Goalies key to winning Stanley Cup

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 5:01 PM ET


 One year it's the Carolina Hurricanes going all the way to the Stanley Cup final, the next it's the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, one game away from putting their names on the Cup.

 The NHL playoffs have become about as predictable as a Red River ice jam, and as easy to navigate as the curb lane of a Winnipeg street in the spring.

 That's not going to stop us, though.

 We always keep three, basic principles in mind when making playoff predictions.

 No. 1, there is no such thing as home-ice advantage. No. 2, the season series means diddley squat. No. 3, and probably the most important: it's all about goaltending.

 Those in mind, it's time to uncork our rather fearful forecast for this year's Stanley Cup chase.

 These come with no guarantees, other than the very real possibility that the exact opposite selections could wind up being more accurate.

 Proceed at your own risk.

 EASTERN CONFERENCE

 TAMPA BAY (1) VS NEW YORK ISLANDERS (8)

 Forget the fact the Islanders won three of four meetings during the season. These teams aren't far apart in the goal-scoring department, and their special teams are pretty even, too. That brings us to the men between the pipes. Jets fans know what Nikolai Khabibulin can do, while Rick DiPietro is unproven. Tampa Bay in five.

 BOSTON (2) VS MONTREAL (7)

 While we don't put stock in the season series, we do look at playoff history, and this one favours the Habs, big-time. However, that pendulum has begun to swing Boston's way the last 15 years. If rookie goalie Andrew Raycroft is for real, that could continue -- but not after a long, close series. Boston in seven.

 PHILADELPHIA (3) VS NEW JERSEY (6)

 Scoring favours the Flyers, goals-against favours the Devils. Philly's power play is better, but not its penalty-killing. Two things tilt this one in New Jersey's favour: goaltender Martin Brodeur and another principle we like to keep in mind -- never count out the defending champs. Devils in six.

 TORONTO (4) VS OTTAWA (5)

 Playoff history (three straight Toronto wins) says it's the Leafs, and so does goaltending. Carman's favourite curmudgeon, Eddie Belfour, appears to be in his post-season zone. That doesn't bode well for a Senators team that can't seem to beat its arch-rival when it counts most. Toronto in seven.

 WESTERN CONFERENCE

 DETROIT (1) VS NASHVILLE (8)

 Never mind that the Red Wings want to make amends for last season's first-round loss to Anaheim. The difference in that series was Ducks goalie J. S. Giguere, and he's not around this time. Unless Nashville coach Barry Trotz can pull out a miracle, it won't matter who's in goal for Detroit. Wings in five.

 SAN JOSE (2) VS ST. LOUIS (7)

 The Blues are the team that always makes the playoffs (25 straight years) but never does anything. They're also the lowest-scoring team in this year's Sweet 16. Sharks in six.

 VANCOUVER (3) VS CALGARY (6)

 The Canucks appear to have bounced back from The Bertuzzi Incident. That means they're probably good enough to beat a game Flames team that's in the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Of course, Calgary goalie Mikka Kiprusoff could have lots to say about that. Vancouver in six.

 COLORADO (4) VS DALLAS (5)

 All that talent in Denver, and a goaltender, David Aebischer, with a ton to prove. So why do you get the feeling this is an Avalanche waiting to happen? Maybe because the Paul Kariya/Teemu Selanne tandem (knee injury/lost scoring touch) could well be a non-factor. Dallas in five.


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