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Eastern Conference: No. 1 Buffalo v. No. 4 Ottawa
If there ever is a scene during the hockey season that will be remembered from this year, it will be Ottawa goaltender Ray Emery throwing off his mask and challenging then-Buffalo goalie Martin Biron to a fight when all hell had broken lose on the ice after the Senators' Chris Neil blindsided Buffalo’s Chris Drury.
Then just for kicks, Emery went at it with Buffalo’s Andrew Peters (and held his own in the process, which isn’t that easy to do when you’re wearing 50 pounds worth of hockey gear), in that Feb. 22 game.
The NHL Eastern Conference finals between division rivals Buffalo and Ottawa certainly will not lack in intensity. More often then not, there might be more bloodshed than goals, and you might even see more penalty minutes than there are in a 60-minute regulation hockey game.
But in between all that, you’ll see some of the best hockey action there is as two of the teams that have best embraced the new style of the NHL (speed over physicality) square off in the playoffs for the second straight year.
Emery is still there and playing strong, helping to lead his team past the first two rounds (this includes a Game 5 series-clinching win over New Jersey in which he overslept and got into a car accident on his way to the team charter).
And Buffalo’s Ryan Miller – Biron split time with Miller until he was traded to Philadelphia – is no slouch himself, leading the Sabres to convincing wins over both New York teams through the first two rounds.
But this series will come down to the offensive side of things, and Buffalo has the upper hand in that.
There’s a reason why the President’s Cup-winning Sabres led the league with 308 goals scored: It’s because anyone on any line can put the puck in the net.
For the Senators, not so much. Ottawa banks on its top line – Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley – to get the job done. The trio combined for 23 points in the five-game series with the Devils. But if Buffalo shuts down that line, which it should be able to do since they won’t have to worry too much about the other lines, it could be the end of the road for the Senators.
The point is this: No matter which team finds itself down in the end, this series is gonna be one hell of a dogfight. Last year when the Sabres and Senators, who were the top seed at the time, faced off, it was Buffalo that performed the upset.
Look for the same result, minus the upset phenomenon. Buffalo in 6.
Western Conference: No. 1 Detroit v. No. 2 Anaheim
Jean-Sebastien Giguere came oh so close to tasting Lord Stanley’s Cup when he single-handedly took Anaheim to a game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils in 2003.
He won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year for playoff MVP, which is quite a feat in itself (the last time a member of the losing team was named MVP was Ron Hextall, rookie goaltender for the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers when they lost to Edmonton) but it’s still not the same.
For him right now, it looks like championship or bust. Giguere has an outstanding 5-1 playoff record (he missed the first few playoffs games when his son was born) with a .952 save percentage, which is absolutely insane.
But then he’ll look across the ice and see someone who has been there plenty of times before. A little-known guy named Dominic Hasek, as the Ducks get ready to face Detroit in a battle of the top two seeds in the West.
This series, unlike its Eastern counterpart, will be all about defense. Anaheim has two of the best defenders in the league in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. The Red Wings have Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios (they would have Mathieu Schneider, too, if he didn’t break his wrist in Saturday’s game 5 against San Jose).
Somehow Chelios is alive and kicking at the ripe ‘ol hockey age of 45 (and don't forget that Hasek is 42). But Anaheim has its grandfather as well, in 37-year-old Teemu Selanne, who is still searching for his first Stanley cup.
He doesn’t have Paul Kariya anymore (and hasn’t for some time), but the man still has speed and can make things happen on the ice if he gets enough open space.
But this is the Ducks’ third trip to the Western Conference Finals in the last four seasons (not including the 2004-05 lockout). And the last time these two faced off in the playoffs in 2003, Anaheim swept away Detroit, literally, in the first round … as a No. 7 seed and when the Red Wings were defending Stanley Cup champions.
This should be an entertaining series, one that will see Anaheim in the finals for the second time since 2003. At least this time, they’ll be a respectable seed and not playing the Cinderlla story-role. Ducks in 6.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
NHL Conference Finals Preview
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