Second Round Preview

I got into work today and was greeted by Rose, who was prancing around, giddy about something. She then shoved two newspapers in front of my face. One had a big headline that read, “Bratislava ousts Munich” and the other had the headline, “Greeks victors!” She was boasting that she was right and I was wrong on our predictions of the two series. When I pointed out that I also guessed 4 of the 8series correctly, she just repeated her little dance, shook the headlines in front of my face again – only closer this time – and then turned around, bent over and lifted her skirt to reveal an awful lot of underwear. Why is it some smells stay stuck in your nose for hours?

Here are our predictions for the second round.

A Greek man rides past signs proclaiming Athens forward Vadim Shipachyov the "Smurf Killer" in advance of this week's second round EURO League playoff series between the Greeks and Berlin.

A Greek man rides past signs proclaiming Athens forward Vadim Shipachyov the “Smurf Killer” in advance of this week’s second round EURO League playoff series between the Greeks and Berlin.

Southern Conference

Paris (No. 1 seed, defeated Zurich 4-0) vs. Bratislava (No. 6 seed, def. Munich 4-2)

Commissioner – Paris for sure. In 4 games, maybe 5. Craig Anderson and the Eagles were lucky against Munich, especially in the first game of the series when Munich didn’t try. Paris saw that and they won’t make that mistake. A little rest before the second round is what Evgeny Malkin and Joffrey Lupul needed and I expect them to be firing away and scoring almost every game against Anderson. They led Paris in shots on goal against Zurich, but were only able to fire 2 goals past Brian Elliott. And the combination of Alex Pietrangelo and Kris Letang is downright unfair back at the blueline. Look for an inspired performance from Lee Stempniak, despite his fourth-line minutes. Stempniak will be playing against the team and GM who once traded him and a second-round draft pick for Philip Larsen.

Rose – You apparently can’t see what I see in Bratislava: 4 good defensemen and a shape-shifting forward corps that is balanced and adaptable to many situations. And I talked to coach Bruce Boudreau who said he is going to make a major change to throw Letang, Malkin and the Eiffels off their game. He said to me, “We have to be gamblers to beat the (bleep) champs. There’s no other way to (bleep) do it, so we’re calling up Patrick Kaleta and Antoine Roussel whose sole (bleep) job will be to run around and piss people off. We want the Rouge Eiffels to be more worried about getting revenge than about putting together their (bleep) French pastry passing plays.” I like Boudreau’s attitude and I think it will carry them to another upset win.

Berlin (No. 2 seed, def. Bern 4-0) vs. Athens (No. 4 seed, def. Madrid 4-1)

Commissioner: This will be a doozy of series. It might come down to penalty minutes – and of course injuries. Both teams have excellent goalies in Jimmy Howard of Berlin and Cam Ward of Athens. During the entire regular season, Berlin scored 2 more goals than the Greeks did and they gave up 4 fewer goals than Athens. That’s such a small difference; it’s really not a difference. The teams’ powerplay efficiency was identical at 20.7 percent. The biggest statistical difference was in the amount of penalty minutes the teams took. Berlin showed much more discipline. Athens can expect to be on the penalty kill 1 or 2 times more often than the Smurfs will be every game, if the past is any indication. Berlin had a couple of guys who under-performed against Zurich, like Patric Hornqvist (14 shots, no points) and Matthew Carle (No points, no takeaways). Those two are likely to contribute more against Athens. But there were also a couple of Smurfs who over-achieved (Kris Versteeg, 40 percent shooting percentage; Loui Eriksson, 37.5 percent; and Nikolai Kulemin, 33.3 percent). The latter three can’t keep up that pace, I believe. But the Smurf lineup has almost no holes. Because of their team depth and discipline, I give them the nod in 7 games.

Rose: I was right about Athens against Madrid and I will be right about them against the Germans. Athens will rely on hitting and a high-tempo game to wear down the Smurfs. When you are going up against Dustin Byfuglien and the Kronwalls, you are going to take some punishment. If the big guys take out one of the more fragile Smurfs like Nathan Horton, Danny Briere or Versteeg, that could swing the series. And the Greeks’ top line of Jason Pominville, David Backes and Scott Hartnell has been rolling. Everyone in that trio has strong leadership qualities and they are on the ice a lot. They have shown no signs of letting up. All of Greece is primed and ready for this series. They have posters up all around the country (see photo). Athens to win and I’ll give it to them in a surprising 5 games because that nice Terry Moutafis sent me a thank you card this week. I am still waiting from a card of any sort from Guybrush Threepwood.

 

Northern Conference

Copenhagen (No. 1 seed, defeated Minsk 4-2) vs. St. Petersburg (No. 6 seed, def. Dublin 4-3)

Commissioner: This is the upset I was talking about. Copenhagen may be the best team in the entire conference, but they’re not good enough to defeat the hockey gods and the hockey gods will favor St. Petersburg for no other reason than to tick off Dylan Callow, general manager of the Tridents. Only two players on the St. Petersburg roster registered minus ratings during their very tough series with Dublin and under-the-radar players like Vladimir Sobotka and Willie Mitchell made key contributions throughout. That kind of team play can bolster a team, as can a hot goalie. Pekka Rinne proved in the last series he is capable of stopping his foes at crucial times. Roberto Luongo of the Tridents was one of the best starting goalies in the league after the first round, but he will have a hard time keeping those numbers (1.66 goals against average and .932 save percentage) up. St. Petersburg in another 7-gamer.

Rose: You must be on drugs, like so many other young people are today. (Editor’s note: The commish isn’t young compared to anyone but Rose). Copenhagen will win because they hustle, they are talented, they go to the tough places in front of the opposition’s goal and they don’t take many penalties. They were the second-highest scoring team in the league behind Paris and their powerplay is the best. Gothenburg lost the fewest game on home ice in regulation time, but the Tridents lost the fewest – 9 – when you add overtime games to the mix. Shea Weber was a fantastic addition to this team, although he came at quite a cost. The next three series are when that gamble will pay off for Callow. I see Copenhagen winning in 6 games.

Moscow (No. 2 seed, def. Edinburgh 4-1) vs. Helsinki (No. 4 seed, def. Gothenburg 4-3)

Commissioner: I am predicting an all-Russian conference finals. Moscow is a balanced, steady machine. They were among the top 5 or 6 in all statistical categories during the regular season and I don’t think we saw their best work against Edinburgh, although a 4-1 series win is nothing to sneeze at. Dustin Brown was great in that series, leading the team with 3 goals and 7 assists. He’s the kind of guy that just won’t let up and he’ll keep his teammates’ legs churning with his constant chatter and encouragement. And then there’s this guy named Anze Kopitar. He was hurt for the last 4 games of the Edinburgh series but he’s good to go in the second round. Kopitar has strung together three seasons of 34-39 goals and 77-101 points. He is just plain really good and capable of dominating parts of games. Helsinki won’t have an answer for him. Moscow in 5 games again.

 

Rose: Henrik Lundqvist has faced all sorts of pressure from his teammates, coach, GM and fans and he’s held up beautifully. I even saw him stand up to a charging rhinoceros. Combine that kind of cool and talent with a team defense as tough and talented as Helsinki’s and I don’t care who you are, you are going to get frustrated and make mistakes. And when you make mistakes, Jaroslav Halak is facing odd-man chances. I would not be surprised to see Helsinki get outshot in the majority of the games in this series and still win it. It will go 6 games and Helsinki will advance.

 

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