NHL Playoffs: Red Wings Dominate All the Way to the Top

By Ed Przylucki Hoya Staff Writer

April. I think God created April for the sports fan. Yes, Major League baseball starts up. Yes, there’s the end of “March” Madness. Yes, the NBA season is finally over. The PGA has the Masters, the NFL as its draft extravaganza and the WWF has Wrestlemania. But none of these appetizers can match the main course of April’s sports smorgasbord. Not one of these events brings to the table the intensity, competitiveness and excitement that the NHL playoffs do:

The battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Just saying those words gets my heart pumping. Hockey, in all of its glory, is a sport lost on most Georgetown students. Yet for those of us who would rather watch Derian Hatcher try to decapitate Jeremy Roenick (again) than head out for yet another exciting weekend of fun and games at Georgetown, this is the best time of the year.

Of course, perfection could only come if I were home in Buffalo watching the games on Hockey Night in Canada on CBC (Canada’s NBC for those of you who don’t live within walking distance of our neighbors to the North).

Nothing in the world of hockey compares to listening to Dick Irvin call a game or watching Don Cherry and Ron MacLean go at it during Coach’s Corner. But unlike last year, the addition of espn2 to Georgetown’s cable “package” will allow me to catch most of the games. ABC is also taking playoff coverage away from Fox this season, so I won’t be forced to watch any of those damn glowing pucks or robot hockey players that made me want to strangle Rupert urdoch. With that being said, it’s safe to say I’m going to be glued to my TV as if this were another one of TBS’s “17 Days of Bond” bonanzas.

Before I get to the playoff predictions, I should mention my preseason picks and how they panned out. Of the teams I had making the playoffs, only Anaheim and Boston failed to live up to expectations. Of course, we’ve come to expect that from teams from Beantown, haven’t we? (Go Yankees!) But I am from Buffalo, the “Depression in Sports” capital, so I’ll stop my Boston-bashing and move on to the playoffs.

At the beginning of the season I predicted Dallas to repeat as Western Conference Champions. Well I’m going to alter that prediction. Dallas faces a young Edmonton team in the first round, and should have no problem getting the sweep. The Oilers play a physical, low-scoring brand of hockey only true fans can appreciate, but they’re no match for the Stars in terms of offense, defense or goaltending for that matter. That leaves . coaching.

Oiler Head Coach Kevin Lowe has more Stanley Cup rings than his entire team combined. The only way Edmonton can pull off an upset is if Lowe somehow manages to out-fox his Dallas counterpart, Ken Hitchcock (who bears a striking resemblance to Captain Kangaroo). But it won’t happen, and Dallas should walk away with a series sweep.

Their second round opponent, baring any sort of miracle, should be the Colorado Avalanche, who play the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round. Colorado is the team everyone around hockey is pulling for, simply because of veteran defenseman Ray Bourque’s presence. Bourque is the NHL’s version of John Elway: He’s achieved just about everything possible but a Stanley Cup victory. Their series against Phoenix should be a very entertaining series, with the Avs taking it in six games.

And while it pains me to say it, after this series Bourque will once again be denied his Stanley Cup ring when Dallas defeats Colorado in six games to make it to their second straight Conference Championship series.

On the other side of the bracket, Western Conference Champion and President’s Trophy winner St. Louis should have an easy time of things . until the second round. St. Louis opens up against a young San Jose Sharks team that should be a contender within five years or so. The Sharks are young and physical, and can score in bunches. Their problem is that they run into possibly the best defense in the league, led by Norris Trophy candidate Chris Pronger and last year’s Norris Trophy recipient, Al MacInnis.

Pronger is not only the best defensemen in the league, but he is seriously being considered for the Heart Trophy (league’s MVP). St. Louis should have an easy time sweeping San Jose, but will meet a sterner test in the second round when they take on Detroit.

Detroit, meeting the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, has the most playoff experience of any team in the league. The team still consists of the players who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998. After waltzing through the Kings in five games, Detroit’s nucleus of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Chris Chellios, Larry Murphy and Brendan Shanahan will prove too much for St. Louis to handle, and Detroit will once again find themselves in the Conference Finals.

The Detroit/Dallas series should prove to be the most entertaining series of the entire playoffs, with Detroit coming out on top in seven. This series should go all the way, as both teams have strong defenses to back up high-octane offensive units. In the end, Detroit will win on the mind of Head Coach Scotty Bowman, whose late-game adjustments and motivational savvy will take him to the Stanley Cup Finals for a record 13th time.

The Eastern Conference, who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1995, should prove to be the more interesting race, with more upsets than its Western counterpart. The first upset could be the sixth seed Florida Panthers knocking off the three-seed New Jersey Devils. As I predicted in the preseason, New Jersey tore up the league in the regular season.

But as I also said in the beginning of the year, their playoff woes will continue as they will find themselves out of the playoffs after a seven game series with Pavel Bure and the Panthers. The Panthers won’t last long either, as their second round opponent will be the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto, facing Ottawa in the first round, holds the hopes and dreams of an entire nation in their hands as they fight for the honor and glory of Canadians everywhere. Despite adding goalie Tom Barasso late in the season, Ottawa’s depleted offensive corps will not be able to put up the numbers necessary to beat Curtis Joseph and his Toronto teammates.

I say Toronto in five. After taking Ottawa apart, Toronto should take Florida in six games, with CuJo providing more defense than Bure and his fellow Panther skaters can handle, putting Toronto into the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.

On the other side, the top-ranked Philadelphia Flyers probably have the toughest road of any team, as they open up with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres, last years Conference champs, barely made the playoffs, but with Dominik Hasek between the pipes and three all-star caliber centers in Doug Gilmour, Chris Gratton and ichael Peca, anything is possible. These two teams have met in the playoffs two out of the last three years, with each series marked by the physical, punishing hockey both teams enjoy playing.

The deciding factor will be Hasek, who will be counted on to keep the Sabre ship afloat, despite the improvements made on the offensive side of the puck with the additions of Gilmour and Gratton. Call me biased, but I see Buffalo taking the series on Easter Sunday in six games.

The Sabres second round opponent will be the rejuvenated Washington Capitals. After failing to make the playoffs last year following their Stanley Cup Finals appearance the year before, Washington is the hottest team in the NHL right now, and should carry their winning ways through the playoffs. Standing in their way, though, are the Pittsburgh Penguins: a team that has gotten the better hand of the Caps four out of five times in the playoffs in the past decade. Pens superstar Jaromir Jagr will have to put up big numbers to stop the Capitals, and newly acquired Ron Tugnutt will have to have the series of his life in goal to help Pittsburgh advance. But after five games, Washington will emerge victorious.

The second round matchup between Washington and Buffalo will determine which team goes to the Stanley Cup Finals from the Eastern Conference. Again, the revamped Buffalo offense and Dominik Hasek will prove to be the focus of the series, and Buffalo will return to the Stanley Cup Finals after beating Washington in seven and Toronto in six.

And then there were two.

A Buffalo/Detroit Stanley Cup would be one for the ages. The scoring machine that is the Detroit Red Wings against the defensive stalwart that is the Buffalo Sabres: a situation similar to the one last year when Dallas and Buffalo squared off in what may have been one of the best Stanley Cup Finals in many years. But as much as it pains me to say it, Detroit has too much offensive firepower and defensive fortitude in Chris Chellios, Larry Murphy, Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Duchesne for Buffalo to overcome. And sometime in May, Scotty Bowman will raise his ninth Stanley Cup as Detroit defeats Buffalo in six games.

I just pray the series isn’t decided with someone’s skate blade sitting where it shouldn’t be.

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