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Calgarypuck Playoff Preview
Round One

D'Arcy McGrath
April 8, 2008

Given the inconsistency of the Calgary Flames this season, I'm not sure any team in the first round would leave club followers with an abundance of self confidence.

Given the fact they have drawn the circuit's hottest chapter just adds to the concern.

The Flames are a very good hockey club that doesn't always play that well, so it seems almost perfect that they are soon to clash with one of the NHL's best regular season teams that always seem to lay an egg in the post season.

Calgary Flames of 2008 meet the Calgary Flames of 1995.

So with that you have an interesting matchup of the minds, a club that hasn't found itself all season versus a team that hopes it doesn't forget what it's learned in the past seven months.

Should be interesting.

For the Sharks to win:

The Sharks are a deep and talented hockey team that will do all it can to avoid beating themselves, something we've seen all too often in recent NHL campaigns.

San Jose lines up well with the Flames in that they have an answer to all the key players on the Flames, but then more depth to get the job done. Evgeni Nabokov is certainly no slouch compared to Miikka Kiprusoff, Joe Thornton is just as much the forward as Jarome Iginla, and the recently acquired Brian Campbell is more experienced and polished than Calgary's Dion Phaneuf.

The Shark supporting cast should make mincemeat of the Flames second tier players as they have more speed, more talent, and younger bodies that could get better as the series goes on.

Add in San Jose's road record and special teams edge and this series is really one to win for the boys in teal.

For the Flames to win:

The Flames biggest advantage is the fact that you actually have to play the games, and not just wrap these things up by the numbers. The Flames don't hold a lot of cards going into a matchup like this, the Sharks have them in personnel, in special teams, in momentum and they have home ice; the Flames are going to have to surprise.

However the Flames do have two very huge playoff factors going for them.

One, they have two series stealers on their roster in Captain Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. Both players are capable of elevating their games to a level that is unstoppable, something that can't sit easy with any opposition in a playoff series.

Two, the Flames are huge underdogs, leaving the Sharks with the jitters that come with expectations. The Sharks have stumbled in recent playoff seasons, leaving some pretty good seasons unfinished. They are lead by Joe Thornton, a player that rightly or wrongly has always been accused of being a regular season player.

Should the Flames pounce early and take a game in San Jose this could be a long and interesting series. It doesn't take a whole lot of misfortune for the favourite in a series like this to start gripping the sticks a little tight.

Too many penalties and some weak efforts in Silicon Valley and the Flames could be the first playoff team cast aside.

Prediction: Much is made of the Flames face plant against the Wings last year. To read local scribes' take on the affair and you'd think the Motown bunch mopped up the best of seven in only two games. Bottom line the Flames on the strength of surreal goaltending and two gutsy home performances took it to double overtime of game six. If Kiprusoff is that good again, and the Flames show that their improvement on the road in the regular season can be mirrored in the post season and this one could go the distance. The key is penalties though, and the Flames are an undisciplined bunch. Sharks in FIVE.

Montreal Canadiens (1) vs. Boston Bruins (8):
The Montreal Canadiens are Canada's team heading into the playoffs, only too happy to take the reigns from the self destructing enigma from the Nation's capital. They are young, driven, well coached and ready for the playoffs against a rival they've owned for almost two years. The Bruins have done well to make the dance at all what with the injury to Patrice Bergeron (who has recently been cleared to play) in October, but will find their season over soon enough. HABS in FIVE.

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs. Ottawa Senators (7):
The high flying Penguins still have question marks in goal and on the blueline, you just can't put lipstick on a pig. However, the midseason injury to Sidney Crosby was crucial in unleashing Evgeni Malkin on the planet and creating two offensive stars to contend with for NHL opposition, as well as forcing the young club to tighten up their team game. The Senators looked like a team that wanted to skip the playoffs but ran out of games to complete the self combustion, so this series looks to be short. Don't count on it, something tells me PENGUINS in SEVEN

Washington Capitals (3) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (6):
There were few better stories this season then the scoring exploits of Alex Ovechkin, and the surging Capitals down the stretch. They're late season success if good for the NHL, good for fans, and good for hockey. The Flyers followed up a great start to the season with a very average final two thirds of their schedule and were lucky to make it to the post season. It's a series matching the ďhappy to be hereĒ Caps and a nasty Flyer team with suspect goaltending. It's easier to shut down one guy in a series, FLYERS in SIX

New Jersey Devils (4) vs. New York Rangers (5):
A great rivalry between two clubs that play a very similar style, the Rangers/Devils matchup could be a dandy. A very motivated Jaromir Jagr with his last chance to win a major award (Conn Smythe) to trigger another year on his monster deal up against what could be the best goaltender of all time in Martin Brodeur. Go with playoff experience and Brodeur against a lopsided Ranger season series, DEVILS in SIX

Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. Nashville Predators (8):
Everyone loves to pick the Red Wings as the team most likely to be upset in the first round, but they put that animal to rest last season in galloping to the conference final. The Predators were a miracle team this season in not letting massive roster seepage derail their season as they made the playoffs. The Wings are strong, and their injuries will be a benefit with the added rest, WINGS in SIX.

Minnesota Wild (3) vs. Colorado Avalanche (6):
Ian Lapperiere did everything he could to put some jam in a series that already had two division rivals butting heads when he chased down Marian Gaborik on Sunday. But will a Jacques Lemaire coached team seek retribution in the playoffs? The key to this series is Jose Theodore and the Avalanche defense, if Finger and the boys can clear enough rebounds the Avs offence should be enough to tune up an upset. However, if Theodore returns to the Paris Hilton days it's over early in the other direction. He holds up, AVS in SIX

Anaheim Ducks (4) vs. Dallas Stars (5):
Defending cup champs haven't had a whole lot of success in the chase for two in recent seasons, something the Ducks will have to contend with. The Stars were one of the best clubs in the league until adding Brad Richards and then backing out of the division crown. The momentum and experience is with Anaheim, but if they take too many foolish penalties the Stars can make a series of it. The Ducks won't defend, but they should go through Texas, DUCKS in FIVE.




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