Much has changed in just 10 days since writing the predictions for the NHL Western Conference playoffs.
Most notably, the Phoenix Coyotes went from 12-game point streak to just one point in four games while the Dallas Stars have not lost. Predicting the rest of the this season is much like a three-day winter weather forecast in the Midwest—fairly accurate but subject to the winds of change.
Sometimes it helps to rely on what can be quantified. Every team's finish was determined based on a formula explained and used for the final standings in the NHL Pacific Division.
Based on numbers alone, the Stars would be the new third seed and the Calgary Flames would just edge out the Coyotes for the last spot. Those teams placed there do not affect the first-round winners.
However, the Chicago Blackhawks finishing two points in front of the San Jose Sharks means they advance to the second round instead. Since San Jose would lose all tiebreaks with Chicago, they would have to play a full three points better than the formula says.
They only need to play two points better than projected to win their division. A four-time division champion getting healthy with the best talent in the division on paper that plays their rivals in over half their remaining games should be able to find a way to do that.
This leaves the first round pretty much as predicted, even if the number of games would likely change a bit. This is how I predict those winners will do in the rest of the playoffs...
The Nashville Predators will turn the tables on the Western Conference champions, who eliminated them in the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nashville added talent at the trade deadline and now possess enough elite and depth skaters to allow Pekka Rinne to steal any series. The Preds are as well coached and focused as any team, and they are ready to take that next step.
The Canucks, meanwhile, remain a team with questions about character. When does focus on officiating from management, coaches and players affect focus on the goal? Can Roberto Luongo be more consistent? Will their inability to play well from ahead in a series cost them?
When I went to the Vancouver page to see their schedule for the rest of the season, I thought I saw a baby with a bonnet and a bottle to the side of where I was focused. It was Luongo with his helmet popped back to the top of his head holding a water bottle.
It was an interesting enough observation to wonder if it might have been a sign. In scientific terms, is it my subconscious feeding my intuition?
Yet another team gets to turn the tables on its nemesis.
The San Jose Sharks have eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in two consecutive second rounds. Detroit has looked like the older team.
But more than likely, there are players on this Detroit team that will not be back next season. Within the two seasons that follow, at least a third of their roster will be different.
This is their last chance with this entire core intact.
Of course, that is also true for the Sharks. Losing in the second round might mean changes at all three levels—general manager, coach and player. But San Jose will not have home ice this time because they are simply not as good a team this season.
If their edge was mental, one might still pick them, but they do not have the mettle Detroit does. This time they will be the ones worn out from playing the heaviest schedule in the league over the final eight weeks of the season. Many of Detroit's leading players actually have had ample time off while they have been banged up.
The Nashville Predators will have played the maximum 21 games by the end of this series. However, that will only be one more than the Detroit Red Wings.
The youth of the Preds will serve them well and they will get to their first Stanley Cup Final. That season-ending loss at Joe Louis Arena will be the last game in the career of the great Nicklas Lidstrom.
But who will they play and how will that end?
I am not about to look at the schedules of the teams in the Eastern Conference and apply the formula to all of them. Right now, every single spot has more than a one-game cushion over the next.
With two-plus game cushions, the New York Rangers look like the first seed and the Boston Bruins the second. The red-hot Penguins should be able to hold off the Philadelphia Flyers for the fourth seed, especially if Sidney Crosby is able to return as expected.
I have been waiting for the superior talent of the Washington Capitals to make a run at the Florida Panthers. They are still three points behind and will spend much more of the remaining season on the road, putting them in the eighth spot.
They are currently three games behind the Ottawa Senators, while the New Jersey Devils are half that far ahead of the Sens. As a person who does not see a lot of East Coast hockey, my expertise is admittedly lower, but I think these leads should each hold up, leaving teams just as they are currently slotted.
I see the Rangers advancing in five over the faltering Caps, and Boston in five over the Sens. The Devils will need six to beat a team that has the second-worst record in the conference playoffs but, nonetheless, is seeded higher. the Penguins will need all seven games to beat their in-state rivals.
The superior roster of the Rangers will be able to pass the oldest team in the league in six games. The Pens have been winning without a superstar and have the hunger to recapture the Cup. They will need six games to take out a Boston team that does not seem to have as much fire as last spring.
Sorry, Nashville. The clock strikes midnight on this Cinderella story and your carriage turns back into a pumpkin.
No way a team that is charting two rounds the franchise has never seen steals the Stanley Cup from a former champion in its third finals in five years. To make things more difficult, they will be far more wearied from their long playoff series and a season of much heavier travel.
Plus, the Pens are just better. They have more elite forwards and are deeper on the blue line to compensate for any advantage the Preds have in their top defenders and in net.