Thursday, May 18, 2006

NHL Conference Finals Playoff Predictions

Whew. My God. This is awesome. Two rounds into the NHL playoffs, and both the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes are still alive. Who would have thunk it? Oh wait. I thunk it. In fact, I predicted it. Abboud called me a homer, and others doubted my predictions, but both the Oil and Whale are alive and kicking. I don't think I've been this happy in two years, when the Red Sox won the World Series.

I continue to dominate with the predictions. After going 6 for 8 in Round 1, I went 3 for 4 in Round 2. I have 100% accuracy in the East, and only the Avalanche and those Mighty Ducks have fowled up my plans (damn you and your Flying V!). As for the others...well.. take a look:

Round 2
Avi: 3/4 correct (Edmonton, Anaheim, Buffalo)
Abboud: 1/4 correct (Anaheim)
Nate: 2/4 correct (Edmonton, Buffalo)
Grabia: 3/4 correct (Edmonton, Carolina, Buffalo)

Round 1
Avi: 4/8 correct (San Jose, Ottawa, Carolina, Buffalo)
Abboud: 3/8 correct (Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey)
Nate: 4/8 correct (San Jose, Ottawa, Carolina, Buffalo)
Grabia: 6/8 correct (Edmonton, San Jose, Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey, Buffalo)
2k6 4/8 correct (Edmonton, Carolina, New Jersey, Buffalo)

As you can see, Abboud has added "making Sports Select picks" to his list of things you should never let him do for you, joining "putting a bed frame together", "putting out a toaster oven fire", and "picking up a woman who doesn't have a penis." Just an awful clip. Avi improved his percentage of correct calls this round, and Nate remains at a Flames-like winning percentage of .500. None of them come even close to my .750 average, though. I'm so on fire, I'm expecting a call from Al Pacino any day now. Grabia, you're working for me now. Hoo-ah! Our complete predictions from the last round are here and here.

It has become clear that my beard mojo is an unstoppable force for good. Like Superman. I am now 4-0 with the anti-beard/I Love Nerds/Hartford Whalers combination. Sadly, it appears that a whole group of Oilers fans are now thinking it is okay to eliminate their playoff beards. First it was Chris at Covered in Oil. Then it was Oilers fan in exile (Vancouver) Colin Mitzel. Now Sacamano at Battle of Alberta is contemplating the move. I find the whole thing revolting, even though I too am beardless. The difference of course is that my hairlessness is a karmic gesture (you can read about it in one of the links above), whereas the moves by the other men are soulless moves to please their women and survive the current heat wave in Edmonton. I find Sac's move to be the most deplorable, because not only was he the one who chastised me for shaving my beard in the first place, but he also helped me draft a letter about Chris to ESPN's very own Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. Earlier this week, in the midst of the Great Beard Controversy of 2006, Sac and I fired off a letter to Simmons' fan bag about the rules of shaving off the playoff beard. As of yet, nothing has appeared on Simmons' site--and indeed it may never appear--but it did indeed happen. Here is what we sent off:

Sports Guy,

I know your current feelings about the game of hockey, but I need a ruling here. The Edmonton Oilers are currently on a supernatural run in the NHL playoffs. After defeating the league’s best regular season team (Detroit), the Oilers are one win away from eliminating Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks (and yes, I put the name Joe Thornton in there to help garner your support). Amongst many of the blogs devoted to the Oilers up here in Canada—and there are many—there is a consensus that much if not all of the Oilers success is due to what we have affectionately termed, “the beard mojo.” It is a long and convoluted tale—all of which you can read about here, here and here if you so desire—but the gist of it is that the Oilers success is currently riding on the karmic balance achieved by one fan who has been steadily growing his playoff beard, and by another who has in fact been shaving it on every game day. This balance was first achieved when the Oilers were down 2-0, and it looked like they would soon be booking tee-times. Since that time, the Oilers have since rattled off three wins in a row.

Obviously, the beard mojo is an unstoppable force deserving of, nay requiring, continued worship and adherence. The problem is, the bearded party in this endeavor is considering shaving his beard. Even worse, he is considering doing so because his girlfriend is coming into town. We are emailing you not because we are uncertain of the answer to this dilemma—it is patently obvious to any sports fan not caught in the libidinous thralls of a Siren—but because we need your support in convincing the Bearded Wonder that he is making a tragic error. As a long suffering Sox fan and a man who is knowledgeable on the history of hockey and playoff beards, you know what is at stake here. Edmontonians have suffered through the loss of Gretzky, Coffey, Messier, Fuhr, Anderson, Lowe and Kurri. Our team has almost folded, several times. Our collective psyche has been on the ropes for over fifteen years. Our city needs this, and yet one man is flushing the whole thing away for a weekend of making out and dry humping. The Hockey Gods have offered him and his stubbly visage immortality, but his refusal is sure to have massive repercussions for us all. Help us, Sports Guy. You’re our only hope.

An interesting storyline that I haven't read about anywhere else--which isn't saying much because I pretty well stick to reading only my own material--is that two longtime Oilers not now playing for that team are still in the playoffs. Former captain Dougie Weight is playing on the 3rd line in Carolina, and the poster boy for Edmonton's offence in the 90's--all speed, no hands--Todd Marchant, is playing in Anaheim. Marchant even has a Wikipedia entry, which must have been written by an Oilers fan: "Todd Marchant is known for getting many breakaway opportunities due to his speed, but he is not very adept at scoring on these chances, and is known to often miss the net entirely."

Weight left for much "greener" pastures in St. Louis, and has done almost nothing since then. Ditto for Marchant, who openly fought with GM Kevin Lowe and then left for a perennial Stanley Cup contender in Columbus. Both men remain icons in this town, Weight for his world-class play and Marchant for his game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in 1997. Interestingly, it was Weight who made the initial pass to Marchant, who then blew by Stars defenceman Grant Ledyard and put the puck over top of another ex-Oiler, Andy Moog. It was the Oilers first playoff round win since 1992, when...tada!...they reached the Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks. I can't help but wonder what both men think about the current success of their old team, and how different things may have turned out if the current CBA was in place when both were still here. Seeing them both play in this round will assuredly remind some Edmontonians of the Oilers long exile in the economical and statistical hinterland of the NHL, making the teams current success all the more sweeter. One final note on Weight: he is one of four Edmonton Oilers captains still remaining in the NHL playoffs. The other three are current Oilers captain Jason Smith, current Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish, and of course current Oilers GM Kevin Lowe.

This blog has been littered with posts on the NHL playoffs for the past two weeks, with the majority focusing on the Edmonton Oilers. I can't link to them all, so feel free to journey down the rabbit hole and have a look for yourself. If you are looking for more information on the playoffs and the upcoming round, I encourage you to have a look at the sites below. Here are our predictions for the Western and Eastern Conference Finals. Stay classy, hockey fans!

Matchups and series breakdowns from Yahoo!.

ESPN main playoff page.

Playoff leaders.

NHL playoff odds report from Colby Cosh.

Oilers coverage from The Battle of Alberta.

Oilers coverage from Tyler at mc79hockey.

Oilers coverage from Covered In Oil.

Canes coverage from Red & Black Hockey.

Canes coverage from Cason Blog.

Canes coverage from Ron Francis.

Sabres coverage from Sabre Rattling.

Sabres coverage from Buffalo Blog.

Coverage of all teams from James Mirtle.

(6) Anaheim Mighty Ducks
(98 pts.)
(8) Edmonton Oilers
(95 pts.)
Oilers won season series,

Game Times

"We feel we're 90 per cent done," said Craig MacTavish after Wednesday's win. Over a 110-game year, he's right. But for now, the Oil are only halfway to the 16 playoff wins they need.

It's apparently enough for some. "I had a major rush because the Oilers won," 20 year-old Kaleigh McNeil told the Journal, "and I just had to show all the people my [breasts]."

Ahem. If Kaleigh is to be persuaded to further bursts of enthusiasm, the Oilers will have to solve their biggest challenge yet: the incomparable goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov, who has shut-out opponents in half his postseason starts.

How will they do it? Insert your own oil-duck-Lake Wabamun analogy here.

My money says the Oilers are up to it, if only because they've finally shown the kind of determination needed to win playoff games. Up 1-0 last night, they played the third period as though they were down a goal, and were rewarded with an insurance marker.

There are still holes: mental lapses that can suck-up whole periods of hockey, and an increase in visits to the penalty box.

But the bottom line is this: talent + effort = results. For over a decade, the lack of talent undermined the motivation of effort; deep down, the Oil knew they couldn't win, and so the players' efforts were inconsistent.

Now they've got the talent, and they've realized that the Cup is attainable by effort alone; hence the superhuman feats.

"Youthful risk-takers abandon caution in raucous celebration," headlined my morning paper. I think we're going to be reading that again, and soon.
Pick: Edmonton in 6.

Way back when, I predicted that Anaheim would make the Stanley Cup Final. Less than two months later, I recanted. Then Anaheim gelled, and now, six months later, they are four wins away from fulfilling my prediction. So given that I’ve flipped, I don’t have a problem with flopping.

Anaheim will win this series for the following reasons:

• Ilya Bryzgalov has been positively Tretiak-esque.
• They’ve had time to rest, while Edmonton gets 48 hours off of what was effectively a seven game series.
• They play boring, stifling defensive hockey, which seems to work well – even in the "new" NHL.
• Teemu Selanne has discovered the fountain of youth.
• If the Sharks series is any indication, the refs (and Greg Millen) will do everything in their power to put Anaheim in a position to win.

So there it is. The Oil will make a run, but come up short.
Pick: Anaheim in 6.

I don’t think anybody could have predicted this match up in the finals. Though Edmonton is the bigger surprise of the two, no one gave Anaheim any respect right from round one. Bryzgalov is the co-winner of the most surprising player of the post-season along with Cam Ward of the Hurricanes. The Avalanche really didn’t get a sniff against the Ducks and folded like a cheaply made Skoda (just like I thought they would against the Stars in round one). One of the recurring themes this year in the playoffs seems to involve teams getting complacent when they haven’t been met with a challenge; this applies to the Ducks and is probably compounded by the fact that they won’t have played in over a week when game one of the Western Final rolls around. The Oilers, on the other hand, have won four straight, including their Wednesday night series victory in Oil Country. Craig MacTavish’s squad has done everything they have needed to do to win in the playoffs: they have dominated in the faceoff circle, blocked tons of shots and played gritty, hard forechecking hockey. Dwayne Roloson has been solid in net and has made some great saves; however, based on their play against San Jose, kudos goes to the Oilers' defensemen for helping their goaltender out as much as possible. At some point in this series Bryzgalov will collapse. I just can’t see him keeping his play up. As for the rest of his team, I think they are pretenders and are about to be exposed.

The Oilers are better defensively and look like a more complete team. As much as I hate to see them succeed, I can’t really say I’m fond of the Mighty Ducks. Sadly, therefore, I must pick the Oilers will go to the Cup finals.
Pick: Edmonton in 5. (I hope Andy doesn’t scold me for picking them to win as he seems to be getting edgier and more superstitious as the Oilers move on.)

"Oh! Tis The Season! FA LA LA LA LA, LA LA LAFONTAINE!!!"
--Rick Jeanneret

Welcome aboard, fans from Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and all other places in between. The Edmonton Oilers remain the last Canadian team in the NHL playoffs, and so over the next couple weeks I will be stuck listening to thousands of "patriots" talk ad nauseum about how they now support the Oilers. Frankly, I don't want any of them to support our team, but I doubt I have much choice in the matter. Super.

I am confident that at least the fine citizens of Manitoba will refuse to cheer for the Oilers, instead throwing all their support behind ex-Jets Teemu Selanne and Randy Carlyle. Yet I am also confident that the ex-Jets and their fans will carry on their long-standing tradition of losing to the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. I am getting a little tired of the "underdog" tag constantly being hung around the Oilers neck this playoff year. The Oilers finished with 95 points in the best division in hockey, and they won the season series against both the Wings and the Sharks. This does not change with the Ducks, who Edmonton beat all four times they played this year. Anaheim also hasn't won in Edmonton since 1999, and I don't expect it to change now.

Granted, I have consistently underestimated the Ducks this year. I did not expect them to beat Calgary or Colorado. I certainly didn't expect Selanne to become a more valuable playoff player than Joe Thornton (and my bar was very low). And that Communist they have in net has been impressive. Yet I just don't see the Ducks winning this one. Edmonton is a deeper team, and they seem determined to win at any cost. Most impressive to me, they have actually closed out the series against the Wings and the Sharks when they had the chance, not pulling off the usual Oilers brain fart. They have eliminated the 3rd period meltdown, and are insanely dangerous on the penalty kill. They had nine breakaways last night, and at least half of them had to be on the penalty kill. Even though the NHL is attempting to fix the series in Anaheim's favour by making the Oilers play on two days rest, ignore the "underdog" claim: Edmonton is the team to beat in the West.
Pick: Edmonton in 7.

(2) Carolina Hurricanes
(112 pts.)
(4) Buffalo Sabres
(110 pts.)
Hurricanes won season series, 3-1
Game Times

Having learned from the quarterfinals not to doubt my original thin-slicing, I'm going back to my round-one view: Carolina is the real deal. Their appearance in the conference final should surprise no one.

Save for game four, the 'Canes dominated a New Jersey team that came into the quarters stacked with a veteran goaltender, deep lines and a league-leading winning streak.

The Sabres are also a great, deep squad, and on any given night they can win the game. But in a conference final that should be dominated by end-to-end rushes, the 'Canes have the better talent. All over the 'Park, teenage girls are readying Cam Ward posters for their bedroom walls.
Pick: Carolina in 7.

Who would have ever predicted this at the start of the year? Not me, that’s for sure. These teams have earned it, though, with Carolina reeling off four straights wins to knock off Montreal in six, then smoking the red hot Devils in five to get here. The move to Cam Ward has paid off, as they are 8-1 in games that he has started.

Buffalo advanced in five, but every game against the Senators was close. They are deep, balanced, and have solid goaltending, but I don’t see them matching up talent-wise with the ‘Canes. Eric Staal is playing like the franchise player he is, and they have veterans like Ray Whitney, Doug Weight, and Mark Recchi to compliment him. Ward and Miller are a wash, so I give this series to the ‘Canes.
Pick: Carolina in 5, to create the first-ever Sun Belt Stanley Cup series.

This is the best of all possible matchups in the playoffs this year. Both teams have fast, talented players that aren’t afraid to put on a show. Both are riding high on rookie goaltenders who should give their respective teams a chance to compete in every game. While the Canes have the experience, Buffalo has more grit and better goaltending. This series could go
either way, but Miller looks like he’s ready to carry his team all of the way.
Pick: Buffalo in 7.

"Oh Now Do You Believe?!? Now Do You Believe?!? These Guys Are Good! Scarrrrry Good!"
--Rick Jeanneret

I am so torn on this series. The Whale are my second favorite team, and I really want them to advance and play the Oilers in the final. But I love watching the Sabres play, and I have all kinds of time for their radio announcer Rick Jeanneret. So what do I do?

Well, I gotta go with the Canes. Nate is right: this is the series to watch. Ward and Miller. Staal and Brierre. Brind' Amour and McKee. Miller and Maguire (thank God I won't be forced to suffer through Cole, Neale or Millen for at least part of this round). It is going to be awesome. My only concern is that Abboud picked the Canes. His track record speaks for itself, which means that Carolina could be in trouble. Here's hoping that my beard/jersey mojo will continue to have its positive effect on this series as well.
Pick: Carolina in 7.


At 2:14 PM, Blogger sacamano said...

I hope Andy doesn’t scold me for picking them to win as he seems to be getting edgier and more superstitious as the Oilers move on.

No doubt. The guy seems to have gone off the rails a little bit. This morning I was afraid to get out of bed for fear that Grabia would be crouched behind my dresser waiting to see if I put on the "correct" slipper first.

The only thing I can think is that it is some serious overcompensation for his first round fuckup.

Andy, it's okay -- it looks like the Hockey Gods have forgiven you.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

"Anaheim also hasn't won in Edmonton since 1999"

That is a simply fabulous fact.

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Ya, I hope it's true.


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