Rose is in a fabulous mood today. Her Terry Moutafis posters came in the mail this morning. One is a shot of Terry in formal wear, looking kind of spy-ish; the other is from the Terry at the Beach series. She just loves the guy. I bet I know who she’s pulling for in the Southern Conference Finals.
Belfast (No. 2 seed) vs. Copenhagen 6 (No. 6 seed)
Commissioner: Belfast is peaking at the right time. They are young and susceptible to a bad spell, but captain Sidney Crosby is doing a great job of leading the way on the ice and in the dressing room. Sid is probably playing his best hockey ever right now. The Giants’ top forwards, like Crosby, are tough to deal with because they have young, fast legs and in the playoffs, they seem to have stopped taking penalties, so they are always out there, threatening to score. The Giants defense is very young and one would think that would be the team’s weak spot, but in the 10 games of these playoffs, Belfast has held the other team to under 3 goals seven times. In the regular season, the team had the 5th best goals against average in the league. A lot of that has to do with Jonathan Quick, who enters the series with a league-leading .936 save percentage. In 45 playoff games (35 with Munich), Quick only has two shutouts, but he is ranked fourth all-time in save percentage. If Belfast has an Achilles heel, it is their powerplay, believe it or not. Even with the likes of Crosby, Joe Pavelski, Matt Moulson, Nazem Kadri, James Neal, Matt Duchene and a stable of skilled players, only four teams in the league had a worse scoring rate than did the Giants. But the Northern Irish team clearly has luck on their side this year. From winning the draft lottery to scoop up Ondrej Palat, to winning the free agent bidding wars on three veterans – Pavelski, Moulson and Dan Boyle – the Giants are on a roll. Belfast to win in 5 games.
Rose: If Copenhagen can beat Moscow, they can beat anyone. Brian Elliott has been spectacular and I see no reason for the Tridents goalie to get worse any time soon. Penalties might be the key to the series. Copenhagen has better special teams and if Belfast’s P.K. Subban and Micki Dupont take some penalties at key times, then Copenhagen has two deadly weapons to capitalize with Alexander Ovechkin and Shea Weber out there. There’s really no clear-cut favorite between these teams. During the regular season, the two teams met 6 times and each won 3 games. Both teams fired a Sutter brother in the off season. New coaches Alain Vigneault of Belfast and Paul Maurice of the Tridents have done well in their first years at the helm. And here’s a little-know fact to consider: During the regular season, Copenhagen got more shots on goal per game than Belfast did and they allowed fewer shots on goal than Belfast did. I still love Copenhagen’s defensively responsible centers – Brooks Laich, Stephen Weiss, Boyd Gordon and Jay McClement – who I think frustrated the opponents’ top guns in the first two series. And Weiss is healthy for this series. The Tridents have beaten Edinburgh and Moscow in these playoffs and when they defeat Belfast, I won’t consider it an upset.
Paris (No. 1 seed) vs. Athens (No. 3 seed)
Commissioner: This is a real clash of the titans. Whichever team represents the Northern Conference will get to face a battered and war-weary team from the South. The teams split their 6-game regular season series and Paris has won the last two playoff series involving these two teams, but they know Athens will give everything they have this year. Both teams are impeccably built teams: strong goaltending, dangerous forwards who have size, speed and skill and solid, good-skating defensemen. I think Athens has more depth, but I think Paris has a better top line and goalie. Paris was easily the highest scoring team in the league during the regular season and they cannot be contained. Cam Ward is good, but his numbers have tailed off in the playoffs this year. Paris to win in 6 games.
Rose: There will be penalties in this series and while it features the two best powerplay teams in the league during the regular season, Athens’ penalty killing is superior to the Rouge Eiffels’ units. That and the absence of injured paris defenseman Travis Hamonic for the first game or two are two tipping points in this very balanced battle. I can’t wait to see David Backes faceoff against Evgeny Malkin at the start of Game 1. Athens has an ax to grind after losing to Paris the last two years. They will be healthy and ferocious in this series. The Kronwall brothers can do a lot of damage, especially if the other team lets up because they don’t see the top Greek defense pair of Dustin Byfuglien and Ian White on the ice. It will be Staffan Kronwall and Tim Gleason’s job to get under the skin of Paris sniper Corey Perry to take him off his game and maybe off the ice with fighting majors. Perry fought five times in last year’s playoffs, although he hasn’t taken a fighter’s bait once this year … yet. In another wild and memorable series between these two rivals, I see Athens emerging with a win in 7 games.