STANLEY CUP 2006

It’s been a long haul, but my favorite time of year has returned. It should be quite interesting. I am most intrigued with the Detroit Red Wings, a team which busted out of the gate, stormed to the best record in the league, and will have Home-Ice advantage throughout. The question however is whether or not it is possible, however improbable for a team to win four Cups in the same era with four different Goaltenders.
The Wings won Titles in 1997 with Mike Vernon, 1998 with Chris Osgood, and in 2002 with Dominik Hasek, the latter being the only future hall of famer of the bunch. With all due respect to Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, as well as Niklas Lidstrom, and his posse of Superswedes on the roster, I find it difficult to fathom Manny Legace backstopping a team to a Title. The Detroit forwards are going to have to play their collective tails off, as will the defense if they are to make this most unlikely run. In the east, the Ottawa Senators were strong all year and finished with the best record in the Conference. Their Achilles heel ? Same as the Detroit Red Wings – Goaltending. They signed Dominik Hasek as a free agent, only to have him go down to injury at midseason, his return for any part of the playoffs is doubtful. The Title hopes of this Ottawa club will ride on unproven young netminder Ray Emery. The rule changes this season have contributed to more room and open Ice for skilled players. The Ottawa Senators lead the league in scoring during the regular season with 314 goals; Detroit was second with 305. Both teams will need every goal they can get in the playoffs.
Let’s breakdown the first round matchups. Starting in the East
#1) Ottawa vs. #8) Tampa Bay: The Lightning go into this as huge underdogs, although they are the defending Stanley cup champs. Their main issue ? Yep….goaltending, they lost Nikolai Khabibulin to Chicago in the off-season, so their hopes will rest on the shoulders of John Grahame. Most of their roster did return however, most importantly Vincent Lecavalier & Martin St.Louis along with the most recent playoff MVP Brad Richards. Scoring will be at a premium, Ottawa was tough this season; only the Calgary Flames allowed fewer goals during the regular season The Senators have two of the best defensemen in the leage in Zdeno Charra & Wade Redden. In will be an entertaining series, but one Stanley Cup in Florida is enough, Ottawa will prevail despite their historical lack of toughness in the playoffs.
#2) Carolina vs. #7) Montreal: No surprises here, Montreal fought down to the last week of the season just to secure a playoff spot, Carolina finished only one point behind Ottawa for the best record in the Eastern Conference while tying the Dallas Stars for third best record overall. Bye bye Habs.
#3) New Jersey vs. #6) New York Rangers: The New York Rangers finally made the playoffs, and returned to respectability, not to mention scoring the fifth most goals in the conference. Between the pipes is young Superstar in the making Henrik Lunqvist who backstopped Sweden to the Gold Medal in the Olympics. Indeed the Rangers’ roster is packed with offensive firepower, led by Jaromir Jagr who lit the lamp 54 times in the regular season. The problem ? The New Jersey Devils are still the most disciplined team in the league, and Goaltender Martin Brodeur is starting to be favorably compared by some to the great Patrick Roy. New York…..the end draws nye.
#4) Buffalo vs. #5) Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Flyers, despite the rule changes instituted to open up the game and benefit faster players, have still chosen to anchor (no pun intended) their defense with players such as Derian Hatcher. The Sabres have been steady all season long, and Philly despite the addition up front of the great Peter Forsberg only scored eight more goals than they allowed in the regular season, and did not outdue Buffalo in either category. Philly’s goaltending tandem of Robert Esche & Antirro Nittymaki has been up and down all year. Close call, but Buffalo has owned the Flyers in the playoffs in recent years. Tough series; Buffalo prevails.
Western Conference
#1) Detroit vs. #8) Edmonton: Edmonton struggled down the stretch, qualifying for the playoffs during the last week of the season, they really only made it in because Vancouver’s late season nosedive was even worse than their own. The bright spot was they did secure solid goaltending with the late season acquisition of Dwayne Roloson. Chris Pronger is also about as tough a defenseman as you will find anywhere. Detroit should win this series without too much trouble, if Edmonton is to pull the upset, they will need to find a way to match the potent Detroit offense stride for stride, and shot for shot. If they can somehow accomplish that feat, then Dwayne Roloson should be able to outplay Manny Legace in goal.
#2) Dallas vs. #7) Colorado: The Mike Modano led Dallas Stars vs. the Joe Sakic led Colorado Avalanche. The Avs won the Stanley Cup in 1996 & 2001; the Stars took it in 1999. Similar styles, both teams like to skate, Dallas was strong all season long, while Colorado did not really begin to round into form until the last two months. Colorado also acquired Goaltender Jose Theodore to lead them down the stretch. A hard series to pick, Theodore is basically unproven, as is Stars’ netminder Marty Turco (Colorado won their two titles with Patrick Roy in net; Dallas won their title with Ed Belfour). Slight edge to Colorado with a little more firepower up front in Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay than the Stars have in Modano, Jason Arnott and Brenden Morrow.
#3) Calgary vs. #6) Anaheim: Calgary came within one game of the Holy Grail last season, bowing out in Game 7 of the Finals. The Flames enter the playoffs with virtually the same roster that brought them so much success in 2004. While the Flames were the leagues best defensive team, allowing only 200 goals against during the regular season, they also scored the least amount of goals of any playoff team with only 218. The Flames also have strong goaltending provided by Mikka Kiprusoff, who is capable of stealing a series by himself. The Ducks are hoping to recapture the magic with took them all the way to game 7 of the Finals in 2003. The Ducks scored 54 more goals than did the Flames in the regular season. As long as the Ducks can stick to a gameplan which utilzes their superior speed & quickness, they have a great chance to pull the upset. Bottomline, unless the Ducks get sucked into playing physical Hockey against the Flames, they will prevail. The only way Calgary wins this series is if Mikka Kiprusoff plays out of his mind (which he is capable of doing). I like the Ducks.
#4) Nashville vs. #5) San Jose: Nashville was strong all year, but lost Goaltender Tomas Vokoun to illness down the stretch. The Sharks are one of the toughest teams in the league since the acquisition of Joe Thornton who won the scoring title, and would have finished 10th in scoring on the strength of his assists alone. He along with Jonathan Cheechoo (league leading 56 goals) form the NHL’s most formidable 1 – 2 punch, not to mention the strength of having Patrick Marleau as their second line Center. Sorry Nashville, maybe next year.
Enjoy the games. See ya’

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