Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference 1st Round Wrapup

*Eastern/Western Conference 2nd Round Wrapups will appear Friday, May 15.
*Eastern/Western Conference Finals Schedule and Preview will appear Saturday, May 16

Western Conference - 1st Round Preview
Western Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Western Conference - 2nd Round Preview

Eastern Conference - 1st Round Preview
Eastern Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Eastern Conference - 2nd Round Preview


SportsJudge Prediction: Boston in 4
Actual Result: Boston in 4

This was the year the NHL was supposed to make sure the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in their highly-celebrated Centennial (that's 100 if you're counting at home) season. Instead, the Bruins easily disposed of Montreal in four games, leaving the Montreal faithful calling for a team overhaul. Canadiens fans, I am here to tell you that you will get your wish. Players on the first train out of Montreal on July 1st are as follows: Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Mike Komisarek, and Patrise Briesbois, while Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Kyle Chipchura, Guillaume Latendresse, and Matt D'Agostini test the waters of restricted free agency. Another hope is Montreal will bring in Vincent Lecavalier from Tampa and he'll make everything better. How can you bring in a star player when you have nothing to trade?

Franchise goaltender Carey Price has been less than stellar, but let's remember he's 21 years old. If Montreal can construct a semi-reasonable team by opening night next season, I think Price would be an excellent fantasy goaltender for your squad. He's got the tools and the ability, but hasn't found the confidence to play his best night in and night out. Unfortunately, I can't help but feel that history may be repeating itself. Merely 13 years ago, Patrick Roy was essentially boo'd out of Montreal by impatient fans. In his last game, Roy made a routine save and was mockingly cheered by fans. In response, Roy responded by throwing his hands in the air as if to cheer along with them. In game 4 last week, facing elimination, Carey Price made a routine save in the second period and was met with the same mocking cheer that Roy endured over a decade ago. The photo to the right shows Price's reaction....hmmm.


SportsJudge Prediction: New York in 6
Actual Result: Washington in 7

The New York Rangers...where to begin. Firing the coach didn't work. Trading for Derek Morris and Nik Antropov didn't work. Even bringing back Sean Avery backfired. It's almost amusing how this story seems to repeat itself every year. Disciplinarian head coach John Tortorella benched Sean Avery for losing his cool on the ice, then set a great example for the team by firing a water bottle into the stands at a fan, resulting in a suspension. There was only so much Henrik Lundqvist could do for this team when they failed to generate any real offense for 7 games. In last night's deciding matchup, the Rangers dominated for close to 50 minutes straight, yet in the end only accumulated 15 shots on goal. "Star" centermen Scott Gomez and Chris Drury are being paid nearly $14.5 million a year combined, yet neither contributed in the least this season. With both players locked up for at least the next three seasons, early summer vacations could become the norm in New York.


SportsJudge Prediction: New Jersey in 5
Actual Result: New Jersey in 7 Carolina in 7

Well this was a shocking outcome. Last night I was writing this article as the Devils iced away the final few minutes of Game 7 and were likely beginning to plan their attack on Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. Less than 2 minutes later, they were stunned.

I can't find a way to agree with fans blaming this one on Martin Brodeur. The Program has an excellent look at the Devils failure and seems to agree. For those fans who only saw the highlights, they missed the barrage of huge saves Brodeur made throughout this game and the entire series. Unfortunately, the Devils weren't able to match up with Carolina's speed. After a shocking win with 0.2 seconds to go in Game 4, the Hurricanes knew they could score late and steal games from the Devils. That's exactly what they did. New Jersey isn't in bad shape moving forward with most of the core returning, but there just isn't much to get excited about with this team. Martin Brodeur will continue to be a threat to win a series by himself, but with their defensive strategy not having as much success in the new era of the NHL, I think there is some work to be done to bring a Cup back to New Jersey.


SportsJudge Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5
Actual Result: Pittsburgh in 6

Pittsburgh's performance in Game 6 of this series was one of the more impressive playoff games I can remember in recent past - and could be devastating mentally for Philly in future seasons. The Flyers had outplayed the Penguins for most of the series and found themselves with a 3-0 lead in the sixth game at home. In the second period, tiny Max Talbot of the Penguins convinced tough guy Daniel Carcillo (578 penalty minutes the past two seasons) to fight and took a beating to inspire the team. A few months ago, Joe Romano and I debated the role of fighting in the NHL, and rarely do I see fights change a game (let alone a series) as much as this one did. The Flyers lost all focus and momentum and 30 minutes later were staring the offseason right in the face. Martin Biron played better than expected, but didn't come up big when he was needed the most. Expect him to be gone this summer. Philadelphia has most of the team returning next season, which is great news for Flyers fans. Claude Giroux has officially burst onto the scene over the last two months and will be a force to watch next season. If you're looking for the next 'Jeff Carter' in your fantasy draft, this might be the guy. Joe Romano has been preaching this for almost a year in his column "The Puck Stops Here" and I think he's right on the money. On the other hand, this year was more of the same story for the Flyers. Tough guys Scott Hartnell and Carcillo took unnecessary penalties at inopportune times over and over again, and it eventually came back to haunt them. Maybe the Flyers will always be the Flyers, but as a hockey fan I'd love to see what they could accomplish if they weeded out the rotten apples.

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