Hockey Trade Rumors' 2002 Playoff Preview
Which is the most exciting series to watch in the playoffs? How far can THN’s Stanley Cup winner favorite Flyers go? Can the Canucks ‘eh’ the Wings? This is HTR’s 2002 Playoff match-up preview.Vancouver Canucks ‘eh’(vs.) Detroit Red Wings
Overall, I must say that the Western Conference has the most interesting and exciting playoff match-ups, this one will be one of the top ones. Last post-season, the Canucks were swept by the Avalanche but worked them extremely hard each game, except for game 4. The Canucks finished as the hottest NHL team in the 2nd half of the season. They have an unstoppable Todd Bertuzzi, a hot scorer in Markus Naslund, and Dan Cloutier has played like a starting goaltender. One thing that the Canucks must do is prevent getting penalties and play a strong game defensively and in the neutral zone. The Canucks need to realize that they are younger and have more strength and stamina than the Red Wings. It is going to be wild series if the Canucks win, but I think they do have the possibilities. As for the Red Wings, shooting, PP, and magical goaltending from Hasek are the major keys. Cloutier will have to face Shanahan, Fedorov, Lidstrom, Yzerman, Hull, Robitaille, Holmstrom on the PP, and Datsyuk. Those are the players to have for the playoffs. Whether the Red Wings finished 1st or 8th in the standings, they are made for the playoffs. They need to draw the penalties but the defense has to keep big Bertuzzi away from the net. The Red Wings could most likely win this series, but the Canucks can pull the biggest upset of the playoffs, they have the ability to do so.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Colorado Avalanche
This will probably be the most exciting match-up to watch in both arenas and on TV. They started a rivalry since last season. There is Deadmarsh and Aaron Miller against Reinprecht and former captain Rob Blake. Then there was one regular season game where the Kings fans threw food and junk on the ice. These two teams will really go at it this time, except Jason Allison is on the team, which will make a difference. Potvin is also a hot goaltender and he regained his confidence a lot, he has to come up big. The Kings seem to have more offensive power than the Avs, since the Avs offense was amazingly below average, but must not be fooled by it. There is always Tanguay, Drury, Hejduk, and Sakic. Now, there is the big news of Peter Forsberg ready to play. The good news is that he adds a “threat”, but the bad news is, can he score? Forsberg lost a lot of time on the ice, it will take time for him to regain his strength on the ice and get his game back. However, since he is a top and unique player, Forsberg could be an impact in the first game and on. The Kings major threat would be Patrick Roy. The first goal of a game will judge the rest of the game, especially if the Avalanche score it. The Kings will have to come up big against the Avalanche, and in my opinion there is a 50/50 chance of winning the series for both teams. Key players would be Sakic, Blake, Roy, Potvin, Deadmarsh, and Allison.
Phoenix Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
The Coyotes have been the surprise team of the Western Conference. They have a great coaching staff, Gretzky the inspirational man, and outstanding goaltending from Sean Burke. The offense is very weak, but the Sharks have to keep on the lookout for Daniel Briere (put on waivers and no one claimed him?). Also, Michal Handzus is a big forward, then there is Nagy who can score the ‘where did it come from?’ goals, and Langkow is a big key for their offense as well. Shane Doan had a very disappointing season and was about to be dealt to the Rangers, but he can always contribute with his size and shot. Defense, however, is the key for the Coyotes. The Sharks will come out with the hitting and grinding, as well with the offensive power in Selanne. Nabokov must come out and stop shots, and the defense has to prevent the turnovers and defensive mistakes. Historically, the Coyotes have done little to nothing in the playoffs, but with Burke, the defense, the coaching, and the playoff player in Claude Lemieux, the Coyotes could actually beat the San Jose Sharks, but the Sharks will play a “must win” style hockey. The Sharks should win this series without too much trouble.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
I call this the unpredictable series, anything can happen. Either team could win in a sweep, or all the way through game seven. Goaltending will be the issue for the Blues, can they win and come up big in the playoffs? The Blues offense has to be there to win games since the Hawks’ defense is not that good, but Thibault will be tough to beat. Pronger and the rest of the defensemen have to start picking up their game and play solid defense without taking dumb penalties. The key players would be Tkachuk, Pronger, Demitra, Johnson, Thibault, Daze, and Amonte. Amonte must wake up. This is a wait and watch series. The Blackhawks can win the first two games and then the Blues can win the next three and then Blackhawks can the next two. It is unpredictable.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins
The predicted series win goes in favor for the Bruins, but the Canadiens can pull off an upset. Theodore is the most important player of the whole match, and the Canadiens have to build a defensive shield in front of Theodore. The Bruins have Guerin, Thornton, Samsonov, Glen Murray, and Martin Lapointe who could come up big in the playoffs. Dafoe should not have a hard time against the Canadiens’ offense, since there is no big threat, but the problem that the Bruins defense will have to face is that any Montreal player can score the first goal of the game. It could be Saku Koivu, Chad Kilger, or Gino Odjik with the lucky bounce. The Canadiens also have playoff specialist Doug Gilmour and face off specialist Yanic Perrault. The Canadiens will have to face the Bruins’ offensive guns, but the Bruins will have to face the whole Canadiens team itself. The Bruins could be fooled by Montreal, but if Dafoe plays above average and all it takes is one of the four offensive guns of the Bruins to score, then Boston wins the series.
Ottawa Senators vs. Philadelphia Flyers
If the Flyers had Roenick and/or Leclair on a scoring streak, along with Simon Gagne’s skillful offense, they could come out with a definite series win. But, it is Roenick’s, Primeau’s, Leclair’s, Recchi’s, and both goaltender’s inconsistent play that could eliminate the Flyers from the playoffs in the first round. As scary as this team could have been, and as scary as it is on paper, the Flyers could actually be eliminated in the first round. The defense is there, although Desjardins was not worth keeping and Kim Johnsson must use his skating skills against the Ottawa Senators. The Senators have a solid defensive system, but the defensemen should be no hard challenge to the Flyers, but in this case they are. Gagne would be ineffective if Zdeno Chara takes him. Patrick Lalime is a streaky goaltender and is “beat-able”. The Senators will win against the Flyers if they dominate on power plays. The Senators will win if their offense gets shots on goal. The Flyers have the size to plow through the Senators’ defensemen, Primeau will be a huge factor and must come up big. The Flyers can only rely on their defense, and Cechmanek is not that reliable. The Flyers’ goaltending could be a problem, once again, and this is when Cechmanek (or Boucher if replaced) has to prove not only to Bobby Clarke, Barber, and the Flyers organization, but to the NHL and its fans that he can carry a team, he can win games, and he can give this team a chance for the Stanley Cup. The Senators should not be a hard team to win against for the Flyers. Key players for both teams would be Leclair, Gagne, Cechmanek/Boucher, Primeau, Lalime, Chara, Alfredsson, and Bonk.
New Jersey Devils vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Déjà vu! Who will Scott Stevens hit this time with 7.4 seconds left in the game with a lead? Anybody. The Canes are a no match team against the Devils. Ron Francis, Jeff O’Neill, Rod Brind’Amour, and Artus Irbe will be the only key players for the Hurricanes. This series should be a “piece of cake” for the Devils and should face the same thing as last post-season, a 4-2 series win, but that is highly unlikely since Artus Irbe has had an inconsistent season all along, can he change in the playoffs though? He certainly can, but with high doubts. Chris Dingman has been a no show for the Hurricanes, and will end up doing nothing. The Devils don’t have to go through much trouble with Carolina’s defense as well as offense. With Joe Nieuwendyk and Langenbrunner (Stars that fell from the sky to stinky New Jersey) in the Devils offense, the Hurricanes do not have to stop a slumping Sykora, Brylin, or an inconsistent Elias, because that would have made things much different if the Devils still had Jason Arnott and Randy McKay in their line-up. The Canes could have had a chance to win the series with those players, but Niuewendyk and Langenbrunner will be hard to stop which will make Elias and Sykora be hard to stop unless Irbe will rob their shots or Sykora will miss his shots. Bobby Holik knows he is a UFA this summer, he will show a lot in the playoffs. The Hurricanes have little physical toughness, which should be just one reason for the Devils to win this series. If the Hurricanes pull an upset, then the Devils must have played poorly without heart, can it happen? Sure because anything can happen, but the key players differential is on the Devils advantage: Brodeur, Rafalski, Neidermeyer, Holik, Elias, Nieuwendyk, Langenbrunner, Sykora, Stevens, and for Carolina: Francis, O’Neill, Brind’Amour, Irbe, and possibly Erik Cole or Malik.
New York Islanders vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
This is the unpredictable series of the Eastern Conference. Like the Blackhawks against the Blues, anything can happen between these two teams. The Islanders best playoff players are Mike Peca and “to Milbury, from Detroit with love” Chris Osgood. Alexei Yashin could have that motivation of coming up big in the playoffs, since it is a new coach, new team, new fans, new locker room, and cha ching big cash. The difference between these two teams is that one is not enough playoff experienced and the other is built for the playoffs with tons of playoff experienced players. The problem that could give the Leafs trouble is the defense, including Corey Schwab. Sure he came up and showed up for the Leafs when Joseph was injured, but this is playoff time. Reports do say that Curtis Joseph could be back soon, soon enough? Unless Joseph will be ready to play by game 3, then the Leafs have a great chance to win. Mike Peca has to get this team going, his checks, fore-check, back-check, defensive game, and scoring contribution. The Leafs though, have the materials to make Mike Peca not a big deal. Quinn can put Roberts, Corson, Tucker, Domi, and Valk on Peca, which could prevent him from his hitting and toughness. It will be Sundin against Yashin. Both are not that physical but Yashin is no match for the Leafs’ toughness. He can put pucks pass Schwab, but Sundin is tougher than Yashin and would easily win a battle against him. Corson and Roberts along with Tucker are the perfect playoff players to have. That line was the one that won physical battles against the Devils last post-season, and could be strongly significant against an Islander team. Tucker can tame Cairns and draw a penalty, Cairns is not the defenseman you’d want to play in the playoffs, no matter how many times the coach tells him to not react, Cairns will take a dumb penalty. Osgood will have to come up huge, basically he would be the player to keep the Islanders in the game. The Islanders must take advantage with their PK forwards, like Jason Blake, and intimidators like Steve Webb must go up against Domi and Tucker, but again, Domi, Tucker, Corson, and Roberts would quiet Webb down. The Isle’s could very well pull an upset, but the Leafs are built for the playoffs, much like the Red Wings, where it doesn’t matter if they finished 1st or 8th, they are a playoff team and goaltending should be their only worry.
I refused to place predictions, especially after reading the bad predictions some of us made for the regular season. This is going to be a fun post-season, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the best sport on earth.