Screen Shots: Conference finals breakdown
Editors' note: This column was written and published in The Hockey News before the start of the conference finals.
The second round has ended, but our remarkable streak of better-than-average playoff predictions continues. We racked up a 3-1 record in the quarterfinals, missing the mark only on the Edmonton-San Jose series. Combine that with a 6-2 record in the opening round, and we're 9-3 overall this postseason. Not in the least bit shabby for somebody suckered in by the regular-season promise of the Dallas Stars.
It's going to be a little harder to continue at a .750 clip in the third round, what with only two games to predict and all. But that's what they pay us for, so brace yourself for even more of Screen Shots' semi-educated conjecture:
Western Conference finals -- Edmonton vs. Anaheim
The Showdown: With two teams capable of matching the other's skill set in just about every possible facet of the game, the Ducks-Oilers series should be a six-or-seven-game dandy.
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In goal, you have to give the edge to Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson over Anaheim's Ilya Bryzgalov, even in the face of the latter's three-game postseason shutout streak. Roloson has yet to allow a weak goal in this year's playoffs, and has carried his team far more than Bryzgalov has carried the Ducks.
The Oilers also have the advantage on the blue line, thanks to the colossal contributions of snarly veterans Chris Pronger and Jason Smith. Scott Niedermayer isn't exactly chopped liver, and Francois Beauchemin and Ruslan Salei have performed beyond expectations, but Edmonton's defense corps is deeper than Anaheim's.
The same can't be said when you compare both teams' forwards. The Ducks force a relentless group of forwards down the opposition's throat, with all four lines forechecking like their lives depended on it. The Oilers are similarly committed to both ends of the rink, but coach Craig MacTavish has shortened his bench to three lines at times this spring. That accumulated wear-and-tear takes on more and more importance with each successive round, and the Oilers haven't gotten past Nashville and San Jose without paying a physical price.
Behind the bench, we like Anaheim's Randy Carlyle over MacTavish. It's another near toss-up comparison, but Carlyle has shown great creativity and focus hether his team was locked in a seven-game battle with Calgary or a relatively simple sweep of the overmatched Avalanche. MacTavish has also shown the ability to adapt, but he's had a more veteran lineup to lean on.
Overall, it appears the Oilers are defensively supreme to the Ducks, who have more offensive weaponry than does Edmonton. And in the reborn NHL, if the games are being officiated properly, superior offense should prevail over superior defense.
The Lowdown: Mighty Ducks in six
Eastern Conference finals -- Buffalo vs. Carolina
The Showdown: Before the playoffs began, we liked the Hurricanes to come out of the East. But after following the Sabres particularly closely through the first two rounds, we're not nearly so certain.
Neither Sabres goalie Ryan Miller nor his Carolina counterpart Cam Ward have the résumé to give one the nod over the other. Both have stepped up and stolen games for their teams, but both need solid play from the teammates in front of them to succeed. Call this one a dead heat.
Unlike the Western Conference finals, there is no lynchpin defenseman in this series. The Canes and Sabres each depend on a collection of youngish blue-liners aided by the presence of savvy vets such as Teppo Numminen and Glen Wesley. Again, no obvious winner here.
The virtual deadlock continues up front as Buffalo and Carolina can boast of lightning-quick, skilled forwards determined to pressure their opponent for as long as their defense will allow. In Eric Staal, the Hurricanes have the most talented skater in the series, but those who have underestimated Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and J.P. Dumont this season have regretted it almost every time. We're giving the slight edge to the Sabres.
Likewise, we'll take Buffalo's Lindy Ruff over Carolina's Peter Laviolette in yet another photo-finish. No matter who the Sabres have lost to injury this season, Ruff has coaxed consistent efforts out of his team. The Canes haven't been nearly as reliable, although it's impossible to deny Laviolette's ability to adapt to and overcome the obstacles in front of him. Razor-thin edge to Ruff and Buffalo.
Ultimately, we've been won over by the upstart Sabres. That's not to say Carolina hasn't also bowled us over with their resilience and ability, only that we see in Buffalo a team of destiny. That city could be talking proudly about its team for decades to come.
The Lowdown: Sabres in seven
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