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NHL Lightning, Flames Predicted in Cup Final

By Andrew C. Thomas

OPINION COLUMNIST

These picks are dedicated to every hockey mother who insisted her son or daughter wear facial protection when they made it big. Facial injuries have skyrocketed in the NHL, the most tragic of which is detailed in Christopher P. Anderson’s ’07 column about Steve Yzerman.

College hockey requires facial protection, at least with visors if not a full mask as the IM program at MIT requires. But the NHL, with faster skating, harder shots, and lighter sticks, is witnessing a staggering rise in stick and puck contact with the face. Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers suffered a puck to the face several months ago that gave him a concussion. The puck shattered his jaw; one can only wonder how bad the damage would have been if it had hit him higher in the face, ruining his boyish good looka.

So please, if anyone in the NHL is reading this who’s considering maintaining their sight for the rest of his life: if a visor is good enough for Joe Sakic or Peter Forsberg, it’s good enough for you.

Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3)

To Hell with those Flyers and their fantastic coach, Ken Hitchcock, for sending Toronto back into playoff torpor for the second year in a row. Their goaltending is consistent, and the injuries are manageable, including those to their defensive stalwarts Kim Johnsson and Vladimir Malakhov. But the real miracle worker has been Robert “Silent Bob” Esche, who backstopped the Flyers to victory.

Still, these Lightning have been close to perfection. The only gap has been the hot-cold play of enigmatic former captain Vincent Lecavalier, who showed flashes of brilliance against Montreal but had been inconsistent against the Islanders in the first round. Has he regained his scoring touch? It sure looks that way.

Lightning in 5.

San Jose Sharks (2) vs. Calgary Flames (6)

Darryl Sutter, Flames coach, I’m sorry I doubted you in the last round. You were the one who brought your club to life with grit and heart and carried them past the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings. The Kipper may have been great in goal, and Iggy might have inspired his team with timely physical play, but the captain’s example can only go so far.

On the other side of this battle is Sutter’s former employer, the San Jose Sharks, who are seeing equally good coaching out of Ron Wilson. Both teams beat juggernauts to get to this dance, so both will be riding on confidence.

This series is a tough one to pick. San Jose has proven consistently better in the long run, but slipped a bit in the last round to allow Colorado to threaten a comeback from a 3-0 disadvantage before closing it out 4-2. Calgary looks as though nothing can stop them, even a goalie as solid as Curtis Joseph was in the last round.

Flames in 6.

Projected Cup final

Assuming these picks are solid, the Stanley Cup final would then take place between the Lightning and Flames starting around Memorial Day, and I have trouble imagining the Lightning having trouble with anybody at this point. Barring an injury to a leading scorer like Lecavalier or the dynamic Martin St. Louis, I’d expect the Lightning to be able to skate around the grit and take it in 5, on home ice, for their first Stanley Cup. (If you can believe it. The idea of the Cup being brought south of the Mason-Dixon wasn’t good to me 2 years ago, and it ain’t now.)