ROUND 1- CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
The Sharks come into the playoffs as the top team in the Western Conference for the second straight season. The Sharks have averaged 109 points per season since the lockout. The Sharks come into the playoffs hot, posting an 8-1-1 record in the final 10 games of the season. The Sharks average conference finish of 2.8 trails only the Detroit Red Wings as far as regular season success in the NHL since the lockout. Detroit has matched that with playoff success as well. They have made a conference finals appearance, a finals appearance, and win a Stanley Cup over that time frame. San Jose is still looking for that deep playoff run. The men dressed in teal, from northern California, made three straight departures in the conference semis, before frustrations boiled over last season. Last year San Jose claimed the President’s Trophy as the top regular season team in the NHL, before getting upset by the Ducks of Anaheim. Not only was this an upset in the hockey world, but an upset in the food chain as well. The Sharks should have eaten the Ducks for breakfast. Enough about the Sharks!
How bout our boys from the Mile High City. The Avalanche comes into the series without any expectations. The experience of the playoffs alone is a huge win for this team. There is no way that San Jose gets drop kicked out of the first round by an eight seed two years in a row, right?
Players to Watch:
San Jose: Dan Boyle (Defenseman)
Boyle is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. He was top five in scoring among defenseman in the league this season. The Avs have a beast of a first line to deal with. Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau are a potent trio. Boyle makes his mark on the series from the backend, as somewhat of a forgotten man. If Boyle can have a big series, it might alleviate some of the pressure the other "stars" of the team might be feeling to make a run to the finals. He quarterbacks a deadly power play from the point, and has 29 points with the man advantage. I have been extremely impressed with Boyle in his few games against the Avs.
Colorado: Craig Anderson (Goaltender)
If Andy is average, the Avs don’t win this series. If Andy is above average, the Avs don’t win this series. Andy has to be spectacular. If C.A. can regain that swagger he had early in the season, the Avs send the Sharks back to CA empty handed. Let’s face it, San Jose is going to accumulate a lot of shots, and a lot of scoring chances in this series. It’s up to Anderson to keep those pucks from tickling the twine behind him. The fate of the Avs lies in Andy finding his mojo. Yeah Baby! I think he can do it.
Logic aside, I believe that the Avalanche pull off the upset. The Avs haven’t played particularly well since the Olympic Break. Anderson hasn’t been particularly sharp. The Avs have not been able to hold leads late. Somehow, the Avs get it together, and the Sharks solidify their legacy as the choke artists of the past decade. The offseason agenda in Santa Clara County will be Heimlich maneuver, ASAP. The Avs better hope San Jose gets buried in game 6 in Denver though, because the youthful Avs will have a tough time winning a game 7 in the hostile Shark Tank.
AVALANCHE IN 6 GAMES
The Blackhawks could have very easily been the Avs first round opponent had they won their regular season finale. They didn’t, and therefore the Hawks draw the Nashville Predators. The Preds are a bit of a mystery to me. They are the only playoff team in the West to not have a positive overall goal differential for the season. They have the third worst power play, and the worst penalty kill in the conference. Yet, they managed to be a 100 point team.
Chicago has the talent to go all the way to the finals. The question mark down the stretch was, do they have the goaltending? Antti Niemi will be the man between the pipes. I really don’t think it will be an issue. Niemi has very solid numbers with a 26-7-3 record, a 2.23 GAA, and a .914 save percentage.
Players to Watch:
Chicago: Patrick Kane (Right Wing)
The biggest concern for Kane, is his mode of transportation to the arena. Bus, car, train, and plane seem like good options to me. I would avoid cabs. Offseason issues behind him, Kane averaged over a point per game this season. While he put up good point totals in last year’s playoffs, 14 in 16 games, he will want to improve on his -9 rating from last year’s playoffs.
Nashville: Jason Arnott (Center)
If Nashville is going to get anything done in the playoffs, they will look to their veteran captain to do it. Arnott knows what postseason hockey is all about, and has a Stanley Cup ring to show for it. In fact, he scored the overtime clinching goal that brought the championship to New Jersey in 2000.
Call up Hogwarts, because the brooms will be out in Chicago.
BLACKHAWKS IN 4 GAMES
Lost Angeles is deadly. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the West for years to come. This year though, Vancouver has the better team. Luongo led Canada to gold in the Olympics. Can he lead the Canucks to silver this year? A silver Stanley Cup that is. What a year it would be for Vancouver if the Nuckleheads can get it done. The Sedins are ridiculously good. Henrik won the scoring race with 112 points. He averaged 1.37 points per game, while brother Daniel averaged 1.35 points per game. Although Daniel missed 19 games due to injury, both twins collected 29 goals on the season. One of those guys is frustrating enough for an opponent, but the fact that the one has a freaking clone on the ice with him…. Well, that just sucks to play against.
Players to Watch:
Vancouver: The twins (Henrik- LW, Daniel- C)
Good luck telling them apart. They accounted for 27% of Vancouver’s offense this season.
Los Angeles: Ryan Smyth (Right Wing)
Captain Canada is one of the easiest guys to root for in the NHL. The former Av has never won a Stanley Cup. Los Angeles is my dark horse to make it to the Western Conference Finals. If Smyth can do his thing in front of the net, they may ride the dark horse all the way to the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Canucks are just a bit too talented for the Kings. Quick struggles in his first postseason action.
CANUCKS IN 6 GAMES
Detroit Red Wings (5) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (4)
Detroit comes in on fire. I could see a lot of experts making them their "sexy pick" to make it to the finals for a third consecutive season. Me on the other hand, I find nothing about the Detroit Red Wings to be sexy. This is going to be the best series out West in my opinion. Phoenix has had an unbelievable turnaround year. 107 points in the desert is quite an accomplishment.
Players to Watch:
Phoenix: Wojtek Wolski (Left Wing)
The Baron is the second former Av to be featured in the Players to Watch. He has the reputation of being a floater and not having the drive in big games. If the Polish Express can deliver in the playoffs, he can silence some of those critics. He is due to make a lot of money this summer, and he can show Phoenix he deserves the cash if he has a big playoffs.
Detroit: Todd Bertuzzi (Official Team Douchebag)
Keep a close eye on Bertuzzi at all times, just on the off chance he gets seriously injured. I for one want to witness that live, not on a replay or rewind. This may not necessarily happen during live game action. I am not ruling out him getting run over by a zamboni during intermission. If he does get hurt, hell, we've already seen him cry once.
This is the only series out west to go distance.
COYOTES IN 7 GAMES
If you enjoy watching pure domination, this is the perfect series for you to tune into. The Capitals won the President’s Trophy as the top team in the NHL. Montreal isn’t going to slow them down.
Players to Watch:
Washington: Alexander Ovechkin (Left Wing)
Why would you watch anyone else? This guy is dynamite, ready to explode at any moment. He scored 50 goals this season, and that is somewhat of a disappointment. Ovie craves that Stanley Cup. He and Crosby are the faces of the NHL, but Crosby already has his name engraved on Lord Stanley’s ultimate prize. On top of that Ovechkin watched as Crosby led Canada to a gold medal in the Olympics, with an overtime clinching goal. Ovechkin wants to shift some of the spotlight his way, and he can do that if he leads the Caps to a championship.
Montreal: Tomas Plekanec (Center)
Not a lot of star power on the Canadiens roster, so it will be up to Plekanec to carry some of the scoring load.
If I could, I would predict that it would take Washington less than 4 games to end this series. It is that much of a mismatch.
CAPITALS IN 4 GAMES
New Jersey is a good hockey team. They have the goaltender with the most regular season wins in NHL history in Martin Brodeur. They have a solid cast of forwards led by one of my favorite non-Avs, Zach Parise, and Ilya Kovalchuk. It will be interesting to see if the Devils try to resign Kovalchuk in the offseason. It may come down to how the team fares in the playoffs. The Flyers snuck in with a win on the final day of the regular season in a do or die game with the NY Rangers.
Players to Watch:
New Jersey: Ilya Kovalchuk (Left Wing)
Ilya has been good since he was acquired from Atlanta for Niclas Bergfors, but he hasn’t been great. Kovalchuk has scored 10 goals along with 16 assists in the 26 games he has played in the red and black. A strong postseason will cement his case as a $10 million per season player. The big question is, will he get those dollars from New Jersey? If he does he is worth more than the entire Nets roster combined…
Philadelphia: Chris Pronger (Defenseman)
He’s big. He’s mean. He’s Nasty. The Flyers went out and got Pronger to be a playoff warrior for this team. He put up great numbers for a leading defenseman on a team. 10 goals, 45 assists, a plus 22 rating, and 79 PIM. If Pronger can make it tough for the Devils top scorers to get chances, Philly has a chance to pull an upset.
I think that this Devils team is poised for a deep playoff run. With Lamaire behind the bench, you know they will be tight defensively, and they have some very talented forwards. The Flyers will be a tough out for the Devils though having taken 5 out of the 6 regular season meetings
DEVILS IN 7 GAMES
The Sabres have a few players who could be in line for some hardware this offseason. Tyler Myers is the favorite to win the Calder, and Ryan Miller would be an excellent choice to take home the Vezina. The Sabres hope, they can grab some team trophies during the playoffs. If I were to get to pick the goalie of my choice to carry a team through a hockey tournament, I would snag Ryan Miller. He did it for team USA in the Olympics.
The Bruins were the top regular season team in the Eastern Conference last season before disappointing loss to the Hurricanes in the second round. The Bruins have had the Sabres number this season winning 4 of 6, and have a sensational rookie in net. Tuukka Rask leads the NHL in both GAA and save percentage, 1.97 and .931 respectively. This series figures to be the most intriguing goaltending matchup of the opening round.
Players to Watch:
Buffalo: Ryan Miller (Goaltender)
This is a marquee goaltender matchup, and Buffalo has an absolute stud in Ryan Miller. Miller has racked up 111 wins over the past 3 seasons for a Sabres team, that I would consider pretty average top to bottom. He means more to this team than any other player in the NHL. Will he get the Hart Trophy though, probably not.
Boston: Tuukka Rask (Goaltender)
Rask took over Tim Thomas’s job as a rookie this season. All Thomas did last year is win the Vezina. Rask will have to outduel the best in the game, Ryan Miller, if he wants his boys from Beantown to advance.
Tuukka Rask does his nation proud, and Finnishes off a brilliant rookie campaign with a first round upset.
BRUINS IN 6 GAMES
The Penguins are never dominant during the regular season, but come playoff time they outlast the rest of the teams in the field. The Pens are hoping for a similar storyline this year, and a third straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final. They aren’t lacking star power with Sidney Crosby leading the way. Crosby actually finished ahead of Ovechkin in the goal scoring race with 51 markers. Steven Stamkos tied Crosby’s 51, and Ovechkin came in third with 50 goals. I really don’t know a whole lot about the Senators, other than they are a shadow of the team they had a few years ago. They finished with the worst goal differential of any playoff team at -13, and were below .500 on the road. Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza are still point per game players. The Sens also have a guy named Brodeur in net. Settle down now people, it's not Marty. This Brodeur played due to injuries and only appeared in 3 games.
Players to Watch:
Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin (Center)
Malkin had a bit of a down year for his standards. He missed some games due to injury and thus missed out on scoring 100 points for the first time since his rookie season. In fact, his 73 points this year are the lowest total of his career. He’s healthy now, and will need to play well to give the Pens that much needed 1-2 center punch.
Ottawa: Mike Fisher (Center)
I pay attention to Mike Fisher, because he is engaged to Carrie Underwood. Carrie is one of my favorite Hollywood stars, so good for Mike! He is third on the Senators in scoring, and potted a respectable 25 goals on the season.
The Penguins have too much talent, and too much experience for the Senators. Ottawa couldn’t get it done in the playoffs when they were a top team in the east, so why would they start now.
PENGUINS IN 5 GAMES
I like to brag that my forecasting skills are just as good as any weatherman. Therefore, the second round playoff matchups WILL BE as follows:
ROUND 2 – CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Colorado Avalanche vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The Avs are the healthiest they have been since the start of the season. Mueller, Duchene, and Jones are all going strong for this series. The Avs put up a great fight, but the Blackhawks are too good for the baby faced Avs. What’s up with the playoff beard Dutchy? Speaking of The Flying Dutchyman, he wrapped up an awesome playoff debut by averaging a point per game in his 13 contests. Duchene turned his game up with the Brampton Battalion during the playoffs in his last year of Juniors with 14 goals and 12 assists in 21 games. Duchene showed he was a "big moment" player when he punched the Avs postseason tickets in the shootout against Vancouver. This kid loves the big stage, and the playoffs provide it for him.
The Avs fight hard, but get blown home in a game 7 showdown in the Windy City.
BLACKHAWKS IN 7 GAMES
Phoenix Coyotes vs. Vancouver Canucks
The dream season ends for The Coyotes as Luongo and the Canucks reach the Western Conference Finals, and have a chance to make their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994.
Home ice comes in handy.
CANUCKS IN 7 GAMES
Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals
The big story in this series is that Washington loses a game. The Eastern Conference lacks the top to bottom depth the West has in its playoff teams. The Capitals won’t see a team that has the firepower to hang with them until the conference finals.
It’s all fun and games in the nation’s capital. If Ovie brings the Stanley Cup to DC, guarantee he is the most popular man there. Sorry Barack.
CAPITALS IN 5 GAMES
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils
This would be a really, really good series. It easily could go the distance. Martin Brodeur has passed Patrick Roy in many of the individual goaltending categories this season. Another Stanley Cup on his resume adds to his claim as the greatest goalie of all time. The Penguins come into this year’s playoffs a bit complacent I think. You have to want it if you are going to advance, and the hunger may not be there for the Pens. I saw it with the Avs several times when they were in their prime.
The Devils flex their muscles, and take out the defending champs. The last home game in Mellon Arena for the Pens concludes a series win for the Devils.
DEVILS IN 6 GAMES
Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks get the job done. The Canucks come up short again in their bid for a first Stanley Cup. Chicago owns the longest current Stanley Cup drought in the NHL at 48 years, which is the second longest drought in NHL history behind the NY Rangers 54 years without kissing the cup. While it has been a while for the Blackhawks, it could be worse, they could be the Cubs.
BLACKHAWKS IN 5 GAMES
New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals
The Capitals finally get tested. They pull through though in a back and forth series pitting the offensive juggernaut from Washington against the defensive specialists from the Meadowlands.
CAPITALS IN 7 GAMES
Which brings us to my predicted Stanley Cup Final of….. drumroll…….
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals
With the offensive talent of both of these teams, this would be a high scoring spectacle. Marian Hossa is hoping to finally get his name on the Cup. He played the previous two seasons on the team that lost in the finals. Ironically he played for Pittsburgh the year Detroit won in 2008. He played for Detroit the year Pittsburgh won in 2009. Unfortunately he becomes the first NHL player to play for three consecutive different teams to all lose in the Stanley Cup Final. I didn’t check this, so roast me if I am wrong… But he has to be the first poor soul to do that right?
THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS ARE YOUR 2009-2010 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS
THEY TAKE HOME THE CUP IN AN EPIC 7 GAME SERIES