Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The NHL Playoffs Begin Tonight

Well, I'm still a mess. I'm in almost constant pain, my face is all swollen, and Advil comprises about ninety per cent of my meals. On the other hand, hey! Hockey's on! Awesome!

I don't remember doing so well with my predictions last year (and I haven't gone back to check how accurate they were, because pfft, like I claim to know what I'm doing), but it's always fun to give it the ol' college try and see if anything sticks. So!

Eastern Conference

(1) Montreal Canadiens vs. (8) Boston Bruins

Yes, I know. We're all very happy for the Canadiens, aren't we? They seem like nice guys, and it's neat that they finished the season with the highest point total in the East after so few people expected them even to make the playoffs. But how did the Canadiens earn the number one seed in the Eastern Conference? With stellar power-play work, yes; with a solid team ethos, and with a strong work ethic. But they also earned it in large part by beating the tar out of Boston and then continuing to beat on Boston until the tar ran dry and stuffing started flying out instead.

They earned a hundred and four points this year, and sixteen of those were from whooping up on Boston; that's one point out of every six and a half. And if Montreal had instead lost half of their games in the season series against Boston, they'd be entering the playoffs as the sixth seed. So the very real possibility exists that the Canadiens are a touch overrated right now ('Detroit Syndrome', if you prefer), and they may well yet crumble against a lower-seeded team. But they're not going to crumble against this lower-seeded team, because -- hey, look who it is! Hi, Boston! Lucky you guys!

Boston hasn't beat Montreal once this season, or once at all going back more than a full calendar year, and of the eight losses to Montreal this season four of them were by three or more goals. New records for futility are being set even as we speak; years from now Bostonites will speak in hushed tones of the 'Thornton Curse' and lament the Bruins' fate, citing the beginning of the end as when the fans first saw whatever the hell this was and knew then and there that their beloved team was doomed.

And I kind of like Boston! I wouldn't mind seeing lil' Tim Thomas nab a playoff win or two, and I hope that before the series is over we see Marc Savard score something pretty and Zdeno Chara obliterate somebody with a six-foot-nine death check -- but if they were capable of beating the Habs, you would think they'd have won one or two by now. Alas, Boston! You'll have to take solace in of all your other sports teams winning all of their championships.

What I'd Want: Montreal in four, because that's funny.
What I'll Guess: Montreal in five, because by game three they might let their guard down.

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Hey, Brian Murray! Assuming for the moment that you're right and the Penguins did throw that last game to make sure they'd face your Senators -- can you even blame them? Your team's lost twenty of the last thirty games. You're missing three of your key players, you fired your head coach late in the season, and somehow -- even though Playoff Conklin makes Playoff Turco look like Playoff Cam Ward -- your team still has shoddier goaltending going into this series.

The Senators are still a good team in theory, yes, but theory only ever goes so far this time of year. I wouldn't mind them advancing, if it means Ray Emery gets more screen time, but I've got a hunch that Ottawa is basically sunk on this one.

What I'd Want: Penguins in five, despite Ty Conklin scoring twelve unanswered goals on his own net and Georges Laraque eventually having to punch him unconscious.
What I'll Guess: Penguins in six.

(3) Caroli Washington Capitals vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia made it into the playoffs? Washington made it into the playoffs?

At one point this season, Washington was thirtieth in the thirty-team league; now the playoffs are here, the Capitals are seeded third and captain Alexander Ovechkin has scored sixty-five goals (!) and one-hundred and fifteen points (!!) to propel his team into the postseason. There's still a chance that he won't win MVP this year, but only if Evgeni Malkin learns some ninja tricks and makes the Conference Finals using only his team of shadow-clones.

The rest of the team helped, too, of course. They haven't been losing very often at all lately; Huet has won the last nine straight games, and he's only lost two of the thirteen he's played since he was sent to Washington as a bizarre trade deadline surprise.

Since I'm a dude who really likes teams that attack with wild abandon and are too busy checking to ever play defence properly, it's no surprise that I'm always entertained by Philadelphia. And it'd be awesome if they won here, but I'm not holding my breath. Philly, being Philly, is going to find awesome ways to take stupid penalties, and inevitably that's going to sink them without fail -- but they're fun to watch nonetheless. They're like a team of Foghorn Leghorns come to life, belligerent and stupid and hilarious and doomed all at the same time. WHAT I SAY WHAT IN TARNATION ARE THESE PENALTIES FOR BWOI YOU TRYIN TO BUILD YASELF A SIN BIN

What I'd Want: Philadelphia in seven unyielding marathons of inspired violence.
What I'll Guess: Washington in six, and Steve Downie gets himself suspended by the end of game two.

(4) New Jersey Devils vs. (5) New York Rangers

God, I hate the New Jersey Devils. I can't wait for Martin Brodeur to retire and go live off his Delissio cheques so I can watch the entire Devils organization shrivel and die immediately afterwards.

I couldn't care less about the Rangers -- did any Canadian networks even televise Rangers games this year? -- but I would like nothing better than for them to utterly annihilate the Devils, which is precisely why it isn't going to happen and I'm going to grump about it a little.

What I'd Want: New York in four, all of them meanspirited blowouts.
What I'll Guess: New Jersey in six. Damn it.

Western Conference

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (8) Nashville Predators

Oh, yeah. People give a crap about this series.

What I'd Want: I CAN'T HEAR THIS SERIES OVER MY OWN YAWNING. I want to see, I don't know, Nashville in seven. For giggles.
What I'll Guess: Detroit in five. I know Detroit historically underperforms come playoff time, but come on, it's Nashville.

(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (7) Calgary Flames

In their last twenty-two games of the season, San Jose went 18-2-2; they have terrific goaltending, several lines of scoring, a trade-deadline acquisition apparently worth his weight in gold, and only two guys on their entire roster who are under six feet tall. (A pair of fourth-line centres, if you were wondering. And they're both 5'11''.) Calgary has a goalie who does really well sometimes, a couple of world-class superstars, and then a long parade of midcarders with a really old guy or two mixed in for variety.

I like Calgary, and I hope they at least go down swinging here, but it doesn't look good for them at all; the Flames are primarily known for their tough and gritty playstyle, but they are going to get the living crap out-gritted of them unless something goes drastically and dramatically wrong for the Sharks.

Calgary's only made it past the first round of the playoffs once in the last, what, twenty years? Well, at least this year they can rest easy knowing that they'll be able to go home and make fun of the Oilers.

What I'd Want: Flames in six.
What I'll Guess: Sharks in five.

(3) Minnesota Wild vs. (6) Colorado Avalanche

Oh, boy, the Wild. Maybe I'll just go to bed.

Colorado's loaded up on all their old faces from their successful days, which is kind of funny and kind of sad at the same time. I like the guys on their team, but at the same time I kind of hope they just retire before they slip and fall or something.

The Wild earned their three-seed, no question, but that doesn't change their history as a remarkably awful playoff team. Remember last year when they were down a goal to the Ducks and got the puck with two minutes left, then sat in their own end and didn't pull the goalie until about twenty seconds were left? That was everything you needed to know about Minnesota condensed into two long minutes of astonishing nothing going on.

Minnesota Wild games are fifty-five minutes of nothing happening and five minutes of Derek Boogaard. I must say that I really love watching Derek Boogaard, because he's so awesomely good at hitting people and yet so awesomely bad at actual hockey -- but something tells me he's not about to get a whole lot of ice time in the playoffs. So that eliminates the one thing I could possibly enjoy watching on the Wild's side of things, and if there's any justice we won't have to humour them for much longer this year.

What I'd Want: Colorado in four, with Derek Boogaard playing fifteen minutes a game and Peter Forsberg somehow not getting injured.
What I'll Guess: Colorado in six, but Forsberg's ankle somehow explodes during the national anthem.

(4) Mighty Ducks of Anaheim Mighty Ducks vs. (5) Dallas Stars

At around the trade deadline these teams were widely considered two of the top Stanley Cup contenders, which is precisely why they have to square off in the first round and send one team home entirely too early. Whoever wins this series is probably going to win their next series handily, and whoever loses this series gets to look forward to half a year of 'rebuilding' threats and quiet frustration.

Dallas looked to be improved dramatically when they brought Brad Richards aboard (and it must be nice for him to have something to do for a change), but so long as Playoff Turco roams their net the Stars are destined for a lifetime of bewilderment and quick playoff exits. But hey, you never know -- maybe one year the NHL will decide to do the playoffs entirely in shootouts, and when that happens it'll be Turco Time. In the meantime, yeah, they're pretty much sunk.

What I'd Want: Anaheim in six.
What I'll Guess: Anaheim in six.

Playoff hockey! Whoo!

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