A Quasi-Objective Look at the NHL Playoffs
Because I know you care so much, here's one fan's preview and predictions for the anxiously-awaited Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Or, as they're known in smaller circles, the best postseason in American sports!
Boston vs. Montreal
Boston comes out this season, runs away with the East right around New Year's, and gets to face...its arch-nemesis. Talk about poor luck.
Well, while this is not the year in which Boston breaks it's Cup drought, it is the year where they finally conquer the Canadiens. Tim Thomas and a great if underrated defense will not let Alexei Kovalev and Co. get their engines revved enough to win more than a game or two.
Bruins in five.
Washington vs. New York
We've all witnessed the Rangers' remarkable turnaround from playoff afterthought to a team nobody wants to play. Love him or hate him, you have to trace that back to the acquisition of Sean Avery. If any player can get under Alex Ovechkin's skin this season, it's him.
And we can't forget about the Capitals' poor luck with recycled Montreal goaltenders (yep, Cristobal Huet, that was an '08 playoffs reference), which doesn't bode too well for Jose Theodore.
The Capitals might have the best player in the league, but the Rangers' defense and puck-possession abilities will be too much for even Ovie.
Rangers in six.
New Jersey vs. Carolina
The hottest team coming into the playoffs, Carolina, against the best goaltender ever in Martin Brodeur. Something has to give. And that something will be the Devils' inability to generate scoring chances when Zach Parise is not on the ice.
And while other trade deadline deals got more pub, nobody has meant more to his "new" team than Erik Cole's coming back to Carolina.
Hurricanes in six.
Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia
Take a moment to marvel at the Flyers' ability to choke away the fourth seed.
They had it all but locked up, with games in hand, just a week ago, only to lose it in the season's final period at home against the Rangers, who were playing for absolutely nothing.
Now, instead of getting skated around repeatedly in Game One at home, the Flyers will be forced to look comically slow on the road.
Don't expect the drubbing the Pens handed Philly in last year's East Finals, but expect the more talented team—and, with Marc-Andre Fleury rediscovering his game, the far better goaltender—to win convincingly.
Penguins in five.
San Jose vs. Anaheim
The Sharks, led by Joe Thornton and a slew of veteran defensemen that have all won Cups, did an admirable job of holding off all challengers en route to the Presidents Trophy. Now, they just have to beat the Ducks, who are riding a red-hot scoring streak into the playoffs and only two years removed from their own Cup run.
Adding to the excitement of this series is that these teams hate each other, and had the NHL marketed it at all this could easily be a reincarnation of the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry of a decade ago.
With all that said, this could be one of the hardest series to pick, but the Sharks are good enough to win one in Anaheim and not lose more than one at home.
Sharks in seven.
Detroit vs. Columbus: Ken Hitchcock should win the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year in a landslide. He took a team with underwhelming talent and a rookie goaltender (Steve Mason: get to know him) to their first-ever playoff appearance.
Unfortunately, the Red Wings stand in their way, and no team in professional sports ratchets it up in the playoffs as much as the Wings do, year in and year out. Their only potential flaw is goaltending, but haven't we learned that A) Chris Osgood is always better than you think in the playoffs and B) a 6-4 win is just as good as a 2-1 win.
This will be an easy series for them, but we'll go ahead and give Columbus a win at home.
Red Wings in five.
Vancouver vs. St. Louis
Quick, name two players on the Blues.
Couldn't do it? Thought so.
While their run to the playoffs has been almost as remarkable as Columbus', and they have as good a one-two rookie punch (TJ Oshie and Patrik Berglund) as any team, you usually have to make it to the playoffs first and lose before you can make a deep run.
And the Canucks have done that. With Mats Sundin, Pavol Demitra and the Sedin twins running the show, and Roberto Luongo making up for a suspect defense, the Canucks appear ready to make that deep run.
Canucks in five.
Chicago vs. Calgary
The "Baby Blackhawks" are back in the playoffs. And they get home-ice advantage against a team they have owned this year and a goalie, Miikka Kiprusoff, who has just not played well this season.
So how come this isn't an easy pick? Because Calgary has a team full of veterans, including Jarome Iginla and playoff virgin Olli Jokinen, and a dominant, physical defense corps.
If Kiprusoff plays like he used to, the Blackhawks will join the Blues in the "have to get there once before you can make a run" department. And he will.
Flames in six.
There. Just saved you two weeks of watching and waiting. But still watch, because nothing beats the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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