May 16, 2002
Moments and musings from Round 2 as the tension and momentum mounts in the race for The Cup: Sitting at 5-3 after the first round, I was only able to keep status quo as I went 2-2 in my second round predictions. The West was good to me but the East was the beast and left me at .500 for the round. I'm focused and determined, and even though the bright sun of Kits Beach here in Vancouver beckons louder and louder each day to abandon this winter mission, I can't. The Cup is still up for grabs.
The Western Conference teams co-operated with me this year as Colorado kept their repeat alive with a triumph in 7 games over the resilient San Jose Sharks. Once again, it was the "big money" Avalanche players that made the difference in the end. This series definitely featured the best hockey of the playoffs so far, as these two teams went all out in all regards. The skill and passing was fast and fluent, the physical intensity was high, and both teams played confident and aggressive throughout. In the end, the Avalanche got a goal and the Sharks didn't, once again proving that Patrick Roy can talk the talk and walk the walk when it is truly on the line. Peter Forsberg was born to play hockey, and he has joined the company of Mario Lemieux in the fact that he can step in and step up after a long absence of game activity.
The other series in the West was somewhat of a disappointment in the play, but not the outcome. The Detroit Red Wings dominated the St Louis Blues and took them out in 5 games. The Blues turned out to be pretenders once again, especially in Game 5 when I truly thought they would come out all cylinders. The loss of captain and tower Chris Pronger in game 4 was huge, but a team with proven leaders in Al MacInnis, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight should take that as a challenge and step it up. Scott Mellanby certainly did, but he was a lone ranger in that regard much to the chagrin of GM Larry Pleau. What does Larry do now? Who knows for sure, but my opinion is that a lot of guys played themselves into doubt as to whether this team has the "stuff" to ever get the job done.
Across the bracket in the East, I was proven the dunce as I called em' 0 for 2. The Carolina Hurricanes proved to be way too much for the Montreal Canadiens as they beat them in 6 games. The last two games left a sour taste in the mouths of Canadiens fans as they were dominated to the tune of two of the most lopsided scores in recent playoff memory. There are smoke screens up now in Montreal in the form of the "Tank Therrien" campaign, but this team knew they were only going as far as Jose Theodore took them and 13 goals against in two crucial playoff games is never going to get the job done. Theodore carried them as far as he could, but in the end it was Carolina and the "BBC" getting all the coverage.
The "Battle of Ontario trilogy" closed with great results as these two teams pushed, shoved and slushed their way through seven aesthetically challenged games. This series featured ugly, tentative hockey from the get go as the Leafs succeeded in stifling the Senators skill and countering with grit and character. In the NHL playoffs, grit and character is effective but not at all pretty and in game 7 the Senators seemed to fill the loss of Mike Fischer with Bobby Fischer in their chess game performance. Give the Leafs full marks for overcoming their skill deficiencies, and gutting out the series win. It did not come without more officiating controversy, but I have done the Roger Nielson in trying to figure out exactly how the game is officiated these days. I have no more white towels left.
Some brief musings about Round 2:
THE FINAL FOUR
Well, I'm sitting at 7-5, not great but at least I'm +2. It only gets tougher from here. Roll the dice with me everybody! Here we go.
Western Conference Final
(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (2) Colorado Avalanche
We all know what this rivalry is about. I think it is safe to say that a lot of hockey fans got what they wished for in this match up. Colorado is defending their title, and they are going to have to go through Hockeytown to do it. Many experts are saying that this is the true final. Although that may be true in the quality of hockey that we are going to see, these two teams may just beat each other up enough to let the East winner come in under the radar and pick up the spoils. Remember, all the same things were being said about the west in 1995, then the New Jersey Devils came in and swept the Red Wings. I know one thing for sure; I do not want to miss any of these games. This one is going to go back and forth and back and forth like a tennis match. Fittingly, Anna Kournikova should take notice of how Sergei and his Red Wings compete because they are going to come out on top. This one is filled with intriguing superstar matchups, but in the end I think it will be the Octopus that does the Avalanche in. Home ice advantage will be the decider here.
Detroit in 7
Hero - Stevie Y. Y? Because this might be his last crack at it and what he wants he usually gets. He's that good.
Eastern Conference Final
(2) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (4) Toronto Maple Leafs
On paper, this looks like another mismatch for the Leafs. They are still undermanned, even more so with the loss of valuable players Darcy Tucker and Karel Pilar. Carolina on the other hand, has most of their roster healthy. Let's not forget though, Sami Kapanen is not having a great playoff and they have won while being carried offensively by one line. I'm not Kreskin and cannot tell the future, but expect Mats Sundin to return at some point in this series, giving Toronto a much-needed boost in skill and enthusiasm. Anything can happen in a series involving the Toronto Maple Leafs. Who will sustain their incredible play, Gary Roberts or Erik Cole? My money is on the more experienced guy. I picked skill over grit in the last Leaf series, and will not make that mistake twice.
Toronto in 6
Hero - Gary Roberts. The guy is on a mission and the Hurricanes are his ex-team. Can he be any more motivated to win?
Enjoy the games everybody! See you in the finals.
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