This is why we love hockey.
Not even halfway through the first round of the quarterfinal round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs and we’ve seen enough strangeness to fill an entire postseason already.
The three top favorites to win it all here in Las Vegas (Penguins 8/5, Rangers 9/2 and Canucks 5/1) have won just one time in seven games and have lost six of those games in their own rink. Nine straight road teams won during one stretch. There were seven overtimes in the first 15 games played and 32 goals scored in the first three Flyers-Penguins games with none by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. Crazy.
Sort of proves winning that coveted home-ice advantage throughout the regular season just doesn’t mean that much, doesn't it?
Anyway, here are my predictions for what will transpire in each of the eight first-round series from here on out.
This is why we love hockey.
The Flyers were made 15-1 favorites to win the Stanley Cup at the LVH SuperBook here in Las Vegas, and anyone holding a ticket on Philadelphia to win it all has to feel pretty good right about now with the Flyers going up 3-0 in their Eastern Conference series with their heated in-state rivals on Sunday afternoon.
Seems like Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and teammate Evgeni Malkin (zero goals) may not have realized that the Playoffs started on Wednesday the way they have played.
Philadelphia has come out flying, no pun intended, and has proven, like in the regular season, they are the best team in the NHL at rallying from a multi-goal deficit.
And anyone thinking Jaromir Jagr was washed up is probably having a crow sandwich for dinner, as the veteran Czech has been instrumental in all three Flyers wins.
The Penguins overtime loss at home on Friday seemed to take any remaining wind out of their sails, and after Sunday’s dismantling, I’d have to say this one’s all over.
So what’s the over/under on the number of brooms we’ll see in Game 4 on Wednesday (NBCS, 7:30 p.m. EDT/4:30 p.m. PDT) in the City of Brotherly Love? 44? I’ll take the over for both the game, a desperate skate for Pittsburgh, and the number of brooms.
Series Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers 4-0
Like the Capitals, Ottawa did themselves right by winning Game 2 in overtime at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. With the win, the lower-seeded Senators also grabbed the home-ice advantage and may have gotten inside likely Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist’s head a little bit.
The series heads to Canada on Monday night for Game 3 (CNBC, 7:35 p.m. EDT/4:35 p.m. PDT), and if you know Canadians, they will be in rare form and will provide some much-needed energy to their team.
I see a split in Ottawa in games 3 and 4, but I sincerely believe this underrated Senators team can find a way to win either Game 5 or Game 7 in the Big Apple and oust the Blueshirts in the first round.
Series Prediction: Ottawa Senators 4-3
Washington did themselves a huge favor on Saturday, beating the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in double-overtime and stealing the home-ice advantage away from Boston in the process.
The series now heads to Washington, D.C., for Game 3 on Monday (NBCS, 7:30 p.m. EDT/4:30 p.m. PDT), and I think the Bruins have their work cut out for them now.
If Boston loses the next two games, they can kiss their chances of a repeat goodbye, as the Capitals believe now. If the Bruins can split those two, it’s game on, and if Boston can find a way to win two in Washington, then this series should go seven games.
With just four goals in the first two games—the Flyers and Penguins score that in a period—the first goal in Game 3 will be pivotal. And part of the reason behind the Capitals success has been the stellar play of goalie Braden Holtby, who has matched talent with the Bruins Tim Thomas.
The way I see it, that double-overtime win on Saturday gave Washington the confidence it needs to take out Boston. Had they lost, the Capitals would have been in a 2-0 hole but because of that, I think they will at least hold serve at home and could win a Game 7 in Boston if necessary.
Series Prediction: Washington Capitals 4-3
Everyone in the media and on sports talk radio, including myself, wrote the Panthers off, but Florida showed it deserves to be here despite the longest opening odds (40-1, along with the Senators) to win the Stanley Cup on the board here in Sin City.
The Panthers scored the first three goals in Game 2 at home in Sunrise, Florida on Sunday night and found a way to get back in the series holding on with a crucial 4-2 victory against Martin Brodeur and the Devils for their first postseason win since 1997.
But the series heads to New Jersey on Tuesday night (NHL Network, 7:00 p.m. EDT/4:00 p.m. PDT) for Game 3, and from there on in, I see New Jersey flexing its muscle and winning three straight to move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Series Prediction: New Jersey Devils 4-1
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne has shown how important a quality netminder can be in the postseason and helped his Predators regain the home-ice edge with a big win at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, a place opponents seldom win.
Game 4 in Motown on Tuesday night (NBCS, 7:30 p.m. EDT/4:30 p.m. PDT) will be must-see television, and I expect Detroit to be near-perfect, as it can’t afford to go down 3-1 in this Western Conference semifinal series.
That said, this showdown between two of the best teams in the NHL in my eyes, will end up going the distance with the winning team scoring the game- and series-winning goal late in the third period or in overtime of Game 7 in Nashville. How’s that for specific?
And the winner of that game and the series will be the...
Series Prediction: Detroit Red Wings 4-3
Although the Blues swept the regular season series against the Sharks, this series is another one to get some entertainment value, as I think it will go at least six and maybe seven games.
St. Louis saved face with a 3-0 shutout on Saturday to even the series up before heading to San Jose on Monday night for the now crucial Game 3 (NBCS, 10:00 EDT/7:00 PDT) for both teams.
The two teams should split the two games at the Shark Tank in low-scoring affairs making Games 5, 6 and 7 the probable tipping point for the eventual winners.
The Blues have had such a solid season and are as good as they have been in decades so that, combined with the Sharks perennial ability to not live up to their own expectations, makes me think the team with the best 1-2 goalie tandem in the NHL will find a way to get it done and advance.
But whichever team wins, it will surely be worn out for the semifinal round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
Series Prediction: St. Louis Blues 4-3
It’s been all about Kings goalie Jamie Quick so far in Games 1 and 2, and it’s been so bad for the Canucks and Roberto Luongo that the veteran netminder was pulled for Game 3 on Sunday night. The Kings still came through with a 1-0 win to take a stranglehold on this series.
With the series now in Los Angeles and Game 4 set for Wednesday night, I think this one is close to being over with the top-seed in the West likely done. The two wins in Vancouver were enough to psychologically damage the Canucks and without star left winger Daniel Sedin, who didn’t even make the trip to California, and Sunday's shutout loss, Vancouver is simply reeling right now.
As I wrote in my “Stanley Cup Odds Heading into the First Round of the Playoffs” story last week, the Kings are truly “a team to watch,” and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them or the Predators meeting the Flyers or the Senators in the Stanley Cup finals.
Series Prediction: Los Angeles Kings 4-1
Being a diehard Blackhawks fan—all the way back to my boy Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito—I decided to save the best for last. Well for me at least. My sincere apologies to the other 15 teams and their fans, but my heart lives in the old Chicago Stadium. What? They tore it down and built a new one across the street? Well then my heart lives back in my chest where it belongs then...
Anyway, back to earth Elmo and the Windy CIty. The Blackhawks, like the Capitals and Senators, snatched some psychic energy and attitude from their last-second and overtime heroics in the desert on Saturday night with their 4-3 instant classic.
First, it was the most-memorable play of the first round so far that kept the Blackhawks from going down 2-0, a desperation goal from Brent Seabrook with just 5.5 seconds left to send the game into overtime and the Coyotes fans back into their seats at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough of a thrill, Chicago’s Bryan Bickell, after notching his first career goal earlier in the contest, gave the Blackhawks the win and the home-ice advantage with a phenomenal goal in extra time to send the series back to the Midwest all even at 1-1.
So with Game 3 set for the United Center on Tuesday night (CNBC, 9:00 p.m. EDT/6:00 PDT), I, from experience, know the crowd will be in a frenzy and will be worth at least a goal-and-a-half to the Blackhawks. Trust me.
Chicago should win Games 3 and 4 on its home ice, lose a close Game 5 back in Phoenix and then wrap up the series and a trip to the Western Conference semifinals with a win back home in Game 6.
Series Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks 4-2
So there you have it. Remember, these are just my predictions, and if your heart is tied up with one of the eight teams I have said will lose, don’t sweat it brother. These games will be decided on the ice in the next week or so and not on this website.
And with as much drama as we have seen from Wednesday to Sunday, just think how great the next half of this quarterfinal round and the next conference semifinal round will be.
As I’ve been saying all weekend, I feel very sorry for the sports fan that hasn’t embraced the NHL Playoffs. Along with March Madness and the UEFA Champions League semifinals and finals in European soccer, this is as good as it gets in all of sports. Better strap yourself in Bubba...
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