Adam Proteau will return April 2. In his absence, the The Hockey News.com will feature several guest bloggers. Up today is THN copy editor and Bubble Buzz author Ryan Kennedy:
Welcome to the End of Dreams, 2007 edition. Tonight there are 12 games on the NHL sked and no less than six have do-or-die playoff implications attached to them. This is Dagger Day.
If you're a fan of Toronto or Colorado, a regulation loss tonight means a swift and unmerciful death. For Carolina, Montreal, Calgary or the Islanders, a regulation loss merely means a harrowing blow to your mojo Â– which means impending doom is mere days away.
As much as these teams have fought to play just well enough to stay in the race (the Avs' miraculous run excluded), someone must step up and someone must fall. The mathematical elimination will not be secured, but the emotional one certainly will be.
As the Wu-Tang Clan knew, it's a Cold World. With that in mind, I give to you not the fairytale Stanley Cup storylines, but the gritty, pragmatic forecasts. Call it the Â“predictable predictions.Â”
Anaheim vs. Buffalo ain't happening Â– Anaheim, frankly, will be lucky to get out of the first round, as will any contender in the West save for Minnesota Â– who will draw one of two perennial asthma attacks; Detroit or Dallas. The Ducks are on a collision course with San Jose in the first round, which just goes to show how evil the Western Conference is this year (Â“Congratulations, you racked up more than 100 points this season, won your division and lost only six games at home in regulation. Your reward is facing the team with the best goaltending tandem, the biggest, nastiest, offensively gifted forwards and a defense corps featuring blue-chip rookies and cagey veterans.Â”)
Buffalo has a much more legitimate shot at going all the way and let's hope they've used up all their injury penance last month. The Sabres are getting their troops back and that's a scary scenario for any opponent Â– Buffalo is on pace to eclipse 300 goals this season even though their most dangerous weapon, Maxim Afinogenov, has missed more than 20 games. This would, in fact, be a great fairytale ending for the star-crossed city.
I went down to see the Sabres host Minnesota earlier this month and the atmosphere at HSBC Arena is truly refreshing. The fans are earnest and they love their boys no matter what the result. Not only did they cheer Ty Conklin when he replaced a shaky Ryan Miller (who was being mentally abused by the evil geniuses known as Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik), but I saw homemade signs bigging up Dmitri Kalinin and Patrick Kaleta. That's love with depth.
Atlanta will make it out of the first round Â– Why? Because no one thinks they can. It's called Murphy's Law and it is ironclad. Coach Bob Hartley has been all the way before and if any trade deadline deals are going to make the difference, it's the pickups of Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik, who have already turned around a lost flock in the final quarter of the season.
Team most likely to get a raw deal? Ottawa Â– I don't like this anymore than you, Sens fans, but lets face it: something's not right. Ottawa has all the elements of a Cup champion and they've certainly paid their dues. They've learned from their mistakes, they haven't gotten cocky and they still ride their stationary bikes after games. So why do I get the sick feeling key elements will start dropping like flies by the second round, setting up the inevitable we-didn't-have-the-horses loss to New Jersey or Buffalo? The fact I have written this is like a reverse jinx (meaning it won't happen), so save me a beaver tail before you joyously jump into the Rideau Canal this June, Ottawa fans.
Vancouver will be the last Canadian team standing Â– In fact, other than the chicken pox-riddled Senators, they very well could be the only Canadian team in the playoffs. There's a mojo train headed toward Calgary. It's northbound from Denver. It'sÂ…notÂ…slowingÂ…downÂ…
Stanley Cup final: New Jersey vs. Minnesota Â– Sportswriters will hate it, NBC will hate it and CBC will hate it. Fans will love it. Why? Because these teams are well-coached. Both feature dynamic offensive weapons (Brian Rolston, Demitra and Gaborik for the Wild; Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and the deadly combo of Travis Zajac and Zach Parise in Jersey). How about goaltending? Devils, Martin Brodeur, that's a given. But the Wild counter with Niklas Backstrom or Manny Fernandez or Josh Harding. They're creating goalies in Minnesota like orcs in the first Lord of the Rings movie. As for the trap, the Devils forecheck three men if they're down a goal and the Wild love to explode now (as they showed in the game I attended with a 5-1 romp over Buffalo), so there will be no shortage of excitement.
The playoffs this year will be off-the-charts good and filled with craziness. You want to handicap this race, good luck. The only certainty these days is uncertainty.
"I went down to see the Sabres host Minnesota earlier this month and the atmosphere at HSBC Arena is truly refreshing. The fans are earnest and they love their boys no matter what the result." Now if only those same fans can visit the other arenas, Buffalo faithful won't have such a bad reputation around the league. I've heard many a horror story about classless fan behavior and seen some of it first-hand (whoever thought it was a good idea to have "glass tumbler night" with Sabres fans in attendance should be fired). Never before has our arena (the RBC Center) had to arrest opposing fans for assault or destruction of property (both arena property and the automobiles of local fans).
- John Bacon
Hi Ryan, I really enjoyed your "Dagger Day" piece and especially your comemnts re: the possible matchup of Anaheim & San Jose. A month ago, I would have not given San Jose such an edge but since then, they have absolutely been on fire. It is actually enjoyable to watch them play right now as before, it was sometimes frustrating to watch such great talent not firing on all cylinders. Again, great article! Regards,