 20, 2006

NHL Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference

Western Conference picks, as well as some more information, can be found here.

(1) Ottawa Senators
(113 pts.)
(8) Tampa Bay Lightning
(92 pts.)
Senators won season series, 4-0
Game Times

Doomed in the second-round without Hasek, the Senators have enough left to snuff out the Lightning, with a few goals to spare. The Bolts are one of just two playoff-bound teams to record a negative goal differential for the season, thanks to the ‘choice’ of starting either John Graham or Sean Burke. Even Emery is better.
Pick: Ottawa in 6.

Ottawa has dominated the season series, but are depending on Ray Emery, a veteran of only 45 NHL games, to carry them in the playoffs. John Grahame has been shaky for the Bolts this year, and I have no reason to believe that he can steal a couple of games in this series, which will need to happen for the champs to move on.

The Bolts should come close to matching Ottawa's firepower, but on defense, I give the edge to the Sens (Chara and Redden will match up great against Lecavalier and Richards) and I consider Emery to be the better of the two starting goalies in this series. This will be a tough series, and I don't count on whoever wins it to move on past the second round.
Pick: Ottawa in 6.

The Senators have lived up to expectations this year and have conquered the Eastern Conference, despite a lackluster ending to their season. Their poor play as of late can probably be attributed, at least partially to, the amount of injuries the club has suffered since the Olympic break. Losing your starting goaltender for the remainder of the season and three of your top d-men for three or four weeks is enough to cause any team a good number of problems. Despite their recent woes, however, things are looking up for the Senators. Ray Emery has been playing well in Hasek’s absence and Redden, Chara and Phillips are all set to return for the playoffs. The addition of the long absent Martin Havlat, who was having a decent season before breaking his hand in late November, will provide even more offensive depth for the Sens, which is a scary though for any team in the East.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay seems to have lost its punch without Nikolai Khabibulin between the pipes and the emotional leadership of Dave Andreychuk. The Lacavelier/St. Louis/Richards line has put together another good season, but they alone will not be enough to see this team through to a series win.
Pick: Ottawa in 5.

"Here’s to all that gorgeous snatch in FLA."
--Slap Shot

Not even close. My boy Ray Emery impresses everyone, and the healthy Senators crush the insipid Lightning.
Pick:Ottawa in 4.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: Tampa Bay wins 4-1.

(2) Carolina Hurricanes
(112 pts.)
(7) Montreal Canadiens
(93 pts.)
Hurricanes won season series, 4-0
Game Times

Heart: Huet can be the third incarnation. Head: The Habs stumbled into the playoffs, and were outscored 25-9 in their four games against the ‘Canes. Carolina is the real deal. They’ve learned how to win without Cole, and withstand the horrific one-way play of Mark Recchi, who plugged one hole in the dike and then punched two more with his 4-3 and –7 performance over 19 games. Bench Recchi, and the ‘Canes can win this in four.
Pick: As it stands: Carolina in 6.

Carolina was the surprise team of the year, staking out an early lead in the Southeast, and holding it (and fighting for first overall in the East) all year. Martin Gerber has been a revelation in net, and Eric Staal has emerged as a franchise player in just his second year in the NHL. They have great depth up front, with veterans such as Doug Weight, Ray Whitney, Rod Brind'Amour, and Mark Recchi supporting Staal. Their defense, while not spectacular, is steady and reliable, not unlike that of the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the Cup.

Montreal has a goaltending controversy, if you can call it that. They're torn between starting Cristobal Huet, who carried them in the second half after the coaching staff shake-up, while trade deadline acquisition David Aebischer brings more experience to the table. Whoever gets the nod will have a tough time handling the 'Canes offense, and will have to play above their heads if the Habs want to have a chance of winning. I like their offense, which is fast and skilled, but I don't think it matches up to that of their opponent.

Montreal will be game, but in the end, I don't think the talent is there to win, regardless of who is in net.
Pick: Carolina in 5. Over/under on how many times Andy says 'The Whale' throughout the duration of this series: 327

Carolina is 4-0 in the season series against Montreal, outscoring Les Habitants 25-9. The good news for Montreal is that the surprising Christobal Huet did not start in any of the four games against the Canes. Huet, who has been the best goalie for Montreal this season, may provide the “x-factor” needed to upset in the first round. However Carolina, a team that boasts Doug Weight, Mark Recchi and Ray Whitney on their third line, isn’t exactly short on offensive talent. The Canes will likely overpower Montreal, whose leading scorer, Alexei Kovalev, tallied only 23 goals and 65 points this season. Gerber and Ward have been solid in net for Carolina and, due to their ability to score goals (3rd overall in the NHL in total team goals scored with 294), I doubt that defense will be much of a concern. It is probably important to note that Montreal is one of only two teams in the playoffs this year with a negative differential in total goals for vs. total goals against with -4 (the other team being Tampa Bay, who I discussed previously, with -8). This worrying statistic is probably entirely due to a) the Habs, at one point during the season, were employing Josee Theodore as their starting goalie and b) they played the Hurricanes four times and started Theodore in three of those games resulting in a goal differential of -16.
Pick: Carolina in 4.

Breakfast? "Breakfast, shmreakfast. Look at the score, for God’s sake. I’m only in the middle of the 2nd and I'm winning 12 to 2. Breakfasts come and go, Rene. Now Hartford, "the Whale," hey, they only beat Vancouver once, maybe twice in a lifetime."

Fuck yeah, bitches. Carolina, knows how to party. Carolina, no doubt about it. In the citaaay of Raleigh. In the citaaay of good ol' Greensboro. In the citaaay, the city of Hartford. We keep it rockin! We keep it rockin!

Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild Canes. A team that's untouchable like Elliot Ness. Even without Erik Cole for the rest of the season (damn you all to hell Brooks Orpik!), the Canes are gonna dominate the Eastern Conference. Granted, Stormy the Ice Hog is no Youppi!, but it won't matter this year. Expect to hear alot of "Brass Bonanza" over the next little while. The WHALE ARE WINNING THE CUP!!!

When the Oilers and Whalers meet in the Stanley Cup final, it will be a first. They will be the only two WHA teams to ever meet for all the marbles. Jesus, what happens if the Oilers and Whalers meet in the Stanley Cup Final? No seriously, I'm not talking to any of you. I'm talking to Jesus. Lord, what will I do?

My God, did I just jinx them? Again, not talking to you. Um, it'll be a tough series. The Habs will give 110%, and the Canes will have to get some lucky breaks to win the series. Amen-hallelujah-yes-sir!!! Better?
Pick: Hartford in 4.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: Carolina wins 4-1

(3) New Jersey Devils
(101 pts.)
(6) New York Rangers
(100 pts.)
Season series tied, 4-4
Game Times

Irresistable force, meet immovable object. For all their team’s depth, this is the Brodeur v Jagr show. History, the traditional playoff hockey style and momentum are on Brodeur’s side. The officials of the New NHL should be on Jagr’s. Only a fool would bet against Brodeur, but with hockey’s resurgent number-two points-man backed-up by the return of his own Olympics-tested netminder, this version of the Rangers can go far.
Pick: New York in 7.

These two rivals are headed in opposite directions. The Rangers stumbled down the stretch, and lost the grip on the Atlantic Division lead that they had held for much of the year. Conversely, the Devils got hot at the right time, reeling off 11 wins to close out the season and grab the division lead on the last day of the season.

The goaltending matchup should be one to watch, with Rangers rookie and Olympic Gold Medalist Henrik Lundqvist (a lock for the Calder in any non Ovechkin/Crosby year) matching up against future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. I give the edge here to New Jersey, based largely on experience. While the Rangers boast the Hart Trophy candidate in this matchup (Jagr), both teams have balanced offenses that should create an exciting series. Nonetheless, given that New Jersey is hot, and the Rangers are not, I don't think this one will last much longer than necessary. Momentum and experience carry the Devils to a hard-fought, but quick series win.
Pick: New Jersey in 5.

It seems to me that the New Jersey Devils have been more like a Russian submarine than a hockey team this season. The lads from the Garden State have been running silent and deep throughout the season, going seemingly unnoticed as they plotted their course towards the playoffs. The only two hockey related news items I can concretely remember coming out of Jersey this season were the resignation of Larry Robinson and something involving a State Trooper, Rick Tocchet and Tony Soprano. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Devils have managed to win eleven in a row and clinch the Atlantic division. Not to mention the fact that they more or less stole the division from the much talked about New York Rangers, whom they will face in the first round. Brodeur has been excellent in net, leading the league in wins, and is the only starting goalie in the East with a notable amount of playoff experience. Patrick Elias has been a bit of a surprise, averaging over a point per game since returning midway through the season. Things seem to be lining up nicely for the Devils as the playoffs approach, but the most notable problem with this team is their lack of depth. Beyond Brodeur and their number one line of Gionta, Gomez and Elias, the talent on this team begins to drop off sharply. To put it into perspective: Gionta, Gomez and Elias have combined for 40% of all goals scored by the Devils (97/242), only Gionta and Gomez have surpassed the 20 goal mark, and the only players other than Gionta and Gomez to have scored as many or more goals than Elias are Langenbrunner and John Madden, who have played twice the number of games.

The Rangers are easily the biggest surprise this season, a team that most had pegged to be at the bottom of the league this year. When a rookie goaltender comes along and plays like the second coming of Mike Richter and the “real” Jaromir Jagr decides to show up, its funny how a team can really turn itself around. Other than the Ranger’s monster line of Jagr, Nylander and Straka (combining for about 250 points), players like rookie Petr Prucha will provide secondary scoring and depth. The Rangers also boast a stout defense allowing only 215 goals this season, good enough for the second in the East.
Like the Senators, the Rangers may be able to lay some blame on the injury bug when it comes to their poor play at the end of the season (and consequently not winning the division), as Lundqvist, Ruccin, Rucinsky, Malik and Kasparitis are all currently listed as day to day with injuries, but should return before the playoffs. As these players return, I expect the Rangers to start to dominate, and are a good candidate to make a run at the finals. Their biggest weakness will likely be Lundqvist’s relative inexperience, particularly in big games, he will remain a question mark until he is tested in pressure situations.
Pick: New York in 7.

Pause the game.”
“Dude, I'm about to do my thing with the thing, here.”
“Pause the game!”
“I got fuckin' Wayne.”
“Pause it!”
“All right, I'll pause it. Jesus Christ. Like you scored all day.”
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
“There it is, Mikey! Check it out. His head's bleeding. Mikey, check it out. His legs... Little Wayne's legs are shaking all over.”

Too bad Scott Stevens isn't still playing, or else I could guarantee that would happen to Jaromir Jagr. This is another dynamite series in the making, and it is giving me a headache. The other guys have already said all I need to say, though not enough John Madden "waiting for the play to develop then 'whap' he got developed" jokes were made. I'm gonna go with the Devils because of Marty Brodeur, but I wouldn't be terribly shocked if the Rangers pull off the series victory.
Pick: New Jersey in 7.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: New Jersey wins 4-1.

(4) Buffalo Sabres
(110 pts.)
(5) Philadelphia Flyers
(101 pts.)
Sabres won season series, 3-1
Game Times

Can a netminder with a save percentage of less than 90 lead his team through the playoffs? Philadelphia’s about to find out. The Sabres won’t ice the best player in this series, but they’ll ice the better team. That’s good enough for now.
Pick: Buffalo in 6.

The gritty, young Sabres epitomize the team concept more than anyone else in the field. They lack a true superstar, but have a balanced group that plays hard and puts the team first. The star-laden Flyers struggled through some injuries, and underperformed all year. That they missed out on the division title, and are the lower seed in this matchup, has to be a dissapointment.

Nonetheless, they are by far the more talented club on paper. The only area where the Sabres might have the edge is in goal, where Ryan Miller and Martin Biron have the statistical edge over Antero Nittymaki and Robert Esche. I like the Flyers' chances with Nittymaki, though, given that he won the Calder Cup last year, and performed well in the Olympics this past February. It's also hard to pick against the team with the best defenseman (Pitkanen) and two best forwards (Forsberg and Gagne), so I won't. But Buffalo will put up a real fight, and it will be close.
Pick: Philly in 7.

Despite being loaded with talent and having two strong goaltenders, the Flyers have been marred by inconsistency. The best news for Philly will be the return of Petr Forsberg. The Flyers have only managed .500 hockey without him in the line-up, and have struggled to win two games in a row during that time. Buffalo is a deep squad that has managed to remain consistent where other teams have hit the wall. The Sabres boast six 20-goal scorers, including captain Daniel Briere, who has scored 25 goals in only 48 games (and has played lights out since coming back from injury).
Pick: Buffalo in 6.

“Okay gang, let's play it smart out there tonight. I wanna see a lot of work from you guys. Use your heads on the ice out there, will ya? Christ we all know how to play hockey. Just play it smart.”
“That’s right. Get out there and stick 'em!”
“Fuck 'em!”
“Christ, pop ‘em!”
--Slap Shot

I see this series being a good old Prince of Whales slug-fest. Lots of hits, a few scraps, and quite a bit of Bobby Clarke bitching about something. The key to this series is brittle bones Forsberg. When healthy, he is the most dominant player in the NHL. Period. Forget Jagr, Kipper or that Commie in Washington. When 100%, Forsberg owns the game of hockey. He has 75 points in 59 games this year alone, and the Flyers are 34-16-9 with him in the lineup. Unfortunately, the guy is Mr. Glass and the Flyers are 10-10-2 without him in the lineup. The Flyers goaltending sucks (just ask my fantasy team), plus they have Derian Hatcher on the point. I am therefore required by provincial law to hate their guts. The Sabres have a lot of depth, super goaltending, and a Great Terror of their own in Maxim Afinogenov. Plus, you got to love a coach who calls out Darcy Tucker. I have enjoyed watching a few of the Sabres games this year, and look forward to watching quite a few more.
Pick: Buffalo in 6.

NHL 2k6 Simulation Pick: Buffalo wins 4-2.


At 9:43 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Apparently the Flyers are going to go with Robert Esche in goal instead of Antero Nittymaki. I wish I had known this when making my prediction. Oh well.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Hmm. The humans are unanimous about Ottawa and Carolina, although Computer disagrees and goes with the Bolts.

Then our concensus breaks down as 3 of 4 go with Buffalo (as does the machine), and we split 2-2 on the Devils/Rangers series, despite Cosh's Big Spreadsheet putting the Rangers' first round chances at a whopping 80% (exceeded only by Dallas and Ottawa).

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

It should be noted that I tried to use vintage, alternate or original team logos for all of these matchups. My two favorites are the Sens Peace Tower alternate jersey logo, and the Kansas City Scouts original logo. The Habs globe one is also cool. I didn't even know it existed. Then again, I didn't know the Peace Tower one did either.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I can't believe that the Rangers have an 80% chance of beating the Devils. That seems insane. I guess we'll see.


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