Western Conference Final
Edmonton wins series 4-1
Whew, take off for a few days and this place turns into a graveyard.
For all my earlier blithering about how close a series the Western Conference final would be, it was over rather fast. Purely on a balance of play basis, I think perhaps the Anaheim Ducks should have taken it to six games — but Edmonton definitely deserved to win.
And since we're due to be hearing the intricate details of the Oiler's healthy scratches between now and the end of the Stanley Cup finals, I'll spend a brief moment eulogizing these plucky Ducks.
First of all, despite the fact that he, admittedly, didn't see a ton of the Ducks during the regular season, Colby Cosh had by far the most prescient take on how this Anaheim team would fare in this series (even if it did come after a rather convincing Edmonton win in Game 1):
On the verge of June, conditions favour the team that makes fewer mistakes. You tell me who's going to make more in the next three games: Roloson, Pronger, Peca, Smyth, Smith, Staios, and company? Or that gang of junior callups on the other side? Scott Niedermayer is a fun player to watch, and he got more Norris votes than Pronger, but which one plays the technically tighter game? Not a hard question for any serious hockey fan. Francois Beauchemin is a tough, sophisticated defenceman who has suddenly made a reputation for himself in this playoff year--I will always admire him for answering Iginla's ostentatious call-out in the first round and sending Iggy back to the bench with an innovative new head configuration--but do a lot of teams win Stanley Cups with 26-year-old NHL rookies playing 28 minutes a night?True on all counts. The mileage coach Randy Carlyle got out of players like Dustin Penner, Ryan Getzlaf and Beauchemin was certainly impressive, but really not indicative of a club built to win it all.
The fact is this: if you reverse-engineer the Ducks they look exactly like a team that was designed to "shock" a couple of overrated teams in the early round and then expire gracefully.
Getzlaf, in particular, was both parts impressive and confounding, eventually working his way from a bit player to an integral part in Anaheim's fruitless battle into the series. The former Calgary Hitmen captain went from 12 minutes or less icetime in Games 1 and 2 to 17:00 in Game 3, 18:37 in Game 4 and a ridiculous 25:26 in the deciding game.
This kid's going to be a star, but his indecision on a Ducks' power play that went 1 for 11 in Game 5 was a big factor in making a very good Edmonton penalty kill look unbeatable (which it nearly was).
Even Anaheim general manager Brian Burke admitted posthumously that this season's playoff run was an unexpected success, that his work reshaping this team was far from over. Where he'll likely have to start is by adding a workable third defensive pairing and fourth forward line, as Edmonton's flu-ravaged depth really highlighted Anaheim's lack of it.
The Ducks have 10 players re-signed for next season, nearly the most of any playoff team this season, and they're well-positioned to take a big step to the top of what should be a much deeper Pacific Division next season.
In short, Anaheim's run was no fluke, and Ducks fans should take solace in the fact a club a few years short of its prime was able to do this much damage.
As for the Oilers, if you're one of the faithful who's loyally read to the end of this in search of some more anti-Western-Canada bias (from someone from the uber-alienated heartland?), the Cup is theirs to lose. I agree with Tom Benjamin that the East is weak, and as afraid as Mr. Cosh should be of Ryan Miller, there's no way a club down three key defencemen is winning this thing.
Alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. But it is good to see that after only six weeks, we can finally see the home stretch. (I think there's only one more bad predicition in me anyway.)
James's pre-series prediction: Anaheim in 7
(No, it doesn't pay to bet against the Oilers. But at least Shawn Horcoff is single-handedly guaranteeing me a few hundred dollars in my hockey pool.)