Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hockey's "Second Season"

I love the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I don't think there's a more exciting event in sports than an overtime hockey game and if it happens in Game 7 and/or the finals, well.....let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if the sales of portable defibrillators went up every year in mid- to late-May.

For most of my life I have spent some time in the days between the season and the opening game of the playoffs studying the matchups and trying to predict winners. Usually it's because I am in a pool of some kind; other years I just do it for interest's sake. But the past...oh, I don't know.....let's say "seven" years I have paid more attention than usual to the overall playoff picture rather than just the games I really care about. I don't even know why.

What's that? You think you know why? Well, keep it to yourself, ok?


So....moving's looking to me like some of the best matchups of this entire postseason may take place in the first round, as it was a few years ago when the Hawks won the Cup. And it starts right away with the three games tonight:

The Canucks, I think, may have all they can handle with the Kings in the first round. They are a dangerous team and I think they are a lot farther down the standings than they should have been. If Jonathan Quick has the kind of series he's capable of, then the league's most despised team (and its fans) might be the victims of an early upset. Here's hoping, at least. Hey, if it's any consolation the spring showers in Vancouver will keep car fires to a minimum.

I'm going to take the Kings in 6, but part of that is just my heart on my sleeve.

Next, the Preds and Wings. In the first place, in any normal year the Wings would probably take this in 4 or 5 games. But this is far from any normal year. The Wings suffered through many injuries late in the season and almost went into freefall not long after setting the NHL record for consecutive home wins. The Preds came on strongly enough at the end that they actually have home ice advantage for this series. But....they are still the Wings. They may not have what it takes to go all the way with their banged-up club, but still....

I'm taking the Preds in 5, but my personal feeling is if they don't get this one done early, they may not pull it off at all.

And then there's the biggest first-round matchup of them all - and perhaps one that could turn out to be the best of the entire post-season: Flyers-Pens. These teams hate each other. Whichever team comes out of this round has to be looked on as favourites to reach the Finals (sorry, Ranger fans) if they can avoid too many game-changing injuries. But that's going to be a big "if", I think. Dan Bylsma is, in my opinion, the absolute best coach in the NHL today - and by a good margin. The Pens have a lot of talent and a lot of weapons; they have the top scorer in the NHL this year and they have Sidney Crosby - and they are two different people. But if the Bryzgalov that shows up for this series is the post-all-star version, the Pens might be "Halaked" right out of the playoffs.

I'm taking the Pens in 6, but I'm not tremendously confident in this pick.

Let's see how I do tonight, before I take my shots at the other 5 series tomorrow.

One more thought, though: how would you like to be one of the 10 or 12 Blue Jacket fans today? You were so bad that you had the 30th spot in the NHL wrapped up around Christmas, you're likely going to lose the face of the franchise this summer, and you still couldn't get the #1 overall pick in yesterday's lottery. I think this team has another 3-4 years in Columbus tops before they are gone. There's just no upside to this team right now. On the other hand, I guess the Oilers are believers in the "Pittsburgh model", right?

Just don't tell Brian Burke. Unless you like to see blood and hay mixed together.

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