Pick and pray

There are certain universal rules to live by.
First, never set your duffel bag down at a rummage sale (because it just might get sold before you can blink).
Second, never speed down the highway on a Saturday morning (because, guaranteed, the highway patrol will be looking twice as hard on the weekend for lead-footed fools to inevitably contribute their hard-earned money to the police coffers in the form of speeding fines).
And third, never think your NHL playoff predictions are surefire winners.
Sure, I did all right with my NFL picks. Frankly, going 8-3 with my pigskin prognostications was better than I could have ever imagined doing. But how will I fare when my crystal ball turns to the frozen spectacle of the coolest game on ice?
This is no time to get cocky.
A fool and his/her money are soon parted. So think twice before getting on the phone to Las Vegas to place your bets based on the following information.
I’d hate to be the reason anyone’s wallet got lighter.
< *c>East
< *c>Ottawa vs. N.Y. Islanders
The Senators finished with the most points in the league—despite spending a good chunk of the season checking underneath the couch cushions for spare change just so they could pay their players.
The Islanders squeaked into the playoffs, and are relying on either youngster Rick DiPietro or the king of oversized equipment, Garth Snow, to lead the way between the pipes.
Alexei Yashin would love revenge against his former team, but it’s not going to happen.
Senators in four.
< *c>New Jersey vs. Boston
The Devils always are a threat come playoff time, especially with wizened bench boss Pat Burns at the helm this season. They don’t have any marquee scorers, but with their defence and Martin Brodeur in net, they don’t need them.
The Bruins are in a mess, firing coach Robbie Ftorek with nine games left in the season, and may be forced to go to rookies Tim Thomas or Andrew Raycroft in goal if Jeff Hackett and Steve Shields are unable to play due to injury.
Joe Thornton, Glen Murray, and Mike Knuble (Mike Knuble?) are legitimate offensive threats, but New Jersey should take this one easy.
Devils in five.
< *c>Tampa Bay vs. Washington
Fathoming the Lightning—once the joke of the NHL—as a division champ is difficult to do. But there’s nothing laughable about a 13-game unbeaten streak before regular-season ending losses to Philadelphia and Montreal.
Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Vaclav Prospal compose a terrific offensive trio, who will be pushed by the Peter Bondra-Jaromir Jagr duo. It should be a tight series, but I think Tampa Bay is for real.
Lightning in seven.
< *c>Toronto vs. Philadelphia
There will be no peace in the Times office during this series, with fervent Leafs fan Lori Gregory and editor Mike Behan, a long-time Flyers backer, sure to trade more verbal shots than the two teams will bodychecks on the ice.
Toronto is loaded for bear with their trade deadline acquisitions (especially Owen Nolan), but Philly’s no pushover with John LeClair and a red-hot Tony Amonte leading the way.
It comes down to Ed Belfour vs. Roman Cechmanek in goal. The Roman Empire has yet to rule in the playoffs and I can’t see it happening this year, either. Sorry, Mike.
Leafs in seven.
(Editor’s note: Joey, you’re fired).
< *c>West
< *c>Dallas vs. Edmonton
We’ve seen this one before. A young, gritty Oilers squad with a quarter of the payroll of their Lone Star State rivals gives it all they have, only to be sidelined by a third period or overtime goal by one of the many shining Stars.
Is this diehard Oilers fan tired of it? Absolutely. But without Bill Guerin and Pierre Turgeon in the line-up, the cast around Mike Modano is not as airtight as in playoffs past.
Can Tommy Salo outduel Marty Turco? Can the Oilers steal one in Big D? Can the upset of ’97 happen all over again?
Well, what else would I think?
Oilers in seven.
< *c>Detroit vs. Anaheim
The Mighty Ducks (the thought of that name on hockey’s Holy Grail still makes me cringe) are flying higher than they have in years. Paul Kariya hasn’t had to be the whole team, and Jean-Sebastian Giguere gives Anaheim some long-needed goaltending stability.
But these are the defending Stanley Cup champs. This is when Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brett Hull, Sergei Fedorov, and all the big guns come to play.
And this is why they signed Curtis Joseph to guard the cage.
Detroit in five.
< *c>Colorado vs. Minnesota
I want to believe that Minnesota’s regular season wasn’t a mirage. I want to believe Jacques Lemaire’s suffocating defensive system can hold the Avalanche attack in check.
I want to believe Manny Fernandez can go head-to-head with Patrick Roy in the goaltending war. I want to believe Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Milan Hejduk can be stopped from blitzing Minnesota like they have so many other first-round opponents.
I want to believe it, but I can’t.
Avalanche in four.
< *c>Vancouver vs. St. Louis
A Canucks team, which surprised everybody this season, against a Blues team that survived a goaltending merry-go-round at the beginning of the campaign and no Chris Pronger for most of it.
This is when Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and goalie Dan Cloutier (with last year’s first-round demons against Detroit firmly in his mind) have to show Vancouver’s magnificent regular season was no fluke.
With Pronger and Keith Tkachuk, among others, at less than 100 percent, the West Coast crew should sail on to the second round.
Canucks in six.
• • •
A reminder a final registration for Fort Frances Youth Soccer will be held today (April 9) from 6-8 p.m. at the Memorial Sports Centre.
So far, more than 500 players have signed up for what’s sure to be another immensely busy season on local soccer fields.
If you are planning any sporting events, or have some sports-related information or scores, feel free to call me at 274-5373 ext. 237 or by e-mail at jpayeur@fortfrances.com

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