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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cinderella & Sidney

After last night's 2-1 victory, the Habs pulled off what everyone thought would be impossible and eliminated many people's Stanley Cup favorite's, Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals. Next, they take on Ovechkin's rival Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Can Halak frustrate Crosby, Malkin, Staal, et al? Crosby and Halak (the Hab's stellar goaltender and biggest reason why they are in this position) are hands down the current Conn Smythe favorites. Round 2 of the NHL playoffs starts tonight in San Jose, so, let's see break it down:

The West:
San Jose v Detroit: Thanks to some bad bounces and some great goaltending from Craig Anderson the Sharks barely got past the upstart Colorado Avalanche. They're in tough with a team that has been red hot since the Olympic break. The Wings had a hard fought series against the Coyotes and as most expected they prevailed. Unfortunately for the Sharks and whoever makes it through to the conference finals the Wings are going to win this one too (in 6 or 7). The Wings might be a little tired and sore from playing a series that took them to the limit -with an average age of 31.8 these men aren't exactly spring chicken's anymore and they've played into June for 2 straight years- but they are just too resilient and have a bounty of experience all of which they can draw on to win. The Sharks, well, they're the Sharks. To even consider getting past Detroit the Sharks need Thorton to show up and Nabokov's going to have to best Howard. On a side note this series will start tonight and then resume on Sunday because the Eagles are playing in SJ.

Chicago v Vancouver: Oh good god. Why did this match-up have to happen in the 2nd round, again?! I wanted this to be the conference final, but I guess better early than never, right? As a person who picked the Hawks to win the cup but who is also a lifelong Canucks fan (yes, we have a bad rep but not all of us are riot-happy douche bags-tyvm) I'm sort of inbetween a rock and a hard place here-it's what I imagine it's like when choosing between one's own children. I'll try to be as objective as possible.
After looking more than a little shaky at times against Nashville the Hawks finally committed to their changed game plan and disposed of their worthy opponents. Neimi had two shutouts in the series. In these games he faced 23 and 33 shots respectively and has a better saver percentage and goals against than Luongo but Lu made the key saves when he needed too and usually in highlight reel fashion (except in game 3) , so, I'm going to say that in goal the teams are even. Mr Mullet, Patrick Kane played very well throughout the series and after a slow start Hossa and Toews picked it up. Campbell's back and Byfuglien will be up front crashing into Luongo. The Hawks took a lot more penalties in this series than they normally do-I expect this trend to continue in Vancouver as there is a lot more animosity between these two teams. I think Game 6 a year ago will be a big motivating factor for the Canucks and especially Luongo. He's starting to get his confidence back and I expect him to be a lot stronger in this series than against LA-same thing for the PK. Seabrook and Keith will be playing against the twins and Samuelsson this will definitely slow the line down but it won't stop them. This means that Kesler, Burrows and Raymond have got to step it up. Steve Bernier and Alex Edler had a great series against LA-they'll need to continue they're fine play. These teams are very evenly matched. The difference right now is really in special teams (Hawks PK is 3rd, Vancouver's is last: Vancouver's PP is tied for 5th, Hawks are 11th) and on defense. The Canucks are really going to start feeling the loss of Willie Mitchell in this series. If the D (I'm looking at you Bieksa-don't even get me started on Alberts or whoever they're planning on throwing in there) doesn't play a tough and above all Smart series the Hawks will make them pay. This matchup should provide some highly entertaining games and, in the end, I see the winner going on to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

The East:
Bruins v Flyers: Bruising series, expect a ton of hitting and after-the-whistle scrums. Marc Savard better keep his head up at all times because Matt Cooke is 5'11", 205 lbs while Chris Pronger is 6'6"& 220 lbs and was named by his peers to be the dirtiest player in the NHL. Bruins definitely have the advantage here in goal. Simon Gangne and Jeff Carter will be sorely missed by Philly; Gange's out for at least 2 more weeks and I'll be shocked and awed if Carter is back for this series at all. I want the Flyers to win but it won't be easy and unless they find a way to fill those two giant offensive holes it'll be the Bruins that prevail.

Penguins v Canadiens: As I stated before, this is a contest between the hottest goaltender in the NHL playoffs and the offensive powerhouse that is Sidney Crosby (current points leader and co-owner of this year's Rocket Richard trophy). After their game 1 loss to Ottawa it was obvious that Crosby decided to put his team on his back and almost singlehandedly win the series. Malkin's looking strong and Pascal Dupuis has been playing really well. The Pens will have to show a lot of patience. Aside from solving Jaroslav Halak , a man who stopped Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom & Green and who consistently faced over 40 shots per game and turned in a 53 save performance to force a Game 7, they'll have stop Mike Cammalleri and face down the pressure of being the overwhelming favorite. Montreal will have confidence and a lot of momentum coming in off the Washington series. I love a good Cinderella story and nothing would please me more than for the Habs to pull off another surprise but Crosby's not Ovechkin-he actually shows up when it counts.


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