Weight knows a winner when he sees it
Difference makers. Who will they be during the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs?
(By the way, Barry Melrose, if you're reading my column right now -- like I know you do -- and you want to take a day off -- which I know you won't -- Doug would be awesome filling in for you.)
Unfortunately for Weight, he has some free time on his hands after the Blues' push for the playoffs came up short (Weight signed with St. Louis last summer).
So, in the meantime, I decided to put Doug to work. He weighs in on who he thinks will make the difference in this round.
Weight: "It's easy to pick [Scott] Niedermayer and [Chris] Pronger because of how great they are and their respective résumés, stats and ice time they put in. But if you're looking for a player who can set a tone for a series, it's [Samuel] Pahlsson.
"I like him because he's an in-your-face kind of player," Weight said. "He's 6 feet, over 200 pounds. He's one of the most underrated checkers in the league. He's like Sean Avery, but without the physicality. He comes at you at an angle, never allowing you to get open ice. He reminds me a lot of Guy Carbonneau. [Pahlsson] shadows and frustrates the opponent's best player. He's on them like glue."
"But I don't think Luongo can pull off an upset of the Ducks alone," Weight said. "I think he's capable of stealing a game on the road in Anaheim. But the difference maker for Vancouver could be their fans at GM Place. It's one of the loudest places in the NHL, and the Canucks' players are known for feeding off their fans."
Weight found that out the hard way. Back in April 2003, he and the Blues blew a 3-1 first-round series lead to Vancouver.
"Thanks, Linda. I was trying to forget about that!" Weight said. "Take it from me, I know for a fact fans can make the difference. They were a huge part in us winning the Stanley Cup in Carolina last season.
"We suffered two big-time Game 6 losses in the conference finals against Buffalo and then in the Cup finals against Edmonton. Each time, the Carolina fans lifted us up out of our doldrums so we could finish the job in a pair of Game 7s. I'll never forget how loud the fans were in that Game 7 against Buffalo. I swear I thought the roof was going to come off after I scored that goal."
Weight's goal early in the third period tied the score at 2 and Carolina would score two more goals in the frame to oust Buffalo and earn a trip to the Cup finals.
Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after beating Calgary that a team is good when its stars are playing at their best.
" I couldn't agree more. That's why Detroit needs its star, Henrik Zetterberg, not only to play his best, but carry this Red Wings team on his back," Weight said. "I don't think they can beat the Sharks if that doesn't happen.
"He's just one of those guys, like a Peter Forsberg, who is capable of making everyone around him better. He not only is outstanding at finding the open man and burying his shot, but he also sets an example by killing penalties and blocking shots."
Zetterberg led the Red Wings with six points in their six-game first-round series win against Calgary.
San Jose Sharks
A scary thing about the Sharks? They beat Nashville in five games without a single goal by Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo. Plus, they only went 2-for-30 on the power play. How does that happen, Doug?
"They get W's because their best players are physical," Weight said. "They not only play big, they are big. Many of their forwards are over 220 pounds, including a guy who could be the difference maker in the second round against the Sharks, Ryane Clowe [6-foot-2, 225 pounds]."
Clowe scored three goals in five games against Nashville, including the game winner in Game 3. Weight said Clowe doesn't play like a rookie.
New Jersey Devils
There is the EGG line (Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta) and there's Martin Brodeur, but the Devils will need more than their top trio and stud goalie if they want to advance.
Weight's answer to that is Jamie Langenbrunner.
"He is simply a big-game player," Weight said. "The puck finds him because he wants the puck. It's the law of attraction. The gamers just make their moments happen. He's always in front of the net; he has a great shot; he's lethal on special teams; he's outstanding defensively. With the game on the line don't be surprised if Jamie gets it done."
"This is Jason Spezza's time," Weight said. "Much like Zetterberg in Detroit, Spezza has that ability to impose his will on his teammates. This Senators team has become very good defensively and I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lot of low-scoring games.
If [Sens goalie] Ray Emery keeps them in it and makes the saves he has to, Spezza might be able to do the rest. What impressed me about Ottawa was their ability to win on the road twice in Pittsburgh; winning road playoff games is difficult, especially in older buildings like the Igloo in Pittsburgh where you feel the fans are on top of you."
New York Rangers
The Rangers were the team that drafted Weight back in 1990 in the second round and current Rangers GM Glen Sather and the veteran go back to Weight's days in Edmonton.
"Those were good times. Slats treated me well with the Oilers," Weight said. "If I had to pick a Rangers player who has to step up this round, and I'm sure Glen would agree, it's my former Carolina teammate Matt Cullen.
"I know he can make an impact. His speed is explosive. I'm glad the Rangers finally are using him on their power play. When Matt plays on the power play, it makes him a better five-on-five player because of the touches he gets with the extra man. He can carry the puck into the zone for you, plays the point and isn't afraid to shoot."
Cullen had a huge shot when he scored the game winner in Game 4, when the Rangers swept the Thrashers in the first round.
Where do you pick and choose with such a deep team?
"We all know the names [Chris] Drury, [Thomas] Vanek, [Daniel] Briere," Weight said. "But if I have to pick one player who might be overlooked, it's Dainius Zubrus, a great pickup for Buffalo from the Capitals around the deadline.
"He's that rare combination -- a big guy, yet a great stickhandler with speed. He's a bull down low and he creates room for the little guys who play big. Zubrus has helped fill the void left by [Mike] Grier when he went to San Jose."
Zubrus has a tremendous work ethic and he really helped Alexander Ovechkin during the young star's adjustment to life in the United States and the NHL when the two were roommates in Washington.
My thanks to Weight for his second-round breakdown. Look for Doug to continue to make the difference for the Blues when they return to the playoffs next season.
• My apologies to the Ottawa Senators and their die-hard fans. I jumped off their bandwagon when I picked the Penguins in seven. I truly thought the Penguins had the right playoff pieces around Sidney Crosby to make a postseason push. That was the only first-round series I got wrong in our experts' picks column. Hey, Sens fans, if you noticed, I'm back on board in the second round, picking Ottawa over the Devils in six.
• Speaking of the Devils, Martin Brodeur reminds me a lot of Brett Favre. Both are future Hall of Famers, who, because of their illustrious accomplishments, rarely get criticized by the media when they make a mistake. Is that fair?
• Poor Nashville Predators. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. Last postseason, the Preds were pushed around by the Sharks in the first round. This season, Nashville toughened up a bit and believed it could beat San Jose at its own game. The Preds evened the score in the hits department, just not in the goals category. Eliminated again. Now, Peter Forsberg may not be back. But don't worry Nashville fans, the Preds will be.
• Congratulations to Atlanta Thrashers fans. In all my years covering sports (and there's a lot of them), I have never heard Atlanta fans cheer as loudly for one of their pro sports teams as I did over the first two games at Philips Arena against the Rangers. Impressive, considering Atlanta pro sports fans have built an unfortunate reputation of being invisible at times.
Leave it to the hockey fans to ignite an atmosphere and institute change. No better fans in the world!
Hooked on hockey, Linda Cohn is an anchor for ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. She has been with the network since 1992 and promises a gluttony of glove saves in her weekly column. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.
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