Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Peerless Brings You . . . The Conference Semifinal Prognsotications

In spite of some balky connectivity with his provider, The Peerless brings you the last word (well, until he goes to bed) word on the second round prognostications . . .

Eastern Semifinals --

Buffalo Sabres (1) – New York Rangers (6)

Season Series: Buffalo: 4-0-0/New York: 1-0-3

Series Theme: “Head-On…Apply Directly to the Forehead”

Fun Fact: No team scored more against the Rangers than did the Sabres (4.25 goals per game).

This is a difficult series to handicap. Buffalo won all four previous meetings, but this series was over on December 1st. And, Henrik Lundqvist has been lights out in the Ranger net after the New Year (26-11-6, including the sweep of Atlanta). In the opening round, Lundqvist was hardly the goaltender he was as the migraine-suffering sieve that went quick and quiet last spring. There is a temptation to pick the Rangers based on the sweep of the Thrashers and the fact that the Sabres skipped a beat in the Islander series. That’d be a fool’s errand. Buffalo is the most consistent, balanced club left. They had eight players with more than 50 points, ten players with 20 or more goals (both include Dainius Zubrus). And if one looks at their ten-games splits:


…one sees a club that plays with a considerable efficiency and consistency.

Buffalo in six.

New Jersey Devils (2) – Ottawa Senators (4)

Season Series: Ottawa: 1-2-1/New Jersey: 3-0-1

Series Theme: “Irresistible Force?...Meet immovable object.”

Fun Fact: New Jersey was more successful during the regular season at holding a lead after two periods than any team remaining in this tournament (.912 winning percentage).

Except for the first game – an 8-1 blowout win for the Senators – each of the games in the season series was decided by one goal. Ottawa put an end to the idea of Pittsburgh being ready for prime time, but now they face as different a team as can be. New Jersey was 27th in scoring this year. Trouble for Ottawa is, the Devils were tied for third in scoring defense. And, the Devils are a very patient club. They might not merit quite the somnambulistic reputation they have in many quarters, but they won’t remind anyone of Pittsburgh, either. For Ottawa – a team with more than a little playoff experience – the issue will be how they deal with the change of pace.

On the other side, Martin Brodeur had an odd – for him – season. Over a four month period, beginning with December, his GAA rose in each succeeding month (1.69 – 1.80 – 2.22 – 2.92). At the beginning of April, it looked like the light went on – he gave up only four goals in his last three regular season games – but then he gave up three goals in four successive games to open the Tampa Bay series. Brodeur closed out the series with a shutout and a two-goals-yielded performance, but there is the uncommon issue of Brodeur’s consistency as this series opens. Nevertheless, tie goes to the defense, and the Devils are better, front to back.

New Jersey in seven.

Western Semifinals --

Detroit Red Wings (1) – San Jose Sharks (5)

Season Series: Detroit: 1-3-0/San Jose: 3-1-0

Series Theme: “Gen-X versus Gen-Ex-Lax”

Fun Fact: San Jose scored 18 goals in four games against the Wings. Only Nashville scored more (21), but they did it in twice as many games.

The six defensemen San Jose started in their series-clinching win against Nashville average less than 25 years of age. Chris Chelios has corns that are older. Of the 12 forwards who dressed for that game, only three are older than 28. On the other hand, in the series clincher against Calgary, Detroit dressed only three forwards younger than 28, and their defensemen have an average age older than 33 (take 21-year old Kyle Quincy out of the mix, and you have to use carbon dating to get a more accurate age reading).

But here is something to watch…Nashville allowed San Jose 32.6 shots per game in their series. Detroit allowed Calgary 21.5 shots per game. Detroit has enough experience to take advantage of San Jose’s youth in a high pressure situation to play the kind of puck possession game that will relieve pressure on their defense and the ancient Dominik Hasek in goal.

Detroit in six.

Anaheim Ducks (2) – Vancouver Canucks (3)

Season Series: Anaheim: 3-0-1/Vancouver: 1-3-0

Series Theme: “Hey, we might still be playing when you wake up out east”

Fun Fact: Anaheim led the NHL with 71 fighting majors; Vancouver was 21st with 27. Anaheim led the NHL in penalty minutes, but if the fighting majors are accounted for, the penalty minute totals are virtually equal (Anaheim has more, 1,097 to 1,071).

This is another of those difficult series to figure. The clubs split a pair of games after New Years (Vancouver winning in overtime), but since the start of the year, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo is 31-10-5 (including the 4-3 record in the opening round against Dallas). Only 16 times in his last 46 games has Luongo given up more than two goals in a game. The thing is, though, Luongo is 0-3-0 against Anaheim this year. Against the Ducks he has, by far, his worst goals-against average and save percentage against any club.

The problem for Vancouver is that they are an offensively-challenged club. They were 22nd in the league in scoring (Anaheim was ninth). It carried into the playoffs, where the Canucks were shutout three times and scored a total of eight goals in the last six games (two of them empty netters). And, the two clubs are virtually tied in scoring defense (Vancouver at 2.40/game, Anaheim at 2.42/game).

Neither Jean-Sebastien Giguere nor Ilya Bryzgalov are likely to put up the goose eggs Marty Turco laid on Vancouver, but it doesn’t seem likely Vancouver will be able to muster much more of an offense than they showed in the first round. And, Anaheim will score more than the absent Dallas offense did in the first round. Luongo seems likely to steal a game or two, but not four.

Anaheim in six.