04/08/2008 3:08 PM
THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Playoff Predictions Part 1
By Chad Huebner
“What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
You’re the pretender
What if I say I will never surrender?
So who. . . are you? Yeah who. . . are you?
Yeah who. . . are you?”
-“The Pretender” by Foo Fighters
Why yes, I am excited the hockey playoffs are about to begin, why do you ask?
Seriously, it only takes a drunken monkey with one arm tied behind its back to figure out this is one of the best seasons of the year, aside from the Christmas season, and the first half last season’s “24” (Second half never happened, ya hear me? NEVER!!!! I almost wish the writer’s strike happened last season; that way, the “24” writers could’ve ended the season with Jack stopping the terrorists from setting off another nuke. But nooooo, we get some tacked-on six-week ride through boredom as Jack has to save Audrey, who isn’t even on the show anymore, she’s too busy doing a “Sex and the City” look-alike with Brooke Shields. Okay, back to the column.)
It’s time for playoff teams to figure out who the contenders, and pretenders, are. But before I start deciding who they are for my own peace of mind, let’s get to Part 1 of my two-part column predicting the first-round winners.
First, congrats to the Coventry Blaze and the Guildford Flames for winning their league championships (the Elite League and the English Premier Ice Hockey League, respectively) and the Blaze for winning the Knockout Cup (which, coincidentally, is something one can do to an opponent to win the cup). Also congrats to the Chicago Wolves for winning the West Division title of the AHL, their first division title since the 2004-05 season, their second AHL division title, and their sixth (IHL and AHL combined) overall. Also congrats to the Rockford IceHogs, after dominating the UHL for so long (so much so the league changed its name to the IHL, but I could be wrong on that) to make a successful transition to the AHL and capture a playoff berth in their first year of AAA hockey. They managed to do this despite the numerous call-ups the Blackhawks needed to keep their team afloat.
Yes, these are all teams I write for (except for the Wolves, for some unknown reason, their loss) and I don’t mind congratulating my employers in some small way. Thi$ i$ not a $-driven $ituation at all.
Enough dollars and cents, let’s see how I did with my preseason predictions:
1. I improved in the picking divisional winners department, from one team the last two years. . . all the way up to two out of six. Yaaaayyy! I could’ve had three, had San Jose not gone on another late-season hot streak to edge out Anaheim for the No. 2 seed in the West. On the other hand, I was totally off base picking Vancouver to win the tough Northwest, when they couldn’t even clinch a playoff spot. I blame them calling themselves the “Canucks”, which is pretty much a derogatory term. It’s like us Americans calling a team the Yankees. . . oops, never mind.
2. As far as picking all 30 teams to finish where they did, I went eight-for-30 for the second straight year. I was spot on in the Pacific, where I had Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles going 3-4-5, but once again, that drunken monkey could’ve picked them just the same.
3. I slid a notch in terms of my picking the playoff teams, going from 13-for-16 last year to 12-for-16, the same number I had in my inaugural year of this column. Atlanta, Buffalo, St. Louis and Vancouver were big disappointments, while Washington and Montreal (especially the Canadiens) were the big surprises. Who knew?
For some odd reason, I didn’t pick a Stanley Cup winner waaay back in September. I did pick the Red Wings and the Senators as the conference finalists (and that Sens pick looks really, really shaky right now, what a shock), but stopped there without committing to a true winner.
Well, better late than never, and though it pains me to write this, I’ll say that I wanted to pick the Red Wings as this year’s champions. Yes, this is the third time in the last six years the Red Wings have clinched the best record in the NHL, and the previous two times, they were knocked out in the first round. All I can say is that after watching their run to the Conference Finals last year, this is a different Red Wings team ready to be aggressive instead of expecting good things to happen to them like in other years.
Besides, who really wants the Sens in a postseason pool right now? Avoid them like Lindsay Lohan’s private parts.
One more thing before we begin. I found this tidbit of info in an article written for the Society of International Hockey Research, of which I am a member (this might tell you something about the membership standards, but let’s leave it at that for now). The article talked about how “lucky” teams have to get to win the Cup. They broke down the number of times each seed made the Cup finals from 1980-2006 (1980 being the first year the NHL had 16 teams make the postseason), ranking all 16 teams that make it each year from best to worst record. Number one seeds have the highest chance of making the Cup Finals at 35 percent. Meanwhile, no 12th, 13th or 15th has ever made the Finals, so bad news for Washington, Ottawa and Boston. Oddly, two 16th-seeded teams have made it to the final round, so there’s hope in Nashville. Also oddly, if you just ranked the teams by league standing, then Carolina makes the playoffs, and the Preds are left out, since the ‘Canes have one more point than the Preds. I probably made the city of Raleigh hate me now, so let’s move on.
We start off with the first-round playoff predictions for the Eastern Conference. Part 2 will cover the Western Conference:
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
1. Montreal Canadiens (47-25-10) vs. 8. Boston Bruins (41-29-12)
2007-08 Season Series: Canadiens 8-0 (one shootout win by Montreal)
Last Playoff Clash: 2004 Conference Quarterfinals, Montreal won 4-3
It feels strange to say it, but the Canadiens are finally back on top after all these years of mediocrity. Can they make the next step from their lofty perch? Looks like sending Cristobal Huet to Washington worked out after all, as Carey Price (24-12-3, 2.56) looked solid in net. But with history riding his back like a 400-lb gorilla (Dryden and Roy won the Cup in their rookie years, after all), is the Price is right? Ewww, another bad pun. Two in two weeks, that’s not a good streak for me. Anyway, while Boston wants to prove they’re more than happy to be back in the playoffs. It’s all about the Canadiens, and their surprise run.
My Prediction: Canadiens in six, unless Boston brings back Don Cherry, plaid suits and all, to coach the Bruins. . . then it’s Canadiens in seven (hey, Montreal’s kinda got Boston’s number in the postseason, ya know).
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (47-27-8) vs. 7. Ottawa Senators (43-31-8)
2007-08 Season Series: Sens 3-1 (one shootout win by Pittsburgh)
Last Playoff Clash: 2007, Conference Quarterfinals, Ottawa won 4-1
Losing to the Flyers on the last day of the season was probably a godsend to the Pens. Would you rather take on a Bruins team raring to go in the playoffs, or a wounded and disinterested animal like Ottawa that seems to be playing out the end of the string until next year? It’s revenge time for the Pens, who thought they were ready for a big playoff run last season with their young stars, but were instead crushed in the first-round by the Sens. What Pittsburgh lost in terms of grit with Colby Armstrong, it gained in attacking the net with Marian Hossa, which helps when they’re concerned about Crosby’s health. Meanwhile, Ottawa’s in free fall, and who knows when they’ll hit rock bottom?
My Prediction: Pens deal Sens a 5-game exit, making thousands of Ottawa fans contemplate a swan dive in the Rideau when they’re faced with a loooong offseason and the only prospects of the AAA Lynx of baseball and the Roughriders of the CFL.
3. Washington Capitals (43-31-8) vs. 6. Philadelphia Flyers (42-29-11)
2007-08 Season Series: Series tied 2-2 (one OT win by Washington)
Last Playoff Clash: 1989, Patrick Division Semifinals (yes kids, once upon a time, divisions and conferences in the NHL were named after people, because, like, it was so cool to do), Philadelphia won 4-2
It’s such a patriotic-filled series, I wouldn’t be surprised if the political hydra known as McCain-Obama-Clinton starts sporting Caps jerseys. Don’t worry, I won’t waste my time trying to compare the three to hockey players from these two teams, I have a life. . . somewhat. The Caps are this year’s feel-good story, in that they’ve been ignored for so long (they actually made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, no seriously, I’m not jerking your chain), you can’t help but root for them to go pretty far in the playoffs. But this is what I thought about the Pens last year, and well. . . we know what happened there. People will argue that the Caps isn’t all about Alexander the Great. Well, the stats say he is, and while he’s physical and all of that, what about the rest of the team? Also, while Huet is a great pickup at the trade deadline, he hasn’t really had that much playoff experience (2-4 in 2005-06). This time I won’t be swayed by Alex’s fine play. Or fine personality. Or swarthy good looks. Ooooohkaaay. . .
My Prediction: Flyers in seven, giving false hope to the City of Failed Sports Champion Expectations (Chicago is the City of Failed Sports Dreams, by the way).
4. New Jersey Devils (45-29-7) vs. 5. New York Rangers (42-27-13)
2007-08 Season Series: Rangers 7-1 (one shootout win by New Jersey)
Last Playoff Clash: 2006, Conference Quarterfinals, New Jersey won 4-0
In his autobiography “Brodeur: Beyond the Crease”, Martin (aka, The Greatest Current Hockey Player) says that he doesn’t like participating, or having, the shootout. Nevertheless, Jersey’s shootout win over the Rangers on the last day of the regular season helped clinch home-ice advantage for this battle royale. Just as it’s a pleasure to have a couple of Original Six clubs playing against each other in the playoffs, so too is it to have these hated rivals go toe-to-toe. While it seems the Rangers owned the Devils this season, three of their four wins over New Jersey came in the extra frames, and five of the eight matchups were decided by one goal. In his book, Brodeur also doesn’t like the shootout because it’ll give young goalies like Henrik Lundqvist (cited by example in the book) a chance to pad their stats with wins in the long run. To put it bluntly, Brodeur doesn’t like the shootout, okay?
My Prediction: Devils in six, Martin shows Henrik how it’s done in the postseason, and sales of Brodeur’s book spike mysteriously for some reason.
THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND:Playoff Predictions Part 2
Enough jibber-jabber, time to see how the other conference will fare:
WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
1. Detroit Red Wings (54-21-7) vs. 8. Nashville Predators (41-32-9)
2007-08 Season Series: Red Wings 5-3 (one shootout and one OT win by Detroit)
Last Playoff Clash: 2004, Conference Quarterfinals, Detroit won 4-2
Didn’t I tell you Preds just to give up your foolish dream of barely making the playoffs ahead of my Beloved Blackhawks just a few weeks ago? Didn’t I say that all that hard work you put into getting there was going to be wasted because the Red Wings will just make mincemeat of you? Well, I guess this’ll be a hard lesson to learn. I think the Red Wings can get past the first round demons that have haunted them in the past, especially if some of the lesser players, like Franzen, can come through with some timely goals to take the pressure off of The Big 2, Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Don’t get me wrong, though, I don’t want to pick Detroit because of my fan status, but the plusses Detroit has are just too big to ignore.
My Prediction: Red Wings in five, and the Preds start making travel plans for Kansas City. Or maybe Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
2. San Jose Sharks (49-23-10) vs. 7. Calgary Flames (42-30-10)
2007-08 Season Series: Flames 3-1
Last Playoff Clash: 2004, Conference Finals, Calgary won 4-2
Everybody talks about Malkin vs. Ovechkin in terms of top scorers, but what about Iginla vs. Thornton. Jarome posted 50 goals, while Joe was his usual self with a league-high 67 assists. Calgary’s tough D could give Thornton and Co. some problems maintaining their prolific offense, along with the team’s unbeatable aura being challenged despite its usual big run to finish the regular season. I doubted Keenan from Day One to guide this team back to the playoffs, but there’s something about him in the playoffs that would make me feel uneasy to pick the Flames in a close series. This isn’t 1994 anymore, Mike, the magic is gone for you. Just keep yelling and jumping up and down from the bench like a baboon on a sugar rush if you think that’ll help.
My Prediction: Sharks in six, and maybe somebody steals their horrid new unis and replaces them with the ones they wore before this year.
3. Minnesota Wild (44-28-10) vs. 6. Colorado Avalanche (44-31-7)
2007-08 Season Series: Wild 5-3 (one shootout win by Colorado)
Last Playoff Clash: 2003, Conference Quarterfinals, Minnesota won 4-3
Congrats, Wild! All that hard work, blood, sweat and effort to stay ahead of the Northwest Division pack brings you. . . more of the same in the playoffs. Well, at least you have the Avs number at home. Otherwise, if Colorado won home-ice for this series, I’d be giving the nod to them. I still remember the thrilling seven-game dogfight five years ago with these two clubs battling hour after hour in Game 7. I’ll wish more of the same this time around. It’s a shame to see two great hockey towns (aside from Buffalo and that unmentioned place in Michigan) go head-to-head in the first round instead of later on, but hey, that’s the law of the playoffs, and we all abide by its unbending rule.
My Prediction: Wild in seven, and glad that the red on their unis will successfully hide the quarts of blood spilled on them after this series is finished. Yeah, that was a yucky thought, but then that’s just me.
4. Anaheim Ducks (47-27-8) vs. 5. Dallas Stars (45-30-7)
2007-08 Season Series: Stars 5-3 (one shootout win by Dallas)
Last Playoff Clash: 2003, Conference Semifinals, Anaheim won 4-2
This is the “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Series”, in that both teams had excellent chances of clinching the No. 2 seed, only to come up a bit lame the last month or so of the season, and now get to battle each other instead. The Ducks’ title defense will be a tough one from round to round, but they’re certainly helped by a strong D and a proven goalie in Giggy. This isn’t totally the same Ducks team that won it all a year ago, with Penner gone, and Perry and Getzlaf ailing. Still, they should get enough goals on a shaky Marty Turco to bust through to the next round, and an impending date with Detroit (cue the dramatic music).
My Prediction: Ducks in five, and people in Dallas say “Playoffs? But the Mavs are still in the regular season. Oh, the other team? You mean the Desperados? No? I know the Cowboys don’t start training camp ‘til July. . .”
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