The Playoffs begin tonight.
Make no mistake about my predictions: I will be wrong somewhere. This much I can predict: a goalie that none of us have cared about, let alone known his name, will get hot, and that team will score often enough to get to the Conference Finals, if not the Stanley Cup Finals, and most improbably, win the Cup outright. Think of Jean-Sebastian Giguerre when he was with the (then) Anaheim Mighty Ducks, or last season: Jaroslav Halak when Montreal rode his back all the way into the finals. They just needed some shooters who could hit the net…
Anyway: some goalie will stone everything that comes at him, and the opposing team will have some snipers look like Mites out there learning to skate. Never fails. My candidate: Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. That would be galling if the Predators advance, but these teams who live by the sword, die by the sword.
With that major qualifier out of the way, here’s my predictions, round-by-round, and after the Quarterfinals, and the reset is completed, I’ll “predict” again in a few weeks.
#1 Washington vs. #8 NY Rangers: Washington in 5. Let me get this out of the way: I think the Caps will go the Stanley Cup Finals. They play defense this season: ‘nuf said.
#2 Philadelphia vs. #7 Buffalo: Buffalo in 6 or 7. Buffalo is hot, and Ryan Miller is playing well enough while “Fill-in-the-blank” as goalie for the Flyers is not. Indeed, it seems like playing goalie for the Flyers is curse on one’s abilities while in Philly. Don’t believe me: Nittymaki (the back-up for the Sharks) won the Gold Medal in the Olympics for Finland: went to Philadelphia, and he stank.
#3 Boston vs. #6 Montreal: Boston in 5. That hit that Chara put on Pacioretty was awful: but even the revenge factor will not surpass the way Boston will overwhelm the Canadiens. Extra Plausible Prediction: this might be the only series in the opening round that has a sweep.
#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay in 7. If Crosby or Malkin comes back in this series, I take Pittsburgh in 7. But, those guys are hurt. Bummer, b/c it would make for great hockey if they were in the playoffs.
Washington vs Buffalo: The Caps in 6. Buffalo is such an ambitious team, but they can’t put the puck in as often as Washington.
Boston vs. Tampa Bay: Boston in 5. Here again, defense counts: Tim Thomas is a stalwart in goal, and the Lightening snipers- like Stamkos- notwithstanding, won’t be able to keep up with the Bruins.
Washington vs. Bruins: Washington in 6. The defense is pretty even between the two clubs, but the Caps have Ovechkin: He might score 5 or 6 goals in this series alone.
#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago: Vancouver in 6. Rematch! Chicago will make it interesting, and they may take a game in the Canucks’ barn. But, not enough goalie for the ‘Hawks, and too many goals from Vancouver.
#2 Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles: Sharks in 5. Niemi is simply playing too well to lose, and the Kings, God bless ‘em, are not deep enough to keep up with the big guys from San Jose.
#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix: Phoenix in 6 or 7. Rematch! Detroit is not playing all that well down the stretch, the last game against Chicago notwithstanding. Shane Doan is healthy for the Coyotes, and he makes for a great opponent for Pavel Datsyuk. The Coyotes are playing much better than Detroit.
#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville: Ducks in 6 or 7…unless Rinne gets hot: then Nashville will be a major nuisance to everyone.
Vancouver vs. Phoenix: Canucks in 6. I think the Canucks will continue to bull-doze everyone in view. They’ll surrender a couple to the Coyotes, who will make it a game every night. But, too much fire-power for Phoenix.
Sharks vs. Anaheim: Sharks in 7. You know, it ought not to be this way. But, the Ducks are the hottest team going into the playoffs, and it has more to do with the goal-scoring than the goalie-by-committee approach of the Ducks. This is where Antti Niemi really shines: he’s been there before, and he’ll stone every thing the Ducks throw at him. Still, a 7-game series is a long one, and I expect that the wide-bodies of the Sharks will pound down the Ducks.
Vancouver vs. Sharks: Sharks in 6 or 7. This is the year that the Sharks will overcome their annual brain-farts in the spring, and play above their pay-grade against the Canucks. For Vancouver, this is the beginning of the hand-off from the Sharks to them: the curse of the Presidents’ Trophy. Win the Trophy, and lose inexplicably in the playoffs…
Stanley Cup Finals:
Sharks vs. Washington: Sharks in 6. If there was ever a time in which you needed a goalie with ice running through his veins, this is it. Expect Niemi to embarrass the Caps’ shooters.
Finally: The Sharks win the Stanley Cup!