It's that time of year again! One of the annual traditions we celebrate here at Slurpees and Murder is making predictions for each round, then watching those predictions basically level out to .500 by the time the Cup is awarded each year. (So a lofty bar, as always.)
Yes, even though the Winnipeg Jets fell just short of qualifying -- for some reason -- the chase for the Cup remains as intriguing as ever. So let's jump on into this year's National Hockey League playoffs, starting in the:
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders
So let's start with the easy one, basically, sure.
Perhaps owing to the shortened, tightened nature of the season, this year saw a lot of really impressive winning- and point-streaks; the Penguins didn't have the most notable streak of the year, but when you're missing the consensus #1 player in the world for long stretches and win three-quarter of the season's games anyway, you are probably doing okay for yourself.
The trade-deadline addition of Iginla suddenly rendered the Penguins Canada's Team -- to the extent that they aren't usually, anyway, I mean -- and while the Penguins aren't necessarily the shoo-in Eastern Conference champions, they can very certainly be counted on to overcome the Islanders.
Fleury has his bad patches -- infamously so! -- but nothing too dramatic this year, to date, and certainly not to such a degree that he risks being outdueled by Nabokov, of all goalies. Besides posing a high risk for Lundqvist Syndrome -- they played him 40 of the 48 games this year, and a thirty-seven-year-old dude's only got so much in the tank -- Nabokov put up not particularly stellar numbers, faced an ass-ton of shots all year, and was one of only four goalies in the League to break the hundred mark for goals-allowed on the year.
(None of the other three made the playoffs. 'SUP PAVELEC)
It'd be a nice story if the Isles did well! That'd be nice for that franchise. But:
What I'd Want: Pittsburgh in six.
What I'll Guess: Pittsburgh in four, because really, who are we kidding.
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
(Getting it out of the way at the outset: KARLSSON, HOW)
Every first round has a series that turns out to be a total disappointment; this year it'll probably be this one. I mean, I hope I'm wrong, I'm just warnin' you ahead of time.
It may get a little testy and gritty with one or two games to go, perhaps, but on the whole this may very well be some dispassionate, offputtingly gentlemanly hockey we're about to watch. It will be very technically sound, and probably very graceful, and we'll probably have to listen to Don Cherry complain about it at length. Let's manage our expectations, is what I'm getting at.
As far as outcomes--Anderson is having a madcap year, leading the League in goals-against (by a wide margin) and save percentage; I think it's reasonable to suggest that he's most of the reason the Sens made the playoffs, the team's regular season spent running some sort of grievous-injury sweepstakes. Is he enough to hold off Montreal, though? A year or two ago I'd have said yes, but holy crap have you looked at Montreal's stats this season. If Price is even passable in this series -- pretend for the sake of discussion that there's such a thing as being good enough in goal to satisfy Habs fans -- Montreal's depth should successfully outgun Ottawa, though not as easily as the seeding might suggest.
What I'd Want: Montreal in five.
What I'll Guess: Montreal in seven.
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers
Under regular circumstances -- well, most circumstances, really -- this'd be the easy pick for the upset, since winning the Southeast is very rarely anything to brag about. A long and storied history of lame ducks, the Southeast. (This is the last of it, and good riddance, I say. CONTROVERSIAL OPINIONS.)
This year, though, as Jets observers were very painfully aware of, the Capitals ended the season absolutely on fire. In the back twenty games of the season -- nearly half, this year, of course -- they went 15-3-2. Which, even taking Southeast opposition into account, is not a half-bad pace to take into the playoffs.
New York didn't do too badly for itself down the stretch either (as Jets observers also couldn't help but notice), but Ovechkin returning to form, or approaching it -- if he's not back to Peak Ovechkin, he's getting there -- is an entertaining force of nature to behold, and since he's not technically a Jets rival any more it's more locally acceptable to appreciate him. Right? The Jets have been stricken from the Southeast entirely, it feels like they've been a Western Conference team for a week now.
Electronic Arts predicts the Rangers to win it all this year, but they also predicted that the SimCity launch would go smoothly. So.
What I'd Want: Winnipeg Jets in five, truthfully, but--New York in seven.
What I'll Guess: Washington in six.
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
haaaaaa ha ha ha ha
Okay, this is an important character note about me: I'm a big fan of futility. Maybe it was a side effect of all the Wile E. Coyote cartoons I watched as a kid; maybe it's a product of growing up exposed to the previous Winnipeg Jets' playoff 'runs'; maybe I was just flat-out raised wrong. Those last two may be synonyms. Whatever. Continued, antagonistic futility -- a person or group wanting to beat somebody so badly, and never managing it -- is tremendously entertaining to almost everyone (else) involved, and I for one hope-slash-expect that it continues here.
What I'd Want: Boston in seven, and all seven games are SO HATEFUL.
What I'll Guess: Boston in six. The media coverage will be insufferable, but not as insufferable as if the Leafs win, so, hey.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
I'd alluded to the streaky nature of this season before, and I doubt I need to remind you how Chicago opened the year, because ye gads. Chicago had the #1 seed sewn up in, like, February.
I could go on a bit here about Chicago's qualifications, or try and play up Minnesota to build suspense, but -- well, it'd be a bit of a waste of time, wouldn't it? I'll be the first to publicly recant my dismissiveness if Dany Heatley or whoever suddenly explodes and sinks the Blackhawks, but... yeah. Nah. Chicago should crack Minnesota's defences long enough (or quickly enough, depending on how you look at it) to make round two without too much worry, a victory I will credit to Ray Emery whether he plays or not, because I am goofy like that.
What I'd Want: Chicago in five.
What I'll Guess: Minnesota could steal a one-goal game, I suppose, so yeah, Chicago in five.
Mighty Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
Like many folks around here, it takes me a minute or two to properly discuss the Ducks because upon their mention I'm just like "YEAH TEEMU" for a couple minutes. Teemu's still the greatest, by the way. If you'd forgotten. (You hadn't.)
Detroit, as everyone can tell, just hasn't been the same since losing Lidstrom -- and what team would be, really -- but as much as I'd like to proclaim the Wings definitively outmatched and reassure myself that Selanne and the Gang have an easy road to round two... it's the Wings, you know? I've been burned by this before. The Wings have veritable oodles of playoff experience to draw on, a similarly grizzled coaching staff to match, and its fair share of gamechanging top-flight talent even still.
"All right, third line! Get out there, shut down Datsyuk!"
"...punch him! I don't know, think of something!"
What I'd Want: Anaheim in four.
What I'll Guess: Somehow, despite everything, Detroit in six. DAMMIT DETROIT
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Perhaps surprisingly, given all of the dramatic potential outcomes in the East, this is the first-round matchup that I'm most looking forward to--not because of the potential matchups for the advancing team in later rounds, but because of the implications for the team that doesn't advance.
One of these teams is getting BLOWN UP in the offseason. This is it. This is going to be the end of the line for a perennial Western Conference powerhouse, piled high with talent, that somehow still never quite lived up to its playoff expectations; now we just have to find out which one. If you squint at this matchup, you'd swear this could've been a Western final any of the last five years or so. BUT NOT ANY MORE. Ominous chords, thunderclap, et cetera.
But before we get into the inevitable offseason drama, we should at least register a pick for the coming apocalypse one way or the other. Cory Schneider is questionable for the first game, and really for the whole first round; lucky for the Canucks they held onto Luongo, huh? Not on purpose, but you know how these things happen.
This one seriously could go either way, evenly-matched as it is between two wily but aging teams--but I'm going to give the edge to Vancouver here, who have had the better playoff pushes in recent years, and who will have the very rare luxury of going a playoff round without a goaltender crisis. SO:
What I'd Want: Vancouver in seven.
What I'll Guess: Vancouver in six.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
Above I'd listed the Montreal/Ottawa series as likely to be the biggest disappointment, but that's because this series is probably going to be exactly what you expect from it: grind-y, defensively sound, generally low-scoring affairs.
That prototypical Western Conference style does tend to make for close series -- uh, last year aside, I mean -- but, as much as we all do like that nice Steen boy around here, the storyline does seem set. One team is defending its Stanley Cup championship without the usual disadvantage of the shortened offseason, with its championship core still largely intact, and having swept the other team last year. The other team's hopes rely on Brian Elliott perpetually failing to remember that he is Brian Elliott. So... yeah.
What I'd Want: Los Angeles in seven.
What I'll Guess: Los Angeles in six.
Playoff hockey! Whoo!