The Commissioner and Rose took a look at the Northern Conference playoffs after they had a long conversation about the movie “Unbroken” and Rose seemed to know way more about WWII Japanese submarines than she could possibly know. Her resume doesn’t say anything about her working during the mid-1940s. Hmmm.
As we said last year, please don’t hate us if we didn’t pick your team. Let love rain and peace flow between our nations.
Moscow (No. 1 seed) vs. Stockholm (No. 8)
Commissioner: Vladimir Putin and his navy taunted Sweden within the last year and now it’s Stockholm’s turn to get a little revenge. But they won’t … at least not on the ice. They have a lineup that can play Moscow tough, but they shouldn’t be able to match Spartak. And even if the league’s top goalie, Jaroslav Halak is forced from the Moscow net for some reason, backup Alexander Salak is more than capable. Moscow’s balanced lineup carried them to a Cup last season and while a few of their players might have lost a step since then, they are still the President’s Trophy winners. Kris Versteeg was a nice addition to the lineup this year and Kevin Dallman has gotten better each month. Look for a 4-2 Moscow win in the series.
Rose: Braden Holtby got a better haircut this season and doesn’t look as unkempt as he did last season. I think players do better when their goalie looks more professional. And he’s good. I see him stealing 2 games this series, and I think the Russian sub incidents will spur the fans and players in Stockholm to over-perform when those Russians come to Sweden. It won’t be pleasant for Moscow. Zach Bogosian will bang Spartak bodies, Mike Richards and Brendan Gallagher will be super pests and I see Colin Greening as being a key player for Stockholm. Since being acquired from Copenhagen, Greening has been a tough defensive player for the Eagles, leading them in plus-minus and getting more takeaways than giveaways. Stockholm with an upset in 7 games.
Belfast (No. 2) vs. Helsinki (7)
Commissioner: The Belfast Giants burst out of the blocks this season after winning the draft lottery to sign Ondrej Palat and then luring prized free agents Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle and Matt Moulson. It was readily apparent they had luck on their side and they seemed ready to challenge for a EURO Cup right now, despite their youth. But then Belfast seemed to stall, drifting down the standings during the second half of the season before a recent spurt of good play. Helsinki somehow qualified for the playoffs, squeezing in over the last few weeks. The fact Belfast have seven forwards who scored at least 23 goals this season tells me they will be too much for the Jokerit. I mean, c’mon, Vladimir Tarasenko, Matt Moulson and Matt Duchene make up a pretty good forward line and they are the Giants’ No. 3 line. And here’s a secret for those of you who think Henrik Lundvist can carry the Jokerit: Belfast’s Jonathan Quick outperformed Lundqvist all year. Belfast in a romp, 4-0.
Rose: Belfast’s youth will do them in in the playoffs, I say. These young boys think it’s all a big video game. If coach Alain Vigneault can keep his teen wonderkids off PlayStation, MTV and that damned Twitter machine, they will win. But you know how kids are these days. It’s more important for them to send pictures of themselves in the lockerroom than to watch the coach outline break-out plays. Helsinki’s game is rough play and defense. And that dreamboat Henrik Lundqvist. Their top offensive player, Paul Stastny is first on the team in takeaways and 4th in blocked shots. If he stays healthy and Lundqvist is Lundqvist, Belfast’s boys can get back to EA Sports. Helsinki 4-1.
Edinburgh (3) vs. Copenhagen (6)
Commissioner: The Tridents have reconfigured a little this season after three great years at the top of the Ahearne Division. This season, Copenhagen finished third in the division behind Belfast and their first-round opponents. Copenhagen has one of the better defenses in the league. They allowed 27.41 shots per game, which placed them fourth in the league, and their goals against average was better than Edinburgh’s. Both of coach Joel Quenneville’s special teams units were among the top four in the league and when the two teams played a mega series of sorts – 5 games against each other in 16 days during December – Copenhagen won 4 of them. Plus, the hockey gods love playing with Dylan Callow’s emotions and mental well being. They’ll give him a series. Copenhagen wins 4-2.
Rose: Several teams shot up unexpectedly this season in the standings and Edinburgh was one of them. They have a lot of momentum and a lot of talent. Only Paris scored more goals this season and the line of John Tavares, Rick Nash and Jamie Benn is too dynamic of a force for Copenhagen. Edinburgh opponents that focus on the top line often get burned by the Capitals’ second- and third-line forwards, like Pierre-Marc Bouchard (+33), Ales Hemsky (+30), Brandon Dubinsky (+22) and Tony Martensson (+21). And goalie Kari Lehtonen has a EURO Cup on his resume. I look for Edinburgh to win a tight series, 4-3.
Minsk (4) vs. Gothenburg (5)
Commissioner: Only 2 points separated these two teams during the 82-game regular season and they both have similar records at home and away. I don’t see home ice being that much of an advantage for Minsk. Gothenburg has better shooters and more experience than the Hussars do. Gothenburg’s problem is their penalty killing and the fact they don’t get a ton of shots on opposing goalies. If the Devils can stay out of the penalty box, I think they will win. And I think their top 4 defensemen – Ryan Suter, Dan Girardi, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and John Carlson – will be the stars of the series. Gothenburg in 6 games.
Rose: I agree that these teams are as evenly matched as can be but I think Carey Price will out-duel Pekka Rinne in goal and the Hussars will advance. Price has been very steady throughout his four seasons in Minsk and the team in front of him is better this year. The statistics – both the team’s and Price’s – prove that. Minsk has gone from 7th worst in the league a year ago to 6th best this season and that’s not just luck. Nicklas Backstrom is one of the most electrifying and well-rounded forwards in the EURO League and his big linemate Milan Lucic will continue to make Gothenburg wish they hadn’t trade him to Minsk. Minsk 4-2 in this one.