Rose in Accounting and I were talking in the office the other day. I listened to her boring story about her niece’s wedding plans and then she didn’t seem to listen to my story about my son’s graduation. Then the topic of the upcoming playoffs came up and we seemed to have pretty divergent views. Here’s our predictions for the first round. If she’s right more often than me, I’m going to be so embarrassed.
Please don’t hate us if we didn’t pick your team. Let love rain and peace flow between our nations.
Copenhagen (No. 1 seed, 111 points) vs. Minsk (No. 8 seed, 77 points)
Commissioner: Copenhagen is supposed to win the conference because they have the best team. But the hockey gods have been pretty mean to the Tridents in the past. I think they’ll be upset before the finals, but not in this round. The league’s best powerplay, Luongo and Ovechkin are too good for a first-round exit. Copenhagen takes it in 5 games. I worry about them though. They know they couldn’t cash in on their talent last year and in the first EURO Cup finals. When they get that “Here we go again” feeling, someone on the bench has to correct it. The addition of Shea Weber’s leadership will certainly help, but will he be forceful enough to right the Tridents’ ship in rough waters?
Rose: I am not a fan of Copenhagen because it is named after a brand of smokeless tobacco. What a dumb decision. For that reason, I am going withMinsk. The Hussars have never made the playoffs before and no one’s expecting much from them, so they will play loose and daring. They are pretty good defensively and they’re among the toughest teams in the league. As to rumors about a romantic relationship involving me and Mr. Kirunov, I will not respond to any questions, especially any regarding New Year’s Eve in Vienna.
Keep an eye on: Maxim Chudinov, Milan Lucic and Ryan McDonagh. Here’s why: They are the three most penalized players on the Minsk squad. The Minsk squad was the fourth most penalized team in the league and their shorthanded crew’s percentage was fourth worst in the league. And Copenhagen is the deadliest team there is when they have the man advantage. Not a promising combination. If Hussar coach Claude Juien isn’t saying “Hey, let’s not give Weiss, Ovechkin, Moulson, Weber and Goligoski more space and time in our zone,” then he should say it soon. And often.
Moscow (No. 2 seed,106 points) vs. Edinburgh (No. 7 seed, 87points)
Commissioner: The Banker Effect. ‘Nuff said. But we’ll say more about Moscow. Spartak is capable of coming at you in waves with some quality forward lines and there’s always an excellent puck-moving defenseman on the ice – either Markov, Keith, Garrison … there are a few of them who are hard to play against. Jaro Halak was pretty good in the playoffs last year and at age 28, is primed and capable of improving on those numbers. Look for Moscow to win in 4 games.
Rose: I don’t like seeing men in kilts. I have nice legs (Editor’s note: No, she doesn’t.) and I can understand me showing them off. But these Scottish men … all the hair … no thanks. But the Capitals are strong down the middle and I foresee Bryzgalov stepping up his game against the capital of his native country. Edinburgh in a 7-game upset.
Keep an eye on: Russian troop movements. If there is a sudden build-up of Russian naval vessels around Ireland, then Moscow might be looking past Edinburgh and to the second round. Then they’d be vulnerable in Scotland.
Dublin (No. 3 seed, 99 points) vs. St. Petersburg (No. 6 seed, 89 points)
Commissioner: Both of these teams have been good for three years now and either is capable of reaching the Cup finals, in my opinion. Dublin has a great top line and very good second line. That’s a big reason the Fighting Irish were the fifth most potent offense in the league. Too much firepower for the Red Stars. Dublin in 6 games.
Rose: If St. Petersburg can limit their penalties and keep Yandle and Wisniewski off the ice with the man advantage, the Russians will win. They have Pekka Rinne, who can win games by himself, and Brent Burns can be a monster at times. Also, Cam Atkinson looks a lot like the young man my niece is marrying. St. Petersburg in 6 games.
Keep an eye on: The goalies. Tim Thomas is 39, but his save percentage has been unbelievably consistent during his 191 games (playoffs included) in Dublin. It has never been outside the 89 to 90.2 range and right now it’s as good as it’s ever been. Dublin can count on him keeping them in games. Pekka Rinne, in the St. Petersburg goal, has a slightly lower save percentage than Thomas right now, but boy does he play well in the playoffs. He has 5 shutouts in 36 playoff games, which means it’s likely Dublin will have a zero on the scoreboard at least once this round.
Helsinki (No. 4 seed, 91 points) vs. Gothenburg (No. 5 seed, 91 points)
Commissioner: Everyone agrees it will be a hard-fought, close series. I pick Gothenburg to win. Martin St. Louis knows what he’s doing and his quickness and passing prowess will help turn the games into wide-open, high-scoring affairs. That’s the kind of tempo Gothenburg players like Eric Staal and Zach Parise need to succeed. The Devils dump the Jokerit in 7 games.
Rose: Here are the top five reasons Helsinki will advance: Helsinki is the best defensive team in the conference. Defense wins championships. Henrik Lundqvist is still Henrik Lundqvist. The Jokerit are the league’s toughest team. Trevor Grimm donates a lot to charity because he’s a good guy. Look for frustrated, worn-down Gothenburg players and a Helsinki series win in 5 games.
Keep an eye on: The refereeing. Helsinki is the most penalized team in league history. If the officiating crew lets stuff go, then agitator Brad Marchand and crew could throw off the Devils and get the upper hand in what is shaping up to be a very tight series.
Paris (No. 1 seed, 116 points) vs. Zurich (No. 7 seed, 85 points)
Commissioner: It’s hard not to pick the Paris team to win this easily. Tuukka Rask was fourth best in the league in goals against average and only 10th best in save percentage. That tells you he’s good and that his teammates are doing something right while they’re in front of him. Paris finished second in the EURO League in shots on goal per game and they were second best in shots against per game. They have a solid lineup. They seem to be an impenetrable castle wall. Paris in 5 games.
Rose: Zurich has 7 forwards who could play on any top line in the league. Patrice Bergeron, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Alexander Radulov, Drew Stafford and Jussi Jokinen have been itching for games that mean something so they can show what kind of damage they can do. They might even all take turns “stepping up” and being stars in this series. Goaltending is Zurich’s weakness, but if Brian Elliott can keep games close, the forwards can win them. Zurich in 7 games.
Keep an eye on: Paris defenseman Kris Letang. In last year’s playoffs, he was spectacular, scoring 11 times in 21 games and he was voted as the Playoff MVP. He was the main reason he and his teammates won the Cup. And at age 26, Letang has been getting better and better every month. If he plays his normal game, Paris will move on.
Berlin (No. 2, 107 points) vs. Bern (No. 8 seed, 86 points)
Commissioner: The Smurfs can be unbeatable when they are angry. Bern would be wise to roll out the red carpet for them when they arrive in town for games 3 and 4. I predict the Bears will worry about containing Logan Couture and the Berlin forwards, but it will be defensemen like Alex Edler, Gerhard Unterluggauer, Matt Carle and Josh Gorges who will deliver the lethal blows. Berlin to win, possibly in a sweep.
Rose: What? A sweep? No way. Bern’s vibrant colors – I love the red especially – could carry them to victory.To beat Berlin, they’ll need good defensive play from players like Timonen, Seabrook and Seidenberg. If they can limit the Couture line’s chances, and if the Spezza line can generate some scoring, they will pull off the upset. Bern in 7 games.
Keep an eye on: The top Berlin line of Logan Couture, Ryan Callahan and Loui Eriksson. They combined for 271 points during the regular season, but coach Adam Oates chose to bench them at the end of the season rather than risk injury. How they come back after the long layoff – raging or rusty – will swing momentum one way or the other in the beginning of the series. Keep your other eye on cagey veteran Andy McDonald of Bern. In the two previous seasons, the 36-year-old picked up the pace once the money games started. He has 10 goals and 22 points in 18 career playoff games.
Munich (No. 3, 103 points) vs. Bratislava (No. 6 seed, 91 points)
Commissioner: I like the combination of Joe Thornton at one end of the rink and Jonathan Quick at the other. Against Bratislava, Munich will win because they have too few holes and too many weapons. And Craig Anderson in the Bratislava goal just isn’t good enough. Munich in 7 games.
Rose: Bratislava probably shouldn’t even be where they are in the standings. They have been quiet and sneaky, like my niece was when she was a little girl. I like all their forwards. They are not just Jonathan Toews and a supporting cast. Zdeno Chara will be the key. He has improved over the second half of the season. If he plays like his old self – and there have been hints lately that he will – Bratislava could take it in 7 games.
Keep an eye on: Line match-ups in the games played in Bratislava. The Eagles were better on the road than they were in Slovakia this season. If they played better at home, they would have been right around where Munich and Athens finished. Eagle Coach Bruce Boudreau’s challenge will be to somehow stifle Joe Thornton, Patrik Elias and Dany Heatley of Munich, who are each shoo-ins for an average of a point per game, if not more, in the series. Look for Bratislava’s Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa to be checkers first and scorers second.
Athens (No. 4 seed, 100 points) vs. Madrid (No. 5 seed, 94 points)
Commissioner: Can you see Athens limping? They should be because they shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday when they beat Bratislava. Now, instead of facing the Eagles as a first-round foe, they get to face the hottest team since there was a team playing on the sun. Joe Pavelski, Rick Nash, Erik Karlsson and crew will be slowed in this series, but they won’t be stopped. Madrid in 6 games.
Rose: Madrid GM Roland Lavoie sent me a Christmas card, which is very nice. But Athens GM Terry Moutafis sent me a Christmas card, a birthday card and a Mother’s Day card. And even though I’ve never married, it’s the thought that counts. He’s such a nice young man. Plus, those handsome brothers… huh? .. yes, the Kronwalls; they along with Byfuglien and White are all between 19 and 32 in plus-munis ratings. And Scott Hartnell has been scoring a lot. I wish I had his hair. Athens should win this series in 6 games.
Keep an eye on: Athens will focus on Joe Pavelski’s line and Madrid will focus on David Backes’ line. Those are prime conditions for a second-, third- or even fourth-liner to become the hero. Our choice would be the Greeks’ line of Vadim Shipachyov, Michael Ryder and Kyle Palmieri. Shipachyov is dynamic and scored 22 goals as a third liner, and Ryder comes out of hibernation during the playoffs. This regular season, he scored 14 points in 79 games. In last year’s playoffs, the 33-year-old did almost as well (12 points) in just 16 games.
(Editor’s note: For a history of the EURO Cup, go to https://eurohockeyleague.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/introducing-the-euro-cup/)