Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tossing my two cents in

There's lots of people far better schooled in hockey statistics than I who're busy making their predictions all over the internet, so I really don't have much to add to that. They factor in who's hurt, who's hot, statistics, and goodness knows what else to make their calls.

But, as anybody will tell you - and as the nickname the "Second Season" might indicate - the playoffs are an anything-can-happen two-month stretch. And as quite a few top seed teams will tell you this year, the low-ranking teams are never quite fully "out", as they've raised their heads to hand hot teams late-season losses. This season is loaded with talent-heavy teams and no less than 11 of the 16 playoffs teams finished with 100+ point records.

I did pretty good on my first round of calls on the NCAA office pool this year, so perhaps I'm feeling a bit cocky, but here's my predictions, made on the same basis as my NCAA choices (pure luck, mostly).


EASTERN

Canadiens vs. Capitals


Part of me wants to predict that the Capitals will just steamroll right over the Habs, but you know what, I've spent an awful lot of my sports-lovin' life rooting for the underdogs. (Grew up on the Red Sox.)  And every team has its off days. Caps in five.

Flyers vs. Devils

The Flyers have shown a lot of oomph at the end of the season, but Martin Brodeur is just a black-belt-master of the pipes, and the Flyers would have to fight their way past him. The Flyers will go down fighting. Devils in five.

Penguins vs. Senators

The Senators, like the Predators, quietly played themselves into a nice middle of the pack position. The Penguins are defending the Cup, but I don't expect them to go all the way. (Although maybe somebody else will take a swing at Cooke?) Penguins in seven, with possible upset.

Bruins vs. Sabres
Who doesn't like Ryan Miller after his knockout performance in the Olympics? Miller's post-Olympic performance has been less than great, but he's still hovering at the top of the stats chart, so the Bruins need to get past him. However, the Bruins barely squeaked their way into the playoffs and they'll be looking to make their run last as long as possible. Sabres in six.

WESTERN

Sharks vs. Avalanche


The Avalanche is showing a bit of end of season fatigue, but with a few days' rest and the adrenalin of the Cup in front of them, plus the added challenge of at least 2 of the first 4 games being played at altitude, I think Colorado will at least rattle the Sharks' cage a bit. Sharks in six.

Canucks vs. Kings

The Canucks want it, and want it bad. I hardly dare say there isn't a Canadian team that doesn't want to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canadian soil in the same year as the Olympic gold, but the Canucks have the best shot at doing so. However, this is the first year the Kings have qualified for the playoffs since the 2001-02 season, and you can bet they're going to play their skates off in an effort to turn the Canucks to chum. These games will be some of the most interesting to watch. Canucks in seven.

Coyotes vs. Red Wings

The Red Wings surged back late in the season to show why everybody says "the road to the Cup goes through Hockeytown". Their roster finally healthy, they've muscled their way up to fifth place in a season that most people didn't even expect them to make the playoffs. They're going to be working hard to get the Cup, but they're playing the Coyotes, the Cinderella story out of Phoenix. I'm a sucker for a feel-good story like the Yotes had this year, and I think they, too, have really played great hockey all season. Expect these games to be the most exciting in round one, but the playoff commute to take its toll -- Phoenix is used to having to travel long distances to play, well, everybody. Look for an upset here. Coyotes in seven.

Blackhawks vs. Predators


The Predators, like their Eastern counterpart the Senators, weren't exactly off the radar. They simply showed up and played solid hockey, and won their way into a playoff berth.  After reaching the quarterfinals in 2006, 07, and 08, and not qualifying last year, the Predators will be hungry to reach those heights again. Their more-physical game is going to be an interesting matchup against the finesse of the Blackhawks; the Predators certainly won't make it an easy fight by any stretch. Skeptics are making noises about the two rookie Finnish goalies on either side of the ice, but this season has proved that the freshman class of goalies all across the NHL have piles and piles of talent. Now it's simply a question of who's going to seal the deal for their team and help them on to round two; and if the Blackhawks can pull together to consistently play the level of hockey we all know they're capable of doing. Blackhawks in six.
* * *

I'd also like to take this time to point out that people like to say that the pressure of the post season not only has to do with the length of play and the grueling matchups, but the fact that the play tends to be more physical, there's no shootouts, and most of all, the crowds get louder.

If you've ever been to Chicago's United Center - dubbed the 'Madhouse on Madison' - you know the energy of the crowds there, and the noise levels. This entire season has been sellout, standing-room-only crowds - the season closer was something like the 90th straight sellout - which means the Hawks have sold out their past two seasons. How many other clubs can claim that? And if you've ever been to a Hawks home game, you know just how wild the home crowds can be in Chicago. It's difficult to get much louder than the home crowds at the UC.
 

Home crowd singing along to "Chelsea Dagger", the Blackhawks goal song this season
Yeah the sound isn't great - I was recording off a camera designed for pictures not video -
but I think you can all get the picture. :)


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