A look into the NHL crystal ball, Part I | VailDaily.com
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A look into the NHL crystal ball, Part I

Daily file photoChris Freud
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Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs where the West is definitely best.The former Campbell Conference is where it is at come spring in the NHL. The west has the premiere teams in the league in Detroit, Dallas, Calgary and, yes, dear reader, San Jose.

Ottawa? The Sens need to make a postseason run before I take them seriously Hasek or not. Carolina? Trendy, but no. Buffalo? Truly a nice surprise this season, but sorry, Ian. Only New Jersey worries me from the East.Depth between East and West? No question, advantage West. Anaheim vs. the New York Rangers. As silly as the concept of a team named after an Emilio Estevez movie is, the Ducks are for real. The Blueshirts are dead men walking. The Avs vs. Montreal. Ill even say something nice about Colorado. The Avs would take Montreal, but mostly because the Canadiens are on life support. Edmonton vs. Tampa Bay? Do we get the picture?Young master Cropp on the other side of this page will point to history, saying the East has won more Cups. The Brown grad howd the Bruins do this year in the ECAC, Ian is putting his money with the 20-something Cups the Habs won before 1980 and another 11 the Leafs captured before their last in 1967.Since the NHL-WHA merger before the 1979-80 season, the East holds all of a 13-12 advantage over the West in the finals. Instead, lets try this year. The West held a 79-52-18 advantage against the East. So, with the foundation that the Stanley Cup winner is coming out of the West, a look at the first round.No. 2 Dallas vs. No. 7 ColoradoAs predicted when the NHL finally settled the lockout last summer, I said the Avs would be lucky to make the playoffs. They were. Are we missing Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote yet? The last time we did playoff predictions, we talked about how David Aebischer wasnt a playoff goalie. Abbys a Hab, but were not sold on Jose Theodore. The guy has barely played since he arrived from Montreal.Dallas, on the other hand, has the goalkeeping in Marty Turco and is much retooled since these teams last met in Round 1 in 2004. No more shootouts for Dallas, but it wont matter in this round.The Avs run this year and for the foreseeable future ends here.Dallas in six.No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 EdmontonNow heres a surprise. Detroit took the top seed. Im not kidding. I thought Detroit would be a lockout casualty, but the Winged Wheel keeps coming. If the Sharks dont win it, Id like to see Stevie Y lift the cup one more time before riding off into the sunset.Step one toward that goal shouldnt be too tough. Detroit has had some first-round issues, and Edmonton is a young fast team. While Im not huge on Manny Legace for Detroit, Dwayne Roloson has not been the answer for the Oil.Wings in six.

No. 3 Calgary vs. No. 6 AnaheimHeres a series. This is going to be a bloodbath. These are two well-matched teams who will battle it out to the full seven. Daniel Phaneuf for Calgary and the Niedermayers for Anaheim. Jarome Iginla and Teemu Selanne (Who knew about reincarnation?). Mikka Kiprusoff and J.S. Giguere.This has it all including your upset special. Woe, Canada, the Flames are going down.Ducks in seven.No. 4 Nashville vs. No. 5 San JoseThe date was Dec. 2, 2005 San Jose 5, Buffalo 0. I mention this not only because I get to remind Young Grasshopper on the other side of the page that we whaled on the Sabres this season. It also was Joe Thorntons first game as a Shark after the steal of the season.Before Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau were sent packing to Beantown for Big Joe, San Jose was 8-12-4, and struggling for offence (in honor of the Great White North). Since then, the Sharks are 36-15-7. Can you say Hart Trophy? (Jaromir Jagr will win it because the East Coast media needs their beauty sleep.) Oh yeah, the goal scoring? Enter Jonathan Cheechoo. He had seven goals before The Trade, and 49 after The Trade. Thornton to Cheechoo rang out 38 times after The Trade. Toss in Patty Marleaus line with Steve Bernier and Team Teal is explosive.San Joses goalie factory continues with Vesa Toskala, inheriting the throne from Evgeni Nabokov. Having Toskala originally as a backup was the reason the Sharks sent some guy named Kiprusoff to Calgary (Arrgh.)Nashville? No Tomas Vokoun. See ya.Sharks in five. Sports Editor Chris Freud lives and dies with the San Jose Sharks and can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630, or cfreud@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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