LCS Hockey: Born Again
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January 22, 2019
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First Round Preview: Campbell Conference




Evgeni Nabokov
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

ANAHEIM DUCKS (8) vs SAN JOSE SHARKS (1)

Key Matchup: Teemu Selanne versus Jonathan Cheechoo.

Thatís right. Our pal Dave Dameshekís dream has come true. Daveís favorite two hockey names, Teemu Selanne and Jonathan Cheechoo, will finally be meeting in the playoffs. Dave has been praying for this titanic clash for years, and itís finally happening. Itís happening!

Yes, sir, itís always wonderful when a manís dreams are realized. Itís kind of like if someone dreamed of Tina Fey making it into the Land of the Fox, and then Tina Fey won a vote to gain entrance into the Land of the Fox, and then Tina Fey was allowed to run free and wild with the other foxes. Yeah, it would be just like that.

So congratulations, Dave. I can only imagine what you must be feeling right now. Iím not bitter. Honest.

Anyway, in honor of Teemu and Cheechooís historic playoff meeting, please do yourself a favor and listen to a few of Daveís glorious Teemu-Cheechoo songs. Heís got the goods. Here's a sampling...

Fly Me to Cheechoo

I Say Cheech You Say Choo

Happy Together

Player to Watch: Assuming you can pry your eyes from Teemu and Cheechoo, watch that Joe Thornton character. This is it for Thornton. This has to be San Joseís year. No more excuses. If Thornton fails to lead the Fish to the Finals this season, itís over. Itís all over.

Thorntonís playoff struggles are well documented. A couple years back, I nicknamed him Snow Thornton because he disappears every spring. Yes, Iím very proud. But Thornton earned the moniker. Heís got 11 goals in 70 career playoff games, including just five in his past 42 postseason contests. Thatís hard to do.

Jumbo Joe isnít exactly rolling into the playoffs. He has one goal and five points over his last nine games. And you want to be my latex salesman.

Prediction: Thornton isnít the only scuffling Shark. Patrick Marleau had just five goals over his final 20 games. Devin Setoguchi had six goals in his final 24 contests, and five of them came in one four-game stretch. Milan Michalek has one goal in 10.

This series wonít be the one-sided mismatch some are expecting. Since March 1, the Sharks are 11-8-2, while the Ducks are 11-5-2, and the two clubs split a home-and-home in the first week of April.

Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan are on fire, combining for 17 goals and 38 points in their final nine games. And does it make any sense thinking Thornton and Marleau, two guys who couldnít win a game of checkers, will be able to beat Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer?

I really want to pick Anaheim. But the Sharks couldnít possibly choke again, could they? I mean, this is it. All the pieces are in place. They have to do it this year, ugly uniforms and all.

San Jose in seven.


COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (7) vs DETROIT RED WINGS (2)


Chris Osgood
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

Key Matchup: This oneís all about goaltending. Can rookie phenom Steve Mason stand up to the Stanley Cup champs? Can Chris Osgood not humiliate himself on a nightly basis? Iíll tune in.

Mason was 3-2-0 this season against the Wings and boasted a .930 save percentage. Thatís quality. Osgood was 2-2-1 against the Jackets and owned a truly Osgoodian .855 save percentage. Heís very good.

I have a feeling we might see the reverse of last season, with Osgood imploding in the first two games and Ty Conklin riding to the rescue. But whatís Conklin ever won? Where are his gold medals?

One problem with Mason pulling off the upset: he may have already hit the wall. The 20-year-old netminder has an .883 save percentage in April and has posted a save percentage under .900 in nine of his last 13 starts.

Player to Watch: Rick Nash finally gets his chance in the spotlight. And before you say Lidstrom and the boys will shut him down, Nash had six goals in six games against the Wings this season. Suck it, nerds.

And as much as I hate to admit it, Pavel Datsyuk is really, really good. (Sunshine) Datsyuk.

Prediction: If Mason stands on his head, this could be an upset in the making. But can a rookie goalie venture into Joe Louis Arena and stone the champs? Not likely. And even if Nash gets his, who else is going to score for the Jackets? R. J. Umberger? Kristian Huselius? Yeah, thatís not going to happen. The games will be close, but I doubt the endings will be to my liking.

Wings in five. (Sunshine) Detroit.


ST. LOUIS BLUES (6) vs VANCOUVER CANUCKS (3)

Key Matchup: There isnít a marquee matchup to be found. What, the Sedin twins against Carlo Colaiacovo? Mats Sundin versus Jeff Woywitka? Please.

Player to Watch: Alex Burrows is wicked entertaining. Get your popcorn ready. And after scoring 75 goals the past two seasons, itís about time Brad Boyes gets some mainstream attention.

Prediction: The Blues are a swell young team. Boyes, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, and T.J. Oshie are tremendous talents, and the future is certainly bright, but theyíve got no chance. None. Zilch. Bupkis. The playoffs are a brave new world.

The Canucks have too much depth, too much experience, and too much Roberto Luongo, who enters the playoffs riding two straight shutouts.

Vancouver in five.


CALGARY FLAMES (5) vs CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (4)


Jarome Iginla
photo by Matthieu Masquelet

Key Matchup: Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook against Jarome Iginla. Chicagoís top pair held Iggy without a goal in the season series and will be matched up against him the whole time. Yet another reason why home ice is so critical in this series.

Player to Watch: After 799 regular-season games, this will be Olli Jokinenís first chance to play in the postseason. And Darryl Sutter didnít trade for him to be one and done. The Flames are banking on Jokinen to be the guy who puts them over the top. No, seriously, they are. Yeah, I know, I couldnít type it without laughing either.

Since scoring a hat trick in an 8-6 loss at Toronto on March 14, Jokinen has exactly zero goals and five assists in 13 games, all while skating at a minus-6. Good luck with that whole Stanley Cup thing.

Prediction: Because of salary cap issues, the Flames havenít dressed 20 skaters since April 2. They went with only 15 the final two games and still managed to split a home-and-home with the Oilers. Itís going to be a long summer in Edmonton.

The Flames went 7-11-0 over their final 18 games, but they were actually 2-3-0 with the short bench, so it canít be blamed entirely on mismanagement.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are flying high, entering the playoffs with a 9-2-1 mark over their final 12 games. The Hawks also swept the season series with the Flames, taking the four games by a combined score of 19-7.

This is a tough all. While Chicago seems to have momentum on its side, and Calgary is stumbling into the playoffs, how will Kane and Toews deal with postseason pressure? In the end, home ice could tell the tale. The atmosphere in Chicago should be electric. Hawks fans have been waiting a long time for this. In Calgary, theyíre merely waiting to boo Keenan and Sutter out the door.

Chicago in seven.




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