Hockeyleaks Playoff Preview 06' Playoff Preview

By Corey Johnson

Eastern Conference

[1] Ottawa vs. [8] Tampa Bay

Ottawa once again comes heads into the playoffs as the favourite to win the Eastern Conference. In previous years, Ottawa’s weak goaltending (aka Patrick Lalime) has been blamed for earlier than expected playoff exits. This year, Ottawa brought in Dominik Hasek to transform their goaltending from a question, to unquestionable. That beings said, injuries are a part of the game, and the Sens will enter the playoffs, and possibly exit them, without the Dominator. A groin injury (that many of us predicted would happen at some point this year) will keep Dom on the sidelines for at least the start of the first round, and possibly longer. That being said, Ottawa’s offense should make up for Hasek’s absence. Heatley, Havlat, Alfredsson, and Spezza are all among the NHL’s best offensive players, while Redden and Chara have been known to add a touch of offense to the Senator lineup.

Tampa Bay enters these playoffs as defending cup champs, and if they are going to repeat, it will likely take a miracle. Tampa just squeezed into the playoffs, and though they have great offensive talents up front, their defense has been in question over the last few months of the season, and they may have the most questionable goaltending out of the 16 playoff teams. Grahame and Burke have done little to replace Khabibulin in Tampa, and if they cannot give Tampa an outstanding performance between the pipers, the Bolts don’t stand a chance

Prediction : Tampa Bay will put up a fight, but Ottawa is just too strong. Ottawa in 6.

[2] Carolina vs. [7] Montreal

The Hurricanes enter the playoffs as a team facing a lot of questions. Can Martin Gerber continue to put up great numbers under the pressure of the playoffs? Can Eric Staal continue his rapid scoring pace? Can Carolina’s defense play well enough for Carolina to compete with the best in the league? Carolina fans are hoping that all of those answers are yes. Carolina was busy this year, bringing in Doug Weight and Marck Recchi mid-season, but they took a large hit with Erik Cole being knocked out for the remainder of the year. The Hurricanes have a great team, and have as much potential as any of the 16 NHL playoff teams.

The Canadiens have been as streaky a team as the NHL has had this year. They’ve played a total of three starting goalies between their pipes, and all have had hot and cold streaks. Koivu and Kovalev must be on top of their games if Montreal wants to advance, while the goaltending pair of Aebisher and Huet must continue to put up solid numbers. The Habs will start with Huet in net, but if he shows any signs of weakness, the Habs will quickly move to their backup, who is the only one of them who has playoff experience.

Prediction : Both teams have a lot of questions, but Carolina should take this series. Carolina in 7.

[3] New Jersey vs. [6] New York Rangers

The Devils were close to missing the playoffs three weeks ago, however, ten straight wins and they’ve moved up to third, with home ice for the first round. The Devils have been riding the hot play of Brian Gionta, and the very solid goaltending of Martin Brodeur. Gomez and Elias are both UFA’s at season’s end, which makes me think they will be showing off their skills to their full extent during this playoff run. The Devils are hot at the perfect time.

Nobody expected the Rangers to be in this position. Ranger fans can thank the amazing play of Lundqvist and Jagr for this great season. If both players can stay hot during the playoffs, then the Rangers have as good a chance as any to knock off the Devils. Others will have to step up, and solid defense is a must for this Rangers’ squad.

Predictions : The Rangers are a good team, but the Devils are just too hot right now. Devils in 6.

[4] Buffalo vs. [5] Philadelphia

The Sabres, a team who nobody saw doing much this year, dominated this year and got themselves home ice advantage in the first round. The goaltending pair of Biron and Miller has been excellent, while every offensive player for the Sabres has put up very solid numbers. During the offseason, Buffalo lost Satan and Zhitnik, and did very little to replacement. Addition by subtraction can be the Sabres motto for this season.

Peter Forsberg is one of the best players in the league, and as long as he’s healthy, the Flyers have to be considered a serious threat. The Flyers decided not to go with their star rookie goalie, and instead will start Esche. This is a risky move, but it will also decide Esche’s fate in Philly. Rookies like Umberger, Carter and Richards will have to continue to play great for the Flyers, and Forsberg will have to stay healthy. The Flyers also play a very physical game, which will make this series very entertaining.

Prediction : The Flyers will built for the playoffs, but the Sabres will put up a fight. Flyers in 7.

Western Conference

[1] Detroit vs. [8] Edmonton

Surprise! The Red Wings once again sit on top of the West. Manny Legace proved he is a solid #1 goalie, which Osgood did a very good job backing him up. Curtis Joseph and Dominik Hasek who? There isn’t much bad to say about Detroit, as they’re very deep, and are above the rest of the teams in the West.

A bigger surprise is that Edmonton is only in 8th place. Since the Oilers last played, they’ve added Roloson, Samsonov, Pronger, Tarnstrom, Peca, and Spacek, without really loosing anyone of importance. That being said, goaltending has been a problem all season for the Oilers, and Roloson has done little to improve that. The Oilers just managed to beat out the Canucks for the last playoff spot, and will be in tough against the power house Red Wings.

Prediction : The Wings are too strong. Detroit in 5.

[2] Dallas vs. [7] Colorado

Dallas has had an amazing season, thanks to a full team effort. Their young stars have been terrific, while their veterans are playing like 25 year olds. Turco has been outstanding, and when called upon, Hedberg has played very well. Dallas is a very complete team, and is right up there with Detroit. I wouldn’t want to face Dallas this post season.

Colorado lost Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg last offseason, which explains why they have not been the same team since. They made a giant splash at the deadline, acquiring Theodore from Montreal. Getting Roy from Montreal helped a few years ago, and it will be interesting to see how far Theo can take these Avalanche. Any team with guys like Tanguay, Sakic, Blake, Liles and Hejduk cannot be counted out.

Prediction : Best series of the opening round. Dallas in 7.

[3] Calgary vs. [6] Anaheim

The Flames went all the way to cup finals last time hockey was played, and this team has only gotten better. Adding Amonte up front was a smart move, and then there is some rookie defenseman, I think his name is Phaneuf? The additions of Hamrlik and Lundmark (who would have guessed?) have also proved to be excellent moves. If Kipper can play some solid goal, the Flames may have what it takes to go back to the cup final.

The Ducks were out of it, until they started getting rid of their veteran stars. Gone are Federov and Ozolinsh, but that didn’t seem to matter. The Ducks battled all the way up to 6th in the West, and are playing very good hockey. This team will go as far as their rookies, and J.S. Giguere will take them. Another cup final? You never know.

Prediction : This will be another great series. Calgary in 7.

[4] Nashville vs. [5] San Jose

Two weeks ago, Nashville looked like they were going to go into the playoffs as one of the cup favourites. Thanks to a blood clot, the Preds have lost their starting goalie, their MVP, and are no longer looking so strong. Chris Mason will step in, and will hope to guide the Preds deep into the playoffs. Kariya and Sullivan will hope to follow up great offensive seasons, while deadline addition Brenden Witt will look to show that he was worth the 1st round pick the Preds gave up for them. Mason is a good goalie, but he’s no Vokoun. That being said, Nashville is still very dangerous.

After starting the season horribly, the Sharks made a trade that will forever change their franchise. They gave up Sturm, Stuart and Primeau, and in return got one of the NHL’s best players in Joe Thornton. The big centre took charge and improved everyone around him. The Sharks are on a tremendous run, and will be very dangerous. Nabokov and Toskala may be the best 1-2 goaltending tandem in the league, and the Sharks offense is very dangerous with the likes of Thornton, Marleau and Cheechu up front. The Sharks will be fun to watch.

Predictions : Mason is no Vokoun. Sharks in 6.