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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Party Hardy for the Start of the NHL Playoffs

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04/14/2010 10:08 AM - By Chad Huebner

Ah yes, it’s that time of year all of us hockey fans love: the postseason.

The playoffs just make the great product of hockey that much greater. The hits are more physical, the saves more breathtaking, and the $5.00 half cup of Miller Lite like nectar from the gods. It’s where we push aside the shootout decisions of the regular season in favor of 20-minute sections of goodness that could last all night, and make us that much prouder to come into work the next day, bleary eyed, saying we saw the whole thing.

It is one of my most favorite times of year, not including those times I get free gifts.

But before I share with you my accumulative knowledge of hockey and pick the winners in the first round of the playoffs, I must share with you my darkest shame for being such a lunkhead when it comes to picking who’ll finish where in the regular season and who’ll make the playoffs. Yes, I am a complete study in contrasts.

Just like the year before, only eight teams finished the season in the exact spot I predicted them to finish. My worst division was the Northeast, where the Toronto Maple Leafs was the only team I picked correctly. I completely ignored the fact that the Boston Bruins would greatly miss Phil Kessel in terms of offense, and picked them to repeat as divisional champions. I also had the Buffalo Sabres barely making the playoffs as a seventh seed. I did correctly predict the Canadiens to squeak by as the eighth seed, but otherwise, the Northeast Division was a wasteland to me.

Moving on to the playoff picks, I went from thirteen picked correctly last year to only eleven this year. I had Anaheim, Calgary and St. Louis all making the postseason, yet they all missed the excitement by five and six points. I could blame the Blues poor home record, or the Flames almost non-existent offense or the Ducks typically slow start, but I’m sure the teams themselves are even quicker to figure out what the frak went wrong. Meanwhile, the Avs caught me, and probably many other hockey scribes, completely off guard. I figured they would be a playoff contender next year, but the young talent, plus a step up in Craig Anderson’s game between the pipes, made the fans of the Avs wait only a year. Too bad all that hard work will be quickly destroyed in about a week’s worth of time.

And that brings me to my picks.

EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS


1. Washington Capitals (54-15-13) vs. 8. Montreal Canadiens (39-33-10)

2009-10 Season Series: Capitals 2-1-1

Last Playoff Clash: First postseason meeting

Beep! Beep! Beeep! That’s the sound of the Canadiens bus backing into the playoffs for a second straight year. Yet they won’t be facing a divisional opponent they could easily handle in a short series. No, it’s the biggest of all Goliaths in hockey in a very long time. The Caps easily handled their division once again, then easily handled the rest of the Eastern Conference (including an impressive four-game sweep of their hated playoff rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins), then easily handled everyone else. There are those nagging questions about goaltending, but consider another special team that could score at will, but also give up a ton of goals: the Edmonton Oilers. Grant Fuhr was pretty good during the Oiler dynasty, but there were a lot of games with a final score of 8-5. Nowadays, it’s 5-3, but it’s still the same situation. And besides, Jose Theodore has been playing very well coming down the stretch.

My Prediction: Caps in a 4-0 sweep, and more headaches for the Verizon Center maintenance crew as they try to cover up the cracks in the dasher board glass from all the times Alex the Great will be banging into them with every goal.


2. New Jersey Devils (47-27-8) vs. 7. Philadelphia Flyers (43-31-8)

2009-10 Season Series: Flyers 5-1-0

Last Playoff Clash: 2004, Conference Quarterfinals, Philadelphia won 4-1

The last time a team had to win out to just make the playoffs were the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, and they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. I doubt the Flyers will make it that far having to face the buzz saw known as the Eastern Conference, but they can certainly give the Devils a run for their money. The Devils couldn’t figure out the Flyers this season, but good ol’ Marty Brodeur can make up such shortcomings with another brilliant playoff performance. This should be the most interesting, and closely played, division matchup of the three in this year’s playoffs.

My Prediction: Devils in seven, with the Flyers delivering a Scott Stevens’-like hurt on the Devils that’ll be hard to shake the rest of the postseason.


3. Buffalo Sabres (45-26-10) vs. 6. Boston Bruins (38-30-13)

2009-10 Season Series: Bruins 4-2-0

Last Playoff Clash: 1999, Conference Semifinals, Buffalo won 4-2

Everyone talks about how dominating the defenses of the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators are, but consider this: the Bruins allowed the second fewest goals of any of the 16 playoff teams. They also have the worst offense too, so don’t be surprised if most of the games in this series are 2-1, 3-2 or even 1-0 results. If you like tight-checking hockey, this could be your mother lode. Then again, this is the “New NHL”, so don’t we want to discourage such play? I’m conflicted on this one, and will hope this, like all the other series, is exciting to watch.

My Prediction: Sabres in six, and further talks about casting the Stanley Cup in gold for Ryan Miller.


4. Pittsburgh Penguins (46-27-7) vs. 5. Ottawa Senators (44-32-6)

2009-10 Season Series: Tied 2-2-0

Last Playoff Clash: 2008, Conference Quarterfinals, Pittsburgh won 4-0

Title defenses are always tough, and there’s no difference for the meat grinder the Penguins will have to endure. The last time the Pens faced the Sens in the playoffs, we saw a transfer of power from Ottawa to Pittsburgh as the Penguins took down the Senators without much problem. Since then, the Pens have been a marked team, so knowing the Sens, and up and down club this season, is gunning for them, is like business as usual. The only snag is that the Pens don’t have as many weapons as they’ve enjoyed the last two years. Crosby and Malkin will have to bear a heavier load, while Marc Andre-Fleury needs to regain the magic that helped the Pens reach the Cup Finals two years in a row.

My Prediction: Pens in six, though it’s a shame “Crosby vs. Ovechkin” will take place one series earlier than usual.

WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS

1. San Jose Sharks (51-20-11) vs. 8. Colorado Avalanche (43-30-8)

2009-10 Season Series: Sharks 2-1-1

Last Playoff Clash: 2004, Conference Semifinals, San Jose won 4-2

Okay San Jose, could please, just this once, try to make a concerted effort and make it to at least the conference finals? I’m not asking for the Cup Finals, no, not for now. I mean, I don’t want to startle you, make you blow this series against the Avs. I mean, they’re a bunch of young guns riding the crest of a good season. I’m sure you can put all of those playoff failures (some of them from recent years) behind you and make a serious run for the championship? Right? Right?! There’s no need to panic. THERE’S NO NEED TO PANIC! SERENITY NOW!!!!!!

My Prediction: Sharks in five, and maybe a nice, warm blanket and a cup of tea for their fans (and myself) to soothe their frayed nerves.


2. Chicago Blackhawks (52-22-8) vs. 7. Nashville Predators (47-29-6)

2009-10 Season Series: Blackhawks 4-2-0

Last Playoff Clash:  First postseason meeting

It’s the second year in a row, but you know what? It doesn’t mean any less when I yell THE ‘HAWKS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS!!!! Ahem, I’m regaining my composure. Anyway, while the ‘Hawks couldn’t pull off picking up the one seed and facing a possibly easier opponent, the ‘Hawks need to find that playoff grit they used by the bagful in their wonderful romp through last year’s postseason. This is one of those rare times where regular season head-to-head numbers mean little or nothing, but that’s what you get when the league you play in stupidly schedules all the division games between these two teams to wrap up before the new year. There should be a bylaw in the NHL rules preventing from this happening. Olympic break my ass. Ahem, regaining composure. . . again. So anyway, outside of the Red Wings, the Preds were one of the most dangerous teams since the Olympic break. Probably a good thing the ‘Hawks didn’t face them. The ‘Hawks aren’t going to shock anyone this time around, let alone a club that at least knows what to do when it comes to making the playoffs. Too bad the Preds never stay at the party that long. This series might come down to the goalies, the best Finn on Finn matchup since (insert lewd, crude, Playboy reference here).

My Prediction: ‘Hawks in six, and here’s hoping this is a small step in a great journey.


3. Vancouver Canucks (49-28-5) vs. 6. Los Angeles Kings (46-27-9)

2009-10 Season Series: Canucks 3-1-0

Last Playoff Clash: 1993, Division Finals, Los Angeles won 4-2

Canada’s best hope for finally winning it all can’t afford to take the Kings lightly. For most teams, the Olympic break was bit of a limbo-like nightmare, but not so for the Canucks, who stood tall in their division, and didn’t necessarily had to rely on “LUUUU” for every game-breaking performance. Henrik Sedin, twin bro Daniel, Ryan Kesler, Pavol Demitra. . . these names represent what could be a devastating offense that can stand tall with the Washingtons and Chicagos. Still, for one of the few teams that doesn’t have a goalie problem-Los Angeles, NOT Vancouver-it was awfully curious for the Kings to start Erik Ersberg in the final, and most pivotal, game of the season, instead of Jonathon Quick, who has been the Kings’ rock. Such a strange decision will cost the Kings more than a higher playoff seed.

My Prediction: Canucks in five. See? This’ll teach the Kings to mess with fate.


4. Phoenix Coyotes (50-25-7) vs. 5. Detroit Red Wings (44-24-14)

2009-10 Season Series: Red Wings 2-1-1

Last Playoff Clash: 1998, Conference Quarterfinals, Detroit won 4-2

Remember when 100 points in a season meant something? Seven of the eight Western Conference teams in this year’s playoffs finished with at least 100 points. The Red Wings have done this the last 10 seasons, but this was probably the shakiest performance of them all (thank the NHL for making OT and shootout losses worth a point). But down the stretch Detroit finally had everyone healthy, and they were playing like they’ve done over the past decade. Not a good sign for the Coyotes, who instead of finishing dead last as I picked them to, rolled to the fourth-best record in the league. Nope the NHL had nothing to do with that, not at all. Anywho, I was curious to see how far they could take this wonderful, non-NHL influenced season. So much for satisfying my underdog curiosity. Way to go, NHL. Could you at least broadcast the playoff games on ESPN? No? You suck more with each passing day, organ-I-zation of the NHL.

My Prediction: Red Wings in six, and an end to my bitterness towards The Man.

Remember; e-mail me at chadhuebner1972@yahoo.com for anything on your mind, hopefully hockey related. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.







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