Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

It's the best time of the sports calendar. 16 teams, one goal, and it's the greatest trophy in sports.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Wednesday, and it's time to make a fool of myself with more bad predictions.

(Note: My predictions are sometimes not terrible. I had seven of eight Western Conference playoff teams and 13 of 16 total correct in my preseason picks. I'll take that percentage.)

Anyway, we've had a good season, though scoring is down a bit, and that's a concern. The officials are going to call less and less -- unlike in college hockey, where games in the NCAA Tournament routinely came down to teams' ability (or lack thereof) to play disciplined. The more obstruction that teams get away with, the more easily inferior teams can pull upsets.

We'll start in the East, where things could have been much more interesting had the Devils not started so poorly. Then again, had they not started so poorly, they woudln't have hired Jacques to finish the season.

Never mind. I'm babbling.

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 New York Rangers

The big key to this series will be Washington's changeover to a defense-first mentality. Alex Ovechkin went down to 32 goals this season. If he were a baseball slugger who dropped from home run totals consistently in the 50s to 32, we'd probably assume he went off steroids.

Underrated here will be talk of the Rangers' resiliency. They're a tough-minded bunch that doesn't get down easily. Combine that with some good defensemen and goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and you have a team primed to pull an upset.

They won't, but they're primed to do it.

Washington in five.

No. 2 Philadelphia vs. No. 7 Buffalo

Too much is likely to be read into Philly's struggle down the stretch, as they went from a near-sureshot No. 1 seed down to the second spot when Washington got hot. Now, they get to face a Buffalo team that looked dead in the water early in the season, but has been scorching down the stretch.

Oh, and they did a chunk of that without Ryan Miller in goal.

Buffalo in six.

No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Montreal

The hype surrounding this series will be incredible before it ends. Hell, it's awesome now.

The Bruins have a deeper team, probably a better team, and their goaltending is a bit more solid than Montreal's. I think the intensity will be off the charts, and Montreal will steal a game in Boston to make this really interesting. In the end, the better team wins.

Boston in seven.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh has shown they have a strong team, because they probably would have missed the playoffs if they didn't, given the rash of injuries.

But without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, how will they fare in a playoff series? Tampa is tough, but will Dwayne Roloson hold up in goal?

I'm taking the Lightning to win a long series, because I just think they have more offensive depth.

Tampa Bay in seven.

Conference semifinals
Washington over Buffalo in seven
Boston over Tampa Bay in five
Conference finals
Washington over Boston in six

In the West, the race came down to the final day. While Vancouver might be pretending that they're happy to see Chicago in the first round, who can possibly believe them?

No. 1 Vancouver vs. No. 8 Chicago

The idea that Vancouver would want this series to happen is beyond ludicrous. Sure, it might make things feel more special if the Canuckleheads can go through the nemesis Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup, but the Blackhawks are a tough, experienced, battle-tested team.

They're also one that was given a second lease on life by -- of all teams -- the Minnesota Wild.

Don't bet on them blowing this chance.

Chicago in six.

No. 2 San Jose vs. No. 7 Los Angeles

This is where the Sharks normally slip up, right?

I don't see it this year. Two things change the tide. For starters, San Jose got to the conference finals before running into a better team last year. Also, the Sharks slumped through part of this season before finding their stride. Just like Washington, they're dialed in and ready for playoff hockey.

The Kings were a darling early in the season, but they're just not ready for this moment. Or this opponent.

San Jose in six.

No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 6 Phoenix

I know this sounds crazy, but how is Detroit such a strong favorite?

Their best player is injured, and no one knows when he will be back. One of their best goal-scorers has all of two in his last 27 games. Their goaltending is a huge question mark.

Meanwhile, Phoenix played well down the stretch. They have a deep team with four lines that can contribute. They have a top goalie in Ilya Bryzgalov. They're well-coached and buy into what Dave Tippett is telling them.

I like the Desert Dogs, no matter what's going on around them.

Phoenix in six.

No. 4 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Nashville

The Ducks are stuck with Dan Ellis in goal because of Ray Emery being hurt and Jonas Hiller still having issues with vertigo.

That could lead to a slew of problems.

Nashville has never won a playoff series, but there's a first time for everything. Expect to hear more of Tim McGraw than you were bargaining on.

Nashville in seven.

Conference semifinals
San Jose over Chicago in five
Nashville over Phoenix in five
Conference finals
San Jose over Nashville in six

Washington over San Jose in seven

May we never hear about choke-artists in our nation's capital or in San Jose ever again.

Instead, we can all point and laugh at poor Vancouver.

No comments: