NHL Closer writer Greg Wyshynski previews the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals right up until they drop what is commonly referred to as "the puck."
No. 2 San Jose Sharks (49-23-10, 108 Points; Imploded against the Wings in the second round) vs. No. 7 Calgary Flames (42-30-10, 94 Points; Punked out against Detroit in Round One last season)
There are a few reasons to advocate for a Calgary Flames upset of the San Jose Sharks. There's the epitome of class and underrated artistry that is Jarome Iginla. The potential for a violent Phaneuf'ing of a future playoff foe — Lord knows a few of the Ducks could use one. And, if 2004 is any indication, the more Calgary wins in the postseason, the less Flames Girls seem to wear. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, the Flames are playing the Sharks; and the Sharks and going to win the Stanley Cup.
Uh-oh! What, no spoiler warning? Sorry to kill the drama, but the Sharks have been our pick since the start of the season and there's no reason to take a dusty tumble off the bandwagon now. They've only gotten better, as indicated by that streak that saw them escape a regulation loss for the entire month of March. The addition of Brian Campbell at the trade deadline solidified this team's championship credentials, giving it not only a dependable defenseman but one whose mobility has activated the Sharks' offense. Oh, and his sick NHL '94-esque spin-o-rama goals don't hurt, either. The New York Times said Campbell "has been to the Sharks what Ringo Starr was to his new bandmates, the Beatles." Whatever the fuck that quasi-Buccigrossian nonsense means...maybe they're trying to tell us Campbell's never getting into the Hall of Fame as a solo artist.
But there are reasons for concern for San Jose. Like the fact that Joe Thornton is laid-back to the point of near-catatonia and scored one goal in 11 playoff games last year, giving him just nine in 57 career postseason contests. Like the fact that the Sharks went out like a bitch last season, with Coach Ron Wilson publicly placing captain Patrick Marleau under the driver's side tire for blown defensive assignments and general ineffectiveness. And because Calgary has taken three of four games from San Jose this season.
Key Match-Up for San Jose: Evgeni Nabokov vs. Miikka Kiprusoff. After coming into camp as tons-of-fun, Kipper has played well over the last two months and has a career 2.06 GAA in the postseason. Nabokov has also been good (2.17 GAA) in the playoffs; if Calgary is going to have a chance in this series, it needs a couple of clunkers from him.
Key Match-Up for Calgary: Ex-Sharks vs. Current Sharks. Owen Nolan, Wayne Primeau, center Mark Smith and especially Kiprusoff all previously played for San Jose. I believe it was Khan Noonien Singh who once said: "Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold...in spaaaaaace." Of course, there's simply no way Khan could have learned a Klingon proverb while stranded on Ceti Alpha V. (Sorts while laughing, pushes up glasses.)
Worst Case Scenario for San Jose: The Sharks lose inspirational leader Jeremy Roenick for the rest of the playoffs after he begins speaking in a TV interview following Game 1 and then never stops.
Worst Case Scenario for Calgary: Overcome by playoff intensity, Coach Mike Keenan seeks to motivate his team by impaling Kristian Huselius with his own stick.
Well, If You're Going To Twist My Arm: Sharks in six. Could be one of those series where the Flames win Game 1, everyone gasps, and then San Jose lays the smack down the rest of the way.
Vital YouTubeage: They love them some Craig Conroy up in Calgary, to the point where they croon a sappy love song to him to the tune of "Moon River."
No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47-27-8, 102 Points; Dominated by Ottawa in Round One) vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators (43-31-8, 94 Points; Allowed a team named the Ducks to place its name on Lord Stanley's Chalice)
There's pregame motivation, and then there's just being stupid.
Herb Brooks's "Dehr time is done...dis is our time!" speech? Pregame motivation at its finest. Jacksonville Jaguars punter Chris Hanson slicing his right leg with an ax during Coach Jack Del Rio's "keep chopping wood" speech in 2003? Fucking idiotic.
The Ottawa Senators' preparations for their first-round series against Pittsburgh fall somewhere in between, but much closer to kicker self-amputation. Forget the new giant photo that hangs near the Ottawa dressing room, one that shows the two teams shaking hands after the Senators' 4-1 win last season; that Penguins team doesn't exist anymore. They're all grows up and they're all grows up and...
The real affront to common sense came when Senators coach Bryan Murray floated the idea that the Penguins intentionally lost their final game of the season to the Flyers because they wanted to play the Senators in the first round. "I knew what was going on. You guys all know — they wanted to play Ottawa," Murray said. "That's fine ... That was fairly obvious from the drop of the puck."
While it's true that Pittsburgh rested Sidney Crosby — who only missed 28 straight games and might like a breather before the playoffs — everyone else saw significant minutes, including starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Can anyone really envision the Penguins preparing to play Game 1 of the Wales Conference Finals in front of a rabid crowd in Montreal, smiling wistfully that they put one over on Ottawa a month earlier?
Besides, we all know the Penguins never throw a hockey game unless it will earn them the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Key Match-Up for Pittsburgh: Time vs. the Knock-Out Punch. The Senators will begin this series missing Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly. The longer it goes, the more likely it is they could return to the ice. Pittsburgh should Tyson/McNeely this thing, ASAP.
Key Match-Up for Ottawa: Crappy Goalies vs. Other Crappy Goalies. There isn't another team in the conference (outside of perhaps Philadelphia) whose situation between the pipes negates the nearly automatic disadvantage the Senators have in goal. Fleury was rather awful last season (3.77 GAA) in his first postseason action; Ty Conklin and the playoffs go together about as well as a blowtorch and a Sunoco station. Suddenly, Martin "Sieve" Gerber and that powder keg Ray Emery don't look so bad anymore.