NHL Quarter Final Playoff Predictions: Western Conference
Welcome, everyone, to SportsMatters' second round coverage of the 2006 NHL playoffs. Lots of crazy events have occured over the past couple of weeks, especially in the Western Conference. There, the top four seeds were all eliminated by their lower seeded opponents. The number one team in the NHL's regular season--the Detroit Red Wings--were eliminated by the number eight seed Edmonton Oilers. And this year's winner of the Northwest Division and the Western Conference's representative to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003--the Calgary Flames--were also eliminated from contention. The series between the Flames and Ducks was also the only first round series to go to seven games. Out east, all of the top seeds advanced, but a bodycheck, high stick, fight and injury all made waves.
It comes as no surprise then, that the SportsMatters crew did a much better job making correct predictions about the games in the east than they did about games in the west. Looking at our Western Conference predictions for round one, you will see that I am twice as smart as everyone else, and I still got only half my predictions right!
Avi: 1/4 correct (San Jose)
Abboud: 0/4 correct
Nate: 1/4 correct (San Jose)
Grabia: 2/4 correct (Edmonton, San Jose)
2k6 1/4 correct (Edmonton)
You can see how we did in the Eastern Conference by looking at our coverage of round two here, but needless to say I owned shit in that conference, too. It should also be pointed out that the NHL 2k6 simulation that I ran fared just as well in its predictions as Avi and Nate, and actually beat Abboud. Ouch.
So what can we look forward to in round two? Well, the Battle of Alberta will not take place, and after the Flames tapped out like a novice in Stu Hart's Dungeon, Flames fans have called for a time out. Make sure to check out the top left corner of The Battle of Alberta blog to see who Calgary is facing in the next round! Two Canadian teams remain--Edmonton and Ottawa--but both teams are in for tough games against San Jose and Buffalo. If San Jose and Anaheim both advance in the west, it will be the first time ever that two teams from California have advanced to the Final Four. Actually, this is the first time two teams from California have even advanced to the Elite Eight (my "monkey" Avi verified that one for me). Buffalo looked really good against the Flyers, and Martin Brodeur still lingers in New Jersey.
When we did the first round, I predicted that Calgary, San Jose, New Jersey, Carolina would be the last four teams standing. My sleeper pick to join that group was the Buffalo Sabres. I also picked Carolina to beat San Jose in the finals. Well, Calgary is out, and either the Canes or Devils won't make it to the next round (they play each other). I don't want San Jose to win another game, let alone another series (they play the Oilers), and Buffalo has to play a scary team in the Senators. It may in fact be that only one of the teams I predicted to go to the final four makes it. Then again, my actual record in predicting series victories is 6/8, so...I've got that going for me...which is nice.
I am going to apologize in advance for my lame effort at making predictions. I am very busy with my job right now, and formatting this beast takes up so much time I have little left when it comes to being insightful or creative. I hope to do better in the next round. I also can't seem to locate Kimmis, so I was unable to do the 2k6 simulations. What can you do? Again, here are some quality links for hockey fans to watch. Enjoy the games, everyone.
Matchups and series breakdowns from Yahoo!.
ESPN main playoff page.
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.
Sharks coverage from Shark Page.
Sens coverage from Battle of Ontario.
Sens coverage from Chris McMurty at Hockey Country.
Coverage of all teams from James Mirtle.
( 99 pts.)
(8) Edmonton Oilers
Joe who? Held to two goals in the first round, Thornton & Cheechoo were more chum than chopper. That won't last, and a healthy fear of Marleau is also in order. The thing about a shark is he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes.
While the Oil demonstrated that they remain capable of astounding incompetence (cf. Game 6, Period 2), their newfound defensive discipline is key to winning this series. It's time to trap some shark.
Pick: Edmonton in 6.
The Sharks rode young goaltender Vesa Toskala and a seven goal outburst from captain Patrick Marleau to a five-game series win over the Nashville Predators. Edmonton seems to have come together at the right time, and outclassed the President’s Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings in six games. Both teams enter this series playing great hockey, which should make for a great match up.
For San Jose, it’s very simple. They need Vesa Toskala to stay hot, they need to prevent Chris Pronger from controlling the game, and they need their Art Ross winner and Rocket Richard winner to play up to their potential – each of them netted 4 points in the first round. For the Oilers, they need Mike Peca to be the pest of old and along with the rest of the Oilers forward group keep Marleau, Thornton, and Cheechoo in check. They need to get to Vesa Toskala, and make sure that their own netminer, Dwayne Roloson, avoids letting in the soft goals that have been his weakness all year.
I’m tempted to pick Edmonton, but I fear that they’re about to hit a wall. San Jose has three of the four most talented players in this series, and was the best team in the West down the stretch. I think the Oil will keep the games close, but ultimately fall short.
Pick: San Jose in 5.
The Edmonton Oilers found their A-game in their first round upset(?) against the Red Wings. Dwayne Roloson stood on his head and the Oiler’s D did a number on the Wings highly touted offense. I wouldn’t call the Oilers a team of destiny--because that’s mostly a load of shit anyway--but I would call them a team that appears to have underachieved in the regular season, only to come out swinging in the first round of the playoffs. Right now, they look like a team that could run the table in the west.
The best thing about the San Jose Sharks, not the best player (that would be Joe Thornton), is Patrick Marleau. Marleau is one of the best centres and one of the biggest playoff performers in the game, and he makes it extremely hard to check his team. The top defensive pairing of the Oilers will likely be preoccupied with Chechoo, Thornton and Ekman while Marleau’s line will be allowed more breathing room. Unfortunately, for the Sharks, the Oil run deep in defense and will do a better job handling their top two lines than Nashville did. Let it be noted that, as a Flames fan, that it brings me great pain to pick the Oilers to win this one, but I have to admit, they put a big hurt on the Wings (who were as deep offensively, if not more so, than the Sharks). Craig MacTavish has done a good job emphasizing the defensive qualities* of his squad and will likely continue this trend against the Sharks. Most, if not all, of the “experts” will take the Sharks in this series, which means absolutely bugger all.
*Notice here I did not use the dreaded “t” word as it would likely get me lynched upon entering Edmonton city limits.
Pick: Edmonton in 6 (I shudder at the thought, though I will chuckle, just a little, when all of the Oiler bandwagon jumpers start appearing.)
I picked the Sharks to go all the way to the finals, but I can no longer do so. Yes, I am being a homer, but I have to go with the Oilers. I didn't say it to many, but I wanted to Calgary to advance because I felt they were a much weaker team than San Jose. The fact that the Lames lost to the Ducks proves my point, but does little to help my stress level. Contrary to popular belief, Joe Thornton played great against the Predators. His point total may not show it, but he was causing havoc down low and drawing lots of penalties. The Oilers were able to shut down the talent in Detroit, and will likely again use the trap to do so against the Sharks. I have little to say here that hasn't already been said here or elsewhere, so let's just make the pick.
Oh, can I complain about the scheduling? First we get all these weird start times to accomodate American television. Fine. But what the hell is with the back to back games on Sunday and Monday? It's like the best of fives from the 80's all over again. If I start having dreams about Dave Babych again, someone is going to pay.
Pick: Edmonton in 6.
(7) Colorado Avalanche
Having picked Calgary and Dallas to make it through the first round, I'm at a loss. It's not really fair to tag the Ducks as the Teemu Selanne show -- he's been in on six of their seventeen goals, scoring three. Likewise, no Colorado player has scored more than three of the Rockies' eighteen markers.
The series will come down to which goalie blinks first. Bryzgalov put on a clinic in the first round, saving 90-of-93, and deserves to start over Giguere. Theodore allowed at least two goals in each of his five post-season starts, only really stepping up his play in the final overtime win. Frankly, it's a toss-up.
Pick: Anaheim in 7.
The Mighty Ducks made the move to Ilya Bryzgalov in Game 5, and responded by winning Games 6 and 7 to oust the defending Western champ. Offensively, Teemu Selanne appears to have found the fountain of youth, and is pacing an attack that isn’t spectacular, but can score when needed. The Avs surprised the favored Dallas Stars in round one, ousting them in five hard fought games. Deadline acquisition Jose Theodore was steady in goal, then spectacular in the deciding game. They have veteran talent in the likes of Joe Sakic and Rob Blake, and should not be discounted as a sleeper in this bracket.
Nonetheless, I have trouble imagining that the Avs can go much deeper. Anaheim plays solid defense, and seems to be getting enough offense to get by. Bryzgalov was better in round one than Theodore, which is another reason to give them the nod. I think the Ducks will start slow after the long series with Calgary, but ultimately, they’ll get their bearing and pull out a hard-fought win.
Pick: Anaheim in 7.
--Nathan Muhly April, 2006
Yep. I was a little off on that one. The Avs’ defense did a good job of shutting down the Stars and allowed Theodore some time to find his confidence. The top line of Sakic, Hejduk and Tanguay have performed up to par and Brunette has chipped in to produce some good secondary scoring. I think the Avs will surprise a lot of people and come out of the Western Conference to play the Devils for the cup.
The Flames’ poor play made the Ducks look better than they appeared to be in games six and seven of the first round series. The move to Bryzgalov in game six may look like the move that put the Ducks over the top, but appearances can be deceiving as the Flames failed to test Bryzgalov. The one goal the Flames did score on Bryzgalov, in the final two games of the series (a two mile an hour backhand from Yelle), was weak to say the least. Look for the Avalanche to jump out early in the series and never look back.
Pick: Colorado in 5.
Gordon Bombay: This is your Bar Mitzvah, Goldberg. Today, you become a man.
Goldberg: No. I think you've got the ceremonies mixed up. This is more like a CIRCUMCISION.
--The Mighty Ducks
Did Avi make a conscious choice in calling the Avs the "Rockies", or is he having dreams of Lanny McDonald and Rob Ramage? I don't know, but the sudden appearance of mustached hockey stallions is tripping me out, especially since I keep bringing them up.
I didn't watch a single second of the Stars-Avalanche series, so I still have no idea how Colorado won. I know how Anaheim won, however, and it involved playing the same boring hockey they always have. I can't think of a team I would rather watch less than the Ducks, and that includes Dallas, Toronto and Calgary. Consequently, I doubt I will watch a single second of this series, and am just going to throw Colorado's name out on a whim. I still think Jose Theodore is a bust, though.
Pick: Colorado in 6.