Play­off picks

Preda­tors, Pens will foil chances of 2007 Stan­ley Cup fi­nal re­match

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY JONAS SIEGEL

Ten years ago, the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors met the Ana­heim Ducks in their first-ever Stan­ley Cup fi­nal.

Could his­tory re­peat it­self this spring? We’re guess­ing not. Here are our picks for the Eastern and Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals: EASTERN CON­FER­ENCE Pitts­burgh Pen­guins vs. Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors Pick: Pen­guins in six. Why: Just as they did dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, the Sens sur­vived on slim mar­gins and the su­perb play of Erik Karls­son to beat both the Bru­ins and Rangers, but their run stops here against a deeper, more in­tim­i­dat­ing Pen­guins op­po­nent.

The reign­ing Cup champs may not be at full strength, but Marc-An­dre Fleury has done more than a pass­ing job (.927 save per­cent­age) in place of Matt Mur­ray and a patch­work de­fence miss­ing Kris Le­tang had just enough to get by the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets and Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy-win­ning Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals.

Oh, and Pitts­burgh still has the best player on the planet in Sid­ney Crosby and ca­pa­ble depth sup­port­ing his cause.

The Pens come out at you with wave upon wave of speed and skill, an at­tack that even­tu­ally doomed the Caps in the third pe­riod of Game 7. They’re es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous when head coach Mike Sul­li­van splits Ev­geni Malkin and Phil Kes­sel and forces op­po­nents to con­tend with three threat­en­ing scor­ing lines — Crosby on one, Malkin on another and Kes­sel on a third.

Nei­ther the Bru­ins nor Rangers had that qual­ity of depth up front and the Sens de­fence prob­a­bly isn’t equipped to han­dle it even with Karls­son shin­ing brighter than all oth­ers this spring. Head coach Guy Boucher might just end up play­ing the 26-year-old a whole bunch more than even his usual 30 or so min­utes and hope the cap­tain’s bril­liance (13 points in 12 games) keeps Ot­tawa go­ing another round.

The Sens don’t have one dom­i­nant of­fen­sive line for the Pens’ Le­tang-less de­fence to con­tend with as Boucher prefers to spread his threats around. That might make it eas­ier — at least com­pared to their first two op­po­nents — for the Pen­guins to cope with­out their lead de­fender.

One way this se­ries could swing in Ot­tawa’s favour: Craig An­der­son. While he’s had a so-so play­offs so far, the 35-year-old cer­tainly has the tal­ent to steal a cou­ple games and make things in­ter­est­ing.

Bar­ring that, this looks like the end of the line for the Sens. WESTERN CON­FER­ENCE Ana­heim Ducks vs. Nashville Preda­tors Pick: Preda­tors in six. Why: Back in mid-Novem­ber Preda­tors GM David Poile was ner­vous about the look of his re­con­structed team, which re­placed cap­tain Shea We­ber for P.K. Sub­ban in a thun­der­ous off-sea­son trade.

“We haven’t got off to the start that we hoped we would,” Poile said. “It’s early, but we need to start play­ing at a higher level and start get­ting more wins.”

The Preds even­tu­ally found their way to reach their firstever con­fer­ence fi­nal this spring and are the pick here to go a step be­yond that.

The Ducks, who van­quished some demons in get­ting past the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers in seven games last round, are a tough team to bet against. Ryan Get­zlaf was dom­i­nant against the Oil­ers, Ryan Kesler neu­tral­ized Con­nor McDavid and the Ana­heim de­fence, if not quite Nashville’s equal, is right there in the same ball­park.

The Ducks also have a more threat­en­ing group of for­wards than the Preds — what with Get­zlaf, Kesler, Rickard Rakell, Jakub Sil­fver­berg and Corey Perry — and may just have a slight edge in the se­ries if a Kesler-led unit shuts down the dan­ger­ous trio of Ryan Jo­hansen, Filip Fors­berg and the ris­ing Vik­tor Arvids­son.

The Preds can find of­fence in other ways though, pri­mar­ily from an en­gaged and highly mo­bile de­fence — Sub­ban, Ryan El­lis and Ro­man Josi have 24 points com­bined in the play­offs — and Nashville’s speedy style might cause prob­lems for the Ducks as was the case last spring when they beat Ana­heim in the first round.

It’s goal pre­ven­tion which gives Nashville the edge in this se­ries though.

The Preds gave up next to noth­ing against Chicago in the first round — three goals! — and in­creas­ingly lit­tle to St. Louis in the sec­ond round. A big rea­son, be­yond that vaunted de­fence, is Pekka Rinne. The 34-year-old goal­tender is locked in right now, stop­ping 123-of-126 shots against the Black­hawks (.976 save per­cent­age) and 151-of162 against the Blues (.932).

John Gib­son, his coun­ter­part in this se­ries, has looked just OK through two rounds (.908 save per­cent­age) and was re­placed by the de­parted Fred­erik Andersen dur­ing that seven-game se­ries last spring.

Can Gib­son raise his level enough to out­play a scorch­ing Rinne?

The bet­ting here is no.

SEC­OND ROUND PICKS: 3-1 OVER­ALL RECORD: 8-4

AP PHOTO

Pitts­burgh Pen­guins left wing Conor Sheary (left) and right wing Pa­tric Horn­qvist cel­e­brate with cen­ter Nick Bonino af­ter Horn­qvist’s goal dur­ing the third pe­riod of Game 7 in an NHL Stan­ley Cup Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal against the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals, Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton.

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