Posted on: April 11, 2011 4:32 pm
Edited on: April 11, 2011 5:40 pm
First, hearty congratulations are in order to the Chicago Blackhawks who, on Sunday, choked less than the Dallas Stars.
You know by now that, faced with a win-and-they're-in scenario, the Stars coughed up a hair ball, losing to Minny 5-3 on Sunday. That was after Chicago had all but handed them a playoff berth by losing at home to Detroit. Dallas not only lost but flamed out spectacularly. The Stars were up 2-1 after one period, tied 3-3 after two. The playoffs were 20 minutes away -- and the tame Wild won an utterly meaningless game, for them.
Minnesota was so giddy it immediately fired its coach. Good luck in the offseason, Stars. You need a) at least one top four defenseman; b) an owner and; c) some heart.
Only one of those is available through free agency. Now, on to the greatest tournament in sports. Over the next three months, brave-hearted warriors will play for the ultimate prize. (Hopefully, one of them is Sidney Crosby.) They will do it without getting paid a cent. That's right. Since assumptions can't be made about the playoffs before the playoffs, the checks come during the regular season.
While we're in the congratulatory mode, Canada gets a pat on the back -- or maybe an elbow to the cheekbone. America's Hat has fewer teams in the playoffs (two) than the state of California (three). Meanwhile, the last subject anyone is talking about in these playoffs is those Hawks defending their Stanley Cup title. There is Ringless Roberto, the Strangers, the Caps who spent the season putting a cap on their offense, all set against the backdrop of the league waiting for the next debilitating concussion. Speaking of EMTs, that reminds me of another subject no one is talking about: Montreal-Boston in the first round!
Let the gamesmanship begin. These are my first-round predictions only. I've ranked the entertainment value of each series with an (EV).
No. 1 seed Washington vs. No. 8 New York Rangers (No. 2 in EV)
So far, it has worked -- Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau's philosophical overhaul. Washington could always score goals. As the last couple of seasons have shown, it didn't have the defensive grit in the playoffs. Boudreau's job and Alex Ovechkin's legacy could be on the line. Rangers in six.
No. 2 Philadelphia vs. No. 7 Buffalo (5 EV)
The best thing about the Sabres are the goals calls of play-by-play guy Rick Jeanneret ("Top shelf, where mama hides the cookies!"). When Buffalo scores it sounds like a cross between an Irish wolfhound being neutered and poachers killing an infant elephant in front of its mother. Flyers in five.
No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Montreal (1 EV)
Expect lots of scrums, neck braces and inquiries by local authorities. And that's just getting Zdeno Chara from the team bus to the lockerroom. Seriously, this series could be better than the final. With apologies to Bon Jovi, Canadiens-Bruins give blood a bad name. Bruins in six.
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay (3 EV)
In this year of the Bays -- the Green version won the Super Bowl. Tranformers director Michael is working on another sequel -- Tampa needs to show it is about more than Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos. The gutty, little Penguins should rule this series minus Crosby (maybe), Evgeny Malkin (definitely) and Matt Cookie (temporarily, suspended for the first round). Biggest difference in most series: Special teams. Pittsburgh in No. 1 in penalty kill. Flightless birds in five.
No. 1 Vancouver vs. No. 8 Chicago (4 EV)
These are not the Hawks who are defending champions. They are not the Hawks who have bothered the Canucks in the postseason the past few years. These also aren't the Canucks who are expected to win the Stanley Cup, until they do it. Vancouver has all the elements for a Cup run. It just has to prove it. Vancouver in six.
No. 2 San Jose vs. No. 7 Los Angeles (7 EV)
Wait, what? Stanley Cup? For the Los Tiburones? Dude, whatever you’re smoking, it's good. In NorCal they know spring as the time when the Sharks annually beach themselves in the playoffs. There is no reason to think this team is any different. L.A. is missing leading scorer Anze Kopitar. The Penguins have proven they can thrive without Crosby. The Kings aren't as deep. San Jose in six.
No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 6 Phoenix (6 EV)
The sooner the Coyotes lose, the better for Winnipeg which is jonesing for its old team so bad there is a methadone clinic set up in city hall. The Red Wings have slogged through the final few games. They hope to get Henrik Zetterberg back from a knee injury. Not that they need him to beat the 'Yotes. Hold on, Winnipeg. Your boys are coming, soon. Red Wings in five.
No. 4 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Nashville (8 EV)
The league's No. 1 goal scorer (Corey Perry) vs. what might be the league's best goalie (Nashville's Pekka Rinne). This series is the equivalent of your average suburban housing track. They all look the same. In this case, it's hard to find a difference in these two teams. Go with the Ducks in six because Nashville has never won a playoff series. That and Barry Trotz scares the hell out of me.
Posted on: May 15, 2010 11:42 pm
Chicago vs. San Jose: Poor Pat Foley. The voice of the Blackhawks has been silenced for the season. That’s what happens when the Stanley Cup playoffs have been sold off to an obscure cable network (Versus) and a fading network (NBC). I rip the two television outlets for the NHL in the U.S. only because Foley no longer will be heard because he is the Hawks local broadcaster. He is the best play-by-play guy in the NHL since the late Dan Kelly. In memory of Foley, then, I must pick the Blackhawks. They are faster, younger and due. Let’s see, the last Cup was in 1961. Despite their recent chokes, the Sharks haven’t suffered enough. They do not have enough grit in the Western Conference final, at least for the Hawks. Chicago in six.
Montreal vs. Philadelphia: Who let the dogs in? Philly qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, in a shootout. Montreal the Mediocre certainly didn’t expect to be here. For the first time in the current format a 7 seed is playing an 8 seed. Now we’ve got a battle of unlikely. The Flyers’ 21-year-old budding star James van Riemsdyk is a power forward who could make a difference against the Habs smallish forwards. Speaking of unknown guys who make an impact, we give you Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak. Before this playoff season he’d never won a postseason game (97 career minutes, one loss). Now he is the hottest goalie left in the tournament. For the sake of Canada and its 17-year wait for a Cup, take the Canadians in 7.
Posted on: April 12, 2009 8:41 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2009 8:45 pm
It's been a long four years. I have less hair and less money but the same love for my St. Louis Blues.
The Bluenotes are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The franchise that once owned the longest postseason streak of the four major sports (26 consecutive years) is back where it should be.
If the hockey gods continue being kind, Nashville missing the playoffs will lead to that franchise moving to Kansas City. The folks of Nashville know country music but they don't know hockey. Please, give us this franchise. We've got a new arena (Sprint Center) and plenty of open dates.
There, that's my way of easing into my annual playoff predictions:
No. 1 seed San Jose vs. No. 8 Anaheim: Don't know if the team with the league's best record can finish the deal but winning the Cup, but they take care of the Ducks here in five.
No. 2 Detroit vs. No. 7 Columbus: Jackets just happy to be here in the franchise's first playoff appearance. Detroit in five.
No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 St. Louis: Blues were one of the best teams in the league down the stretch. They got a huge break by finishing sixth on the last day of the season. A matchup against No. 1 San Jose or No. 2 Detroit would have been a killer. Blues carry over regular-season momentum. St. Louis in six.
Western Conference semis
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 6 St. Louis: Blues hit their emotional wall. San Jose has too much of everything. Sharks in six.
No. 2 Detroit vs. No. 5 Calgary: Wings goaltending inconsistencies show up. Flames in seven.
Western Conference finals
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 5 Calgary: These teams have a colorful playoff history. This will be the fourth meeting since 1995. San Jose leads 2-1. Just a hunch but Mikka Kiprusoff steals this one for the Flames. Calgary in seven.
No. 1 seed Boston vs. No. 8 Montreal: A bitter rivalry is renewed. Habs slumped badly in the second half. Boston should have no problem winning in five.
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 7 New York Rangers: Caps are Eastern Conference's team of destiny with all that scoring. Caps in five.
No. 3 New Jersey vs. No. 6 Carolina: Devils can't turn on the switch after a late-season slump. The Canes have that Cup look about them again. Carolina in seven.
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Philadelphia: Ever see "Gladiator"? This isn't a loser-leave-the-state series. This is a loser dies series. Slight edge to Flyers if they can corral the big two (Crosby and Malkin). Philly in six.
Eastern Conference semis
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 6 Carolina: In what might be the best series of the playoffs, the hits and goals just keep on coming. It's run-and-gun for six games with Boston winning a bitter battle.
No. 2 Washington vs. No. 5 Philadelphia: Philly stopped the No. 2 and No. 3 best players in the NHL in the first round. It can't stop No. 1 (Ovechkin). Washington's scoring balance is too much. Caps in seven.
Eastern Conference finals
No. 1 Boston vs. No. 2 Washington: I picked an upset in the West. Might as well stay consistent. Caps outscore the Bruins in a highly entertaining series to get to their second Cup final. Washington in seven.
Stanley Cup finals
Washington vs. Calgary: Not exactly a ratings winner for the networks, but who cares? Ovechkin vs. Iginla. Green vs. Phaneuf. The teams met only once during the season but the hate will build up quickly. On the 20th anniversary of last Cup, the Flames grind it out in six.