Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Third Round Predictions

Maybe I'm not as hockey-smart as I thought I was. After going 7 for 8 with my first round predictions (although I didn't get any of the series lengths correct), I took a nosedive with my second round predictions, going 2 for 4. Of course, since I picked against the Flyers in the second round, it's a 2 for 4 that I can live with. Still, after failing to correctly predict the length of any playoff series so far, I am not sure how much credibility I really have, but here are my predictions for the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Western Conference Finals
(1) Detroit vs. (5) Dallas

Detroit in 6
First of all, Johan Franzen is amazing. For how good R.J. Umberger of the Flyers played against the Canadiens (8 goals in 5 games), Franzen has been even better. He simply went off against the Avalanche, scoring 9 goals in 4 games, including two hat tricks. Pretty good for a guy who scored only 27 regular season goals.

I have picked against the Stars in every round so far, so obviously I failed to see what was so good about them. They remind me a lot of the Flyers, except they don't hit as much. They have great leaders, tough goaltending and they do just enough to win. They can withstand whatever the other team throws at them and they score back-breaking, timely goals. The Stars made the Sharks, arguably the most talented team in hockey, look average, and while some of that was San Jose's fault, the Stars have to be credited with slowing down one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Still, I just can't see them keeping up with a Detroit team that has seemingly been resting up since March. The Red Wings have the best combination of flashy scorers and heady defensemen in the league, and all they will need is adequate goaltending from Chris Osgood to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals
Pittsburgh (2) vs. Philadelphia (6)

Pittsburgh in Seven
Believe me, I want the Flyers to win, and part of me really wants to pick them. The series will be a classic match-up between two rivals who clearly can't stand each other. The problem is, the Penguins are just too deep. They have their two big guns, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Since they play on different lines, it will be up to Flyers coach John Stevens to figure out which one will play against the Flyers shut down unit of Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. The problem is, the Penguins go so much deeper than that. They have Petr Sykora, who scored 28 goals this season. Ryan Malone added another 27. Then, you have Marian Hossa and Jordan Staal to worry about. Does anyone really think Jason Smith or Randy Jones is going to be able to slow down Hossa or Malone? Couple all that scoring with a goaltender who has been just as good as Martin Biron, and the Flyers have a big challenge ahead of them.

Of course, the Flyers will do something to the Penguins that no one has done yet this postseason: hit them. Hard. The Senators and Rangers are not teams that are known for their physical play, so the Penguins will be forced to play a totally different type of hockey game against the rugged Flyers. The Penguins also have yet to be really challenged this entire postseason. They are a young team, what's going to happen if they fall behind by two goals in one of the early games? Will they have the moxie and determination to fight back, or will they lose their confidence in the face of adversity?

Another thing the Flyers have going for them is their depth. Especially with the way R.J. Umberger is playing, the Flyers' three top lines have nearly as much scoring ability as the Penguins'. Add into the mix a determined Martin Biron, and you have a series that has all the makings of a seven game war.

So why am I picking against the Flyers? Their biggest weakness is their defense, they are two defensemen short of a solid back six. Jason Smith and Lasse Kukkonen, while they have flashes of competency, really don't belong on a team trying to win a Cup. The Penguins deep scoring attack is going to expose those two for the mediocre players they really are. So, with much regret, I will be picking the Penguins, but my heart will 100% be behind the Flyers. I do think they have a great chance to get to the Finals, but it's going to take another level of defensive play we just haven't seen yet. Of course, if Martin Biron keeps standing on his head, he can erase many of the mistakes the back end creates.

I hope I am wrong about the Flyers once again and they surprise everyone who is picking against them. Have predictions of your own or a problem with mine? Put your thoughts in the comments section!

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