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Wednesday, April 23

Updated: May 19, 2:11 PM ET

Don't take these picks to the bank

By EJ Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

Remember that Seinfeld episode when George started to do the opposite of what he would normally do? And when he did the opposite, he enjoyed tremendous success, eventually landing that primo job with the Yankees.

Well, I should have tried that strategy when picking Tuesday night's trio of Game 7s. If I had gone opposite of what I picked, I would have been 3-0.

Here's how things fell apart:

The pick: Leafs
The result: Flyers 6, Leafs 1

Cechmanek
Where They Went Right: The Flyers weren't rattled by their Game 6 OT loss. That's a credit to coach Ken Hitchcock. His team played a smart game from beginning to end. They drove to the net and got under the skin of Ed Belfour, who was unbeaten in his previous four Game 7 appearances. At the other end of the rink, Flyers goalie Roman Cechmanek made some key saves early in the game. After that, his teammates took over. Role-playing fourth-liner Claude Lapointe came up with a big performance, scoring his first playoff goal in 10 years and dishing out two assists. Why did the Islanders trade him?

Where I Went Wrong: I thought last year's resilient Leafs would show up for Game 7. Instead, the 1985 Leafs showed up. Captain Mats Sundin put forth a good effort, but he was abandoned by his teammates. Belfour's early mental melt down helped things get out of hand.

The pick: Avs
The result: Wild 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)

Fernandez
Where They Went Right: It started when the Wild hired Jacques Lemaire as their first coach in 2000. Lemaire has pushed all the right buttons since he arrived. He has this low-payroll bunch believing in their system and in each other. Goalie Manny Fernandez, on the bench when the series began, was brilliant in the final three games. The coach's nephew looked like Anaheim's J.S. Giguere in Game 7, coming up with big save after big save. In the end, he stopped 43 shots.

In the deciding game, the Wild kept their cool and overcame two deficits -- including a particularly impressive recovery after Colorado's Joe Sakic cashed in a power play goal in the third period after a phantom holding the stick penalty (whistled by Kerry Fraser) on Minnesota's Darby Hendrickson. Also, Minnesota's Marian Gaborik scored key goals in both Game 6 and Game 7. They can thank the Islanders for passing on him (and Dany Heatley) at the 2000 entry draft.

Where I Went Wrong: Forgotten was the fact that Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix traded clutch playoff scorer Chris Drury last October. The Avs never got the second line scoring needed to eliminate a tough opponent. And, legendary stopper Patrick Roy didn't seem to have his A-game Tuesday. The Avs controlled the play for a good part of the game. They just couldn't bury Fernandez.

The pick: Blues
The result: Canucks 4, Blues 1

H. Sedin
Where They Went Right: Vancouver didn't panic after falling behind on the first shift of the game. Goalie Dan Cloutier steadied things with several big saves in the first 10 minutes when the Blues were buzzing around his cage. The Sedin twins -- Henrik and Daniel -- changed the momentum when they turned an Al MacInnis turnover into the tying goal midway through the first period. Henrik Sedin scored the goal, converting a sweet pass from Daniel.

After that, the Canucks proved too fast, too big and too talented for the Blues. Veteran Trevor Linden turned in a strong performance. He assisted on the eventual winning goal and scored an insurance goal just 28 seconds into the final period. The big line -- Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison -- got better through the game. Didn't the Islanders used to have Bertuzzi?

Where I Went Wrong: I figured the Blues could regain their lost series momentum. But, when they couldn't build on their early lead, they melted under the thumb of the Canucks. Goalie Chris Osgood couldn't provide the big save when needed. But, too be fair, Martin Brodeur might have had trouble winning this game. MacInnis suited up with a bad shoulder, but proved ineffective. His first period turnover was very costly. Coach Joel Quenneville might have been better off leaving his injured defenseman in street clothes.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.




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