Once again, the commissioner and league accountant/secretary Rose have come out with their playoff predictions and once again, they didn’t agree on a single series. That has to be some sort of record for disagreements.
Dublin (No. 8 seed) vs. Minsk (No. 1)
Season series: Minsk 4, Dublin 0
Commissioner: Minsk is a steamroller rolling downhill at the moment. No team can slow it down. They are undoubtedly the best team in the league. The Hussars’ goals against average this season was an obscene 2.13. That’s almost a half a goal per game less than the second best defense (Berlin) allowed. Speaking of defense, only three non-playoffs teams allowed more goals than the Fighting Irish did. Prediction: Minsk in 4 games.
Rose: True, ugly commissioner, Dublin has a problem keeping the puck out of its net. But have you ever heard of over-confidence? Don’t you think two strong forward lines (Kessel-Kesler-Van Riemsdyk and Ovechkin-Hodgson-Silfverberg) can do some damage? I do. Renat Mamashev played three seasons in Minsk and he would love to show his former GM it was a mistake to let him go. His offensive production has been better in two seasons with the Irish than it was in any of the three seasons he was a Hussar and he might be the best defenseman on Dublin’s roster. Prediction: Dublin in a 7-game upset.
Belfast (No. 2) vs. London (No. 7)
Season series: London 5, Belfast 1
Commissioner: If there is one team that had the two-time defending champs’ number, it’s the Dons. They won five of six meetings during the regular season and thanks to stellar play from Jeff Skinner and others, opened the series on Sunday with a win in Belfast. Why London keeps beating Belfast is a mystery, one that Giants coach Alain Vigneault would surely pay handsomely for a solution. The Dons are a very young team with a very good top line in Skinner, Rick Nash and Taylor Hall and a tough goalie in Martin Jones. They seem to get really pumped to play Belfast and barring injuries, this David can slay their Goliath. Prediction: London in 7 games.
Rose: Belfast hasn’t played their best yet this season, but even their “mediocre” should carry them into the second round. P.K. Subban, Justin Faulk, Jonathan Quick, Claude Giroux … the list of big names goes on and the top 10 players on this team looks like an all-star team roster. GM Chris Patton built a powerful team and he sent me a lovely sweater. What has GM Geoffrey Paul done, really? Not much. If I knew how to operate one of those little texting devices, I bet I wouldn’t even find a text from him. Prediction: Belfast wins in 5 games.
Moscow (No. 3) vs. Helsinki (No. 6)
Season series: Moscow 3, Helsinki 3
Commissioner: Momentum ebbs and flows and the Jokerit are overdue for an upswing. They finished the regular season poorly, embarrassing everybody involved with the team from GM Trevor Grimm down to their backup goalie Chad Johnson. This is a tough bunch of players that likes to smash and bash their way to solutions. Evidence of that came in Game 1 of the series. Helsinki started sluggishly and Spartak was in the process of embarrassing them when the Jokerit started hitting and turned momentum in the game. The aggressive play seemed to get under the Moscow players’ skin, and when refs’ whistles stopped periods of rough play, it was usually Moscow players who went to the penalty box. What I see as a key in the series is the “Team Evaluations” box on the preview page, the one that shows Helsinki with a 7-3 advantage. Moscow has an edge in coaching and defense, but nothing else. Prediction: Helsinki in 7 hard-fought games.
Rose: When I see a photo of Henrik Lundquist in a nice suit, his hair neatly groomed, his eyes gleaming, I melt. But he will have a mask covering his face every game in this series, and I look at him quite differently. Lundquist’s playoff record is 13-21 … with a shootout loss in there somehow. I honestly don’t think he is capable of carrying his team all the way. Alexander Salak is an unproven commodity in whom Coach Joel Quenneville and GM Ronnie Walker have unlimited faith. I do too. He had 41 wins and only 27 losses during the regular season and I see him being the difference. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan Suter and Duncan Keith – with their fantastic two-way games – will be out there more than 40 percent of the time. Prediction: Moscow wins in 7 games
Gothenburg (No. 4) vs. Stockholm (No. 5)
Season Series: Stockholm 5, Gothenburg 1
Commissioner: This series features two teams that are about as equal as you can get. Frolunda passed Stockholm in the standings at the very end of the regular season and seem to have momentum on their side. But Stockholm dominated their fellow Swedes in the season series and have more strength at center in Eric Staal, Jeff Carter and Jack Eichel. Any one of those three is capable of dictating play, especially if they win a lot of faceoffs. The goalies in this series are both great – Braden Holtby of Stockholm and Pekka Rinne of Gothenburg – so I see them cancelling each other out. During the regular season, the teams’ team stats were very close. This series is a coin flip but I see it coming down to puck gaffes, good luck and bad penalties. Prediction: A bounce or two go Stockholm’s way for a win in 7 games.
Rose: I agree with the ugly commissioner on one thing: these are two evenly matched teams. Gothenburg has been playing well and I see them having an advantage if a couple of things go their way. To me, their biggest asset in this series is their defense corps, which is more experienced than Stockholm’s . John Carlson is only 26, but Dan Girardi, Kevin Dallman and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic are in the 29-to-32 age group and if they can stay healthy, the team should win, I believe. The only team statistic that showed any noticeable cap between the two teams was shots against, and Gothenburg was better. Credit the D corps with a lot of that. I will keep my eye on Mark Fraser on the third pairing. The league’s pre-eminent bad boy can play good defense when he’s not locked up in the penalty box. If he doesn’t take many bad penalties, that will be a good thing for Frolunda. Prediction: Gothenburg in 7 games.
Paris (No. 1) vs. Zurich (No. 8)
Season series: Paris 3, Zurich 1
Commissioner: To be honest, Rose has me a little flustered because she has called me ugly twice now. What’s with her? Anyway, I have always been a fan of the Zurich Lions and way GM Dennis Sullo has handled his roster. I can’t understand why they weren’t higher in the standings this season. I don’t think I’m as ugly as she says I am. Patrice Bergeron is capable of making plays at both ends of the ice and I see veterans Patrick Sharp and Jussi Jokinen doing some sneaky damage against Paris’ lesser lines. I mean, it’s not like she was ever a beauty queen. The Eiffels are loaded with talent, for sure. But Zurich played them tough the last 3 times the clubs have met, scoring an average of 4 goals in those games. The Lions are tough at home and if Cam Ward can steal a game, an upset is in the offing. Maybe if I get a closer shave, that could improve my appearance somewhat. Prediction: Zurich in a heartbreaking upset in 7 games.
Rose: Now the commish is adding dumb to ugly on his resume. The Lions are going to beat Paris?!? Hah! Paris will win with relative ease. Their biggest worry against Zurich will be getting the correct blue, red and white gloves back after Corey Perry’s fights. Even with Perry in the penalty box, the Rouge Eiffels are deep enough and synchronized enough to win every game this series. Look for a lesser-known like Jason Krog or Kyle Turris to make a big name for himself in this series. Prediction: Paris in 4 games.
Berlin (No. 2) vs. Lisbon (No. 7)
Season series: Berlin 3, Lisbon 3
Commissioner: How insulting she can be! Lisbon probably wasn’t Berlin’s first choice for a first-round opponent because no team with John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Joe Pavelski can be counted out, but if the Smurfs can play angry in the first two games and win, that could take some of the stuffing out of Lisbon, who play very well at home. Berlin has the talent to overwhelm especially when Lisbon’s Drew Doughty and Dustin Byfuglien are done with their shifts. The fact that Jared Spurgeon starts the series on the injured list really hurts the Portuguese team. Strong throughout, the Smurfs come at teams in waves with four good lines. Jimmy Howard got the Smurfs 7 games into the EURO Cup Finals last season. He shall be ready for that kind of run again. Prediction: Berlin wins in 5.
Rose: Berlin is good, yes, but they have a couple of blemishes. At the top of that list is GM Guybrush Threepwood. The man rarely pays attention to his team during games and he apparently can only send gifts to Sepp Blatter. If that’s leadership, then Commissioner Massaro is only mildly hideous. Look at the Smurfs’ individual stats compared to their stats from a year ago … Tlusty, Krejci, Phaneuf and several more players all experienced decreases and that doesn’t contribute to an upward trend line. If there is a place for Lisbon to exploit it’s the youngsters that Berlin Coach Adam Oates has entrusted with jobs. Stefan Ulmer has been OK and is fortunate to have Ncklas Hjalmarsson looking out for him back on defense. Hjalmarsson put together a very nice season for the Smurfs. And Erik Forsell on the fourth line has very little experience to go with a slight temper that could cost his team at key moments. Lisbon doesn’t take too many penalties and if Berlin does, that would be the opening Tavares and crew would need. Prediction: Lisbon wins in 7 games.
Madrid (No. 3) vs. Bratislava (No. 6)
Season series: Madrid 4, Bratislava 2
Commissioner: An injury to Jonathan Toews kept the Bratislava star out of the lineup for about four weeks. With him in there, the Eagles could have very well held steady at fourth place in the conference. Toews is healthy for the playoffs and what Bratislava really needs to win is for Toews and linemates Tyler Ennis and Daniel Sedin to draw some attention while they are in Robin Lehner’s end of the ice. Big Tyler Myers is capable of piling on offense and he could be a key to the series as far as the Eagles are concerned. The rest of Bratislava’s lineup must worry about defense, but Tyler Toffoli has really emerged as an offensive force lately; look for him to create some timely chances. Prediction: The commissioner’s favorite team – Bratislava – wins in 7 games.
Rose: Hmmm. The commissioner favors Bratislava. Shocker. He can continue to think with his heart if he would like to; I’ll think with my head. Madrid was the better team during the regular season for reason. The Royals can play a very sound defensive game and that has shown up in Lehner’s great stats this season (2.48 goals against percentage and 91 save percentage). Madrid’s second line of Sean Couturier, R.J. Umberger and Colin Greening will slam the door on at least one Bratislava line and force the underdog to press, thereby leaving gaping holes for Erik Larsson, Shea Weber and Blake Wheeler to exploit. What’s more, neither Bratislava goalie – Corey Crawford and Marc-Andre Fleury – is in a groove right now. Prediction: Madrid wins in 5.
Munich (No. 4) vs. Athens (No. 5)
Season series: Munich 2, Athens 2
Commissioner: After a two-year absence from the playoffs, the Dire Wolf are back and in a good spot. Look for their fans to offer loud, heartfelt support. The home team won all four games the two teams have played this season and Munich has home ice advantage in the series. Munich is as healthy as a team can be and Athens comes in with two right wingers just coming off of injuries. What’s more, Munich has Cory Schneider in goal. I see the home ice and health issues resulting in a good start for Munich and once this team gets rolling, they can really get on a roll. The Dire Wolf have been a streaky team all year. Prediction: Munich wins in 5 games.
Rose: His Ugliness is overlooking two key details. Tonight’s game will be Schneider’s first-ever playoff game. That’s right. He was good with Belfast, but that was before the Giants became a playoff team and before Belfast traded him in a deal that brought Jonathan Quick to Northern Ireland. And Schneider was good with Munich the last two seasons, but they failed to make the playoffs both seasons. By contrast, Jaro Halak will be guarding the Athens goal and he has 55 playoff games and a Cup in his background. In addition, if you look at the “Team Evaluation” box in the preview window, you’ll notice Athens has an 8-2 advantage. Nice season, Munich, but Anze Kopitar’s wings are getting healthy just in time. Prediction: Athens wins in 6.