Tuesday, April 10, 2007

First Round Playoff Predictions

The playoffs are here, so its time to make my first round selections. Hopefully, I will do better this year than I did last year (7-8).

Calgary Flames defeat Detroit Red Wings Detroit wins the West Conference and they have to face Calgary in the first round - that's not much of a reward for winning the conference. Both of these teams are good ones that could go to the finals. Detroit's stats made them look better than they are due to having three weak sister teams in their division (St Louis, Columbus and Chicago). Calgary is a much better team than their record due to a tough division. Detroit comes in with some important players with injury problems including Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Chelios. This sets up a situation where the eighth seed should be the stronger team.

Anaheim Ducks defeat Minnesota Wild Minnesota is a tough team to play against. They play a very disciplined defensive system, but Anaheim should be able to handle it. They are the team that is closest to elite level this season. Playing against them will be no picnic either as one of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger should be on the ice at all times. Minnesota will have to play without number one goalie Manny Fernandez, which will handicap them. Anaheim is one of the few teams that has a better group of defensive forwards (Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, Todd Marchant) then Minnesota and could beat the Wild at their own game, but will likely open things up a bit more at times. Look for Anaheim to win a tightly checked series.

Vancouver Canucks defeat Dallas Stars These are two more teams that will likely be low scoring. Both rely on top goalies, though Vancouver's Roberto Luongo is better than Dallas's Marty Turco. Vancouver also has more dangerous offensive players. For example, Markus Naslund had a disappointing 60 point year in Vancouver finishing third in team scoring. He would have led Dallas in scoring with that record. Vancouver should prevail.

San Jose Sharks defeat Nashville Predators Nashville (like Detroit) benefit in the standings from several weak teams in their division. San Jose has the hottest player in the NHL in Joe Thornton, who along with Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau and Milan Michalek give the Sharks more dangerous offensive players than Nashville offers. Look for the Sharks to outscore the Preds.

Buffalo Sabres defeat New York Islanders The Islanders are the team that least looks like a playoff calibre club that actually made playoffs. They slipped in winning a shootout on the final day of the season. By many more logical point schemes than that of the NHL, they don't make playoffs. Buffalo meanwhile is the President's Trophy winner and some argue the best team in last year's playoffs who suffered several defensive injuries and thus fell to Carolina in the semis. This should be the biggest mismatch of round one.

New Jersey Devils defeat Tampa Bay Lighting New Jersey comes in with a new coach and the best goalie in the game in Martin Brodeur. Although Tampa has three top forwards in Martin St Louis, Vincent LeCavalier and Brad Richards, they also have very weak goaltending and are the only playoff team this year who allowed more goals than they scored. Look for the Devils to get past Tampa.

New York Rangers defeat Atlanta Thrashers Atlanta made a desperate play for playoffs trading for Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik, but it's not enough. The Rangers come in with a hot Henrik Lundqvist in goal and an offense built around Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, which should be too much for Atlanta (who won the weakest division in the NHL to get their third seed). The Rangers should win this one.

Ottawa Senators defeat Pittsburgh Penguins Both of these teams have been very good down the stretch, but Ottawa has too many weapons in Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson etc. for Sidney Crosby and the young Pens to handle. Ottawa has been to the playoffs and seen the intensity it takes to play these games. For too many key Penguins this is a first time around and will be a learning experience.

Damn, exact same predictions as mine. Great minds think alike.
It's unfortunate you wrote about the Minnesota Wild without much knowledge about them or their situation. Specifically you mention the "handicap" that Fernandez has been injured. Apparently you've been absent from anything related to the NHL for the past 30 games, as Niklas Backstrom has been the best goalie in the league. To me, and probably most people, it isn't much of a handicap to have the best playing goalie in the league playing for your team in the playoffs.

Other than that pointless part of your predictions, you do well throughout the league.
There is a big difference between regular season play and playoff play. I am not so sure that Backstrom will be able to make the jump. I would think Minnesota would feel more comfortable with Manny Fernandez in goal despite whatever saves percentage Backstrom managed to put up in his absence.
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