Friday, March 7, 2008

Why I like who I like - Eastern Conference Playoffs

Back for more... after several days ago pontificating on the various Western Conferences combatants, it's time now to take a look at the East (same as before... somewhat, but not exactly in order of either preferred or expected playoff performance):

1. Montreal - If the playoffs were contested based on franchise history and fan obsession level, there's no doubt that Les Habitants would be adding come June to the names of Canadiens players engraved on the Stanley Cup. Even though that's not "exactly" how the playoffs work, the Canadiens still do have a better than average shot at representing the East. They've got excellent scoring in Kovalev and Plekanec and a very intriguing wild card tending goal in Carey Price. Yes, it would have been laughable at the start of the season to view this team as a serious contender, but not quite so funny now.

2. New Jersey - The seasons come and go and always there seems to be a team to be reckoned with coming out of New Jersey. They lose Scottie Gomez up front and Rafalski on D to free agency... no worries, still have Martin Brodeur to roll out there in net. It is of course well beyond a cliche, but any Brodeur-led team has a shot in the playoffs.

3. Carolina - Maybe it's just that I can't assimilate for myself the idea of Raleigh as a hockey hotbed, but I'm not expecting big things from the Canes. Course if the community having it's "hockey chops" were the criteria for success, probably wouldn't have seen the last three Cups wind up in Anaheim, Tampa and yes... Raleigh.

4. Pittsburgh - The Pens trade deadline move could wind up a fascinating discussion point should this team falter. By pretty much all accounts, they acquired a great player in Hossa, but if they don't advance far, naysayers will point to the lose of Colby Armstrong as being an insurmountable blow to team chemistry. With the ability to put touchdowns in the net via Crosby, Malkin and now... Hossa, chemistry will likely work itself out.

5. Ottawa - May win the conference, may miss the playoffs. Yes, this could be said for other teams as well, but nobody personifies this great unknown quite like the Sens (well, maybe the Sharks, but that's a topic for another dissertation). Just seems like the psyche of this team is a bit muddled for them go far.

6. New York Rangers / Boston - Good teams, but each just seem a bit flawed to be part of the elite this season. The Rangers have more star-power in Jagr and fast-emerging Brandon Dubinsky, but I don't see either running the table in the East.

7. Philadelphia - Now, this is a fun team! Secretly, I hope the Flyers do make the playoffs, get on a roll and advance all the way to the Finals. Here's how I see it would play out in my imaginary world... overtime of game 7 (which due to scheduling conflict with the Circus, has to be moved from the Western Conference team's arena to Philadelphia), and the Flyers go two men down due to them starting a brawl because "someone looked at them cross." After they then give up the Cup-clinching goal, they start fighting again. Their opponent of course wants to celebrate with the Cup so they send their minor-league affiliate out to continue fighting the Flyers whilst the regulars celebrate. The Philadelphia fans think this whole turn of events "frickin awesome" and congratulate themselves and their team on "winning the fight."

8. Washington - Remember the disclaimer at the beginning about "not exactly in the order of expected finish?" More than any other team, that was written for the Capitals. The way they're playing right now, they may be the scariest team for anyone to match up against. Led by the most exciting (if not also the best) player in hockey in Alexander Ovechkin, the Caps are filling the net in waves. The trade deadline acquisitions of the solid Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov as well as annoying Matt Cooke cannot be overlooked either.

9. New York Islanders / Buffalo - Good hockey history and in each city. Good teams as well, just not good enough.

10. Atlanta / Florida - See above, just without the history (or the fans that care).

11. Tampa Bay - Almost amazing that a team with Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis could be in last place, but they're last with a bullet.

12. Toronto - Not in any way likely to happy, but how great would it be to see the Leafs pull a rabbit out of a hat and get into the playoffs (not even going to entertain the thought of them winning a round or two)? Would Cliff Fletcher then be considered to have "done a great job" as the GM? Thus far, his contribution has been to ask the Leafs top 4 or 5 players to waive their no-trade clauses... each request being met with a resounded no. Again, it's not likely but any Leaf success would bring to mind the Bad News Bears and the crowd chanting "let them play, let them play."

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