|I worked this out several different ways. Boston-Nashville kept turning out to be the Stanley Cup Finals.|
It's mid-April. The NHL playoffs are about to start, and 16 fan bases are optimistic that this could be their team's year to win the Stanley Cup! The horrible truth to this is that most of us will be let down and our teams will be knocked out of the playoffs earlier than we had originally hoped. So now that I've depressed you a bit, it's time for the second installment (here's last year's bracket, in case for some bizarre reason, you'd like to see it) of my playoff bracket.
*All NHL logos were
Eastern Conference (I start with the East because of East Coast Bias)
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators
Series slogan: What goes first? Paul MacLean's 'stache or John Tortorella's temper?
I'm used to seeing the Rangers in the 1/8 matchup, but not as the #1 seed. Both of these teams would be considered "over-achievers" this season. A lot has to go right for Ottawa to win the series, and although I'm not crazy about giving goalies all the credit in the world, but this series will come down to goaltending. Craig Anderson has seen this before: his Colorado Avalanche were the 8th seed in the spring of 2010, and he stole a pair of games for the Avs before losing in six to San Jose. This series will be similar, although this Senators team is a much more offensively skilled team. Ottawa will need to be very patient in this series, because the Rangers not only love to collapse in the neutral zone, but they collapse around the net and will make it difficult for Erik Karlsson and the Sens' defense to get their point shots through to Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist, by the way, had a save percentage of .895 in March and April, so he'll need to be much better than that, or his Rangers could be heading home early again.
My pick: Rangers in 6.
Confidence in my pick: 9/10
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
Series slogan: Tim Thomas can ship up to Boston, but he'll have to be in the city of the White House too
It's been an inconsistently brilliant season for the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, but when they're on, they are the best team in the NHL. They have a dynamic, yet balanced attack, which compliments Zdeno Chara, the world's best defenseman, and Tim Thomas, an elite NHL goaltender, very well. The Capitals, meanwhile, had a very disappointing season and almost missed the playoffs, yet here they are, playing very well lately, as they've won four of five games heading into the playoffs. If they had a consistent and healthy goaltender, I would pick this as the upset, since Washington is far overdue to make a long playoff run, but they don't, so it'll be another early exit for the Caps, even with Nicklas Backstrom healthy. But hey, at least they fired Bruce Boudreau, riiight?!
My pick: Bruins in 6.
Confidence in my pick: 5/10
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
Series slogan: If a playoff series was buried off NBC's networks and nobody saw it, did it really happen?
(I'll have a more detailed preview of this series during the week) It's been a long time coming since the Florida Panthers made the playoffs, but finally, the Panthers are the latest Miami team to take advantage of free agency to improve their team. And the Panthers didn't sign LeBron James or Jose Reyes, so you don't have to hate on them. The Panthers have their "Big 3," though, as Fleischmann, Weiss and Versteeg make up a very dangerous scoring line. Meanwhile, it's been a huge bounce-back season for the Devils under yet another new coach, Pete DeBoer. They won 48 games and picked up 102 points after missing the playoffs for just the second time in 22 seasons. The Devils are no longer the old trap Devils, in fact, they're one of the East's most up-tempo and deep offensive teams. That will be why the Devils win this series. They have depth, as good of a defense as any New Jersey blue line since the lockout and Martin Brodeur has been playing very well since the All-Star Break. Plus, DeBoer would love to beat the team that fired him. If the Devils play a disciplined and smart game, which they'll have to against Florida, this won't be a very long series.
My pick: Devils in 5.
Confidence in my pick: 9/10
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
Series slogan: No seriously, will anyone actually survive this series?
We've already seen the Rangers and Devils' playoff series. Here are the other Atlantic Division superpowers. The Battle of Pennsylvania is renewed once again, and this series figures to be an absolute war. Both teams have gone through a lot of drama and significant injuries this season, but both are at least closer to healthy than they were months ago. They're both two of the top four offensive teams in the league, and now both have quality goaltenders in Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov. But more importantly, this series will be physical, tough, and probably very dirty at times. One of these teams will go home and the other could potentially have to play the Bruins in the second round! How lucky is that?!
My pick (basically a coin flip): Flyers (with the...upset?) in 17, err, 7
Confidence in my pick: 6/10
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
Series slogan: Stay off the streets, keep your eye on the clock and don't skate past the opponent's bench with the puck
Relative to the city and their Canadian market, it's been a quiet season for the Vancouver Canucks. Maybe I'm just not paying attention, but I feel as if I haven't heard much about them this year. That hasn't been the case for the Los Angeles Kings, who were very disappointing for much of the season. This is another series where it figures to be frustrating on forwards, as both teams have potentially good goaltenders, but if Roberto Luongo bends at all, how long will he be played before Cory Schneider gets the nod in goal? Despite any fragile confidence, I still think the better team will win this series. Jonathan Quick will steal two games, perhaps the Kings' two home games, but that's it. Even without Daniel Sedin, the Canucks are deep, they're talented and they're simply the better team.
My pick: Canucks in 6.
Confidence in my pick: 7/10
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
Series slogan: Will the Sharks score a goal?
I'd like to pick an upset in the West this year, and this is the one I was looking at as a true upset (because 3/6 and 4/5 are pretty even heading in), but I just can't do it. San Jose and their puck possession system could control play and outplay the Blues dramatically, but it might not mean a thing because of the Blues' goaltending. Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak are 1a and 1b on the league's best defensive team. The Sharks are a pretty solid defensive team, but St. Louis is a dominant defensive team. When they're not trapping to death, the Blues have a very good penalty killing unit as well, so goals will be precious and not in great quantity for the Sharks in this series. The Blues are also "Red Wings good" at home, so they have pretty much everything going for them in this series. San Jose will need Antti Niemi to turn back to his Chicago Cup run days and stand on his head if an upset is going to happen, which it won't.
My pick: Blues in 5.
Confidence in my pick: 7/10
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
Series slogan: Phoenix draws Chicago, so at least Jobing.com will be sold out
The Phoenix Coyotes are in the playoffs for the third straight year under head coach Dave Tippett, and they've finally won a division title as well. Oh yeah, and they're not playing the Red Wings, but they are playing another tough Central Division team: the Blackhawks. Chicago had a tough season last year, and lost in the first round to Vancouver, so they're looking to regain their form as one of the league's dominant teams again. Whether they do so or not will have a lot to do with the health of concussed captain Jonathan Toews. If he's healthy, the 'Hawks have a talented lineup with depth. They're still good without him, but due to inconsistent goaltending and shaky defense, they'll need every goal they can manage. That won't be easy against Mike Smith and the Coyotes. Could this finally be the year that Phoenix wins a playoff series? I think so, because as tough as they are to play against, this edition of the Coyotes can score just enough to get it done. Phoenix will need to take advantage of home ice, because Chicago is dominant at home.
My pick: Coyotes in 7.
Confidence in my pick: 4/10
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
Series slogan: This will be the best Nashville-Detroit series of the year. Guaranteed.
Here's something you may not know: the Red Wings allowed seven fewer goals than the Predators this season. Detroit scored more goals, is very dominant at home and is still the NHL's best puck possession team, yet they're the underdogs in this series. Well, there's a good reason for that. Detroit has been battling a number of injuries late in the season, while the Predators are pretty healthy right now, and since the trade deadline, they've gotten significantly better. Paul Gaustad's presence makes them deeper at forward, Hal Gill is a tremendous defenseman to have behind Weber and Suter and Alexander Radulov adds the star-quality winger Nashville needs to "take the next step." Nashville has also won six of eight heading into the playoffs, while Detroit is just 4-4-2 in their last 10. Rinne and Howard have similar stats, so neither goalie will "steal" the series, but it's time for Nashville to make their run, and it starts with the Wings.
My pick: Predators in 6.
Confidence in my pick: 5/10
As you can see in the bracket, I have my picks through the Stanley Cup Finals picked. I won't bother to detail the later rounds now, because I'll probably be wrong about one or two or eight of the series anyway.
Also, how about a Blues-Coyotes series? Will there even be seven goals scored in the series combined? Of course now that I say that, every game will be 6-5...
Finally, I realize that I didn't really pick any true upsets, and that's because I don't think the league is as close this year as it was last year. In last year's bracket, I was amazed at how close every series was on paper, and it turned out to be an extremely competitive and entertaining first round of the playoffs. I think there's a little more of a gap between the top teams in the league and the lower seeds and teams in the playoffs this season. That doesn't mean any series will be easy, but I think there will be more shorter series in this year's first round.
If I were to pick an upset, though, I'd go with Washington over Boston. I think the Caps will benefit from the lack of pressure as the top seed this season. I would like to pick the Caps, but all year, every time they looked as if they were "back" as a top team, they suffered a terrible loss and took steps back. Right now, I just don't think their goaltending is good enough to beat a very lethal Bruins team, especially with the Caps' injuries in goal. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin (and maybe Mike Green contributes a little?) would have to dominate Tim Thomas in order for an upset to take place, and the Chara-Seidenberg duo, plus Patrice Bergeron at forward will be too good at shutting the Caps' offense down for that to happen.
In the West, I guess if Quick plays out of his mind and Luongo were to choke, I could see the Kings beating Vancouver, but I don't think that will happen. Chicago and Detroit are also very capable of winning their series, I just don't think they will. Both of my Stanley Cup Finals teams will have a very tough first round matchups, and if they survive it, they could be on their way to the Finals.
Please feel free to comment with your predictions for as few or as many series as you'd like.