Friday, April 21, 2006

2006 Stanley Cup playoffs
The playoff preview

I've been picking playoff series, filling out brackets, since I was a kid with crayons, and if there's anything I've learned, it's tough. In the NHL — and especially since the last dynasty teams of the '80s died out — favourites fall left and right and even picking the so-called 'dark horses' is an exercise in guess work.

Maggie the Monkey does, indeed, have a chance to best the most expert of experts.

With that said, here are my picks for the first round and complete brackets for the rest of the playoffs.


Eastern Conference
(1) Ottawa v. (8) Tampa Bay
Series key: Goaltending
This may be a matchup of the first and worst seeds in the conference, but I think it'll actually be one of the closer, hard-fought series in the East. Despite the fact the Lightning have really struggled with their goals against this season, they've got so many weapons up front that they are one of the few teams that can keep pace with the Senators in a power-play contest (which many early-round games are sure to be). Tampa Bay (and Ottawa, for that matter) will only go as far as their struggling goaltending tandem can take them.
Ottawa in 6

(2) Carolina v. (7) Montreal
Series key: Strong defence from the backend
The Hurricanes incredible rise in the East could end here, as the Habs have played phenomenally well in front of Cristobal Huet over the second half of the season. Carolina has a wealth of experience upfront and holds the edge in scoring punch, but these club's defence pairings are both on the weaker sides and if Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette can't continue to squeeze as much as he has from his blueline corps, it could be a long series. This Montreal team looks an awful lot like the one that upset Boston in 2004.
Carolina in 7

(3) New Jersey v. (6) N.Y. Rangers
Series key: Jaromir Jagr
The Devils' 11-game winning streak heading into the playoffs has to be a worry for Rangers coach Tom Renney, but that's not the only one. With Lou Lamoriello behind the bench, New Jersey is playing the most disciplined hockey in the league, allowing just 63 power-plays goals all season. Since Patrik Elias has returned, they're 30-9-4. Jagr's going to have to be a superstar and a leader, and I don't see that happening.
New Jersey in 5

(4) Buffalo v. (5) Philadelphia
Series key: Experience and Peter Forsberg
If I've learned anything watching the Vancouver Canucks intently all those years, it's that you should never, ever under-estimate Forsberg. When healthy, he's one of the greatest players of the past decade, and in the playoffs, even more so. The Flyers are a far better team than their record indicates this season, and if they can employ anywhere near a full blueline, their experience will be very difficult for a young Sabres club to contend with. It won't be a walk, by any means, and I do like Buffalo's chances, but I'm picking experience — and Forsberg — to win out.
Philadelphia in 6

Western Conference
(1) Detroit v. (8) Edmonton
Series key: Dwayne Roloson
It comes down to this: Can the Oilers stop the league's top power play in a series that is going to come down to special teams? Roloson is going to have a huge say in that, and he's going to have to be a star. Chris Pronger's a big factor here as well. The Red Wings have shown few weaknesses all season, but they have struggled somewhat when playing the Oilers. Still, with the playoffs comes a raised intensity level, and Edmonton's going to need a whole lot more from players like Mike Peca than they got during the season.It'll be a fascinating series.
Detroit in 6

(2) Dallas v. (7) Colorado
Series key: The Avalanche defence
I picked Colorado's defence, but this series may come down to goaltending as well. While Jose Theodore has had his own problems this season, a lot of eyeballs are going to be on Stars netminder Marty Turco to see if he can shake what some are terming a playoff 'jinx.' (Considering Dallas allowed the fewest shots against this season, I'm not so sure it'll matter.) While the Stars' defence is made up of experienced veterans and has plenty of grit, Colorado's backend is going to be leaning heavily on Patrice Brisebois and Brett Clark.
Dallas in 6

(3) Calgary v. (6) Anaheim
Series key: The Flames' offence
Granted, Calgary has had difficulty scoring all season and has continued to win, but in a series like this, one that will be the most tightly contested of any in the first round, those extra goals are going to be needed. I love the way the Ducks have played down the stretch this season, and they've got some of the top defensive forwards in the league in guys like Samuel Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer. Calgary's defence is far more experienced and battle-tested, but Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle has worked wonders with this group so far.
Anaheim in 7

(4) Nashville v. (5) San Jose
Series key: Chris Mason
Granted, it's an easy out to pick Mason as the series' key, but he will truly need to play well beyond expectations for the Predators to win this series. The Nashville defence allowed the fifth-most shots against this season, the highest such number among playoff teams, and will definitely have to cutdown on the workload their untested 'tender faces. The Sharks have been one of the league's top teams the past few months, but this will be far from a cakewalk. Mason sounds as if he's up for the challenge and given that his club was 11-5-1 with him in goal, there'll definitely be some fight in this team. Joe Thornton, however, will best his playoff demons.
San Jose in 6

The bracket racket (click for full-size versions)

And, in the finals, the New Jersey Devils will win their fourth Stanley Cup.

UPDATE Just bumping this to the top, on the day the games begin.


At 3:30 a.m., April 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an interesting series of picks. I wonder though if Philly can take Ottawa with Niittymaki, especially since Hasek should probably be back by the second series.

At 7:51 a.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger alyosha mcbain said...

The Rangers will beat the Devils in 6 games. They match up much better with the Devils than Mr. Mirtle seems to think. I know the Rangers are struggling and they staggered into the playoff tourney, but the hatred involved in this rivalry is going to focus the Rangers immediately on the task of victory.

Additionally, Martin Brodeur is the most overrated player in the past 15 years of NHL hockey. During the 90's he lost playoff series as a #1 seed with shocking regularity, and he once lost a series to Ron Tugnutt and a weaker Senators team. His performance in the 2001 finals against the Avalanche was also a legendary choke job--he blew a 3-2 lead against the Avs and finished the series with a save percentage that was less than 90%, all behind the best defense in the league.

I say Lundqvist will outplay Brodeur the same way Mike Richter ALWAYS outplayed Brodeur. The other key for this series is that the Rangers actually match up pretty well physically against the Devils--particularly their top line of Gomez/Gionta/and whoever else they skate on the wing that night, Parise or Elias or Langenbrunner.

This series is the best possible matchup for the Rangers right now.

At 12:13 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger mike w said...

I think playoff predictions are more accurate when you throw in one totally crazy first round upset. Anaheim beating Calgary is close, but I'm thinking more of a Tampa Bay beating Ottawa-type deal. It seems to happen every year and can make you look like a genius.

At 12:18 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger Nick said...

James, you have a lot of faith in Anaheim. I haven't been watching them for the past few months, so I can't say much, but you've got them beating two teams in the first rounds that I would think should be able to take them down easily. You're the sports journalist though, I'm just a biased calgary/detroit fan. Time will tell.

At 1:32 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger pinder said...

am i the only one who thinks those brackets make no sense? Philly is gonna win the Carolina/Montreal series? NJ is winning the Buffalo/Philly series?

At 1:39 p.m., April 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

am i the only one who thinks those brackets make no sense? Philly is gonna win the Carolina/Montreal series? NJ is winning the Buffalo/Philly series?

You're not the only one, but most people get it. The NHL bracket is not like an NCAA bracket; each round re-seeds (the highest remaining seed plays the lowest remaining seed, etc.). James has reflected this in his image.

It is not meant to read that "NJ is winning the Buffalo/Philly series", but rather "NJ is winning the NJ/NYR series, then playing Carolina (who won the Carolina-Montreal series). Philly is winning the Buffalo/Philly series."

At 2:48 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger Kent MacDonald said...

you just may have gotten every single second round series wrong. that's pretty impressive. i'm impressed at least.

At 2:57 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger Josh said...

I'm an oilers fan, but somehow I doubt we'll last six. Good picks, though I doubt your Dallas allegiance. Again, that could be the Oiler in me.

At 3:18 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger Rafal Deren said...

I can't see Philadelphia beating Ottawa in the playoffs. Ottawa has the edge on offense and defense, and goaltending is a wash.

You're seriously underrating Ray Emery. He's a very capable goalie and just as good as everyone in the East not named Brodeur.

At 3:32 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger Chris said...

I can't really see Philledelphia beating Ottawa in that bracket either, mostly because its Carolina playing Montreal not Philledelphia. Your picks go from bolt to astounding when you start creating impossible semi-final games.

There are going to be some good match ups this year too. I have a good feeling about the Ducks as well, but I don't think they're make it out of the second round. But with Seleane playing the best hockey he's played since he left Winnipeg, and Ginguere starting to heat up they're going to be dangerous. On the other hand, they do have to get through Kippersoft, Igninal, Regheir, Phaneuf and the 16 hobbos that make up the rest of Calgary's roster. And hey Kippersoft has been winning games by himself all season.

At 4:02 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger Danny Pugsley said...

My picks for round one:

In the East:

Ottawa, Carolina, New Jersey and Philly.

In the West:

Detroit, Dallas, Calgary and San Jose.

At 6:53 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger Djlethal01 said...

No way does NJ win it all, they have the thinnest offense of any team in the playoffs only real addition is Brian Gionta who has played a lot better with the new rules.

I don't think Calgary loses to Anaheim, and Montreal upsets Carolina, Gerber is def. not playing his best hockey as of late.

In the end I see Calgary winning it all.

At 10:10 p.m., April 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mirtle. Your "bracket racket" is out of whack-et. You've got Philadelphia winning the Carolina-Montreal series, and so on.

P.S. I saw the best "playoff" game already: Penguins v. Islanders at Mellon Arena on Monday. What a game.

At 10:51 p.m., April 19, 2006, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

His bracket is correct. The teams are reseeded after the first round, hence his matchups.

At 10:22 a.m., April 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Ottawa > Tampa - 6
Montreal > Carolina - 7
Buffalo > Philly - 4
New Jersey > Rangers - 5

Detroit > Edmonton - 5
Dallas > Colorado - 4
Anaheim > Calgary - 6
San Jose > Nashville - 6

Montreal > Ottawa - 7
Buffalo > NJ - 7

Detroit > Anaheim - 6
Dallas > San Jose - 7

Buffalo > Montreal - 5
Dallas > Detroit - 6

Buffalo > Dallas - 6

At 3:28 p.m., April 20, 2006, Blogger d-lee said...

Your Ducks to the Western Conference final is very bold. I don't even see them winning two games in the first round.

I can't see the Devils getting to the Eastern final, let alone winning it all. They've had a fantastic run at the end here, but I think they'll run out of steam. Maybe even in the first round.

At 6:07 a.m., April 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not count out the Reigning Stanley Cup champs in the East over Ottawa. It a new season starting tonight.

Go boltz

At 8:43 p.m., April 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

devs will win it all theyve got the best goaltender in the world and are already kicking the crap out of the rangers 3 games to none plus jagr hasnt done anything

At 1:14 a.m., May 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you just may have gotten every single second round series wrong. that's pretty impressive. i'm impressed at least.

What kind of a tool would say that? You already know who's going to win the second round? It's the amazing Kreskin.

At 10:57 p.m., April 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha noob u werent even close.


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