In fact, it's already starting -- don't tell me what happens! -- so I'd better get this on the record tout-suite; if I'm going to get my guesses wrong, I should at least come by it naturally.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
I wasn't thrilled about correctly picking Detroit, but yeah, the writing was on the wall when the Ducks turned out to have an average age of like eighty. I was watching that series the whole time like "Yo, hold up, is that Tony Lydman? F'real? Is that Radek Dvorak? Is that Sheldon Sou--Sheldon Souray's still alive?" When you make Detroit look young, man. Maaaaaaan.
So we get the big Original Six matchup, and a conclusive one at that, given the realignment next season and all. (Unless both teams win their respective conferences and meet in the Stanley Cup Final, but that seems... increasingly unlikely in coming years.) So this is it, this is the big sendoff, aaaaaaaaand it'll probably be super anticlimactic.
It shouldn't be a full sweep, although Chicago did sweep the regular-season series against Detroit; the way that overtimes have been sprouting up this year, it seems reasonable that Detroit could sneak off with a win or two that way. And it's not that a Detroit upset is completely implausible; Detroit is always a threat to swipe some games, Howard can lock it down with the best of them when he's on his game, Datsyuk is still very nearly impossible to contain, and -- in case you had forgotten this particular tidbit -- this is JOEL QUENNEVILLE FACING THE RED WINGS.
But with that said, the Hawks are mad talented, good and rested after a short first round, not unfamiliar with how to beat Detroit, and probably very unlikely to overlook the Wings as a threat to their conference finals berth. Ergo:
What I'd Want: Chicago in five.
What I'll Guess: Chicago in six.
(5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Okay, so, that Vancouver collapse? Phenomenal. Oh my word. That was majestic. Like I'd said, the loser of that series is destined for an offseason shakeup -- not that I guessed the series right whatsoever or anything, but c'mon, like anybody called the Canucks being swept -- and the ignominious fashion in which the Canucks lost, coupled with choking against a team everyone else considers chokers, should mean a pretty wild 'n' woolly offseason.
(I love that the whole Canucks season was framed in terms of goaltending, and then come playoff time the goalies were fine but all of their skaters except Kesler were worthless. Whoops! Slightly different narrative than anticipated.)
ANYWAY. Let's talk about teams that are still playing, for the moment. I was impressed to discover that the Sharks have survived in their current -- not to say "doomed", but -- flawed incarnation long enough to build up a really solid younger core, fully ready to take the reigns when the old b'yes get put out to pasture. Logan Couture in particular isn't just a franchise player, he's the franchise -- but mention must be made as well of Brent Burns, whose transition from offensive D-man to power forward has been so wildly successful as to make Winnipeg fans seethe. He's like Byfuglien if Byfuglien were reliably good. Life ain't fair, man.
The Kings had a rougher time to the second round, but a lot of that may be the Blues being secretly way better than their fate suggests. (And part of it may be Quick giftwrapping and giving away Game 1. But, still.)
It feels like it's going to be a startlingly even series; the Sharks are well-rested, Niemi quietly levelled up when nobody was looking, and (perhaps most importantly) the Sharks suddenly choking in the third round would be way funnier than the Sharks suddenly choking in the second round. On the other hand, the Kings have all of the reigning-champion benefits with none of the usual fatigue, they can never be considered totally out of a game, their defence core is almost insultingly solid, and Jonathan Quick is probably actually a robot. Should be good! If you like lots of checking and don't mind really low goal totals -- San Jose may find it harder to score when the other team's skaters seem to be, y'know, trying -- you should get a real kick out of this one.
What I'd Want: San Jose in four. God, could you imagine? That would feel like the world's tilted off its axis.
What I'll Guess: Los Angeles in... mm, seven.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
One of my favourite things in life is being completely wrong about something. (One of my least favourite things is being completely right. I don't know what this says about me.) And if there's one thing that I was extremely happy to be wrong about, it was my original suspicions that the Montreal-Ottawa series would be boring and dispassionate. It's amazing how a grievous facial injury, vengeful sea-mammal-themed insults, a gazillion minutes in fighting majors and the complete implosion of one team can liven up a series!
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, seemed to get caught cruise-controllin' against the Islanders, who put up as courageous and tenacious a fight as anyone could have hoped for until the crushing inevitability of being the Islanders in the playoffs finally caught up to them.
The thing is, the Islanders did as well as they did against the Penguins by leveraging timely bursts of hockey talent -- plus getting to play against Fleury, y'know, there was that -- and the Senators made it to this second round by punching the other team in the mouth until they flipped out and forgot how to play hockey. And I don't mean to oversell the importance of the officiating, because you just know someone'll be like "AWW C'MON WHY DO THE PENGUINS GET SO MANY CALLS THEIR WAY UGH THIS LEAGUE IS RIIIIIIGGED", but I do think the laissez-faire the Sens benefitted from in round one isn't as likely to be there in round two. Let's say Chris Neil (because it's going to be Chris Neil) tries to stir something up after the whistle by jabbing the broken-jawed, concussion-prone, intensely-spotlit face of the franchise; how likely do you think it is that the refs let it slide?
Again, I'm not saying that the League will clamp the rulebook down because it benefits the Penguins; I'm saying it benefits the Penguins that the League will clamp the rulebook down. The NHL is, shall we say, very slightly concerned about how the public perceives its violence, and this series is very likely to be the most closely scrutinized.
Besides, the issue of penalties aside, the Sens' other ticket to round two is that they got to ring up a bunch of goals on a Carey Price that was awful by Carey Price standards. (He'd never given up six goals in a playoff game, until...) The Isles' almost-success came from getting to ring up a bunch of goals on a Marc-Andre Fleury that was... well, that was kind of what we expect from Fleury, actually, but -- anyway, Vokoun exists, and Bylsma is not stupid, and away we go.
What I'd Want: Ottawa in seven, with at least one more line brawl. Although I wouldn't mind Pittsburgh in seven either. Really, just give me seven games of this, y'all can do what you want with the last one.
What I'll Guess: Pittsburgh in... ehh, five.
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers
We who watched it unfold in real time, every single one of us, without fail, are all going to tell our grandchildren about that Boston-Toronto game seven someday. That was legendary, and spectacular, and the most Toronto-sports-ian Toronto sports event in what feels like forever (because it kind of was). As I noted on Twitter at the time, I felt bad about laughing, sure, but holy shit did I laugh.
Toronto Maple Leafs or Toronto you dumb fuck you lose after you have almost win go fuck yourself— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) May 14, 2013
The Iron Sheik basically has the hang of being a Torontonian, it seems like. First the Jose Canseco mayoral bid, now this; if sports doesn't work out for them -- it never seems to, really, does it -- at least Toronto can remain secure in its Twitterverse star power. (You may laugh, but look at how Winnipeg's leadership behaves; they'd kill for that kind of C-to-D-level recognition. Or at least mint a whole lot of keys to the city for it.)
All the more impressive in Boston's game seven comeback victory -- and the reason I'm less inclined to call this round in their favour -- is that they pulled it off after some dismally anemic offence in previous games, and that they pulled it off despite being down to, like, three and a half defencemen left on the roster.
New York required all seven games, too, technically, but I wouldn't really count that last one as a game per se. (It's so perfectly, serendipitously fitting that the Southeast Division died on an unworthy third-seed getting bounced in round one and stinking it up on their way out.) The Rangers are healthier, play a cleaner style, have a captain who's basically a superhero, and are fully capable of winning any given game by potting a single goal and then just figuring it's taken care of.
It'll be competitive right to the last -- certainly more so than that other East series, I'd reckon -- but, unless the Bruins get some bodies back in a hurry, I think the Rangers will ultimately be able to grind this one out.
What I'd Want: New York in seven.
What I'll Guess: Eeeeegh--it's really tempting to still say Boston anyway somehow. But nah, New York in seven.
Playoff hockey! Yay!