Wednesday, April 9, 2008

16 Playoff Questions

As the competition for the Stanley Cup is set to begin...these are the things I ponder.

1. Can Carey Price really follow in the footsteps of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy and lead his team to the Cup as a rookie? The PP and the crowd will carry Montreal for a round or two, but not past the conference semi-finals. The Habs are banged up and inexperienced and even after an 83 point regular season, I don't trust Kovalev to bring it when it really matters. And what about the guy (Plekanec) that wears a turtle neck? How does that inspire confidence?

2. Are the Penguins capable of going from first round losers to Stanley Cup finalists? In a word, yes. If Hossa could develop some chemistry with either Crosby or Malkin they'd be a near shoe-in to win the East. The supporting cast is surprisingly that good.

3. Do the Caps have anything left? After winning their final 7 games and 11 of their last 12, you have to wonder if Washington fired all their bullets just getting into the playoffs. On the plus side: Huet has looked fantastic and is playing for a new contract and so is some guy named Sergei Fedorov who could most definitely sucker some team into a $20M free agent deal this summer. (Hey, Bobby Holik did it.) And then there is Ovechkin, who in the absence of a great year by Crosby has blossomed into the most wildly entertaining and passionate hockey player of the last 20 years.

4. Will the Devils score any goals? New Jersey shooters lit the lamp only 206 times this year...Ovechkin basically outscored them. I think Brent Sutter is a very good coach and there's no question Brodeur is capable in net...but the blue line is a mess and the forward corps is extremely thin.

5. Is this the end of Jagr (and his hair) in the NHL? I actually like the Rangers and believe they have the second best chance in the East (behind Pittsburgh), mostly because every other team has serious holes or flaws. New York does not. They have scoring forwards, bangers, a super-pest, several reliable and versatile D, and a very good goalie. And if this is Jagr's swan song before heading back across the pond, maybe he actually tries in consecutive games. Plus, you know they'll get every call cause Bettman would LOVE to see the Rangers win.

6. Does Martin Biron scare anyone? Philly has a deep and talented set of forwards but the back-half of their blue line is very suspicious, and the goaltending never seems to come up big when it matters. It'll be interesting to see if the Caps try to kill Steve Downie in game two or wait till game three.

7. Can the Sens turn the page? The good news is that after a truly tumultuous regular season they have absolutely no pressure because everyone has labeled them as 'Dead Men Walking'. The bad news is, ummmm, that's what they are. Four games and out.

8. Are the Bruins the worst playoff team in recent history? Carolina is at least a hundred times better than Boston, whose roster is almost the NHL equivalent of the Miami Heat. And I'm not sure how well Bergeron is gonna fare after missing the last 6 months. The game is, ahhhhh, pretty quick. And hard. Oh wait, they're playing the Habs.

9. Can the Red Wings get the goaltending to win it all? I'm not sure I'd take Hasek or Osgood, at this point of their careers, in a seven game series against any of Giggy, Nabokov, Kiprusoff or Backstrom. So once again they'll have to be that much better than everyone else in all other aspects of the game...which they are.

10. Is San Jose finally savvy enough to capitalize on their potential? Ever since Thornton arrived this team looked (especially on paper) like it could get to the finals and I think now is when they finally make it. They'll be able to lean on Detroit in the Western finals, and expose their lack of speed and grit.

11. Does Marian Gaborik push himself into that top tier of players with a breakthrough performance in the playoffs? If his groin wasn't such a problem, he'd already be looked at in the same light as Sid, Ovie, Iggy, Vinny and Joe Thornton. Now with Minny opening up their style some, Gaborik and the underrated Minnesota crowd could do some damage.

12. Is the Brian Burke era about to end in Anaheim? We all know how good they've been since Niedermayer returned, and how fearsome they look on paper. But there's a reason no one in pro sports repeats anymore: It's because the battle is just too difficult and it takes too much out of you to be able to do it in back-to-back seasons. Plus, you have to figure that the longer the Ducks stick around, the bigger and more taxing the 'Burke leaving to the Leafs' storyline becomes.

13. If Dallas was offered a chance to erase the Brad Richards trade, would they still make the deal? The Stars won only 5 of 15 games with Richards in the line-up and Marty Turco gave up 3+ goals in seven of them. This team is mediocre, just like the goalie they decided to keep.

14. Can the Aves stay healthy? When your top three forwards are at best day-to-day for the rest of the year, I don't like your chances...unless you have an unbelievable goalie. Mr. Paris Hilton isn't. Theodore is set to become a UFA this summer, so a playoff run could make him a lot of money. But I don't see it. They're a coin flip to beat Minnesota, but don't have a chance at advancing any further.

15. How far can Iginla carry the Flames? Huselius is hemorrhaging cash right now and has been for months (5 goals in his last 38 games). Kiprusoff has been pretty solid lately, but is still nowhere near the goalie he was from 03-06 when he was arguably the best in the game. Calgary is really tough to play against, but probably not skilled enough to win more than a game or two against the Sharks.

16. Has anyone noticed the Predators are in the playoffs? Or better yet, does anyone care? I refuse to talk about this team until it resides in it's proper home, somewhere in southern Ontario.