It is May 5, Friday afternoon. I'm in the ESPN newsroom preparing for "Baseball Tonight," which airs at 7 p.m. ET until whenever Barry Bonds is done playing against the Phillies.
This is a bummer because I will miss most of Game 1 between Ottawa and Buffalo. I'll miss, therefore, I shall TiVo. If Bonds steals the Liberty Bell with the intention of using it as a hat, "Baseball Tonight" will be canceled and I will be able to get home and watch Game 1 between the Avs and Ducks.
I am telling you this since you will read my predictions after the second round has already started. Before we get to the picks, let's look back at the first round, where I went 6-2. My record comfortably beat TSN's Maggie the Monkey and Darren Pang, who both went 4-4.
First Period -- A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends
Me: Ottawa in five over Tampa Bay.
Actual: Ottawa in five.
(Gratuitously cherry-picked) Self-esteem line: The Lightning are not dangerous.
Final analysis: Ottawa as advertised.
Me: Hurricanes in five.
Actual: Hurricanes in six.
Self-esteem line: The Hurricanes are not an elite defensive team.
Final analysis: Carolina gave up six goals in Games 1 and 2 vs. Montreal. The next five games, the Hurricanes gave up five goals total. That goalie change saved the series and made owner Peter Karmanos millions.
Me: Devils in six.
Actual: Devils in four.
Self-esteem line: This is a bad matchup for New York. If the Blueshirts fall behind early, this series could be over soon.
Final analysis: The Devils were fast, confident and healthy. The Rangers were not.
Me: Sabres in seven.
Actual: Sabres in six.
Self-esteem line: My head says the Sabres, if allowed to skate unimpeded by the rules, should be able to win a long series.
Final analysis: The Flyers could have used someone like Mike Comrie.
P.S. These were pretty predictable outcomes. Disparities in styles and speed made the forecasts pretty elementary. Now, we are left with four very good teams who have speed, grit and skill. We only have one proven playoff goalie. Picking the winners in the East is now a little tougher.
Second Period -- How the West was won and where it got us
Me: Red Wings in five.
Actual: Oilers in six.
Self-esteem line: But hold off on the long-term Wings wins until we see Pavel Datsyuk back at 100 percent.
Final analysis: The Wings have been susceptible to these first-round upsets because they haven't always had goalies they really trust. Detroit could have used CuJo here, don't you think? Datsyuk lacked his usual electricity. Or maybe he was scared. In his career, 42 NHL playoff games, three goals, 12 assists.
Me: Stars in six.
Actual: Avalanche in five.
Self-esteem line: Winning Game 1 is big in this one.
Final analysis: Dallas was shell-shocked after Game 1. The Stars seemed to lose confidence in themselves, their coach and their goalie.
Me: Ducks in seven.
Actual: Ducks in seven.
Self-esteem line: Anaheim is a good defensive team and Calgary has issues with goal scoring. The Ducks have speed, experience, some length down low and Scott Niedermayer.
Final analysis: Amazing how Anaheim took away the will of Calgary and its fans.
Me: Sharks in seven.
Actual: Sharks in five.
Self-esteem line: San Jose is big and fast.
Final analysis: Nashville was beaten and battered before the series. It had little chance.
P.S. Manny Legace's mechanical breakdowns, especially guarding his posts, partly did Detroit in. The Oilers-Red Wings series actually makes me believe even more that the NHL should go to 10-minute four-on-four overtime games during the regular season. The shootout possibly made some teams, Detroit and Dallas, better than they appeared. The Ducks and Sharks came in with so much momentum, they were going to be tough to beat.
Third Period -- Back to the future
So we are down to the Elite Eight. All eight teams enter the second round with loads of confidence. They all believe they have what it takes to raise the Stanley Cup. Four will move on and four will go home. Last week, we began in the West, this week we start in the East. It is now 3:19 p.m. ET on Friday afternoon.
Ottawa vs. Buffalo: Ottawa's power play was 33 percent against Tampa Bay. If that continues, there will be little to talk about. The Sabres should get that number down a bit. The key to this series is Zdeno Chara and his massive size. He takes away so much down low. The Sabres counter that with depth, and the fact that Chara won't be on the ice for half the game. That's when the Sabres must strike.
I think Buffalo has the better goalie, and that gives any team a chance. The Sens should be able to mix a checking line and Chara to always have a major defensive presence on the ice. I think this will be a high-scoring series. Ryan Miller has to win this series for Buffalo to have a chance. Senators goalie Ray Emery will have a bad game. Miller will steal a game. Can Buffalo outplay Ottawa? Yes, but I don't think it will happen.
Prediction: Ottawa in six.
Carolina vs. New Jersey: No matter how much one dissects this series, it comes back to goalies Cam Ward and Martin Brodeur. Ward was outstanding in the first round, but New Jersey obviously will be more of a challenge offensively. The Devils have two fast lines that will pepper Ward. I think Martin Gerber will reappear in this series. Because of Brodeur and their regular-season goals-against totals, the Devils are obviously a much better defensive team. Carolina gave up 260 goals in the regular season, the most allowed by the remaining playoff teams. I think that catches up with Carolina in this series.
Prediction: New Jersey in six.
Edmonton vs. San Jose: Edmonton will find San Jose to be a lot bigger and a little faster than Detroit. Jonathan Cheechoo will find Chris Pronger in his face whenever he streaks down the wing. Or will he? Who do the Oilers shut down? Do they play Pronger against Patrick Marleau's line and have their forwards shut down the Thornton line? These are two very good coaching staffs. It will fun to watch them match wits. The Oilers will win a lot of key faceoffs, helping them in their zone. Still, I'm taking the Sharks and their waves of size and speed.
Prediction: San Jose in six.
Colorado vs. Anaheim: In the first round, Colorado had an easy series, while Anaheim battled back from a 3-2 deficit. The Avs are going to see a much quicker team than they saw in Dallas. The Ducks will put pressure on the Avs to make the right plays in the first period of Game 1.
I think you'll see Anaheim jump out to an early lead in Game 1, and then Colorado will look to make an adjustment. Like San Jose, Anaheim has good size and very good speed. Additionally, you cannot underestimate Scott Niedermayer. Upon further review, I would take Niedermayer over Nicklas Lidstrom because Niedermayer is nasty. His "sandpaper" is way underrated. When he gets mad, he temporarily loses it and just goes after his opponent. Ray Bourque's grit along the boards was underrated, as well. Niedermayer controls the game and gives the rest of his defensemen confidence.
Colorado is waaaaay more dynamic than Calgary, so Anaheim better change its mind-set and be ready to score. The Ducks have guys who can do that.
Prediction: Anaheim in seven.
The Mother of All Mailbags
Are you really writing a hockey book for a fall 2006 release?
Major Anthony Styer
Yes. I've signed a book deal with Middle Atlantic Press to write a book with former NHL player Keith Jones, who currently works for OLN, TSN, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, WIP Radio and the Barnes and Noble in Cherry Hill, N.J. Keith has had a very interesting life with hilarious and interesting stories. We hope to have it done by the fall. I hope it's good. I'm scared. Hold me.
I know you have been critical of OLN's coverage (although it is getting better). But, what do you think of them adding the horn sound when the visitor scores a goal here in the playoffs? To me, that is one major step back.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. OLN had a month to organize a hockey production department. Most networks have more than a year. They have steadily improved in every area. They've had lots of games and plenty of supplement hockey programming. I could watch the same Legends of Hockey series show 14 times in a row they are so well done. That being said, I don't like the horn OLN activates after a goal is scored. One of the most beautiful sounds in sports is the silence of an arena when the visiting team scores. The first few times I heard the horn, I thought the arena made a mistake sounding the horn after the visiting team scored.
Canes fan here. Season-ticket holder since the Greensboro days, fanatic-in-waiting, herniated myself during a rather rambunctious cheer in 2002, thick and thin and all that jazz.
The Canes' season-ticket holders just got hosed for (the potential) Rounds 3 and 4 of this year's playoffs. As you may already know, we're billed early for it, and have to purchase two rounds at a time.
The Canes may be just about ready to introduce their financial foot to the collective yoo-hoos of their fan base.
Keeping you informed,
I so miss NHL Tonight. My wife and I have a dilemma. We are expecting a boy in August and would love help on his name. We are huge Avs/Nords fans and would welcome your sound advice. Thanks.
I miss NHL Tonight, too. Jackson Abraham Flack.
Hockey Fact: Eight women have had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup: Marguerite Norris (1955) was president of the Red Wings; Sonia Scurfield (1989), co-owner of the Flames; Marie-Denise DeBartolo York (1991), president of the Pittsburgh Penguins; Marian Ilitch (1997, 1998, 2002), co-owner of the Red Wings, along with her three daughters, Denise Ilitch, Lisa Ilitch Murray and Carole Ilitch Trepeck; Charlotte Grahame (2001), Senior Director of Hockey Administration for the Colorado Avalanche.
I don't expect this to make your mailbag (for obvious reasons), but I'd love to get a response from you! What are your thoughts on NHL teams not disclosing their players' injuries before and during the playoffs, but instead referring to them only as upper-body and lower-body injuries?
2Lt Brandon Baker
Detroiter/Wolverine trapped in Kansas
I am fine with that, Brandon. I wouldn't want Adriana Lima to know I have a zit on my shoulder. I don't see the benefit of knowing the specifics of an injury immediately. I can delay my injury gratification. I kind of like the mystery of it. I think it adds to the lore of the game when we find out after a series is over. It makes the players look like the selfless athletes they are, playing for the glory of the Stanley Cup instead of saying, "Look how injured I am and yet I am still playing. Aren't I brave?" The NFL can have T.O. I'll take Mike Modano and his broken wrist in 1999. No one knew but him and his team. It would have been great PR for him to tell the world DURING the Stanley Cup finals how injured he was, but he left the restaurant after he paid the bill. He didn't stick around for the back slaps.
If there are any divisions in the NHL, they are the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe. If there are conferences, those are the Wales Conference and the Campbell Conference. Who changed this, why was someone irreverent enough to actually change these names allowed within 1,000 miles of a hockey rink, and why hasn't anybody stepped in and changed them back? The product on the ice is as good as ever, but that's no reason to abandon rich history.
It pains me at playoff time,
The first season the NHL went to the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe divisions was the 1974-75 season. Those division names were changed 19 years later. The NHL has been around since 1917. That's like, 89 years or something. So, we only had the Adams, Patrick, Norris and Smythe division titles for 19 of 89 years (21 percent). I liked the names, too, but they are not a big part of NHL history.
After watching the best team in hockey (and most fun to watch) go down to the Edmonton Oilers, I'm done with watching the NHL. The only reason I have cable television is to watch the NHL, and now that I've seen the NHL send some of the best regular season teams home early for the millionth time, I find there's no reason to bother with it anymore. Seeing seven No. 1s go down in 12 years (not to mention all the No. 2s) is nothing less than a joke. It's an affront to the fans that follow the teams all year long. I'm going to cancel my cable and spend my time and money on something far less random. I feel like all those that have bashed the NHL for years for having a completely meaningless regular season are vindicated. What a terrible feeling soothed only by the fact I won't defend it anymore. Goodbye NHL.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Wow. You might want to send some of that ire Pavel Datsyuk's way. I love the guy, but have you seen his career playoff stats?
You have it terribly wrong about Joe Thornton being a nonfactor in the first round. Marleau may have scored all of the goals, but Thornton was dominant everywhere on the ice. Even though he wasn't scoring, his line was still controlling the play in the offensive zone. I think he drew four penalties in one game just with his play around the net. That's just the beginning. Add faceoffs and penalty killing to the mix, and you couldn't be more wrong.
It's the same reason that he won't win the Hart Trophy. Nobody in the East actually watches him play. They just see 0 G, 3 A, and they think "nonfactor."
Mountain View, Calif.
I think there is more in Joe Thornton's tank. I think he can pick it up one more gear. He has to because everyone else is. The Stanley Cup playoffs are about heart and soul. Therefore, one can become a better player than they actually are through sheer will. I think there is a little more game inside Joe Thornton.
Kudos for bringing up the fact that, once again, Joe Thornton disappeared in a playoff series. All this talk of him being MVP is ridiculous. He plays on a team with tremendous talent, great speed and was a team that went to the Western Conference finals last season. Meanwhile, Jaromir Jagr had Michael Nylander and Martin Straka attempting to finish his passes, and defensemen like Fedor Tyutin and Michal Rozsival feeding him the puck.
This sucks. No. 19 was not supposed to go out like this. Manny said he feels "hollow inside." Join the friggin' club.
Steve Yzerman said he will make his decision on retirement soon. I believe he will retire. If he wants to come back, that is fine, but I believe his knee just isn't well enough to stand up to the NHL. After most body checks, Stevie Y would fall down because his knee and lack of leg strength couldn't support the hit. Too many bad things can happen. He's still a joy to watch and there is still so much there to take in as a fan, but I do believe retirement is best. And I believe he should be named the man in charge of Canada's Olympic team for 2010.
Just read your e-mail bag and saw the questions about streaming the playoffs. One option I've come to love here in Silicon Valley is my sling box. Combined with my home broadband connection, I can stream my television feed from home to anywhere with a high-speed net connection. This means I have full access to my Center Ice package from work, or anywhere really, since I also have an EV-DO pocket PC phone, with unlimited Internet, so I can stream my DirecTV Center Ice package to my cell phone.
This is very handy for watching the East Coast games from work or catching the Sharks while on the road. Barry Melrose would be jealous.
San Jose, Calif.
When I get the dead battery out of my beeping smoke alarm, I'll give that a shot.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.