It’s hard to beat the Stanley Cup playoffs. So much hockey, so much meaningful hockey. The intensity is sky high, and the emotions are ramped right up. This year we are blessed with some fantastic first round series. The first round usually has some great match-ups, but this year there seems to be juuuust a couple more than normal. Everyone is tweeting about the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series with the Predators-Red Wings series showing up a close second. I really hope these series, and all the series for that matter, live up to the hype. There will be nothing worse if the entire hockey world is focused on the Flyers-Penguins series and it turns into a dud and the Devils Panthers series flies under the radar as a fantastic series. In the end, I really hope that all the series are great, it makes the playoffs so much better than they already are. I’m going to give a rundown on each series and pick a winner. I’ll start in the Eastern Conference.
(1) Rangers vs. (8) Senators – I see this series as being a bit of a dog. I don’t see the Senators giving the Rangers any real test. The Senators really only have two weapons in Karlsson and Spezza. Whereas the Rangers are much more of a complete team. Lundqvist hasn’t had the best playoff record thus far, but I’d still take him over the Senators goaltenders. The Rangers are a tough team to judge for me. A lot of young talent on that team with a few older guys like Gaborik. I picked Gaborik for years in hockey pools but was always disappointed by the amount of time he spent on the injury list. This season however, he seems to be putting together a more consistent campaign. Karlsson is amazing for Ottawa and is having a year to remember, but I would prefer to build a team around Marc Staal. I could change my opinion if Karlsson puts up Coffey like numbers for the next few seasons, but for me Staal is the more complete player. Anyway, I’ll take the Rangers in this series. I don’t expect this one to go very long, I think the Senators are good for a game at least, so I’ll take the Rangers in five games. Did I mention I hate the Senators?
(2) Bruins vs. (7) Capitals – This series has some potential, but in the end I think it’s also a dog. The Capitals fire power could improve this series, but that would mean the fire power would have to actually show up. That hasn’t happened much this season at all. I don’t believe in Washington’s depth at all, and it is really, really, really hard to beat a deep team like Boston with no depth. Boston is not the team they were last season when they won the entire shootin-match, but they are still light-years better than Washington. Losing Horton is a huge blow to this team’s toughness. I see Chara smothering Ovechkin badly in this series. Backstrom just doesn’t have the legs under him after being injured for much of the season. I don’t see this being a long series at all. This is my sweep in the first round, I’m taking the big bad Bruins in four straight kids.
(3) Panthers vs. (6) Devils – Every time I look at this series, I shake my head. Ugly. Flip a coin on this one. My read on this series is that it could just as easily be a sweep as it could go seven games. Florida is nothing but a bunch of cast-offs from other teams. Madden, Weiss, Sturm, Wolski, Upshall, Versteeg, Campbell and Theodore. What an ugly looking roster! The Southeast division is terrible! To quote Shaq, it’s hor-awful! The Devils are an interesting team. An interesting mix of veterans and some pretty good young players. Salvador, Tallinder, Sykora, Zubrus, Elias and Brodeur being those crafty veterans and Henrique, Zajac, Larsson and Josefson being the younger guard on this squad. Kovalchuk is having a great season, I initially wanted to lump him in with the old veterans on this team but he’s only 28 years old. He’s not that old! He’s been around forever it seems. He’s been around too long to be a young gun and not old enough to be a grizzled veteran! What a season he’s had in New Jersey. An interesting team, but I don’t think they have what it takes to come out of the Eastern Conference. I can’t talk about the Devils without at least touching on Marty Brodeur. He is one of the greatest goalies to play the game, some would say he is the best, but I’m not one of those people (um, Toskala would rank just ahead of Brodeur in my books). I think Brodeur is capable of another deep run into the playoffs, but he would need some insulation. Meaning, he would need to have a few games with very few shots on his old bones. In this mucky-muddy-dirty series I see the Devils coming out on top. I don’t have a great feel for this series as I stated earlier, soooo….I’m going to throw a 6 up on the board. Devils in six, booyah. That’s right, I said booyah. Sue me. No don’t. I’m broke as it is.
(4) Penguins vs. (5) Flyers – The television executive’s dream series. The hype around this series is absolutely amazing. In my opinion, based on the regular season and the history of this rivalry, the hype is warranted. I hope this is the series the ‘experts’ are making it out to be. This series has the potential of series like Avalanche-Red Wings, Canadiens-Nordiques, Maple Leafs-……..umm…. damn it. I can’t even come up with a good Leafs playoff opponent without dusting of my VHS tape of 1993 titled ‘The Passion Returns’. Maple Leafs-Red Wings?? Screw it. Back to the Flyers and Penguins. As you readers get used to my views and rants, you will probably begin to see some patterns. In hockey, one of those patterns is the types of teams I like to watch. I’ll give you a hint…..TRUCULENCE. Subtle no? I am not a Flyers fan, but I have enjoyed watching the Flyers over the years. I have liked the fact that this franchise has maintained their image over the decades, for the most part anyway. I like watching the Giroux’s and Hartnell’s play the game. I would like to see the Flyers beat the Penguins. Traditionally, I have cheered against the Penguins. I was a Gretzky fan, not a Lemieux fan. I did not like Jaromir Jagr. I respected their abilities but didn’t like cheering for them. I find myself doing the same thing with this version of the Penguins. However, I think this version of the Penguins is a much scrappier version than the Jagr/Lemieux era, which I can appreciate. As much as I would like to see the Flyers advance in this one, I don’t think they have the horses to run with this Penguins team. I think the Flyers have to be on top of their game for every second of every game to beat the Penguins in a seven game series. Whereas I think the Penguins can have an ‘off’ night and still win, the team is just that talented. I am reluctantly picking the Pittsburgh Penguins in this series. In seven games, let’s go with the ‘experts’ out there. Imagine a sweep in this series? That would be a bit nutty don’t you think? Answer me please….go down to the end of this ‘blog’ and leave a comment…just one word – yes or no. That’s all I’m looking for, my attention-span won’t allow me to read much more than that in a response.
Alright that is the Eastern Conference taken care of, now wait three hours, then come back to this blog and read the Western Conference, which will be time zone adjusted for you. Seriously. Google that. Why would I lie to you, my faithful readers. All one of you. Thanks mom!
(1) Canucks vs. (8) Kings – This is an interesting series in my opinion. The Canucks are in a must-win scenario this year. If the Canucks lose this first round series the fan base will demand change. If the Canucks win this series, but just barely, the fan base will demand change. If the Canucks sweep this series, the fan base will demand Luongo gets traded. Fickle fans out there, the Ottawa of the West I say. Did I mention I hate the Senators? RETIRE ALFREDSSON! Back to the series. I just don’t know how good the Canucks will be without Daniel Sedin. He practiced on Monday, but isn’t going to play in Game #1. If Daniel is out for the entire series, I could believe an upset possible. That is, if the rest of the Canucks are unable to rally around the loss of their best player. Henrik is good, but is he capable of being great without his brother? In the playoffs? Without Daniel I see this as a ‘trap’ series for Vancouver. Remember the riots after the last time? If the Canucks get bounced in this series, look out downtown Vancouver. I hope there isn’t any rioting, but sheesh…this fan base seems pretty tightly wound right now. I like the L.A. Kings. Smytty (another blogger on this site, pay attention) and I have been waiting for the Kings to arrive on the scene for a couple of years now. There is a lot of young talent on this team. If the salary cap is manipulated properly and these young players mature into what they are projected to be, the Kings will be a playoff team for a few years to come. If the Kings come to play every night this series should be a good one. In the end though, I don’t think the Kings have the legs to oust Vancouver. Not this year anyway. The Kings would have to be almost perfect night in and night out, with the Canucks imploding all over the place. My heart tells me the Kings can take the Canucks to six games. But my head is saying five games. So let’s go with six. The Kings are capable of winning two games. Canucks in six games.
(2) Blues vs. (7) Sharks – The St. Louis Blues……whenever I think of the Blues, I think of the old Chuck Norris division. The Blues, Leafs, Blackhawks, Red Wings and North Stars used to have some epic 2-1, 3-2 and 1-0 games. Those Wednesday night games in January that were slow and boring were very tough to watch some nights. Until Gary Nylund and Basil McRae dropped the gloves. I miss Stumpy Thomas….just sayin’. The Blues are another team (along with the Kings) that Smytty and I have been watching closely the last few years. This is yet another team in a very young NHL that has a lot of great young talent. Although this club wasn’t seeing the results as quickly as the Kings, at least until Hitchcock showed up this season. Holy moly, did this team buy into Hitch! The Central Division is the American League East of the NHL. It is a tough road to come out on top of that division. Quite the accomplishment for this club to grab the #2 seed in the conference when playing in that division. I like this club, they play a tight defensive game. I think that is a great style of game for the playoffs. I want to pick this team to win. Enter the San Jose Sharks. I don’t like this team very much. I don’t know why, I just don’t think they have had much ‘personality’ over the years. Could be that they play on the left coast and their games start at 3:00 am et. Could be that they are just a boring franchise. In the end, I don’t really care about the San Jose Sharks. That should make Smytty angry, if he reads this that is! The more I think about this Sharks squad the more they appear, to me, to be like the Red Wings of the last decade or so. I didn’t say they ‘are’ the Red Wings of the last decade, I said they ‘appear’ to be ‘like’ the Red Wings of the last decade. I think this club is the best club in the Pacific Division – right now – (see Kings bit), and I think this club is coming together at the right time. The Sharks were a favourite early on in the season to go deep into the playoffs, some even had the Sharks finally making the Finals. They are a team of grizzled veterans who have a ton of playoff experience. That, in my opinion, makes them dangerous in this series. That is where I see a comparison to the Red Wings of the last decade. I believe Thornton and company will find a way to beat the Blues. I would love to see this series go seven games, but I don’t think it will. I see the Blues taking one game. This is my big ‘upset’ series, Sharks in five games. I will be ecstatic if the Blues prove me wrong in this one though, either by taking the Sharks to seven games or winning this one.
(3) Coyotes vs. (6) Blackhawks – The Nordiques vs. the Blackhawks! Should be the Jets against the Blackhawks. The NHL really messed up the Coyotes/Thrashers/Jets situation. That is for another time though. The Coyotes take the Pacific Division and get the #3 seed in the West. Um..what? The Sharks and Kings were slugging it out down the stretch and while they weren’t looking, the Coyotes snuck up and stole the division. Bastards. Just like a coyote though isn’t it? A bear and a mountain lion fighting over the same carcass and while they are fighting it out, the coyote sneaks in and takes off with the carcass. Bastard. I’m sure I could find a video of that on YouTube to illustrate my point, but that would be over the top (and now I have the theme song to Sly Stallone’s epically bad movie ‘Over The Top’ in my head….bastard!). I have two words for you – Mike Smith. Mike Smith is the sole reason the Coyotes are where they are. Smith is a Vezina candidate this season, or at least should be. Is it just me or are there like 47 Vezina candidates this season? Year of the goalie I guess….Anyway, I don’t think the Coyotes have much going for them. The Blackhawks are just way, way too much for them, even without Toews. Toews looks as though he is going to be healthy enough to play in Game #1, whether he makes an impact is a different story. I hate picking sweeps so I won’t do that for this series. I think the Coyotes can take one game, I have the Hawks moving on in five games. This has sweep written all over it though. Watch it go seven! Bastards!
(4) Predators vs. (5) Red Wings – For the last decade this was an automatic – Red Wings! So I had some difficulty right off the hop not writing the Red Wings down as the winner of this series. The more I looked at this series, the more I thought about this series, the more I listened to people about this series…the more I believed the Predators could win this one. The Red Wings are still a dangerous team, don’t get me wrong. Any team with Lidstrom, Zetterberg and Datsyuk can do some damage. However, I think this year the Predators take out the Red Wings. I think Rinne is having that kind of season. Suter and Weber are outstanding and the back-end of Nashville could very well be the reason the Predators knock off the Red Wings. It is a tough series to pick though, I think the longer this series goes, the veteran presence of the Red Wings have the advantage. Having said that, the younger legs of the Predators could be their advantage in a seven game series. Much like the Flyers-Penguins series in the East, I could see this series going either way. It’s too bad that in the end, two of these four teams will be eliminated! After much deliberation I am going with the Predators in this series, and I think it will go seven games.
So to recap, I have in the East – (1) Rangers, (2) Bruins, (6) Devils and (4) Penguins moving on to the second round. And without much hype I will quickly map out my road to the Stanley Cup Finals. If I am right in my first round predictions, I see the Rangers beating the Devils and the Penguins beating the Bruins in the second round. In the Eastern Final, I see the Penguins beating the Rangers to go to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the Western Conference I have (1) Canucks, (7) Sharks, (6) Blackhawks and (4) Predators advancing. I am going with the Canucks over the Sharks and the Blackhawks over the Predators. In the Western Final I have the Blackhawks beating the Canucks to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
I see the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup.
Wow. I hate saying that though, ‘The Penguins win the Stanley Cup’. I hope I’m wrong. The Penguins might not even make it past Philly, which would screw my entire bracket. But that is what this is all about. In the end I would probably enjoy a Boston – Chicago final the most. I am a traditionalist, so the original six match-up intrigues me. Secondly I would be happy with a Detroit – New York final, or some combination of those four teams. Of the non-original six clubs, the only club in the East I would enjoy in the Finals is the Flyers. In the West, I would be interested in the Kings or Blues getting a shot to win the Cup. But I don’t think that is very likely. My ‘worst-Cup-ever’ scenario would be the Panthers against the Coyotes. I just threw up a little bit inside my mouth. Wow. That would suck big-time. Well, I will be back I’m sure at the start of the second round with some previews and predictions, as I doubt a perfect score on my first round predictions will happen. Then again, maybe I will be pefect!…..nah…bastards.