Berlin (No. 1 seed, 128 points) vs. Prague (No. 8 seed, 81 points)
Commissioner: Everyone knows the Smurfs play very well when they are angry and they must have found a way to harness that anger, keep it in the dressing room, and unleash it when needed because they put together quite a year, finishing second overall to Belfast by a point. They have more talent than Prague, more playoff experience, the best goalie in the league (by save percentage) and Logan Couture. They led the league in penalty killing, shots on goal and fewest shots allowed. They can’t lose this. Berlin in 4 games.
Rose: I can’t wait to make the commissioner eat his words. Perhaps I’ll be generous and bake them into my world-famous meatloaf. Prague barely beat out Geneva to get into the playoffs, but they were the surprise darlings of the league through the first 20 games. No one expected them to be near the top of the league, but there they were for a while, among the top 3. That proves to me they can get hot and win in bunches. They have excellent quality at center on all four forward lines, with Jason Spezza, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele taking faceoffs. Game one of the series will be only the 6th playoff game Prague has played in its history. They haven’t seen the extra season since being upset in 5 games by Dublin in Season 1 and boy are they hungry. I can see a young and hungry team being too tough for a team that might be taking them for granted. Prague in 6 games.
Keep an eye on: Prague’s net. Ryan Miller and Niko Hovinen split goaltending duties during the season and it will be interesting to see how coach Patrick Roy handles that position in the playoffs. The team desperately needs one or both of them to turn it up a notch so that offensive minded players like Torey Krug, Roman Josi and Justin Schultz can grab rebounds and start rushes the other way.
Paris (No. 2 seed, 111 points) vs. Zurich (No. 7 seed, 82 points)
Commissioner: The Paris Rouges Eiffels were 37-2-2 on home ice this year and they’ll have up to four home games this series. On top of that, they are certainly good enough to win in Switzerland. Lions don’t hibernate, but these Lions were close to doing that when they lost 11 of 13 games in February. They’ve since come out of their deep sleep but they haven’t proven to be real lively yet. Paris still has Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang, Evgeny Malkin, Corey Perry and a strong supporting cast full of guys who can pick up the stars if they happen to take a game off. Heck, Josef Vasicek had 52 points and was a plus 50 as third-liner. Paris in 6 games.
Rose: I still like Zurich’s top two forward lines, even without Patrick Kane, who was traded to Minsk. Patrice Bergeron might be the best all-around forward in the league and he has a pure sniper on his left in Ilya Kovalchuk and a crafty and talented Jakub Voracek on the other side. Drew Stafford, Patrick Sharp and Jussi Jokinen make up the second line and even Paris’ strong defense corps has to be alert to keep those six off the scoreboard. Zurich’s problem, in my under-appreciated-by-the-commissioner eyes, is the fact that goalies Devan Dubnyk and Roberto Luongo haven’t performed at their best for sustained periods of time. Both are talented, but neither has been as good as he should be for the Lions. Defenseman Jacon Trouba has also been inexplicably poor for Zurich, compiling a minus 37 rating this season. They’ve had a little break now and maybe that time off will help them focus. Zurich needs to steal a game in France in order to advance. Zurich in 7 games.
Keep an eye on: Referees arms. If they go up while Paris is in possession of the puck, Zurich is in big trouble. The Swiss team is weak at penalty killing, but fortunately, they were the second most disciplined team in the league. They don’t want to put Malkin, Koivu and Perry on the ice with extra space to maneuver. If they keep the penalties down, they have a chance to upset the Rouge Eiffels. If not, it’s off season time for Zurich.
Lisbon (No. 3 seed, 108 points) vs. Madrid (No. 6 seed, 92 points)
Commissioner: Confidence and excitement are sky-high in Lisbon and if you add in the natural emotion of playing the team from the bigger country that envelopes Portugal on two sides, you get a team that will be charging ahead with guns a blazin’. John Tavares and Steven Stamkos have formed a great partnership and as long as both remain healthy, Lisbon should advance. A little unseen this season, obscured in the glare of Tavares and Stamkos, has been one of the league’s very best defensemen. Shea Weber brought his leadership, experience and cannon shot to Lisbon this season and he was only tops in the league in assists and points among defensemen and 4th overall in hits. Lisbon doesn’t have a lot of depth, but when you add Drew Doughty and Zach Parise to the aforementioned three players, you have five dominant players on the ice a lot. That gives them tremendous firepower. Lisbon had the league’s top powerplay this season and were second to Paris in goals scored. Lisbon in 5 games.
Rose: Alex Steen will miss the entire series with a knee injury and that’s a huge loss for Lisbon. Madrid lucked out with that injury. I have bursitis in my knee with flare-ups every couple of days, so I know what Steen is going through. I use a cane sometimes, but I doubt the league will allow him to use one because it would have to be equipped with a blade on the bottom of it. And how would he hold his stick? These are the things I think about. If you look at Madrid’s lineup, they have a lot of good, veteran players who probably know this is their time to show they can win for Madrid. Depth is one thing Madrid has plenty of. Top line forwards Derek Stepan, Gabriel Landeskog and Andrew Cogliano had career-best seasons for the Royals this season, and if those three can keep the Tavares line from running away with games, then Patrik Berglund’s third line could emerge as stars of the series for the Royals. Madrid also needs Erik Karlsson and Robin Lehner to be in top form. Madrid in 6 games.
Keep an eye on: Kari Ramo played more games (71) than any goalie in the league during the regular season. Can Lisbon go another 16 wins with a possibly worn-out goalie with an 89.4 save percentage? That’s what will need to happen if they want the Cup this season. Coach Willie Desjardins believes Ramo has the stamina to succeed and he did an interesting thing with Ramo’s backup for the playoffs. American rookie Hayden Hawkey was the backup for the regular season, getting in a total of 12 games, but the 18-year-old won’t suit up for the playoffs. Instead, veteran Craig Anderson (1 and 2/3 games played this season) has been called up. The backup is unlikely to play in the series, so Desjardins, looking for every advantage possible, opted for Anderson to provide a calming, sage presence on the bench.
Athens (No. 4 seed, 102 points) vs. Bratislava (No. 5 seed, 95 points)
Commissioner: I have to go with Bratislava to win this series. I see these two teams as eerily similar. Both clubs enter the playoffs 7-3 in their last 10 games. They were 3-3 against each other during the season, with only 2 goals separating them in the six games. Athens has big, tough guys David Backes, Dustin Byfuglien and the Kronwalls boys, but Bratislava isn’t intimidated by their size and strength because the Slovakian team has Tyler Myers and a line dubbed the Big Beefy line, with Martin Hanzal, Troy Brouwer and Wei Yang Zhang, “the Chinese Lucic.” Athens has effective two-way forwards like Ryan O’Reilly and Jason Pominville, but Bratislava can match them with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Athens has speedster Vadim Shipachyov; Bratislava counters with Tyler Ennis. As I said, the teams are quite similar. The goalies are Cam Ward for Athens (89.5 save percentage) and Marc-Andre Fleury for Bratislava (90.4 save percentage). By virtue of that slight advantage in save percentage, I’m going with Fleury and Bratislava in 7 games.
Rose: The Greeks beat the Eagles in five games last year in the first round of the playoffs and they will do it again this year. Terry Moutafis is a polite and considerate general manager. Some other general managers, particularly ones who share my office and don’t cover their mouths when they sneeze, aren’t quite as high on my list. Yes, the two teams look similar on paper. Their team stats are very close to each other in all categories except one and that’s where the decision will fall in Athens’ favor. The Greeks’ powerplay is quite a bit more successful than the Eagles’ and that’s why they were able to average 3.74 goals per game to Bratislava’s 3.33. Penalties will kill Bratislava and they would be wise to keep Christian Ehrhoff (a team-leading 121 penalty minutes) on the bench. Athens in 5 games. Again.
Keep an eye on: Ian White and Alex Goiligoski. The two defensemen add a ton to Athens’ offense. White scored 21 goals and 48 points this season and Goligoski, in fewer minutes, had 7 goals and 39 points. While Bratislava forwards are worrying about avoiding Byfuglien and Kronwall hits, White and Goligoski will be skating up ice with the puck and finding Greeks in open places.