Holden Looks At NHL Playoffs

Hello again, hockey fans! I hope you're as excited for the Stanley Cup playoffs as I am! It is, and has always been, my favorite time of the hockey season. The competition of the playoffs is as intense as it gets in sports in my opinion. There’s nothing like a double or triple overtime playoff game!

It is awesome to see the Avalanche back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. What a job former Monsters head coach Joe Sacco and his staff have done with an extremely young and inexperienced team. Sacco's team will face the top seed in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks, a team that seemingly year-after-year finds a way to choke. Let's hope that happens again this season.

One of the biggest keys for the Avs will be getting not good, but great play from Craig Anderson. Any coach will tell you the goalie has to play well in big games and Anderson has done that on several occasions this season. Coaches also use the phrase, "Your goalie has to be your best penalty killer." That will be the case in this series with the Sharks, who are loaded with firepower up front. Can the Avs beat the Sharks? Absolutely they can.

There are eight former Monsters who should play a huge role in the success of the Avs possibly winning this first round series against the Sharks. In fact, 14 current Avs players have no playoff experience entering this series. To me, that can be something that works in the Avs favor. What do I mean by that? The Sharks have all of the pressure on them. The Avs aren't really supposed to knock off the number one seed in the Western Conference, are they? Probably not. But if they steal a game or two in the Shark Tank, a dream could become reality quite fast against a team that has had many early playoff failures.

Now back to Sacco. I talked with Monsters general manager David Oliver many times during our season on the radio and T.V. broadcasts. I often mentioned my top two choices for NHL coach of the year were, and still are, Sacco and Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes. I think Sacco should get it, personally. He took a team picked by virtually everyone to finish dead last in the Western Conference and he's led them to the playoffs. To me, that's deserving of the Jack Adams award, given out to the NHL's top coach every summer.

Another area where Sacco can have an advantage with his young Avs in the playoffs is the fact that he's been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Former Monsters assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre won the Cup in 1996 when the Avs swept Florida. Steve Konowalchuk has also been through the playoff wars and will be a huge help to the players confidence and state of mind during the playoffs. And there's also Adam Deadmarsh, who does video for the Avs. He's been through this and can be an enormous help along the way.

Living in Detroit prior to moving to the Cleveland area, I watched many Detroit-Colorado playoff battles with both Deadmarsh and Lefebvre. Now both men have a chance to help the new generation Avalanche “make some footprints in the sand." That's a phrase Michigan State Men's Basketball coach Tom Izzo always used when he was building his program to an elite level, and I think it's a fitting way to describe what the Avs have a chance to do.

It will also be great to watch so many former Monsters players battle on the ice, guys like Chris Stewart, Matt Hendricks, Kyle Cumiskey, and Brandon Yip, just to name a few. All of the young former Monsters, and now young Avs, are such a huge and valuable part of this team’s success so far this season and hopefully in the playoffs.

With that said, I am ready to make my predictions for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least through the first round, then I will revisit those picks and make my picks for the second round.

I will take the Avs in seven over San Jose. Until the Sharks prove to me they can win a series early and advance I am going to continue picking against them. GO AVS!

I like Chicago over Nashville. The Blackhawks have too much talent and are well coached. The only question mark is their goaltending. I will take the Blackhawks in five games.

Vancouver and Los Angeles is an interesting series to me. You don't hear much about either team and I think this series will be a long and entertaining one. I will take Vancouver in six games. The Sedin twins are great and so is Ryan Kesler. The Kings are young and have a few veterans mixed in to give them experience and grit but the Canucks will ultimately come through in this series.

Then there is the four vs. five matchup, the upstart Phoenix Coyotes and the Detroit Red Wings, a team that just won't go away. The Wings are so deep and so experienced with superstars like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Daytsuk and Nick Lidstrom. Jimmy Howard will be the key in this series to me. If he plays well, the Wings will advance to the second round. I like the Wings in five games.

In the East, the Capitals appear like a team possessed to get to the Cup Finals. I think Ovechkin is the best player in the NHL and this season he has his best supporting cast yet. I like the Caps in five games over the Canadiens.

New Jersey, like Detroit, just won't go away. They've been good for so long and that's because of Martin Brodeur. The man is unreal and can single handedly win a playoff series. I think Philly is going to be a tough out against the Devils, though. The Flyers have had great success so far this season against the Devils. I am going against the grain here and taking the Flyers, the number seven seed, over the number two-seeded Devils in seven games.

Now on to Buffalo and Boston, the Bruins have struggled to score down the stretch and the Sabres have arguably the best goalie in hockey in Ryan Miller. I covered Ryan when he was in college and always believed he would turn into an elite level goalie. He's done that and then some. I like the Sabres in five games over the Bruins.

And finally in the first round, I like the Pens over the Senators and I think this series will be over quickly. I’ll say about five games and the Pens move on to round two. They are deep, talented and they want another Cup.

Those are my thoughts entering the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I will be checking in often with my continuing thoughts and observations on the playoffs. Enjoy the playoffs!


Ben Holden

Click Here to read Ben's thoughts on the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.

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