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Monday, April 7, 2008

Preview Time - Fun Time!

Here we go, no screwing around this time - we're getting right to it.

First off, the Fun Conference where offense hasn't completely gone to die.

1. Montreal Canadiens vs. 8. Boston Bruins

No, that's not a misprint, the Bruins really were that terrible against Les Habitents this season. It'd be one thing if they perpetually lost in the skills competition or by a goal all the time, at least then you can say, "You know what, we're going to beat those guys and they'll be sorry."

But no, that hasn't been the case at all. The Canadiens have mopped the floor with one of their heated rivals all season long. So much so, that folks are making embarassing videos about it on YouTube. It's been that sort of year for the B's against Montreal and frankly, it couldn't happen to a more boring team.

Claude Julien, however, is one of those demented evil geniuses. Bruins fans will recall him as being the head coach of the Canadiens back in 2003-2004 when the Habs came back from being down 3-1 in the playoffs to the Bruins to beat them in seven games and then lead to the swift departure of that bum Joe Thornton out of Boston. Don't worry B's fans, Thornton has only gone on to lead the NHL in assists the last three seasons, won an MVP the year he was traded to San Jose and yes, Marco Sturm is all you have left to show for it. Congrats!

There is an upside however. Marc Savard is talking like he'll be back in time to play and Patrice Bergeron who was thugged out of commission by Philly's Randy Jones (sounds like a bully, doesn't he?) earlier this season is back on the ice and practicing and there's potential he'll play in this series....if it lasts long enough.

That, right there, is the rub. Montreal has pasted Boston all season long and beat the snot out of them in each game. The Canadiens enter the playoffs with loads of injuries which have done nothing to stem the tide of their success. However, since its the playoffs and anything can happen....


2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 7. Ottawa Senators

You either love them or you hate them. Their boatloads of talent make you ill and the legacy of past playoff runs have made you nauseous just at the sight of them being in the playoffs. I give you the Pittsburgh Penguins. Funny thing is, that same statement said last year would've applied to the Senators and they got all the way to the Finals.

Pittsburgh, however, is functioning with two all-universe players in Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin. Their questions lie in goal and whether its Marc-Andre Fleury or UNH's own Ty Conklin that carries them remains to be seen. Here's to hoping the Penguins don't emulate their state-mates in Philadelphia when it comes to goaltending, otherwise the Pens could be in for a lot of trouble.

Ottawa hobbles into this series with both Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson nursing injuries that should keep them out of the series with Pittsburgh. NOT GOOD! Add to this that the Senators have been lifeless since December and Bryan Murray sending John Paddock packing did nothing to inspire anyone to play better...you just can't see this going well for Ottawa.

To top things off, their goaltending situation is about as stable as nitro glycerine. One bad game out of Gerber might lead to Ray Emery and his alligator skin skates having to play and he hasn't been good since the Ducks bounced them out last year. Yikes.

I enjoy both of these teams, Ottawa a little less so since they decided to go Devils-style to beat the Sabres last year in the playoffs, but Pittsburgh has the glitz and the glamour and the star power this league is DYING for. If they can't get over the hump this season, an entire off-season of questioning and finger-pointing will ensue. I don't think we want that. I sense a Gerber meltdown followed shortly thereafter by a Murray fuse shorting out that looks oddly like he's disinterested in what's going on. Give the Sens Alfie and Fisher and this is a different series, I just can't see Spezza and Heatley alone getting it done for Ottawa because neither of those guys can help contain Crosby or Malkin.


3. Washington Capitals vs. 6. Philadelphia Flyers

This was the series that needed to happen. If this had been Carolina and Philadelphia...honestly, how many people even bother to watch? I mean, no one is going to bother to watch in the first place, but this time, The Man is involved. Alexander Ovechkin had to make the playoffs. No ifs, ands or buts about it - he needed to be here.

I don't care if the NHL had to pull off NBA-like shenanigans to make it happen, it's for the betterment of the game. I don't care that it took a miraculous hot streak and playoff run to get the dust off of all the Capitals fans that used to hang out in Washington. I also don't care that their bandwagon filled up like mad and most people probably don't know that the team played in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. It don't bother me none. It's all for a higher purpose.

With that said, good luck to the first Flyer player that decides to take a cheap-shot run at Alexander Ovechkin (Scott Hartnell, I'm looking at you). AO isn't at all like Sid the Kid. AO will knock your block off if you try those tactics on him and I'll enjoy watching him man-up and drag Hartnell all over the ice. There's high potential here in this series for a B.S. overload. The Flyers for the better part of the season were grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons, most of which I covered here in this online scripture.

The Flyers have talent, which is incredible considering some of the cunning stunts they've pulled off this year (thanks to Riley Cote and Steve Downie). These guys clearly want to be the Anaheim Ducks of the East...they're just not as capable of pulling it off because there's a handful of guys that still want to play the game the right way and not the jerk-off way.

That said, the Flyers are a hornet's nest in waiting for the Capitals and the Caps are in danger of being the team that's "Just Happy To Have Made It." They could end up being tired out from having busted their tails over the last 15 games of the regular season to make sure they won the Southeast Division and make the playoffs. They could be that team that gets caught off guard and gets smoked off the ice left wondering what the hell just happened.

We saw it happen last year to the Atlanta Thrashers who tired out at the exact wrong time and got blown off the ice in four straight to the New York Rangers. Could we see this happen again? Absolutely we can, but this Caps team is a lot more talented than last year's Thrashers team. They're more stable in goal with both Huet and Kolzig. They can trot out two solid scoring lines, a third line that manages to grind and score and a fourth line that has Donald Brashear. Yikes that's pain in the ass.

The Flyers appear to be headed into a post season where they're not ready to string up the goaltender. That's a good thing and a pleasant change for the organization. Martin Biron is good. He's often very good and he's got playoff experience. That said, if the carousel begins and Biron and Antero Niittymakkiayyiyi start shuffling in and out because the boo birds dictate it - forget it. The Flyers need Mike Richards and Daniel Briere to be huge (not in stature) and some how piecemeal together two scoring units. Boy, they really could use Simon Gagne right about now, Joffrey Lupul alone just won't cut it. The Flyers, however, get success by getting under the other team's skin and they will be going all out to work over Ovechkin and Huet's every last nerve.

This series will not be easily won. This series will be the one that leaves everyone talking.

This series will put Alexander Ovechkin on the map for good and the Flyers out of our hair for this season. But they'll be back - you can't kill a zombie easily.


4. New Jersey Devils vs. 5. New York Rangers

Please, God, someone shoot me.

The brainchild of Herr Bettman comes alive in this series. Two teams that are already bitter regional rivals who have already played each other eight friggin' times this year get to play up to seven more times. Fan-freakin'-tastic.

Can the Rangers finally prove something to all of us and beat the Devils in the playoffs? Can Henrik Lundqvist finally hit Martin Brodeur with the "Heir Apparent" Throne and overtake him as the top goalie in the East? Can either of these teams score more than 10 goals in this series?

Lundqvist has been better head-to-head against Brodeur in the regular season. Congratulations, that means nothing.

The Rangers beat the Devils seven out of eight times in the regular season. That's good!

Three of those wins came in the skills competition. That's pointless.

The Devils only win against the Rangers came on Sunday via the shootout as well. Stupid.

This series is where Gary's brainchild fails every test possible. If these teams played half as many games against each other, for example, the heat would still be there, the rivalry would still be just as hot as ever, people would still argue about who's better King Henrik or Marty, and the Rangers would still essentially be playing up to seven home games in this series.

Nothing is altered by them playing each other every tenth game of the season. These teams don't dislike each other any more or less than they would've before. If anything, they're probably annoyed that it's come down to this. I really thought variety was the spice of life, but in the NHL under Herr Bettman homogenized action is the wave of the future!


Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

End this series and end it fast. And Rangers...vanquish the Devils while you're at it - the East doesn't need to be made any more boring past the first round.


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