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NHLNowJeff
The following can be found at http://www.nhlnow.com (with pictures).

It's been a long break, but NHLNow.com is back for the most exciting season of the year: NHL Playoff Season. The battle for Lord Stanley's Cup is on, and with the depth in this year's playoffs, it seems to be any of the 16 playoff contenders' to lose. For each round of the Playoffs, NHL Jeff will analyze every match-up and follow with his prediction of the winner and in how many games.

<html><a href="http://www.nhl.com/nhl/ap...eid=298698">Click here for the full Round 1 Schedule.</a></html>

NHL Jeff's take on the 1st Round Match-Ups:
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

(1) Buffalo Sabres vs. (8) New York Islanders

Regular Season Series: BUF 3-1

BUF Key Players: R. Miller (G), D. Briere, C. Drury, T. Vanek, B. Campbell, but really, with this team, each player plays an important role.

NYI Key Players: R. DiPietro (G) (should he return form injury), W. Dubielewicz (G) (should DiPietro not return), R. Smyth, J. Blake, M.A. Bergeron

Buffalo is a team that many see as having a great chance to win the Cup, and with their league-leading offense and superb goaltending from Ryan Miller, I am one of the many. The Isles had a great stretch-run and an exciting final victory over the Devils to squeak into the playoffs, but I think their luck ends there. If they want any chance to surpass the mighty Sabres, they will have to hope for concussed star goaltender Rick DiPietro to return, or Wade Dubielewicz will have to be this year's Cam Ward.

Prediction: Sabres in 5.


(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Tampa Bay Lightning

Regular Season Series: TB 3-1

NJ Key Players: M. Brodeur (G), P. Elias, B. Gionta, S. Gomez, B. Rafalski

TB Key Players: J. Holmqvist, V. Lecavalier, M. St. Louis, B. Richards, D. Boyle

Whenever Martin Brodeur (3 Cup Rings) is in a playoff series, it's hard to bet against him. The Lightning are lacking in the goaltending department, with Johan Holmqvist beating out Marc Denis for the starting position. If Holmqvist can show signs of greatness, the Bolts offense, led by "the Big 3" will carry them. They have a steady blueline, anchored by Dan Boyle, but play a much more open system than that of the Devils. Lecavalier and St. Louis both had career years and were each in the top 5 in scoring. If they can keep that up against the likes of Brodeur and Brad Richards turns it on for the playoffs, the Lightning will have a chance.
The bottom line of this series: Will Tampa Bay's scorching hot offense be able to prevail over New Jersey's seamless defensive system and their rock-solid goaltender?

I think not.

Prediction: NJ in 6.


(3) Atlanta Thrashers vs. (6) New York Rangers

Regular Season Series: ATL 3-1

ATL Key Players: M. Hossa, K. Lehtonen (G), I. Kovalchuk, S. Kozlov, N. Havelid, A. Zhitnik

NYR Key Players: J. Jagr, H. Lundqvist (G), B. Shanahan, P. Mara

While the Rangers and King Henrik have been hot lately, I can't bet against the Thrashers' offense. Marian Hossa had an MVP-worthy season. Kari Lehtonen may not have shown great consistency this year, but I'll go out on a limb and say that it's his time to shine. Jagr had an off year for his standards, but he is healthy and ready to go. If the Rangers want to stand a chance they'll have to count on his and Brendan Shanahan's leadership and Lundqvist's goaltending. I haven't seen the same passion in Jagr this season as last, and ATL gave up way too much at the deadline not to make it past the first round.

Prediction: Thrashers in 6.


(4) Ottawa Senators vs. (5) Pittsburgh Penguins

Regular Season Series: PIT 3-1

PIT Key Players: S. Crosby, M. A. Fleury (G), S. Gonchar, R. Whitney, E. Malkin, G. Roberts, M. Recchi, J. Staal

OTT Key Players: D. Heatley, R. Emery (G), D. Alfredsson, J. Spezza, W. Redden, A. Volchenkov

This is a tough call and by far the most exciting first round match-up. I can't see Crosby faltering under the pressure, and while I think Fleury's inability to hold the leads will hurt the Pens in future rounds, I can't see them heading out this early. Ottawa has a lot of fire power, but so do the Pens. If Heatley and Spezza continue where they left off in the regular season, and Alfredsson comes back to life, the Sens can easily match if not better the Penguins' offense. That said, the most important thing in this series may end up being goaltending. If so, I'd say Emery wins, but with all the passion in Pitt's locker room and veterans like Recchi and Roberts to hold things together, I can't see them letting up in the first round. This may be a prediction from the heart as opposed to the mind, but I'm gonna have to roll with it:

Prediction: Pens in 7.


Western Conference Quarterfinals

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (8) Calgary Flames

Regular Season Series: Tie 2-2

DET Key Players: P. Datsyuk, D. Hasek (G), N. Lidstrom, H. Zetterbeg (pending injury status), T. Bertuzzi

CGY Key Players: J. Iginla, M. Kiprusoff (G), A. Tanguay, D. Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr

It's may be hard for some to imagine the Wings faltering again after their last few playoff appearances, but they just don't have a team built for the playoffs. Drawing a team like Calgary for the first round is not good for Detroit. Calgary is a very tough, gritty team that will likely wear out the somewhat soft Red Wings. Bertuzzi is a key because he is a tough guy GM Ken Holland brought in to try to toughen the team up. This is where we'll see how he did. A huge factor in this series will also be goaltending. This year, both of these teams can score. Miikka Kiprusoff didn't have the career season that he did last year, but he is still one of the best goalies in the game and has shown that he is capable of carrying a team through the playoffs. If Dominik Hasek can maintain his health, he could win this series for the Wings. Either way, when I see these two teams on a sheet of paper, despite the Wings amazing record, I just don't think they'll last in a seven game series with this Calgary team.

Prediction: Flames in 7.


(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Minnesota Wild

Regular Season Series: Tie 2-2

ANA Key Players: S. Niedermayer, C. Pronger, T. Selanne, J.S. Giguere (G), A. McDonald

MIN Key Players: N. Backstrom (G), M. Gaborik, B. Rolston, K. Johnsson, P. Demitra

Ever since July when Ducks GM Brian Burke traded for Chris Pronger, the Ducks have been looked at as a very strong Stanley Cup contender, and they played that way during the regular season. They have, arguably, the 2 best defensemen in the league and have the ability to have one on the ice at all times. With all of that said, the Ducks still have offensive punch and great goaltending, with J.S. Giguere solidifying himself as the team's number one. If the young guns can take something from the experienced veterans, the Ducks will be in the finals. The Wild are looked at by many as a dark horse if they can get by Anaheim. They will try to ride hot goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who was great down the stretch, and if he falters, Manny Fernandez is more than capable of re-grabbing the reins. Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra have great chemistry, and Brian Rolston has become the heart of this team, but I think their time is up.

Prediction: Ducks in 6.


(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Dallas Stars

Regular Season Series: Tie 2-2

VAN Key Players: R. Luongo (G), D. Sedin, H. Sedin, M. Naslund, M. Ohlund, K. Bieksa

DAL Key Players: M. Turco (G), S. Zubov, M. Modano, B. Morrow, M. Ribeiro

There probably won't be too many goals in this series. Both of the teams have become extremely defensive-minded this year and are two of the 3 lowest goal-scoring teams in the playoffs. If one of these teams' offenses is able to show some extra spark in this series, that team is likely to win. The Stars will look for increased contruinution from Mike Modano and continued production from Mike Ribeiro and Ladislav Nagy while the Canucks will look for the Sedin twins to maintain their levels of play. Canucks captain Markus Naslund must return to the prolific scorer he once was if this team is to go far in the playoffs. Most importantly though, both teams rely heavily on their elite goaltenders. Marty Turco is a great goaltender, and I would say that this is his year to finally show that he can be the same goalie he is in the regular season during the playoffs--if he wasn't playing Roberto Luongo. Luongo, with his Vezina-worthy season, is the reason the Canucks are where they are. Battle of the goaltenders.

Prediction: Vancouver in 6.


(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) San Jose Sharks

Regular Season Series: NSH 3-1

NSH Key Players: P. Kariya, S. Sullivan (pending injury status), K. Timmonen, T. Vokooun (G)/C. Mason (G), J.P. Dumont, D. Hamhuis

SJ Key Players: J. Thornton, P. Marleau, E. Nabokov (G), S. Hannan, J. Cheechoo, M.E. Vlasic, K. McLaren, M. Carle

If Joe Thornton can keep up his production during the playoff grind, that will be huge for the Sharks. Jonathan Cheechoo has started to come to life at just the right time, and the possibility of bringing back the magic between he and Thornton is a remarkable one. Captain Patrick Marleau will be counted on in all aspects of the game. This team has two great goaltenders. It seems that Vesa Toskala's injury led to Evgeni Nabokov claiming the number one spot in goal, and Toskala is more than capable of filling in. SJ also has a well-rounded defense and added some veteran depth with Craig Rivet. Kyle McLaren will be looked to in the physical department to rough up some of Nashville's skilled players. The Predators are a team that led the Western Conference for a large part of the season--and then to top it off, they added Peter Forsberg. If Forsberg remains healthy, he could tear up the playoffs and be the team's MVP. In 2002, he took off the whole season due to injury, then led the playoffs in scoring despite his team only making it to the Conference Finals. Paul Kariya can definitely score as can Steve Sullivan if he returns from injury. While the team's defense corps has no stars, Captain Kimmo Timonen, Dan Hamhuis, and youngin' Shea Weber have played with consistency. The Preds have two number one goaltenders in Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason. Their numbers are nearly identical. Coach Barry Trotz will likely go with the more experienced in Vokoun, but should he lose even one game (with more than a couple goals against), I would imagine Mason will be given a chance. Overall, Nashville has a great team, and another early playoff exit seems like it will be a step back, but I can't bet against San Jose. They've been hot and have such a well-rounded team.

Prediction: Sharks in 7. [img:right][/img][img:right][img]
Filed Under:   NHL   Playoffs   Stanley Cup   Hockey   Crosby   Penguins  
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