If you’re any sort of NHL fan, the end of the season signals the time to start arguing with your friends and relatives about who’s going to raise Lord Stanley this year.
The 10-year-old die-hard Devils fan inside me screams ‘New Jersey!’ every time the subject comes up.
I can almost justify it too. We’ve got a (relatively) young offense, we had a great run midseason, we’ve won it twice in eight years and, of course, we’ve got our not-so-secret weapon: Martin Brodeur.
However, when that childish optimism wavers a bit, the adult cynicism takes over and says: no way (San) Jose.
In reality, we’ve got one of the most boring plays in the league, a fairly awful run at the end of the season, and we hang all our hopes on a 35-year-old French-Canadian. He might be a nine-time All Star, but he’s not a miracle worker.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not writing New Jersey off altogether.
Far from it. I fully expect (with all the confidence of a child who believes their Dad could easily beat up Mike Tyson) that Monsieur Brodeur will drag the team kicking and screaming through the first round, taking the Rangers in six exhausting games.
Unfortunately, no amount of soda and candy can bring about a sugar high that makes me seriously believe that the Devils could take the Habs in the second round.
Maybe we can claw back two games, but in reality, I think the rest of the team can’t keep up with Marty—we peaked midseason, and will run out of steam long before the Conference Finals come around.
So who should we Devils fans throw our weight behind once Marty’s magic fails?
The Caps, perhaps?
Well, that’s another case of optimism gone wild.
Ovechkin might have the step on Crosby this season, but unfortunately there’s no ‘O’ in Stanley Cup Winners—the man does not make the team.
Sure, they’re both division winners. But Pittsburgh sat right on Montreal’s tail, and with Malkin sitting just six points adrift of Ovechkin in the points table, and the goaltending duo of Fleury and Conklin behind them, it looks like the Pens will have just enough to take the Caps.
However, something tells me they still won’t have enough to take the Habs.
Personally, my reluctant support will be going to San Jose. A little controversial, perhaps, but being one of the few franchises never to lift Lord Stanley’s mug might just give them the edge in the postseason.
Plus, they’ve got the guy who’s shaping up to be the West Coast Brodeur: Evgeni Nabakov.
Having struggled past the Flames in six or seven, it’ll be the battle of the goaltenders when the Sharks meet the Ducks in the second round.
But ‘John’ Nabakov’s form will carry the team right past the ever-impressive Giguere and his big pads to meet the Wings in the conference finals.
In a tense series, San Jose’s drive will edge them past the oldies of Detroit in six games…but unfortunately, the dream ends there.
At the end of the day, who in their right mind would bet against Montreal this year? It seems to me that Lord Stanley will almost certainly be heading back up North for the first time in 14 years.
Though the inexperience of their rookie goaltender might mean he has a tougher time than some of the relative playoff vets he'll be facing, the performance of the Kostitsyn brothers in the opening two minutes of their Playoff debut and the consistent brilliance of Alex Kovalev paints a very convincing picture.
The eventual return of leader Koivu is sure to stoke the Canadiens’ fire that little more and send them full steam into the Stanley Cup Winners position.
However, if Evgeni needs some consolation, he’ll be receiving the Conn Smythe over Carey Price, having proven himself as totally indispensable for the Pacific Division champs in the postseason as well as the regular season.
And as for Brodeur—the Vezina is all his.
After all, a cup’s a cup, right?