Calling all hockey fans!!
I may not be Maggie the Monkey, but when it comes to playoff hockey, I like to think I know a thing or two...this ego comes from two years ago when my series record saw me pick two losers all playoff-in the first round.
Last season, I didn't do so well, but that's the point behind predictions: Anything can happen, which is what makes these convos on the eve of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so fun. Let's jump right into the Eastern Conference.
My pick: Boston in 5
My hero: Milan Lucic, Carey Price/Alex Kovalev
Quite simply, the two Habs who MUST show up in this series are Kovalev and Price. Should Alex become the enigmatic winger again, his team will undoubtedly fail. But Price could be under even more scrutiny.
He's their No. 1, and Montreal goaltenders have a history of excellence. Which is why in the Habs' 100th season (their 100th anniversary is in December), Price needs to be the guy Montreal saw when they drafted him-prepared, consistent, and with a quitters can bite me attitude.
The shoe is now on the other foot in this year's battle, with the two teams swapping spots. However, this series will be just as physical, however with the young firepower and Tim Thomas coming into his own in the Bruins net, I think Montreal will be too tired by Game 3 or 4 to challenge their opponents. Lucic is looked at as a Cam Neely type player, and I think he will break out nicely in this one.
My pick: Caps in 6
My Hero: Ovechkin, Staal/Lundqvist
Welcome to the catbird seat, Ovie. Now, I wouldn't be surprised to see an upset in this series because the Rangers are so good at the hitting game. However, Ovechkin is just hitting his prime and will look to be unstoppable in leading the Caps through a playoff series.
The only way he can fail is if former Wolves' captain Marc Staal along with the expertise of King Henrik slow him down. Ovechkin will need to stay calm in the first two games and play hard if he wants to be a threat later in the series. The Rangers on the other hand will need to keep No. 8 and Mike Green in check, while picking their spots on Theodore to be successful. This should be an exciting series.
My pick: Carolina in 7
My Hero: Brodeur/Ward
This will be a goalie battle. Cam Ward has already proven once that he can out-duel Brodeur, but now, Marty is fresher than he's ever been so things could be different. But what I see in Carolina is determination. This is their first playoff game since winning the Cup, and they want to make a big impact.
Jersey scares the crap out of me, I'll be honest, because they can score now. But I see the Hurricanes starting slowly and then emerging to flatten the Devils in a Game 7 shocker. The shock and awe will be felt everywhere when New Jersey are sent packing early yet again.
(4) Pens-Flyers (5)
My pick: Flyers in 6
My hero: Mike Richards/Martin Biron
Revenge is a wonderful thing-done right. These two teams hate each other, no question. Pittsburgh, with Crosby, Malkin and MA Fleury were rolling last year, winning their first series ever against the Flyers. Now it's time for the lesser-knowns, namely Richards, Carter and Biron to take it to Pittsburgh's stars.
I think this will be the dirtiest series of the first round, with the fighting starting early in Game 1. It will also be a series where the Cup Hangover will be tested, and I think Philly will make up for losing home ice by nailing down the series in Steeltown. You know, just to rub it in. Ah...revenge.
Here we go with the West!! Hang on to your hats, cuz this year, things are a little different.
My pick: Sharks in 6
My hero: Thornton/Giguere
San Jose has the firepower...now they have to let it fly. Anaheim is throwing Jonas Hiller to the wolves, or in this case, the Sharks after he nabbed the job from Giggy. It won't last long.
A lot of people are saying this one will last a bit longer should the Anaheim D shut down Thornton and co. But I think it will be Giggy who will return in Game 2 or 3 and start the comeback. San Jose will need their secondary scoring to contribute in this series and early.
If the big guns and the young guns can start making the slower and grittier Ducks run around, it will lead to power-play time and that's where the series will be won and lost for the 2007 Cup winners. Sharks will have a fight on their hands, I think, but it won't go the distance.
My pick: Detroit in 5
My hero: Lidstrom/Mason
Almost a decade later, with their first owner now looking down on their success from a better place, Columbus will look to make a mark in their first post-season foray...the only problem is the resurgent Blues out of St. Louis jumped them and now the Blue Jackets must face the loaded Red Wings.
Steve Mason is only 20, four years younger than myself and he's had great success this season, almost single-handedly leading the way. Franchise goalie marks fell to Mason, who hit 10 shutouts, and played like a veteran. He's used to winning though...he used to play for power-house London in the OHL.
I battled with myself over the games. Columbus' netminder can steal games, but in the end I conceded that Detroit is too tough to lose very often in this series. It won't be a walk in the park on the ice, but on the scoreboard, Lidstrom will have to emerge as the force he is, and if he does, Osgood will use the extra help to find his form before Round 2 begins.
(3) Vancouver-St. Louis (6)
My pick: Canucks in 6
My hero: Luongo/Boyes
The two Cinderellas have a date with each other, but only one will emerge. I see that one being the team with the best goaltending. Luongo knows how to win in the playoffs and with that intensity on display starting tonight, Vancouver will play a run and gun game, ultimately surviving the Blues, taking them out in a 6th game.
Everyone who knows me know how foolish I think it was for Toronto to drop Brad Boyes, and now the experts even agree with me that he is the man the Blues look to to have a strong game every night.
Vancouver will have to get help from Sundin and the Sedins, but even a good set of games from them will help the Canucks advance. So, with that said, the Canucks will ride their goalie and snap Boyes and Tkachuk from the net as the series goes on, helping them move on.
My pick: Calgary in 5
My hero: Kane/Phaneuf
Ok, I feel the need to explain myself. I don't think this team in Chicago, as good as they are, are experienced enough, or even skilled enough to handle the tough checking of Dion Phaneuf or the timely scoring of the Flames captain.
A 7 game series would surprise me, but even if Kane and the Hawks can solve Kiprusoff enough to make a go at it, the result will be the same, Calgary moving on. It's too early boys...you need to learn a few lessons yet, and the sea of Red are gonna be the teachers. By the 5th game it will be, or at least very close to, class dismissed.
My second round picks will come in a few weeks when I get to see how my prognostication works out this season. Upsets by St. Louis and the Rangers wouldn't surprise me, but realistically, I'm sticking with every one of my picks.
Yes, even Carolina.
Isn't it interesting that Columbus winning once would make Atlanta feel like they'd never been to the playoffs at all??
There may be a changing of the guard, with only 4 or 5 of these teams having any recent playoff success....then again, maybe teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh could be poised for a repeat performance...or an role reversal.
From the clean-shaven Crowd Coach to all of you,
Happy Playoffs, everyone.