All Things Hockey In The Carolinas

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Da preview: Playoffs Round One - Hurricanes vs. Devils 2009 Edition

For this round of playoff preview fun, we bring together two bloggers from each respective fanbase. Yours truly will cover the Hurricanes while some other dude named Greg Wyshynski reminisces about his boring-ass favorite hockey team. Enjoy.

The month was April. The year of our Lord was 2001. The scene was set in Barry's favorite town, Newark, NJ.

Wyshynski: The New Jersey Devils were defending Stanley Cup champions, and the Carolina Hurricanes were the annoying jerkweed eight seed trying to ruin their fun.

During the regular season, it was easy to be intimidated by the Canes ... what with former Hobey Baker winner Scott Pellerin and the unstoppable Rob DiMaio on the roster. And Carolina also had Arturs Irbe between the pipes, which might have fucking mattered if the Devils were the Red Wings.

The Devils won the first three games of the series, as Bobby Holik scored two game-winning goals. It's performances like that which eventually earned him a $97 million contract from the Rangers to be their checking center.

Then things got annoying, as the Hurricanes won two in a row and made a series out of things. Then the Devils ended it in Game 6, as human rag doll Sergei Brylin had the game-winner and Marty Brodeur huffed and puffed his way to a 5-1 win.

Of course, the series is most memorable for Scott Stevens forever altering the career of Shane Willis with a clean and completely legal hit, and then sending Ron Francis somewhere near Pluto with a check later in the series. Sure, Stevens would later get a karmic kick in the ass when he himself suffered a career-ending concussion. But no one remembers when the wrecking ball stopped working; just how it wrecked'um.

Suddenly, you are whisked away on a magical flying cheeseburger that lands at the RBC Center grounds in Raleigh. The April month was the same but 2006 'twas the year.

McBrayer: The Devils came into the playoffs on some kind of ridonkulous winning streak which continued with a 4-0 sweep over the NY Rangers. Marty Brodeur was busy being Marty Brodeur and the Devils were resilient on playing trappy hockey despite "The New NHL" and it's wide open, supposedly exciting fresh style. The Devils fans were happy and were busy doing fun things like arguing over which turnpike exit is cooler errr going to the beach errrrr driving to New York City? I'm clueless.

Meanwhile, the folks down in Carolina were busy tailgating their asses off and celebrating their come from behind win over the Habs and Cristofail Huet in the first round. The weather in NC is outstanding this time of year and if/when the Canes make the playoffs, the bandwagon overflows in Raleigh. Visiting teams' fans generally love coming to the RBC Center for the post-season just to see/experience the massive tailgate party that is a Hurricanes pre-game tailgate. You can also expect your NCSU Wolfpack football fans who laid the groundwork for the RBC Center/Carter-Findley grounds to show up and appreciate the festivities.

So as the Hurricanes held home ice with the #2 seed, the first game was in Raleigh. As Carolina seemed to barely sneak by the Canadiens, the common conception was that #30 and the Devils would continue their steam-rolling buzzsaw.

Not so fast.

Eric Staal, Cory Stillman and what seemed like 1/2 the team all scored easily against Marty in a 6-0 game one victory. Game Two was one for the ages. It was an evenly played and equally checked game that ended with Scott Gomez scoring a fluky deflection with half a minute left. But Eric Staal and his oh-face managed to score a garbage goal with one second left in regulation to send it to overtime. Niclas Wallin (AKA the 3rd pairing defenseman who's slightly overpaid but sometimes is awesome) snuck in on a breakway from a Rod Brind'amour pass and slid the puck under Brodeur for one hell of a finish to one hell of game.

The series seemed to weigh in the Hurricanes' favor after that game as they went onto a confidence building 4-1 series victory before the seven game, Eastern Conference semifinal series with Buffalo.

Pictured: a young Martin Brodeur searches for inspiration among his peers.

The magical flying cheeseburger quickly absorbs you (and your ugly ass playoff beard) to present day, April of 2009.

Wyshynski: as a Devils fan, my first thought on the series is that the Hurricanes are not from New York or Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, so I wonder what the attendance will be for the first two home games ...

My second thought is this: The Devils are, without question, a team built for the postseason. They've got more ugly veterans with their minds on the money than the worst strip club in town. One assumes they'll answer the bell.

Did I like the way they finished? Nope. They played inconsistent, downright awful hockey at times, and Marty looked like what we all figured Scott Clemmensen would look like when he replaced Marty. I'll say that losing Patrik Elias for a few games through things into chaos, because for all the good numbers the team put up its offense is about as deep as the psychological underpinnings of "High School Musical." The third one.

The Devils will win the series if they can solve Cam Ward, which no one's really been able to in the second half, and if they're special teams outplay the Carolina Hurricanes in four of the seven games -- and that's a tall order.

I'm optimistic as a fan that the Devils will look like the team that chewed bubble gum and kicked ass earlier this season, and that Brodeur's rust will be gone and his rest will pay off.

I'm pessimistic as an individual with free thought.

Wyshynski's Prediction: Canes in 6.

McBrayer: Historically speaking, when the Hurricanes decide that they want to be in the postseason - they're going to rip shit up. Since 2002, the Hurricanes have only been to the big dance twice but both times skirted all the way to the SC Finals. When they're in - hold onto your nips.

Between the Hurricanes/Old Fatasses, the four games played during this regular season were all rather impressive for the Canes, not including the final game last Saturday that saw backup goalie Michael Leighton have a few "D'oh!" moments. Yes, the 3rd game featured Kevin Weekes in goal for Jersey and a team that was probably hungover as hell from the previous evening. But Carolina matches up fairly even statistically speaking with Jersey's finest.

I'm sure that it's really intimidating on opposing teams at The Rock but Coach Brent Sutter and his gang had better be glad that they hold home-ice advantage in the series. Because three games of ear-splitting, building-shaking and decibel-record-setting raucous at the RBC Center are easier than four games.

Many pundits have the Canes listed among teams on the Upset Watch for this year's playoffs. While I don't think it would be an upset - the Hurricanes should win this series based on team play alone over the past two-ish months. With the likes of Joni Pitkanen / Anton Babchuk / Jose Corvo patrolling the blue line and creating offense, Carolina has too much fire power on all lines for Brodeur and the Devils to overcome. Cam Ward is somehow playing even better than he was during his rookie year Conn Smythe run if that is even possible.

I'm biased but I'm right.
McBrayer's Prediction: Canes in 6