04/29/2010 3:38 PM - By Chad Huebner
And that was the first round.
I mean, I’ve seen some pretty good playoff games, but clearly this year’s quarterfinals were off the chain across the board. Plenty of ragged nerves left on the battlefield, a few of them mine. Keeping up this pace the rest of the playoffs would probably blow apart Don Cherry’s frosted head, so let’s all grab a collective breath, and read some stuff I have about the playoffs and whatnot, and wrap it up with a few playoff picks (satisfaction on those definitely not guaranteed).
The Eastern Conference is very much up for grabs, and I say this in light of the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins have, possibly, an interrupted run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Apparently, winning your division doesn’t carry as much weight in the East as it does in the West. It’s been only a short time since the top three seeds in one conference were eliminated in the first round. In the 2006 playoffs, the top four seeds in the West were one-and-done after one round.
Sharks-Wings, ‘Hawks-Canucks: why do these matchups seem all too familiar? It’s because it actually happened before way back in 1995, when grunge referred to something other than a dirty shirt. The Red Wings were a powerhouse team back then (umm, they still are) and had to face the seventh-seeded Sharks, who were in their second postseason (in their first playoff experience the year before, they defeated these heavily-favored Wings in one of the biggest eighth seed over one seed upsets in NHL history. . . until now) and had just beaten the second-seeded Calgary Flames winning Game 7 in two overtimes. Meanwhile, the ‘Hawks and Canucks both got to the second round after two classic seven-game series. (In an additional quirky twist, the Flyers and Pens played in the semis, just like they will this postseason.) The results for the Wings-Sharks, ‘Hawks-Canucks series in ’95 were the same and surprisingly short: sweeps by the Wings and ‘Hawks. I’d like to think history can repeat itself for the ‘Hawks, but I’m too much of a realist, as you will soon read in my playoff picks.
Finally, as I may have mentioned at least once in this column, I am a member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR), which is for hockey what SABR-the Society for American Baseball Research-is for baseball. Whoopee-doo, you might say. Anyway, in their Yahoo! Group, someone brought up the topic of rooting for other teams in the playoffs if your favorite team doesn’t make it. I came up with five determining factors when it comes to rooting for teams other than my beloved Blackhawks:
1) Always root against the Red Wings. No matter what. Even if it's another team
I'm not totally enamored with (like the Caps), I want to see Detroit lose at all
2) Root for a team that has never made the playoffs before, or hasn't made them
in a very long time. Specific instances for the first part include Minnesota in
2003, when they went all the way to the Western Conference Finals (and what a
thrilling ride that was, especially when they ousted the Avs), and Nashville in
2004. Examples of the latter are the L.A. Kings this year.
3) Along those same lines in #2, root for the underdog. Again, the '03 Wild come
into play, as well as the '06 Oilers. I still get goose bumps when I remember
those games in Edmonton, and the entire stadium singing "O, Canada!" as one.
4) Root for a team that has some special storyline attached to the team or any
of its players. Foremost example is when Ray Bourque finally hoisted the Cup at
the end of a 20-plus-year career. Seeing stuff like that is very special.
5) When all else fails, root for the Canadian clubs. It's been, what, almost 20
years since we've had a Canadian team win it all? Certainly, we've seen a couple
of Canadian squads make it to the Finals, but it would be nice to see the
Canadiens continue their magical run all the way and end it with the Cup.
But not the Canucks, at least, not now. Because they're playing against the 'Hawks of course.
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (46-27-7) vs. 8. Montreal Canadiens (39-33-10)
2009-10 Season Series: Penguins 3-1-0
Last Playoff Clash: 1998, Conference Quarterfinals, Montreal won 4-2.
The first of three times I will bring up something along the lines of “I’m surprised it’s been that long since these teams have met in the playoffs.” But then, Montreal was bad for awhile, then it was Pittsburgh’s turn, so I guess it’s not that much of a shock. Montreal proved they could handle one superstar, so how will they fare against two in Crosby and Malkin (which sounds like a law firm, or a lame folk singing act)? The Pens might not be as deep in terms of scoring, but with those two guys clicking, it may not matter. Marc Andre-Fleury continues to be a question mark in goal, something the Canadiens will continue to exploit as they did when they chased Jose Theodore out of the net in round one. The Canadiens will make a game of it, but I can make the firm assumption that they’ve met their match against the defending champs. I think.
My Prediction: Pens in six, but at least “Les Habitants” did their city proud for a little while. . . until next season rolls around and you have the annual grousing and complaining by the fans and the local media.
6. Boston Bruins (38-30-13) vs. 7. Philadelphia Flyers (43-31-8)
2009-10 Season Series: Tied 2-2-0 (Flyers won one in shootout, Bruins won one in OT)
Last Playoff Clash: 1978, Conference Semifinals, Boston won 4-1
Second time I’ll say that I’m sure surprised these teams haven’t met more often in the postseason. Both have certainly made the playoffs a ton of times, but I guess most of those appearances where in the divisional playoffs era, in where teams had to beat two divisional opponents before they could play in the conference finals. I’ve heard some horror stories about those matchups in the ‘70s (not including the time George Plimpton suited up in goal for the Bruins in a preseason game), and I figure this series won’t be much different. Heck, the Flyers Dan Carcillo looks like he played alongside Dave Schultz way back then. The Bruins are incredibly fortunate to be hosting this round, and this should give them a slight edge in the whole bloody battle.
My Prediction: Bruins in six, and plenty of both players will have faces that look like Gerry Cheevers “stitches” goalie mask.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
1. San Jose Sharks (51-20-11) vs. 5. Detroit Red Wings (44-24-14)
2009-10 Season Series: Red Wings 3-0-1
Last Playoff Clash: 2007, Conference Semifinals, Detroit won 4-2
Golly-gee I’m plum surprised these teams haven’t met more. . . yadda yadda yadda. Moving on, the last time the Sharks made it into the second round (which is as far as any Sharks team has ever gone in the playoffs), they were stonewalled by the Wings. Sharks' head coach Todd McLellan was an assistant under Wings’ head coach Mike Babcock at that time, so maybe San Jose has some inside track on derailing Detroit’s playoff chances. Yet Detroit continues to be a slight favorite, at least in my book, as that Game 7 against the Phoenix Coyotes showed what the Wings could really do when they’re firing on all cylinders-err, pistons. Being on the road for what’ll be three games in a row after Games 1 and 2 of this series might put some wear on tear on Detroit’s treads, but I’m sure they’ll find some extra tank in the gas and take their playoff vehicle to the limit. And I also think I’m done with my pithy automobile references.
My Prediction: Wings in seven, setting for what should be another delicious helping of “Detroit Sucks!” in the Conference Finals.
2.2. Chicago Blackhawks (52-22-8) vs. 3. Vancouver Canucks (49-28-5)
2009-10 Season Series: Tied 2-2-0
Last Playoff Clash: Umm, last year, in the same Conference Semis? And the ‘Hawks won 4-2, in case any Canucks fans forgot that point.
With brawls, taunts and semi-naked limo rides, this series has all the makings of a bitter rivalry right out of “Slap Shot.” The ‘Hawks are trained to hate the Red Wings, but their hatred of the Canucks might even run deeper. But that street goes two ways, and expect the Canucks to try and exact revenge for what happened last year, especially in the final game when the ‘Hawks made “Luuuuuuu!” cry like a little girl after the game. Yeah, I’ll pick a fight with them, too, why not? The ‘Hawks should find it more open in the offensive zone than against the Preds, which should lead to less chances of them turning the puck over and having to play on their heels. But the Canucks have a lot more firepower, so when they do have the puck, they’ll try to make life a living hell for Niemi in net. Still, the ‘Hawks are up to the challenge, and they’ve all proven they can hang with the toughest of them. This will be more of the same, and the ‘Hawks will be better for it than their namby-pamby counterparts.
My Prediction: ‘Hawks in six, and I might be tempted to take a limo to celebrate. No pics, please, for the love of everything holy, NO PICS!!!!
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