Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Toupee poppin' picks!

One year when I was 14 I entered into a $5 dollar playoff pool, picked mostly Pittsburgh Penguins and was out of it after the first round. Then for the rest of the 1990s I found myself cheering against expansion/recently relocated American teams, which obviously wasn't very wise (I think the Colorado/Florida Stanley Cup Final was the low point).

In this spirit, I think the key for picking first round winners is to just go a little batshit and pick 2-3 unforeseen upsets. Why not? Not counting Detroit (lord help us), the biggest difference between the top and bottom seeds is anywhere between 1-10 additional wins. Just keep in mind that when someone says "upset" these days, its a far cry from the heyday 1980s when the L.A. Kings faced an Oilers team with twice as many wins in the regular season.

Without further adieu:


OTTAWA (1) versus TAMPA BAY (8)
Mike's fearless pick: Tampa Bay in 6

You heard me, fuckers, I just knocked off the East's top seed! Hasek's out for a few games yet, and while John Tortorella
hasn't announced his starting goalie, John Grahame has plenty of game-stealing upside even if he's plagued by inconsistency this year. And let's not forget that Tampa Bay still has two good scoring lines which, afterall, is all you really need for playoff hockey. TB's defence is outclassed and mistake-prone compared to Ottawa, but they're still good enough to win four good games. Bully factor: Ottawa has owned Tampa Bay in the regular season, setting up a possible George McFly-end-of-Back-To-The-Future moment.

CAROLINA (2) versus MONTREAL (7)
Mike's safer, more sensible pick: Carolina in 4

There's something gutless about this Montreal team (oh, the names Bonk, Kovalev, Ribeiro come to mind) and the whole of Montreal's defence seems to revolve around Andrei Markov, especially with Sheldon Souray's yo-yo season. Gainey would be a moron not to start Huet, mostly because Aebischer simply is not a number one goalie. Not enough, though.

NEW JERSEY (3) versus NEW YORK (6)
Mike's hotshot pick: New York in 6

Crazy, huh? Afterall, New Jersey's won eleven in a row and is playing great hockey (as Mirtle points out, 30-9-4 since Elias came back). Unlike what most people think, though, Jagr doesn't have to be a "leader" in the traditional sense so much as he has to score the late third period goal. If you squint, there's a bit of a 2004 Calgary in this team: an underrated defence (4th in GA, 8th in Shots against), lots of hard-skating grinders, and a goalie with virtually the same save percentage as Miikka Kiprusoff. Then again, this team could fold like a lawn chair.

Mike "keeps his cool on" pick: Buffalo in 7

What does Philly have since December? A .444 winning percentage or some such thing? I'm kind of torn on this, since I can see Philly's top two lines outclassing Buffalo's depth, especially with the help of a magical elf named Peter Forsberg. But I can also see Ryan Miller outplaying the Flyer's mostly mediocre tandem of Esche and Nittymaki.


DETROIT (1) versus EDMONTON (8)
Mike looks skyward, whistles: uh... Edmonton in 7?

Do I even believe this? Maybe. If someone takes out Lidstrom's knee or cross-checks him in the face, Cory Cross becomes their 5th D, so think about that. The Wings are as disciplined and well-positioned team as any in hockey, but I do think there's some individual weaknesses in their defence corps (some are old, too young, too slow and most of them can't score). The Oil are likely to play like they usually do in the playoffs, which is a simple game based on an aggressive two-forwards deep forecheck with lots of hitting. It could payoff and turn their game around, especially if Roloson plays above .900.

DALLAS (2) versus COLORADO (7)
Mike's easy pick: Dallas in 5

Nah. Not with Theodore, not with Sakic doing all of the work and not with Colorado's thin defence. Dallas has a nice mix of veterans and young surprises (Bill Guerin being the exception) while Turco has been a .900 goalie since March. I think his slump is over.

CALGARY (3) versus ANAHEIM (6)
Mike's incendiary, thumbed nose pick: Anaheim in 7

So much to lose, Calgary, so much to lose. Your goalie is great, but I can see Anaheim scoring more than 3 goals in four games, which, with your offence (currently residing a cozy 27th in the "Goals For" graveyard of non-playoff teams) means an almost automatic loss. And lately JS Giguere hasn't been anything to sniff at either. Watch out for that Vishnevski dude, Iginla!

NASHVILLE (4) versus SAN JOSE (5)
Mike's "Who's Chris Mason?" pick: San Jose in 4

Joe Thorton's line with Nils Ekman and Jonathan Cheechoo has simply steam-ironed away any of San Jose's weaknesses on defence, and Toskala has played well down the stretch. I just can't see a smallish Nashville team handling Thornton very well, especially without a bonafide Number One goalie (with all apologies to Red Deer native and pretty good Nashville goalie, Chris Mason).

So yeah, pretty damn shocking picks. Or stupid. I hate making picks, you inveterate gamblers.