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It's that time of year again.
The best and most exciting playoffs begin.Their Better than the NBA playoffs, because of the potential for three of four OT games in a single series.
Nothing is better than the NHL because people either have to stay up until 1AM to see some games end or risk hearing all about the Triple OT winner by Corey Perry (yes that is a prediction. I tend to slip those in colloquially, so pay attention). Finally, the NHL is the best because of the sudden death aspect in any given game, since most games are within a goal late into the final period.
This is not your typical No, 1 vs. No. 8, as I could see a 1995-like Rangers upset over the Quebec Nordiques, which sent them packing to the U.S.. Unlike past years, this Capitals team appears to be going into the playoffs weaker than we usually expect. If they are able to, however, CAPITALize on this under-the-radar demeanor, they could do some damage. Washigton is not the best team in the conference–Philadelphia is–yet they somehow wound up with the 1 seed.
PTI noted today that players like Alexander Semin and Nikolas Backstrom have sacrificed their usual gaudy numbers in favor of the team concept and usually, this wins out. It's reasons like this why I think they will prevail, even though I am hardly sold on them. They are just a little bit better than the San Jose Sharks, the annual playoff chokers of the Western Conference.
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This has already been seen as a make-or-break year for coach Bruce Boudreau, as in if he doesn't make at least the NHL Finals, look for him to be fired. Outside of Ovie getting traded, I'd consider anything roster-wise if an early exit was in store, starting with Backstrom and Semin.
Reluctantly Washington in 6 (even though this is the result I want).
(7) Buffalo Sabers vs. (2) Philadelphia Flyers
I love Buffalo's deadline acquisition of Brad Boyes. New owner Terry Pegula has saved the team from its annual rumors of relocation. If this isn't their year, this is only the beginning, as he's promised to spend and backed it up with Boyes' acquisition and his $4.5M commitment for next season. They are not going away, in fact, look for them to have long term power–, f not this year, next year. Consider this their coming out party and next year, the damage could be done.
All those lost hours of sleep thanks to Dominik Hasek and his masterfulness of the 1999 Finals vs Dallas could be coming back sooner than later, but I doubt this is the year, although, with renewed ownership and players wanting to play for him, who knows? After disrespecting the Flyers last year, no way I make that mistake again.
This isn't Bobby Clarke's or Eric Lindros' Flyers. Just like last year their statistics won't impess you, but their depth should. Claude Giroux (hopefully a future Quebec Nordiques with name like that!) is a name you need to know. I could see him, their leading scorer, scoring a game winner or two, with one being in OT.
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Every year, Danny Briere reminds me of Chris Drury, a playoff performer who can score and come up big in big games, despite his stature. This year should be no different, as there is a reason his teams in particular always make the postseason. People who read my columns, specifically my preseason picks, should know I am high on Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the same way I loved former Flyer Joffrey Lupul, (more his name than game) but he's gone now. Then there is Chris Pronger, whose teams always make the playoffs, again, for a reason.
Prediction: Flyers in 5.
Easily the hardest series to predict, but the one that will remind fans of old-school 1970's hockey with the fights, penalty minutes, chipiness and intensity, thanks to the Zdeno Chara hit and retaliation that is likely coming. You can't talk playoffs without the Habs, so you know they are going to bring it.
With just two Canadian franchises in the playoffs this year, a lot is riding on their shoulders, as they will have to carry the East. Still, they lost Halak in a dumb trade after they rode him last year. Instead, they have Carey Price, who I expect to be pulled at least once in this series, as he's too inconsistent. It's for this reason that I'd have traded him, Halak's performance notwithstanding. I just don't like Price in big games.
The Habs leading scorer, Tomas Plekanec scored just 57 points and had just three more in the 40's. There's not a lot to like about this team, other than the passion of their fans who deserve better. They should be able to hold their own at home and win at least a game in front of a sold-out-as-always Bell Centre, but the series will be won or lost in whatever they do in the first two games in Beantown. If they can take one or both, all bets are off, but someone is going to have to emerge that hasn't yet.
Mike Cammalleri was huge last year with eight goals and I expect more of the same this year. I also expect newly acquired James Wiesnewski to come up big, but they are going to need Andrei Kostitsyn to be much better (more consistent) than he was last year. P.K. Subban is a spark plug and one of those players coaches wish they had. Maybe their lore can will them to a series win, but otherwise, David Krejci and Milan Lucic are going to be huge again. Expect at least a game-winner from Krejci along with a three assist game from ageless wonder Mark Recchi. I could see Michael Ryder emerging in this series. He's veteran enough.
Boston Bruins in 6.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightening
Tampa is a much better team than their five seed indicates. They could have been as high as No. 1 and it wouldn't have surprised me. Keep in mind that they lead their division during the season. Everyone knows the name Steven Stamkos for good reason. but its Martin St. Louis (four assist game) and Teddy Purcell you better get to know, as they will be all over the stat sheet.
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This is a fun team, with Simon Gagne and Mattis Ohlund, two players that no one is talking about. I'd start paying attention now. Gagne could get one of those 3AM game-winners I keep referring to.
As for the Penguins, the losses of Crosby and Malkin will be apparent in their lack of scoring. They'll win one of their first two at home based on experience alone and the team still has Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis who's good for a game-winner and was huge last year but the on-again-off-again "Will Crosby play?" rumors will prove to be distracting and cost them at least one game.
Tampa Bay Lightening in 6
Easily the most intriguing match up of the defending champs who just barely squeaked into the playoffs vs. the undisputed regular-season's runaway best team. Sometimes, that can be a blessing on Chicago's part and a curse on Vancouver's. I fear they may not have been tested enough and will lax their way to one early loss. Additionally, the Blackhawks still have Toews, Kane, Keith, and Sharp and they know how to get it done, so they will be a tough out.
It's time for the Canucks to prove their lofty seeding and represent Canada as the best chance to bring the Cup home since Demers with Montreal in 1992. The Sedin brothers must be all over the stat sheet, along with U.S. Olympian Ryan Kessler. Mikael Sammuelsson was huge last year and needs to be again, as does Alex Burrows. They need to show us just how deep they really are.
Vancouver Canucks in 7
(7) LA Kings vs. (2) San Jose Sharks.
Talk about Canada's worst matchup nightmare. Two sunny California rivals and more teams from the Golden State than all of Canada, despite having half its members. This is also the first time all three California franchises made the playoffs. Traditionalists can talk solace in that at least one has to lose early.
Kopitar is their leader, but 28 goal scorer, Dustin Brown is the name you need to know for the Kings. Also the answer to the question "Where are wily vets Ryan Smyth and Michael Handzus?" is here and expect both to come up big for L.A. in several 5-4 type games.
As for the Sharks, as always, they'll headline Heatley, Marleau, and Thornton, who don't appear up to the challenge. Instead, look for Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi to come up big like they do in big games. Another name I'd like to add, partially because I love the name is Logan Couture. Depending on later matchups, this team likely won't go far, but if all falls into place, they could be back in the Western Conference Finals on the backs of the real "Big Three."
San Jose Sharks in 5
Many fans on Jetsowner.com are/were worried about this matchup, since the large crowds Detroit brings from all over will make Jobing.com Arena look like fans actually care, when in fact, they don't in the desert. All I can say is for those in other markets, pay close attention to what jersey is being worn, as there are sure to be an abundance of the Wings famed wheel throughout the arena.
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The Coyotes will do a pathetic attempt at the Jets old "White Out" tradition, but since they can't do anything right in Glendale, expect that to fail.
No matter, all of that should end soon as soon as this travesty of a team is knocked out of the playoffs and the Mayflower trucks move them to Manitoba where they belong. Belanger, Doan, whether you come along for the ride is up to you. Think of this series as "As soon as Phoenix loses, the fun begins." The sooner, the better I hope.
Actually analyzing the teams and not criticizing the travesty that is hockey in the desert, look for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to struggle against the Wings deep and experienced playoff tested team.
The Jets, I mean, Coyotes to watch include Keith Yandle, who the Winnipeg fans will adopt instantly, Wily Coyote vet Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata. You hope that many of these guys will cross the border with this team in June or whenever the official announcement is made.
As for the Red Wings, you know all the names to watch: Franzen, Zetterberg, Lindstrom, Datsyuk. The crazy thing with this team is fourth liners like Justin Abdelkader could come up big like they did last year and you know Kris Draper's good for a clutch goal. Finally, does Mike Modano have one last one in him for the home state fans before he goes?
For Canadians worried about this match up, I leave you with one final thought: It could have been worse. This could have been the Western Conference Finals with a bit different seeding. Then what? Who do you go for then? At least we are eliminating one problem early. And if the Coyotes actually survive? Someone will clip them in round two. The most intriguing because of what happens after the Coyotes lose...
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Red Wings in 5. (Get the moving vans, ready!)
Easily the most boring series, not just of the Western Conference, but of the entire first round. I'm glad that I'll long be sleeping when half these games are played in California. I expect and hope the Ducks will win them but really, who cares when you don't care for either team?
Every year, we see Steve Sullivan and the Predators make the playoffs and every year, they bow out in the first round. This year will be no different, which makes you wonder how the fans can continue to tolerate the same results. How does the coach survive? Because they have Mike Fisher, Carrie Underwood's husband, I expect this to get a lot of play, since Versus will be struggling to search for postives in this snoozer of a series.
Their leading scorer, Martin Erat, had just 50 points. All-Star Shea Weber is about the only name you should know, because he'll be the most consistent player. If anyone ever needs a trade, it's him. Original Pred David Legwand is here, but who has time to analyze, since the team's stay will be short?
For the Ducks, again Corey Perry, a 50 goal scorer (the next Jonathan Cheechoo (one year 50 goal wonder only to fade away?) is one to watch. Can you say "Career year?" I hope they don't pay him too quickly. 40-year-old Teemu Selanne scored a whopping 80 points as the team's second leading scorer, as he's found the fountain of youth. What's next? Is Paul Kariya, the man he's forever linked going to come out of retirement and score 30? It's a shame concussions got him, as he's only 36 and a perfect guy this time of year.
In a "Someone's got to win it" series: Ducks in 5