Friday, April 27, 2012

NHL Round 2

As promised, now that the first round of the NHL playoffs has been completed, it's time for me to make my second-round predictions. If you came here today for more cute photos or if you hate hockey, my apologies. Perhaps try again tomorrow. But thanks for checking in, at least!

In the first round the accuracy of my predictions took on a very strange geographical sway which I cannot explain. In the Eastern Conference I did very poorly indeed. Here are my picks, with the eventual outcome in brackets:

Rangers vs Ottawa - I took the Rangers in 5 and I said I thought this could be the only sweep (Rangers won in 7)

Boston vs Washington - I took Boston in 6 (Washington won in 7)

Florida vs New Jersey - I took New Jersey in 6 but I kind of hedged my bet here (they won in 7)

Pittsburgh - Philadelphia - I took Pittsburgh in 6 (Philadelphia won in 6)

As you can see, I only picked two of the series correctly (and one of them I was on the fence about) and in no case did I get both the winner and the series length correct for the same matchup. Since this is the conference I pay the most attention to, that seems pretty poor indeed.

But what makes it even more strange is the record I had picking the winners in the Western Conference:

Vancouver vs Los Angeles - I took Los Angeles in 6 (they, amazingly, won in 5)

St. Louis vs San Jose - I took St. Louis in 5 (they won in 5)

Phoenix vs Chicago - I took Phoenix in 6 (they won in 6)

Nashville vs Detroit - I took Nashville in 5 (they won in 5)

So in the west, I picked every single winner correctly and the only blemish I had at all was the Kings-Canucks series was a game shorter than I predicted it would last. I find this stunning; let's see if it continues.

So here are my bold predictions for Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs, 2012 (I just wanted to make it sound more formal...):

Let's start with the series that gets under way tonight: Phoenix vs Nashville. I took Phoenix in the first round because they had the best record in the NHL from February 1 onward and Chicago was not hitting on all cylinders. However, the farther you go in the playoffs the less the regular season means. Phoenix beat Chicago primarily on the strength of the incredible work of their goalie, Mike Smith. While I don't expect the quality of his play to change, I think Pekka Rinne is at least as good in net for Nashville, if not better. The Preds have a really solid team this year with depth at every position. I am taking Nashville in 6 in this series.

On Saturday two series begin starting with Washington vs New York Rangers. I didn't think Washington had much of a chance to beat Boston in the first series but they did, largely on the back of their fantastic rookie goalie, Braden Holtby. After the series was won he still seemed completely unmoved by the situation and I think he's the real deal. On the other hand, New York struggled to win against a gritty but less-talented Ottawa team and at times last night seemed completely overwhelmed and other times quite lackadaisical in their play. I believe this is a team that can be had and Washington might finally be primed to exorcize some of those playoff demons. I'm taking Washington in 6.

The second series beginning on Saturday (Los Angeles vs St. Louis) should be the best hockey of the round by a wide margin. Los Angeles is fresh off of their huge (and quite welcome, to me) upset of the President's Trophy Winners, the Vancouver Canucks, in the first round. While I did pick LA to win that series, I admitted at the time that my reasons were sound but my heart was on my sleeve with that pick. But win they did - and very nearly in a sweep. I think the Kings are one of the most talented 8th seeds we've seen in the playoffs in a long time and I also feel that their goalie, Jonathan Quick, is the best in the league right now (and there is some fantastic competition there). St. Louis has two fantastic goalies, but only one can play at any one time. Both coaches are terrific playoff-style coaches and this is going to be a great series. I really feel like this might be Los Angeles' year, so I am going to keep taking them until they lose. Kings in 7

Which leaves the Philadelphia - New Jersey series. If the first round has taught us anything it's not to make broad assumptions based on what's gone before....but seriously, I cannot see New Jersey taking this series unless half of Philly's lineup gets suspended (which, of course, could always happen). I'm taking Philly in 5 games. Marty Brodeur likely has one more shutout left in him this year.

So that takes care of the predictions. But I haven't commented on the first round itself, yet.

Another blown offside call, another huge goal
I have been saying for years that I believe the NHL to be the worst-officiated of all major professional sports. So far in the playoffs I have had that thought solidified on several occasions each and every night - and that's just from the highlights I have been watching, because I haven't had the heart to really see any games from start to finish. The Washington-Boston game 7 was the first time I came close. Which brings me to the second thing I have been saying for years, the reason I couldn't watch a lot of hockey in Round 1: the NHL has completely lost control of the actions of the players on the ice and have waited far too long to do anything about it, especially in the area of shots to the head. It would take me 20 more blog posts to list all the filthy plays that disgusted me in the first round and even then those would just be the ones I happened to see. Throwing the book at Raffi Torres was easy - he's just not "learning" and even Matt Cooke eventually got the message. But the missed opportunities on all of the non-suspended players just keep adding up to eventual disaster. Dustin Brown had a huge series for the Kings; in Game 4 Henrik Sedin delivered an elbow to his head and followed through with a punch to the nose while Brown was on one knee:

What's not mentioned here is why Brown was kneeling in the first place; it's not caught on film but there has been some reporting that Daniel Sedin hit him in the head going to other way a moment earlier. There wasn't a fine or suspension for this play; as far as I know, it wasn't even reviewed.

Then there's this hit by "Mr. Teflon" Chris Neil on Brian Boyle:

Suspension, right? Wrong. Somehow this thug has never been suspended in his entire NHL career and nobody is quite sure why. Neil blamed this hit (shoulder to chin) on Boyle himself, for "cutting through the middle with his head down". Later in the series Neil had his own head down and was smoked by Michael Del Zotto. The hit was, to me, a textbook example of the blindside hit that the NHL had actually written into its rule book and yet, it went unpunished in any way. But did Neil comment that he was to blame for not keeping his head up? Of course not. In fact, he threatened to do the same thing to Del Zotto the next time his head was down. And that is exactly where the NHL should have stepped in and at least fined Neil for making those threats.

And cue the crickets.

I love hockey. I have coached minor hockey at the peewee level for nearly 10 years. I have played hockey since I was 7. I will continue to love hockey for the rest of my life. But I am very, very sick of the NHL. There is a serious problem here and they absolutely refuse to do anything about it. It will be very interesting to see where the concussion lawsuits against the NFL go, because once the same thing starts happening to the NHL they might have to close up shop and reform. And that would suit me just fine.


Well, at least the two teams I hate the most in the NHL - the Senators and the Canucks - have been eliminated. Bruins, too. If the Flyers lose this round I actually won't care which of the 4 remaining teams wins the Cup, although I will always pull for somebody who's never won it before. Well, almost always: see above concerning the Canucks and Senators.

Bring on Round 2. See you here in a couple of weeks for more fearless predictions, unless I find it necessary to write again about the travesty that is the NHL. I really hope that doesn't happen.

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