May 9th, 2003

Playoff Preview

D'Arcy McGrath

Admit it we all saw this coming.

The early dethroning of the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.

The second round de-twinkling of the Western Conference regular season champion Dallas Stars.

The 1994 karma back in your face face plant by the "on the way to the final" Vancouver Canucks.

If sixth and seventh place seeds can do this much damage, just imagine the utter carnage if they had let the 12 place Calgary Flames participate?

Unlike past Cinderella runs in NHL history the 1982 Vancouver Canucks, the 1996 Florida Panthers to name but two this year the glass slipper is guaranteed for the life of the playoffs. With two entries facing off in the Conference final, we are assured a very unlikely Stanley Cup finalist.

One thing is for sure this may finally be the season where the Cup Final slogan can be adjusted from "Feast on the East" to "the Beasts from the East" as no matter how you slice it, Jersey or Ottawa would have to be favoured in the show down.

Ottawa (1) vs. New Jersey (2)
Senators (52-21-8-1, 113 pts); Devils (46-20-10-6; 108 pts);
Season Series: 3-1 Ottawa

The way things are supposed to happen.

First seed versus the second seed, 82 games vindicated as an excellent barometer for hockey talent.

The Senators are growing up before our very eyes. They seem to have learned from their annual playoff face slap by the Maple Leafs to the point where they now show resiliency, composure and that uncoachable ability to find a way to win. They've had very few missteps through two rounds of playoff hockey.

The Devils have likely had the easiest path to the conference finals of any of the remaining four teams, as Boston and Tampa as a back to back lineup surely doesn't strike fear in the hearts of many. The are well coached, disciplined, and like their opponents, they know how to win.

So what gives?

The Devils, or more specifically, the Devils' offence.

Both teams play solid systems, but the Senators have the edge in scoring, speed and youth, a factor that should count more and more as the playoffs sledge on.

The Devils only ace in hand is the clear goaltending edge they enjoy, that is if Martin Brodeur can keep in his crease and far away from his sister in law.

Senators in six.

Minnesota (6) vs. Anaheim (7)
(42-29-10-1; 95 pts); Mighty Ducks (40-27-9-6; 95 pts)
Season Series: 2-1-1-1 Anaheim

How do you hedge an improbable series featuring a sixth place team with home ice advantage over a seventh place team?

You can't look at the rosters, as both clubs have by far exceeded the actual talent at their disposal.

Really, it comes down to which team has the best chance of sustaining a ride that surely can't last another round. Both clubs have a house of cards that is bound to fall, the key is looking for the slippery hands.

Count on Minnesota.

Watching the upsets that both clubs have pulled over two opponents, one gets the feeling that the Anaheim team somehow deserves it more than their Minnesota counterparts.

They've carried more of the play, and seem to rely less on fortuitous bounces in order to squeak out victories.

For that reason alone, I'll say Anaheim in seven.

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