HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

April 16, 2007

Fact or fiction: Detroit will make the Cup finals

By Jesse Menden

Three statements, three opinions, fact or fiction.

Detroit, the Western Conference President’s Trophy winner with 113 points, will make the Stanley Cup finals.

Fiction. The West is stacked with talent this season, and anybody could come out of it. That is why Detroit, who was the best team during the regular season, will not survive the playoffs.

Detroit does have a solid team, but they won’t match up well with the bigger teams coming up. However, if things go right, it would not be a stretch to say the Red Wings could make it to the finals. With Dominik Hasek as their backstop, who had the second-best goals-against average this season, anything could happen, but other teams are better.

Several teams could beat out Detroit, but two West Coast teams seem to be the best.

Anaheim and San Jose, the second and fifth seeds in the West, appear to be the cream of the crop. Both teams are loaded with talent on offense and defense.

They also have something that every Cup contender wants and needs, size and strength. As we have seen so far in their series against the Wild, Anaheim’s power forwards are huge, and are nearly impossible to push off of the puck. Combine that offensive grit with their two stellar goaltenders, and they will instill their will on any team they face. It will be a very daunting task to beat them four times in seven games.

San Jose is very similar. They have big skaters like Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau that can put the puck in the back of the net. Just like Anaheim, they also have one of the best goaltending duos on the league. Evgeni Nabakov and Vesa Toskala are solid net-minders, and could carry this team deep into the playoffs.

Buffalo, the Eastern Conference President’s Trophy winner with 113 points, will make it to the Stanley Cup finals.

Fact. This team can flat out score. The Sabers had four skaters score at least 30 goals this season.

They have Daniel Briere, who can do everything a coach would want from a player on the offensive end. He can pass, shoot, and score.

The Sharks also have Gopher-alum, Thomas Vanek. He is only one of 10, 40-goals scorers in the NHL this season. Not to mention, he led the league in plus-minus rating with a plus-45.

San Jose also has a good group of savvy defensemen. They have some young talent in Brian Campbell, and veteran blue-liners like Teppo Numminen. Of their regular defensemen, the lowest plus-minus they had was a plus-10.

Their goaltending is just good enough to carry them to the finals. Ryan Miller put up a 2.73 goals-against average, and a .911 save percentage. Considering their offensive firepower, Miller will perform well enough to allow Buffalo to outscore any opponent they face. Look for them to play into May.

Carlos Silva will continue his good start into the heart of the season.

Fact. It appears that Silva got back the two things he has been missing since he put up a 9-8 record with a 3.44 earned run average in 2005, his sinker and his confidence.

So far this season, Silva has pitched much better than anybody could have predicted. He has an ERA under 1.00, and even more amazing, has not given up a home run after being among the leaders in that category last season. That is a sure sign that his sinker is finally sinking.

Thursday, against Tampa Bay, nine of the 16 outs Silva recorded were via the ground ball. Several of the seven fly ball outs he surendered were harmless pop-ups. Only two balls were really hit hard by the Rays.

Perhaps just as important as Silva’s sinker is to his success, is his confidence, and it’s back. He showed that throughout the game Thursday. He allowed one base hit in every inning he pitched, and walked two, but he did not let that get to him. He worked his way out of every minor situation, and did not let the Rays string hits together, or get the big hit.

He got the ground ball when he needed to, and buckled down to prevent any Ray from crossing home plate.

It is relatively safe to say, the 2005 Silva is back.