A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Friday, April 21, 2006

First round outlook

Jeez. I got called out by Eric McErlain for my failure to do this any sooner.
"Red and Black Hockey needs to get with the program. Wake up!"

Obviously, I'll start with the only series that matters. Canes versus Habs.
The Canes blistered the Habs in four meetings this season, outscoring them by a combined 25-9. There are two things, though that make this different. Okay. Three things.
    One. This is the playoffs. Everything that happened before this doesn't matter. We pretend that these two teams have never faced each other. I'll get back to this later.
    B. The Canes are having to go without the services of Erik "Hab Killa" Cole, who scored eight points (5/3) in only three games versus our French-Canadian opponent. He won't until at the very least, the Conference finals.
    III The Habs have jettisoned Jose "Captain Propecia" Theodore", against whom the Canes were shooting fish in a barrel.

Now. All the Cane haters are saying they won't enjoy any success against Huet, and they wrongly state that the Canes have never faced the glowing hot goaltender. This is just wrong. Indeed, in the New Year's Eve game, the Canes faced Theodore for the entire 60 minutes, and won 5-3. On January 23, however, the Canes chased Theodore, and faced Huet for 31:15. They scored two goals on 19 shots en route to a 7-3 victory. Then, on January 31 in an 8-2 win, the Canes again chased Theodore. That time, they saw Huet for 34:37 and scored three goals on 16 shots against him. Finally, on March 16, the Canes faced newly acquired David Aebischer for the entire 60 minutes, beating him 5-1.

Anyway, the point is that the Canes have faced both Habs netminders and have fared well against both of them. Against Huet, they scored a total of five goals on a total of 35 shots. Against Aebi, they scored five goals on 41 shots.

Indeed it will be tough to do this without our beloved #26 in the lineup, but I still think it can be done. Although Doug Weight and Marc Recchi aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard in Cole's stead, they're doing lots of other things that are really important to the success of the team.

Carolina has, like I said, owned the Habs this season, and have historically enjoyed success in the Molson Bell Center. Ask any Canes fan what his favorite moment in Canes history is, and they'll respond with one of two things. One would be the "Miracle at Molson", and the other would be Ronnie Franchise's game winner in game one of the 2002 SCF.

Okay. I suppose I should provide some analysis rather than the slanted "Canes will win because I like them" view.

The Canes have a lopsided advantage in this series as far as the forwards are concerned. Carolina had three guys other than Erik Cole finish with 30 or more goals (Staal 45, Justin Williams 31, Rod Brind'Amour 31). No other team in the league can boast that. They also have four guys with 70 or more points (Staal 100, Williams 76, Cory Stillman 76, Brind'Amour 71). Montréal, on the other hand, had just one player score exactly 30 goals (Michael Ryder), and nobody even close to Eric Staal's 100 points. Alexei Kovalev is tops with 65 points. Although the Canes have been banged up, and will still be without the services of Erik Cole, I expect them to be as close to full strength as they can get.

On the blue line, it may be an edge to the Habs. Sheldon Souray and Andre Markov are much more offensively threatening than Carolina's top two of Frantisek Kaberle and Bret Hedican. They are also a little more imposing defensively.

In goal, I'll again give the edge to the Canes. There's no doubt that Cristobal Huet has been on fire lately and that Martin Gerber has been a little off, but the three days rest will do a lot of good for Gerbs. Huet has no experience in Stanley Cup play, and has an abysmal 1-3-1 record in Olympic play for his native France in two olympiads. David Aebischer, on the other hand, has quite a bit of NHL playoffs experience and played fairly well for Switzerland in the 2006 Torino games. He does not, though, have the hot hand. There is a bit of controversy over whether to go with the experienced veteran or the hot newcomer. Carolina doesn't quite have that controversy. The rookie Cam Ward is a good backup, but Gerber is the clear #1 guy. He hasn't been great lately, but he shone for most of the season, and played well in Torino, shutting Canada out while facing 49 shots. I'll give a slight edge to the Canes here. Gerber has really shown up when it matters, and this matters.

The league has said that it wants the games to be called tightly, which will benefit the Canes. They have been one of the most well-disciplined teams in the league all season long, and should do a good job of staying out of the box. Less time in the box means fresher legs on the ice. Fresh legs are good. A healthy Canes team is much more skilled than a healthy Habs team. Even a Canes team playing at 90% is more skilled than an Habs team. I say the Canes take this in five. If Ray Whitney is able to return to the Canes lineup for game 1, the Canes will take it in 4.

More on the other series later.

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