2007 NHL Playoff Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 04/10/2007
The NHL playoffs start this week. Unless you live on the same side of the Canadian border as I do, or if you're in Detroit or maybe Pittsburgh, you probably don't hear much about them, and chances are pretty good that you don't care. Though I won't even try to defend hockey, or to suggest that you absolutely should watch the playoffs, I will stand behind the statement that the playoffs are worth betting consideration. There are eight series that will start on Wednesday and Thursday, and most of them are interesting in one way or the other - either they are close-fought battles that will be great to watch, or they are mismatches that could provide opportunities for profit. Here's a look at some of the highlights:
Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Islanders - This series couldn't be more one sided, as the -511 series price on the Sabres shows. Buffalo started the season on the roll, they mostly kept the momentum going all year, winding up with the best record in the league. They are ridiculously fast, they score pretty much at will and their goaltending has been solid enough. The Islanders, on the other hand, snuck into the playoffs with a shootout victory in their last game of the season. Their star goalie, Rick DiPietro, is visiting neurologists to get over a concussion rather than getting ready for the playoffs. Isles' coach Ted Nolan is gritty and hungry to be back in the playoffs after a long absence from the NHL, so he'll make the series closer than it should be, but in the end Buffalo will probably be too much for New York.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Calgary Flames - How do you spell enigma? C-a-l-g-a-r-y. They have one of the best goalies in the league, they have way more offensive power than they have had in recent years. On paper their defensive unit is very strong, yet they play with a complete absence of heart at times and they barely made it into the playoffs. They are also incomprehensibly bad on the road - they have one more win at home than any team in the league, and five fewer wins on the road than any team in the playoffs. Ten days ago they were looking like a great bet after winning six in a row, including four on the road. They finished the season, though, with four losses and four poor performances. Detroit is getting ready for the playoffs without two very familiar faces - Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan. They have been much better than expected this year, and the stellar goaltending combo of Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood sure has helped. They faltered a bit down the stretch (5-1-4 in the last 10), but that was probably due as much to a desire to end the season and get the playoffs going as anything. The Wings are -222 to win the series, and should have a clear edge unless Calgary can find a way to step up their game and play to their potential.
Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins - This is unquestionably the highest profile match-up of the first round thanks to Sidney Crosby and his band of young and incredibly talented freaks. There is so much hype about The Kid, but every bit of it is deserved. The Penguins have improved dramatically this year, and they were solid down the stretch. That's not to say that they are a lock by any means, though. Ottawa has also played well, just as we have expected from them for years now. The offense, led by Dany Heatley's 50 goals, was balanced and dangerous, trailing only Buffalo in runs scored, and Ray Emery did an admirable job of filling the goalie shoes left behind by Hasek. The two teams are very well matched - they both had 105 points, they played each other tight throughout the season and both teams can get hot at any time. The Senators have been in the playoffs for most of the decade, but they have been snake bitten, getting out of the second round just once. Pittsburgh has been out of the playoffs so long that the city must almost forget what it's like to watch meaningful games in April, but all of that history has been rewritten thanks to Crosby. The series is destined to be very close, with perhaps a slight edge to Ottawa due to age and experience. Many experts are picking Pittsburgh, though, so the +160 series price available on the Pens will strike some as a bit of a bargain.
Nashville Predators vs. San Jose Sharks - This is the kind of series that gives handicappers nightmares. The teams are so evenly matched that the series price for both is -105. Nashville ended the season with 110 points, and San Jose had 107. The Preds scored 14 more goals than the Sharks, but they also allowed 13 more goals. The teams are familiar with each other, too - San Jose knocked Nashville out of the playoffs last year. Nashville ended up with such an ugly playoff match-up because they struggled down the stretch, losing seven of their last 12. Those disheartening results can be discounted to some extent, though, because the team was hit hard with injuries in March. Peter Forsberg, Martin Erat, Steve Sullivan and Scott Hartnell all missed significant time. The team is healthy again, so the Sharks will get everything Nashville has to offer. The Predators will have their hands full, too, thanks to reigning MVP Joe Thornton and the potent offense that also includes 30+ goal scorers Jonathan Cheechoo, Bill Guerin and Patrick Marleau. While Nashville struggled in March, the Sharks, at 13-1-3 since March 4, were as hot as any team in the league. Both teams have very solid goaltending. Last year San Jose won in five, but Nashville goalie Thomas Vokoun missed that series with a blood clot, so it wasn't a fair fight. This year the series will be much closer. To employ the most painfully overused cliché in all of sports, this series is going to be a war.