The Stanley Cup playoffs are coming into focus.
This is the time when real sports fans—hockey fans—cannot wait for the puck to drop, signaling the pursuit of the most difficult trophy to win in North American professional sports. It is also the time when people like me feel compelled to predict what will happen so people like you can read what we think…and tell us how crazy we are.
I will start with the winners of each first round series in this article, move on to later rounds in part two, and cap things off with my picks to win the various post-season awards in the trilogy finale. In the first two, I will provide each team’s ranking in goals for/against/power play/penalty kill/PIM/shots for/against/face-offs.
(Although this is being released after the games have started, I was at work and do not know the scores. In the interest os full disclosure, my wife told me Pittsburgh won and I believe I saw that the New Jersey Devils won, but I was picking both anyway.)
Ducks (14/18/5/23/29/12/19/18—ave. 17.25) @
Sharks (7/3/3/3/9/3/1/2—ave. 3.88):
San Jose in six—for more on this, see my preview. I further predict that at least one Duck will face disciplinary action because of a cheap shot in this series, whether a fine or suspension, and at least one Shark will miss at least one game because of an injury inflicted.
Blue Jackets (21/9/30/13/21/21/3/11—16.13) @
Red Wings (1/20/1/25/2/1/2/1—6.63):
Detroit in five. Columbus knows this team and has better goaltending, but their save percentage is actually near the bottom of the league—for their defence, they rely on keeping shots from rookie Steve Mason. That will not happen often against Detroit, and the Wings experience and savvy far outweighs the lack of pressure on Columbus.
Blues (19/12/8/3/24/29/7/20—15.25) @
Vancouver in five. The numbers say this will be a much closer series, with both teams numbers being hurt by early season struggles. St. Louis is a hard-working team that has been at least as hot as Vancouver, but they have fewer players who have had first round success than their foes, are not as strong in net, do not have home ice, and are not desperate like the Canucks, especially Mats Sundin.
Flames (8/23/21/4/26/8/16/10—14.5) @
Chicago in seven. Calgary may have the experience, but they also have the pressure. Mike Keenan had success early in his career, and Calgary did make it to the Stanley Cup finals the year before the lockout, but neither is deserving of their reputation for playoff success.
Since winning the Cup with the Rangers in 1994, Keenan has yet to make it out of the first round. Since their loss to Tampa Bay, Calgary has failed to make it out of the first round, mostly because they take too many dumb penalties.
Chicago will ride their better numbers, better discipline, and—thus far at least—better goaltending to a game seven win at home.
Canadiens (13/21/13/11/22/13/24/14—16.38) @
Boston in five. Their gap statistically is nothing compared to their gap in play down the stretch, and while I am not confident that Tim Thomas can get it done in the playoffs, I am no more confident in Carey Price.
Without Andre Markov playing the point and Matthieu Schneider playing hurt, they are done. The only reason I have them winning one is it is hard to sweep a rival.
Rangers (28/6/29/1/19/7/15/15—15) @
New York in seven. Okay, I know I am going out on a limb here. Washington is clearly the better team in terms of on-ice production, but on paper, I still think the Rangers should have been better.
But since the hiring of John Tortorella and the trade deadline moves, they are playing closer to their capacity, and if I am going to pick an upset, it is always going to be by backing the superior goalie, and Henrik Lundqvist is far superior to Jose Theodore.
Hurricanes (16/8/18/19/1/6/14/8—11.25) @
New Jersey in seven. At one point I was picking New Jersey to win it all, and then they fell apart. I also wrote off the Canes, who then got red hot and almost earned home ice.
But even though these are two teams headed in different directions, I still feel the Devils are the better team. They have a better (and for a change more-rested) goalie, more experience, and probably better forwards as well. The Canes have only less pressure and a more experienced coach. In the end, I think the Devils will pull it together.
Flyers (5/16/6/6/30/14/25/22—15.5) @
Pittsburgh in seven. These two teams are dead even in numbers, even finishing with the same number of points. However, Pittsburgh has been one of the hottest teams in the league since hiring Dan Bylsma to take over the team and since the return of Sergei Gonchar, while Philadelphia has floundered a bit of late.
The Penguins are more disciplined and experienced, have more wins, have home ice…the only reason it goes seven is the fierce rivalry; the Flyers main advantage (special teams) will be mitigated by the decrease in penalties one can expect in the playoffs.