Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's Playoff Time...

Here we are, fans... Playoff time! Time to watch some of the best hockey you'll see all year! Time for teams to step up and compete for Hockey's Holy Grail!

Time to lock up our razors for (hopefully) the next two months (and for our wives to mercilessly make fun of us for such a silly ritual)! Honestly, Mrs. Martini just might shave mine in my sleep.

And, of course, time to make our unscientific picks for who's going to win it all. There's a reason why hockey doesn't have bracket pools... because anything can happen on any given day. Oh. And the fact that they re-seed after each round... that makes it tricky, too... unless you do it with magnets.

My first prediction is that I'm probably going to get  hosed in my West picks at least once, because it's so rare that all top four seeds in a conference win their first round series. That having been said, it's probably going to happen, and I hope to all that is holy that it's Phoenix.

Without further ado...

The First Round, In Brief:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(8) Chicago vs. (1) Vancouver
The winners of the Presidents' Cup this year will have one hell of a fight to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. Just not in the first round. Both sides have excellent weapons up front, but this one's going to come down to goaltending. Everyone can see the Canucks are hungry. The chances of Chicago repeating with another rookie in goal? Interesting, but not promising. Vancouver's road to the Cup Final will go through Detroit or San Jose. Canucks in 5.

(7) Los Angeles vs. (2) San Jose
A Southern California series... nice. Good for the really dedicated fans willing to stay up until 1 or 2 to watch some Playoff hockey. L.A. rides its resurgence back into the Playoffs against San Jose, who is looking to follow up last year's remarkable run. I don't think anyone saw San Jose coming this far this year, until they solved their goaltending issues by snagging Antti Niemi out of exile. It will be a tough road for him this year... through Detroit and Vancouver. Sharks in 6.

(6) Phoenix vs. (3) Detroit
I love this rematch. However, as good as Phoenix has been the last two years, Detroit is always dangerous. Henrik Zetterberg may be out for Game 1, but the Wings have plenty of key pieces that can help them go deep in the Playoffs, as much as I don't want them to.  As much as I pray I'm wrong... Wings in 6.


(5) Nashville vs (4) Anaheim
The Predators keep fighting like hell to get into the Playoffs, and have the worst time turning the corner once they get there. They will fight hard for this one... and they'll have to. Corey Perry was a beast en route to the Rocket Richard Trophy this year. Teemu Selanne had more than a point a game at the age of 40. Pekka Rinne has been solid in goal, especially in the stretch, has has great help up front with Erat, Kostitsyn, Weber and Suter. This series will go the distance. Ducks in 7.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(8) New York Rangers vs. (1) Washington
Washington instantly increased its Stanley Cup hopes at midnight on July 1, 2010, when Jose Theodore became an unrestricted free agent and went home to sit by the phone for three months until Minnesota hired him for mop-up. However, their goaltenders are still pretty green in Playoff action, and will rely heavily on guys like Ovechkin, Knuble, Backstrom and Arnott. New York is good-but-not-great, but if some of their money guys find their games, this could be a long series.

One of Washington's goaltenders could pull an Antti Niemi and take them all the way. They could even make the second round. Just not this year. Rangers in 7.

(7) Buffalo vs. (2) Philadelphia
Philly followed its improbable run to the Cup Finals with one hell of a season, and only lost the top spot in the last couple weeks. The Sabres fought their way into the Playoffs with a really good second half. The Flyers are going with the rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in net, and he has some strong performers on front of him. Frankly, I see the Flyers contending for at least a spot in the Cup Final, unless their young netminder falters. Flyers in 7.

(6) Montréal vs. (3) Boston
This was a matchup I genuinely hoped for. It is always a classic, but I have been itching for a Bruins-Habs series recently, and would have had it last year, if not for the meltdown in Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern semis. Montreal has some good talent, and Carey Price has been a nice comeback story this year, but I just don't see them standing in the way of (spoiler alert) the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup Finals this year. Bruins in 6.

(5) Tampa Bay vs. (4) Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay is back in contention. It took a little time and a lot of patience, but they're back. How will the veteran experience of Lecavalier and St. Louis blend with young guys like Stamkos in the first round? We're about to find out. On the Pens' end... hard to say if they can expect to contend for long with Crosby still shaking off that concussion. This will be a fight, but I'm giving a slight edge to the Bolts here. Lightning in 7.

For the Finals, I think in the West... Vancouver has the pieces in place to win if they stay healthy, but there will be a hell of a fight in the Conference Finals against either San Jose or Detroit.

In the East... I say Boston exorcises the demons of the Game 7 disaster of last year, and turns the corner. Could be a classic Cup Final.

Alright... cheer me or jeer me as you wish. Thanks for reading!

Go Bruins (and anyone playing Detroit)!

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