Monday, April 29
Updated: May 1, 7:53 AM ET
Wings are ready to take off
By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com
Horace Greeley said "Go West, young man," REM sang "How the West was won and where it got us," and Paul Westerberg has a new double solo album called STEREO/MONO that is as pure as a Daniel Alfredsson slapper from the point. The Stanley Cup champion will come from the Western Conference and after Round 1 there were no surprises.
As we told you prior to the first round, the top four seeds in the West would win their opening round series. A look now at what lays ahead for the four remaining Western Conference teams.
Hey, I want the Blues to win it all because I want Chicken Parm to win it all because I promise you, when it is Ray's day with the Cup, I would order chicken parm from a local Trail, British Columbia, restaurant, dump it in the Cup, and eat it with Ray. I would have one of his brothers take a picture of us stuffing our heads with parm and I would blow up the picture the size of a U-Haul and put it on the side of my house. You think I'm kidding? My next door neighbor would wake up every day to the sight of two men covered in marinara. As much as I want to see that happen, my hockey brain says no. I just don't see the Wings having any problems getting by the Blues. Hull, Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Luc Robitaille and Nicklas Lidstrom will put the puck in places the Blackhawks couldn't. It ends here for St. Louis and Ray will be back on the NHL 2Night set for the conference finals.
Colorado vs. San Jose: The defending champs have it all in order to repeat. Patrick Roy is money. Peter Forsberg is playing. Chris Drury is energized. Steve Reinprecht is confident. Milan Hejduk is healthy. Joe Sakic is due. That being said, the inspiration and concentration of winning one for Ray Bourque -- as well as what Bourque brought to the team on the ice -- will be missed. The Sharks will cause some problems, and if the Avs are favorites, it's not by much. The Avs had problems scoring goals during the regular season and they will have problems scoring goals in this series. All six of the Avs defensemen will have to play solid and they will have to rely on their great team defense and legendary goalie.
As for the Sharks, I love the fact they went into Phoenix and won Games 3 and 4. They are rested and will come into Denver with all guns blazing. They scored 248 goals during the regular season, second only to Vancouver and Detroit. This is a good matchup for the Sharks. They need to continue the physical play the Los Angeles Kings delivered in the first round. The Avs are not a big team and the Sharks need to hit them. A lot. Colorado will be able to make some plays down low, but, the Sharks can close quickly with their big defense and they have a very good goaltender in Evgeni Nabokov. They beat Phoenix in five and Selanne and Nolan didn't score a goal. If that doesn't change, the Avs will win.
Carolina somehow won its six-game series with New Jersey despite giving up more goals than they scored. The 'Canes scored nine and gave up 11. Their goaltending won the series for them. The Devils were the team to beat. Losing Scott Gomez was a killer. At the end of the regular season they were really flying, rolling out three lines that could score. It's going to be a very interesting offseason for Devil fans. Lou Lamarillo now has two months to get in his bunker and hatch his vision for the 21st century Devils. The free agency period begins July 1.
The Flyers are a mess. They will go hard after Bill Guerin and Curtis Joseph. And don't count out Mike Richter. He is looking for a new agent and once played for the junior Flyers. If Bob Clarke stepped down, hired Larry Robinson for one of his one-year Dr. Feelgood operations, asked Rick Tocchet to be an assistant coach and get a hard-working young assistant with a positive, energetic attitude, it would do wonders. This organization is would too tightly. A couple of tweaks and they are right there.
The Bruins' performance was an embarrassment. The lack of intensity and tentativeness in Game 6 against Montreal was striking. I think they won't resign Byron Dafoe and may go after Cujo, Ed Belfour or Richter. They need to let Jonathan Girard play next year and try to get some defensive help, although they are young on defense and perhaps there is room for improvement with what they already have. Guerin will get offered huge money from the Rangers, Flyers, Dallas, Colorado, and maybe Washington. While signing him is very important, it is more important to be strong from the blue line in.
So, the final four in the East is Carolina, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. Not a strong foursome for U.S. television ratings. I know you don't care about that, but the NHL and some friends of mine do.
Carolina vs. Montreal: Don't forget, Montreal won more games than Carolina during the regular season, so the Habs cannot play the underdog card in this series. Both the 'Canes and Canadiens are not very good offensive teams and both can really sit back and play defensive hockey well. Montreal will be seeing a team pretty similar to Boston, except Carolina is excellent on faceoffs. Carolina will be seeing another great goaltender and once again will have problems scoring goals. This series is so close. I keep going back and forth in my mind. Sami Kapanen has to have a productive series for Carolina to win. Montreal's defenseman are not good and Kapanen should be able to get some shots off. This is a tough call, but I'll go with Theodore and Montreal.
Ottawa vs. Toronto: Toronto had a very rugged series and Ottawa had the easiest one of all time. The Sens gave up two goals in five playoff games against the Flyers. The best player on either the Leafs or Sens is Daniel Alfredsson. Ottawa has a rugged defense that I like a lot, but their forwards have to battle. Radek Bonk is real soft. Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat need to finish. Toronto without Sundin could beat the Islanders, but I don't think it can beat the Senators. I can't imagine my mind coming to the conclusion that Patrick Lalime can beat Curtis Joseph, but my mind says Senators in six.
No. 1: What was your take on the Kyle McClaren hit on Richard Zednik?
No. 3: What about the Gary Roberts hit on Kenny Jonsson?
No. 4: How does it feel not to make the playoffs?
No. 5: Why?
No. 6: How's your injured groin and abdomen?
No. 7: Do you want to play one more year?
No. 8: How about the TV work. Is it a possible post-playing career job?
1. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings: He had nine points on one leg in six games against Vancouver. The Red Wings were primed for a first-round upset. They were flat and lifeless. Yzerman's heart was the difference in gutting out Game 3 and giving the Wings their playoff legs. This might be his finest hour.
2. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators: He is Ottawa's Yzerman, their unquestionable leader. Smart, talented and starting to supply the grit. He's a lot like Mats Sundin, in that he's starting to get how to play a little nasty. If a draft was held picking only players on the Flyers and Senators roster and I had the first pick, I would choose Alfredson first. He's one of my favorite players in the NHL.
3. Patrick Lalime, Ottawa Senators: I'm a little hesitant to put him this high because of the Flyers scoring ineptitude since the Olympic break, and the fact the Sens play such good defense ... and the fact we're talking about PATRICK LALIME. But when you see 137 shots and only TWO get by you, you deserve some recognition.
4. Zigmund Palffy, Los Angeles Kings: He had 9 points in the first 6 games of the Avalanche (I'm writing this before Game 7). If the Kings win or have won Game 7, depending on when you're reading this, Ziggy will likely have been the difference.
5. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: He played roughly 30 minutes in all six games. His importance to this team is bigger than Melrose's fiscal year hair gel budget. He's is BY FAR the league's best defenseman. It is not even close. Since 1980 three defenseman have won the Conn Smythe -- Al MacInnis in 1989, Brian Leetch in 1994 and Scott Stevens in 2000.
Living in the Caribbean: "The weather is nice and the beaches run forever. Plenty of sporting activities, golfing and fishing. It's brilliant."
Childhood memories: "I grew up in Vancouver. Pretty much a normal Canadian childhood. Get up early and go to hockey practice. Basic stuff. My dad was a fisherman."
Missing this time of the hockey year: "Wow. When the games get going I'm a big fan of it. I watch all the time. It's fun. I love to watch the games. I know some players don't watch anymore, but I do."
First thing Glenn Anderson does when he wakes up in the Caribbean: "Usually jump in the hot tub and get the body going."
What's the CHL? "The Caribbean Hockey League!! It's street hockey played with an orange ball. I play just about every day. I also golf and fish."
Are you a Hall of Fame player? "Not really. I think there are so many other people that are better than I am and there always will be. It's not that important to me."
Does Barry Melrose hate the Senators? From what I've heard, I think he believes the only reason they beat the Flyers was because the Flyers played so bad.
This needs to be said and understood. It is very important: BARRY MELROSE AND NHL REFEREES DO NOT CARE WHO WINS ANY NHL GAME. THEY HAVE NO EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT TO ANY OF THE NHL FRANCHISES. THEY DON'T LOVE OR HATE ANY NHL TEAM. When I record my first CD the previous three sentences will be the title.
I think hockey fans understand and realize that anything Mike and the Mad Dog (local New York City radio show), Mike Lupica, or most anyone else in the mainstream America media say about hockey is taken with a Pat Quinn head-size slab of salt. These people don't watch games, don't study its history, or understand AT ALL its nuances and particulars. Baseball? Sure. Hockey? No. Anybody who compares the Tie Domi hit to the Kyle McLaren hit is as far gone as Bishop Pickering after his 18th Stoli. McLaren was hoping to line up Richard Zednik with his shoulder, fell too deep into the zone when Zednik quickly cut to the middle, and stuck his arm out in hopes of hitting him in the chest to impede his progress into a scoring position. His arm actually hit Zednik's shoulder pads and rode up into his head. That being said, players are responsible for shots to the head and should pay a price. Three playoff games is a steep one, but acceptable. The fact that it was a 5-2 game? Irrelevant. Bill Mosienko scored three goals by himself in 21 seconds back in 1952. It's possible.
As far as Roth vs. Hagar? That's one of the great questions of the 20th century. Clearly, Van Halen was a better band with David Lee Roth. However, I'm a sucker for cheesy power ballads and "Love Walks In," "Feels So Good," "When it's Love," and "Dreams" are fun summer-driving-in-a-convertible-on-Cape Cod-or-the-Florida Keys-at-about-7:30-in-the-evening songs. But, if I'm getting ready to hit the ice, I'm crankin "Running with the Devil." Two different sounds. Same great band. That's cool.
Keep the hockey books suggestions coming. We'll provide a list in May for summer beach reading.
Jim, your wife thinks you're an idiot because instead of planning a three-day weekend in Newport filled with massage oils, candles, Luther Vandross CDs, quiet conversations and a wrench, you're checking the Outlook spellcheck for "Buccigross." That being said, your results are connected. In 1986, I did want to be a cowboy after hearing the Boys Don't Cry song, "I Wanna Be A Cowboy," went to college a half hour from Bucyrus, Ohio (Heidelberg College), and was accused -- but never found guilty -- of smoking a Bunchgrass in college. Again, as long as the spellcheck doesn't come up "Bugar Sauce," I'm happy and content as Jonathan Calla when he's not watching NHL 2Night or reading this column.
The Esteemed Mr. Buccigross,
Toby Keith definitely counts. "Who's That Man" and "Upstairs Downtown" are great songs. How in the world was "Upstairs Downtown" left off his Greatest Hits CD? That's as bad as if Jarome Iginla doesn't win the MVP this year. By the way, I'm taking part in maybe the biggest thrill of my limited athletic career next Monday. I'm competing in a U.S. Open Qualifier in Ellington, Conn. I'll certainly never play in an actual U.S. Open, but to be one 8,468 entries teeing it up is an amazing thrill and honor. To be connected with our country's national golf championship is the coolest thing I've ever done outside of maybe standing on stage for a Disturbed concert. The record number of entries will have an assortment of markings on their golf balls; dots, lines, and circles that they will apply with their Sharpie markers. I'll be the guy with IGINLA on the side of his Titleist.
Play nine. Shoot your Greg Biekert (LB Oakland Raiders) and go to Studio 54 and drink a quart of Malibu Rum. You'll save money and have a lot more fun.
That's the cart path and you have the option of getting relief. If Mess is with some slammin' Ford model from New York City at the time, I would play it as it lies.
Erik, you're in. However, the party has been moved from my house here in New England to Clyde, Ohio. Look for the large inflatable can of Keystone Light and listen for the Ronnie James Dio music. My boy Marc Streeter will take care of you until I arrive. I'll meet you there. Really.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Tuesday-Saturday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.