March 14th, 2011
With the Amazing Fantasy Hockey League's playoff set to begin tonight, there's no shortage of storylines for each of the eight teams in the postseason.
Can the Mustangs repeat after playing most of the year as a complete group this season?
Will the Presidents' Trophy-winning Warriors fizzle in the playoffs after a remarkable regular season?
Is Washington ready to right the ship, or has their slumping offense doomed them to an early playoff departure?
And what of the Heroes? Is the AFHL's most awards winning franchise poised for another run at glory?
The answers to these questions and more will become clear over the next several weeks, but for now we focus on the first round.
Below you'll find breakdowns on each of the four opening round series.
North Bay Warriors (1) vs. (8) Manhattan Supermen
There's no question North Bay is a heavy, heavy favorite in this matchup. However, they also know they can't afford to overlook Manhattan who is undefeated in their last three matchups.
Week 13 - Warriors won 10-1.
North Bay - Alex Ovechkin (73 pts.)
Manhattan - Brad Richards (65 pts.)
Brad Richards making it back for the playoffs after missing about 10 games was a huge boost for the Supermen and will likely head back to the first line with Bobby Ryan and Claude Giroux. The Warriors have far more depth of talent up front than do the Supermen, who will rely on a far more defensive scheme (plus/minus) for success. The Supermen combined for a +25 against Lexington in last week's matchup. Frans Nielsen, Travis Hamonic, and Roman Hamrlik will do their best to make things difficult for the Warriors skill players. The Warriors finished the season ranked 1st for most total points on offense while the Supermen finished the season ranked 5th. Edge: North Bay
They aren't number one goalies, but recently, Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier have been absolutely stellar when given starts for the Supermen. For the Warriors, both Pekka Rinne and Kari Lehtonen are in the midst of having the best year of their careers. Even if the Supermen get enough starts out of Schneider, Bernier, and Turco, it still may not be enough in comparison to Rinne and Lehtonen. Edge: North Bay
The Warriors simply possess far too much skill and overall depth to lose to the eighth-place team in the first round of the playoffs. The Supermen have made a spirited run to the playoffs, particularly after being left for dead leading up to the trade deadline, but the Warriors' offense will be too powerful for them to compete. If the Supermen win all goalie categories and the plus/minus category then they might have a chance, but it's doubtful.
DARREN PANG'S PREDICTION:
North Bay wins 10-1.
Washington Power (2) vs. (7) Fort Drum Killers
Washington is all gaga over this playoff team, and after adding some really good players at the deadline, they are still in the conversation for winning the Cup. Don't make a mistake here, though. The Killers are definitely dangerous going into the matchup as winners of four straight.
Week 13 - Killers won 6-4.
North Bay - Teemu Selanne (63 pts.)
Fort Drum - Ilya Kovalchuk (50 pts.)
Washington's scoring is much more balanced among its forward unit, as evidenced by the fact they've got seven players with at least 50 points (Fort Drum has two). And, if they stay healthy, Washington's trio of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, and Teemu Selanne can can be better than Ilya Kovalchuk, Mikko Koivu, and Chris Stewart. Neither team has a Norris Trophy candidate on the roster, but the Power's defense corps is a little bit deeper and meaner than the Killers', and that's more than enough to give them the nod here. Edge: Washington
So, Miikka Kiprusoff's tank isn't completely empty after all. Good for him. Unfortunately, when you compare him to Roberto Luongo, the Killers' starter is only the second-best goalie in the series. Maybe even the third-best (and, no, I'm not talking about Tim Thomas, cough-cough). Edge: Washington
Injuries are not an excuse, but Fort Drum needs Mikko Koivu to have a real shot. The star center is still nursing a broken finger, but he could return to the lineup as soon as tonight. But if he misses a few more games, then the Killers will lose most of the offensive stat categories. The Power were the best team in the league virtually all season so they deserve the high seed, but here is the proving ground. To be successful, their goaltending has to be better than Fort Drum's.
DARREN PANG'S PREDICTION:
Washington wins 6-5.
St. John's Red Wings (3) vs. (6) London Mustangs
While London is the defending Stanley Cup champion, they've shown enough vulnerability this season that they might actually be flying under the radar. Don't sleep on them, though.
Week 11 - St. John's won 10-1.
St. John's - Henrik Zetterberg (69 pts.)
London - Jonathan Toews (69 pts.)
Not much separates these two teams up front. The speedy Wings rely heavily on the big line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Alexander Semin but do get contributions throughout the lineup and finished near the top of the rankings for most points scored on offense in the regular season. But London counters with Jamie Benn, Jonathan Toews, and Rick Nash. The Wings have the far superior blueline on paper, but Tyler Myers, who had an indifferent season, and Keith Yandle are wild cards for the Mustangs. Edge: St. John's
It's tough to fathom that a team with three talented starting goaltenders would go into a series with questions in goal, but that's exactly the case with the Mustangs, who have been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury, on the other hand, has been very good this year and he will get better as the spring wears on. Edge: St. John's
A lot of people picked the Wings to win the Cup at the start of the season and many have stayed with the pick for the playoffs. London needs to excel on special teams in the playoffs, where they've been average all year. Despite their youth, the power play can be potent, and the Wings can't give away any momentum when they're a man short. Unlike the Wings of last year, this one is good enough to not need superhuman work by Fleury to win, and they need to keep it that way.
DARREN PANG'S PREDICTION:
St. John's wins 7-3.
Calgary Hitmen (4) vs. (5) Vancouver Heroes
Calgary's cinderella story continues and with high expectations on Vancouver to make it back to the Finals for a second straight year, little is expected from the Hitmen. A quick Calgary start may get the Heroes squeezing the stick excessively.
Week 13 - Vancouver won 6-3.
Calgary - Dustin Byfuglien (50 pts.)
Vancouver - Henrik Sedin (83 pts.)
The Heroes feature two of the most dangerous players in the game in the Sedin Twins, while Calgary will counter with Dustin Byfuglien and Jarrett Stoll. The absence of injured forwards Kristian Huselius and Alex Steen severely handicaps a Calgary team already thin on secondary scoring. Neither team has a spectacular defense. Dustin Byfuglien is a do-everything warrior for the Hitmen, while Jay Bouvmeester and Dennis Wideman will look to improve on their regular season totals. Vancouver has more mobility on the blueline than it did in last year's playoff run to the Finals and the offensive prowess of Tomas Kaberle cannot be ignored. Edge: Vancouver
Heroes fans think Jonathan Quick can be rattled with traffic and Ryan Miller has been inconsistent in the regular season after winning the Vezina ten months ago, but how do you not give the nod to Quick who is currently the best goalie in the league (especially considering his MVP-calibre season)? Edge: Calgary
Some may look at the Hitmen's cinderella season and wonder when they are going to run out of gas. But make no mistake; this team is high on emotion. They were successful in all their big games, but if they want to be successful in the post-season, everyone has to step up to compete with the Heroes' offense. The tough Heroes have to bang Dustin Byfuglien and neutralize him.
DARREN PANG'S PREDICTION:
Vancouver wins 5-4.