Friday, April 27, 2012

Round Two of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Begins Tonight

What, tonight? But the first round only just finished last night! Man, life's busy, these days.

My humble prognostications for the first round went three-for-eight, which, honestly, I can't even pretend to feel bad about. For three reasons:

1) I was a couple of Game Seven overtime bounces away from going five-for-eight, which is just as close to even as three-for-eight is and reinforces that the whole thing is just a coin toss at that point;
2) I was still more accurate than anybody who was busy predicting the Alberta election; and
3) Nobody guessed what the hell happened this round. If you know anybody who successfully predicted all eight, don't even bother telling them to go pick up some lottery tickets, because they're as aware as everyone else that luck like that only hits once a lifetime.

So, yeah, thus far, three for eight. Not bad! Not bad. Round Two kicks off tonight, and I started with the East last time, so let's jump into the:

Western Conference

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings

As strange as this sounds, the St. Louis Blues are the new Vegas favourites to win the Cup; even stranger, they actually played like it in the first round. The Kings, however, are not currently unaccustomed to knocking off favourites. (Good thing they didn't deal Brown at the deadline after all, huh? It turns out, and I was just as surprised as you are about this, that he is pretty good at hockey.)

Both teams were almost insultingly stingy with their goals against through round one, and this series will be closer than the seeding would suggest. (And I like both teams well enough that I'd be perfectly fine with either one moving on, so I'm pretty chill about the outcome either way.)

Not to take anything away from the Hitchcockian defence system here -- great job firing him last season, Columbus, by the way -- but with the Kings playing as hungry as they have, and Jaroslav Halak still off injured somewhere, I dare say that Los Angeles will grind out the eventual victory here.

What I'd Want: St. Louis in five.
What I'll Guess: Los Angeles in six.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (4) Nashville Predators

There are two ways to watch a low-scoring hockey game; one way is to take a heightened interest in the close-quarters play and coaching nuances and defensive team formations, and the other way is to lose interest and drift off while suggesting that the game is boring.

I intend to aim for the former, but cannot be blamed -- nor will I blame anyone -- for defaulting to the latter. Because unless you're personally invested in either of these teams, holy crap, is this ever going to look like a boring series. Mike Smith (of all people) and Pekka Rinne are shutting down almost anything thrown at them, behind two teams who shut down anything in front of them before it can reach the goaltenders, sooooooo... nah, you know what, screw it. Phoenix only made it this far because Corey Crawford is a human cave-in, so I'm going with Nashville.

What I'd Want: Nashville in four.
What I'll Guess: Nashville in seven.

Eastern Conference

(1) New York Rangers vs. (7) Washington Capitals

So, how about that Boston-Washington series? Seven straight one-goal games, a first in the long history of the NHL, and a series that heralded the rise of Braden Holtby. Everyone who predicted the rise of Braden Holtby, please raise your hands. Okay, now put them down again. You're liars. When even the (cough) impartial CBC correspondants are noting that Holtby was yanked from a game -- an AHL game -- two months ago, well, you can gather that something unusual and unexpected is afoot.

Also unexpected was how close Anderson and the Senators made their series against the Rangers, but the boys in blue pulled it off -- and, in a strange sort of way, New York's struggle to close out the first round against an eighth seed showed that they have the character they need to survive. No, it wasn't pretty, and no, they didn't exactly look like the far-and-away best team in their division when they did it, but they did it; they rose to the challenge in a way that all of the other potential favourites and perennial contenders -- Vancouver, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, San Jose -- didn't.

Washington looked far better -- far more stable, far more defensively responsible -- in the first round than anyone could have expected, but New York is now already in the habit of bouncing overachieving lower seeds. So unless Holtby can pull a second straight miracle out of his mask and outduel a (notoriously handsome) finalist for the League's MVP award, this should go the Rangers' way after another close-but-not-close-enough lower-seed showing.

What I'd Want: New York in seven.
What I'll Guess: New York in six.

(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

ha ha ha ha, what is this

In predicting the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia round one series, I had written the following:

"This series is also going to be exactly what the League wanted in the 'New NHL', because, oh my god, so many goals. All the goals. Look at the starting goalies that these two teams are fielding, it'll be a minor miracle if any game stays below six goals.

So, as we draw near the conclusion of this post, I would like to take this time to... apologize for somehow still completely understating the number of goals. Good lord, those six games had fifty-six goals! Nine point three repeating per game! What the hell. Ilya Bryzgalov put up a Goals Against Average of just under four, with a .871 save percentage, and he was legitimately the better of the two starting goaltenders. What is this; I don't even.

The Florida-New Jersey series, meanwhile, was everything that people had expected it to be: hard-fought, closely contested, and not very good hockey. (Seriously, did you see Game Three? That was embarrassing for everybody involved.)

I had intimated that both eventual winners of these first round series would be basically fraudulent, waiting around for better teams to gobble them up, so of course these two end up facing each other. (Whoever wins this series is going to get blown out by whoever wins the other series, let me just announce that right now.) Ugh, fine; as much as I'd prefer the Flyers advancing, I'm going to assume for the moment that Old Man Brodeur has four halfway solid games left in him and will backstop his team of surprisingly successful youngsters (get a load of Adam Henrique, seriously) to the eventual victory.

What I'd Want: Philadelphia in six.
What I'll Guess: New Jersey in six.

Playoff time! Yeah! Whoo!

No comments: