Favorites Look To Rule: Round One of NHL Playoffs
Generally speaking, there are always upsets in the NHL playoffs. The biggest are those round-one series where the No. 8 seed summons the spirit of Ken Dryden and slays the unbeatable Presidents' Trophy winner.
Since the Presidents' Trophy was first handed out for regular season supremacy in 1985-86, only seven of those teams have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Washington Capitals fans be warned, that’s only 30.4 percent of the time.
This year, however, it feels different. Despite some major issues dogging almost all the top teams, the first round doesn’t seem ready to deliver any upsets. It feels like it’s all favorites, all the time.
Washington Capitals (No. 1—121 pts) vs Montreal Canadiens (No. 8—88 pts)
Washington is too good, too fast, and too deep for Montreal to challenge.
The Capitals have goaltending issues. They’re apparently firmly behind Jose Theodore, but that’s how they almost lost in the first round last year to the punchless Rangers.
This Capitals team could beat Montreal though with a sock puppet in nets.
The Habs have a couple good players and a heck of a goaltending tandem. That should keep the scores out of double digits. Credit Halak for keeping it close enough to win one game in overtime.
Washington 4, Montreal 1
New Jersey Devils (No. 2—103 pts) vs Philadelphia Flyers (No. 7—88 pts)
This is a series that should have upset potential.
The Flyers massively improved their defense and cut down the shots on goal against count when they traded the future for Pronger. Martin Biron could lead this offensively deep team to the cup. Brian Boucher is leading them to the first round exit.
The Devils also tightened up defensively this year after an uncharacteristic fade. They upgraded the offense and currently have the three best left wingers in hockey.
Brodeur has shown moments of fallibility at the Olympics and during the last two first round playoff losses. He’ll be good enough this year to beat the Flyers.
New Jersey 4, Philadelphia 2
Buffalo Sabres (No. 3—100 pts) vs Boston Bruins (No. 6—91 pts)
The Bruins have great young goaltending shackled with mediocre defense and the worst offense in hockey.
Not the worst offense in the playoffs but the worst in hockey.
Their leading sniper is the Prussian Rocket Marco Sturm with 22 goals. He’s the only 20 goal scorer in the line-up.
Buffalo has maintained the mediocrity they’ve built up over the last few years and behind the Olympian goaltending of Ryan Miller have watched the other northwest teams slip below them in the standings.
However, Buffalo looks to have more than enough talent to handle the rattled Bruins.
Buffalo 4, Boston 1
Pittsburgh Penguins (No. 4—101 pts) vs Ottawa Senators (No. 5—94 pts)
Most of the Penguins seemed to have missed the post Stanley cup hangover that many champions suffer from. The defense is tighter than it was last year and Sidney Crosby is better.
They’re still hunting for wingers to play with Crosby and Malkin but with those cap hits that’ll always be the case.
Marc-Andre Fleury seems to be the only player who took the regular season off. This will be a problem against better opposition.
Ottawa is one of two playoff teams who made it in while scoring fewer goals than they had scored against them. You gotta love shoot-out. You can win a game and not have to score a real goal.
Pittsburgh 4, Ottawa 0
San Jose Sharks (No. 1—113 pts) vs Colorado Avalanche (No. 8—95 pts)
Now how can the San Jose Sharks not get picked to be upset in the first round?
It’s a struggle but in the end I can’t see their very good offense getting stopped by Colorado’s too old, too slow defense.
The youngsters on the Avalanche seem to be wearing out too.
Colorado has better goaltending and San Jose’s defense is much worse than it was last year.
Still, the stars from Canada’s fourth line in the Olympics should have enough to beat the up and coming Avalanche. Wonder if Thornton and Nabokov will start to panic if they lose game one?
San Jose 4, Colorado 2
Chicago Blackhawks (No. 2—112 pts) vs Nashville Predators (No. 7—100 pts)
Chicago has had unaddressed goaltending issues since Khabibulin left. Niemi seems to be filling the spot, but to be a perennial cup favourite the Blackhawks need a real top quality keeper.
Still, their defense is the tightest in the league by far. They’ve got a depth of offensive talent that would rival a lot of Red Army teams I’ve watched over the years. Nashville has three great hard-nosed defensemen and no one who gets more than 50 points. If Chicago doesn’t give up any shots, Nashville can’t score any goals. Unless they play Huet, in which case Chicago loses in five. But Chicago isn’t playing Huet.
Chicago 4, Nashville 1
Vancouver Canucks (No. 3—103 pts) vs Los Angeles Kings (No. 6—101 pts)
A very short time ago I came to the conclusion that Vancouver had the virtue of being the least flawed team in the west. They had that second best scoring in the league, a fair defense and a very good goalie.
Suddenly, defenseman are hurt and Luongo looks ordinary.
The Kings still seem a little too thin to challenge the Canucks, but Drew Doughty is looking like Brad Park reincarnated. Anze Kopitar plays like some sort of hockey tornado. These two may just will the overmatched Kings past the Canucks.
I think this is the closest of the first round series and may come down to Kesler shutting down Kopitar. If he does Canuck fans will start thinking he’s worth the 5 million a year.
Vancouver 4, Los Angeles 3
Phoenix Coyotes (No. 4—107 pts) vs Detroit Red Wings (No. 5—102 pts)
Whatever the standings might tell you, the Detroit Red Wings are the favourite in this series. They have a level of talent and experience that Phoenix can’t match.
Phoenix’s points are mostly an overtime/shoot-out illusion. They’ve got a good tough veteran defense, a great goalie , having a great year in Bryzgalov.
There’s nobody who can score in this line-up. It shouldn’t even be close.
Detroit 4 Phoenix 1
So I’ve made my mighty predictions and well you might say, how tough is it to go down the list and only pick favourites (unless you count Detroit). Well let’s put it this way. If all the favourites win in the first round it’s gotta be the first time in decades.
How gutsy is it to predict something that hasn’t happened in that long?
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