Playoff prognosticator offers ‘almost, can’t miss’ Stanley Cup picks

Although the 109th edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins tonight, my personal “Cup Craze” ended just as quickly as it began five days earlier.
That’s when the Edmonton Oilers dropped a 2-0 decision to the Calgary Flames—eliminating them from the playoffs for the first time in six years.
While I consider myself an Oiler follower, I admit I didn’t pay much attention to their standing in the Western Conference until the final weekend.
Frankly, I was accustomed to the routine: the Oilers nab the seventh or eighth seed, play Dallas in the first round, hang close for a couple of games, and end up packing it in after four or five games.
It dawned on me that this game was seriously becoming a must-win for the Oilers as the Flames struck first, and sat on the lead for the last half of the game, while Phoenix—one of the teams Edmonton was chasing—were blowing out Minnesota.
Calgary later struck with an empty-net goal and my playoff fever subsided after three hours.
So with my perennial under-achievers out of the way, I’ll put my reputation as Rainy River District’s self-proclaimed “premiere playoff prognosticator” on the line with these “almost, can’t miss” picks:
Western Conference
Detroit (1) vs. Vancouver (8)
There’s too many weapons on the Red Wings’ bench to even consider an upset here. Despite a lackluster 1-5-4 finish, top-ranked Detroit is a team that can turn it up at will.
Guess what? “At will” begins tonight.
Vancouver can win a couple of games to make it interesting, but they need a split at Joe Louis Arena to have any hope of making a dent in this series.
By the way, word out of Vancouver says the Canucks definitely have a run in them—the likes of which not seen since the 1982 edition, which turned it up late and marched themselves to the Stanley Cup final.
Those are words of a hopeless romantic. Red Wings in five.
Colorado (2) vs. L.A. (7)
This will be one of those series which everyone will hype as being close based on last year’s seven-game battle. But that form of thinking would be wrong.
Colorado won’t take this team as lightly as it did last year. While only four points separated them in the standings, championship experience will be the difference here.
L.A.’s best will have to be against the Avs—no room for just role players here. Jason Allison, Zigmund Palffy, and Felix Potvin all must perform up to snuff for every game, every shift, every shot on goal.
You get the point—but it won’t happen. Avs in five.
San Jose (3) vs. Phoenix (6)
The Sharks sport one of the best balanced attacks in the NHL—six 20-goal scorers and that could be enough against the inconsistent Coyotes.
But Phoenix is one hot goalie (Sean Burke) away from finally going to the second-round and beyond.
(Sidenote to the Coyotes: Stop using “Wear white to the game” promotions a la the Winnipeg Jets. It’s as annoying as it is unhelpful).
Stealing a game or two on the road is very possible and this has makings of the prime upset of the Western Conference. Coyotes in six.
St. Louis (4) vs. Chicago (5)
The 4 vs. 5 matchup usually is the toughest to call. St. Louis has so much potential to be an offensive powerhouse in this league on the strength of its two top lines centred by Doug Weight and Pavol Demitra.
It’s shocking to see they’ve only racked up 227 goals this season.
With a solid defence line, the Blues’ only question mark is Brent Johnson between the pipes. He’ll need to make the big saves in big-game situations. Blues in six.
Eastern Conference
Boston (1) vs. Montreal (8)
Montreal is a dangerous eighth seed. Emotions play a big role in playoffs and the return of Saku Koivu and talk of Jose Theodore as a Vezina Trophy finalist this past week could lift the team to a stunning upset over the Bruins, who needed a late push to hold onto the Northeast Division title.
The Bruins have had a solid season but I’m a big believer of momentum—and think the Habs have it in them.
I know I’m putting my neck on the line for this one but . . . Canadiens in seven in the first round’s best series.
Philadelphia (2) vs. Ottawa (7)
The Senators have all the ingredients to finally make a serious run at the conference final. They hope solid scorers and checkers, veteran leadership, and capable goaltending are the keys this time around.
But the knock on them has been their soft brand of hockey and it’s something that will continue to haunt them against the Flyers, who have guys like Donald Brashear, Luke Richardson, Keith Primeau, and John LeClair just waiting to eat them up.
Flyers in six.
Carolina (3) vs. New Jersey (6)
The Devils have won six in a row to close out the regular season while Carolina needed the final week to wrap up top honours in the Atlantic Division—arguably the weakest in the league.
The Devils sport more than half of their Cup-winning team from 2000, were one game from winning it all last year and sport a money goaltender in Martin Brodeur. Meanwhile Carolina has the starting goalie (Arturs Irbe) with the lowest win total among all playoff teams.
Comparisons bore me, let’s move on. Devils in four.
Toronto (4) vs. NY Islanders (5)
Shame on the Islanders for playing so well down the stretch and on the Senators for sliding at the wrong time. It robbed this province of a third-straight Toronto-Ottawa series.
Regardless, the Isles have improved by leaps and bounds this season and are just one more campaign from going deep in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, talk in Toronto since training camp in August is, “Now.”
I won’t make any predictions yet on how far they’ll go overall, but Curtis Joseph always has been good enough to carry a team into the second round.
The Islanders will give the Leafs a good run but will need to experience that first-round knockout to come back with a vengeance next year. Toronto in five.
• • •
Jared Catholique-Bruyere earn-ed a silver medal at a judo junior provincials qualifier in Toronto last weekend.
The 15-year-old now is awaiting confirmation on whether he made the Ontario provincial team that will compete at the nationals in Edmonton this summer.

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