There are some who say these playoffs are the best in all of sport (we’ll take March Madness, thanks) with its rich tradition and, of course, Lord Stanley’s Cup, from which the winning team can drink whatever it likes. What’s not to like about that?
First let’s dispense with the obvious: The Detroit Red Wings are your defending Stanley Cup champions. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in a best-of-seven series in 2008. As if there was ever a question, the title still runs through Hockeytown.
So, in our (read: my) never-ending quest to bring you the best (read: most mediocre) glancing hockey coverage in the blogosphere, we will preview the quarterfinal series in each conference and even make fools of ourselves with predictions.
Aside: I totally nailed the picks from the Frozen Four. But, then again, Paul Casey made me look pretty dumb in the Masters. Thanks, buddy.
Without further ado, let’s get on with the Eastern and Western Conference previews.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
No. 1 Boston Bruins vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens
Funny the difference a year makes. These two Original Six teams met in last year’s playoffs but the roles were reversed; Montreal was the top seed and the Bruins were No. 8. The Canadiens won that series, 4-3, but this year should prove different.
Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has been the best in the league all year and young Canadiens netminder Carey Price has been uneven. In fact, Price had just a .878 save percentage against the Bruins this year.
The Habs will also be without star defenseman Andrei Markov for the duration of the series. Boston’s scoring depth will just be too much. All this adds up to a very quick exit for Montreal and more winning for the Boston metropolitan area. Dammit.
Prediction: Boston in four.
Last season Philadelphia upset Alex Ovechkin and Co. in seven games. Something tells me the Rangers won’t have the same kind of luck this year.
The Caps are perhaps the most purely talented team in the league and won the season series 3-0-1. The only reason for pause is all of those games came before New York installed John Tortorella behind the bench and added Sean Avery, Derek Morris and Nik Antropov.
Let’s add that to Washington’s shaky final game and the Rangers may be upset minded. We wouldn’t be totally surprised if New York pulled an upset, but then again, we don’t see it happening.
Prediction: Washington in seven.
No. 3 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes
We dig this matchup. A lot. Carolina won the regular season series 3-1 with all but one game decided by a single goal. All but one of the games have come since mid-March and Carolina has won twice.
Here’s the difference: Carolina goaltender Cam Ward was 3-0 with a sparkling .951 save percentage against the Devils this year. Martin Brodeur was almost as good, going 1-1 with a .945. Can you say goaltending duel?
Brodeur might be the best that ever played, but this will be Ward’s series to carry. Upset special!
Prediction: Carolina in six.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
Ah, the battle of Keystone State. Should be quite fun.
It’s funny to think there was a point at which fans were wondering aloud whether the Penguins would even make it into the playoffs. Now they have home-ice advantage against their in-state rival. Pittsburgh won the season series 4-2, but each team scored 21 goals.
Even though Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t done all that well against Philly this season, it doesn’t bode well for the Flyers that goaltender Martin Biron had just a .879 save percentage against Pittsburgh.
With Sidney Crosby and Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin sniping, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where the Penguins don’t move on, though it should be a close series.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in seven.
Now we come to you with the conference we most care about (Midwest bias): The Western Conference.
Here you will find the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, the young, offensively potent Chicago Blackhawks and, of course, the San Jose Sharks, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy after attaining a league-high 117 points.
No. 1 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 8 Anaheim Ducks
Well hey, as if it’s not enough to be the top seed and have home-ice advantage, the Sharks get to stay in California for their first-round series. How nice.
San Jose won the season series 4-2 and Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller took the brunt, going 1-3 with a .929 save percentage. Each team scored only 12 goals, so defense will be at a premium in what shapes up to be a low-scoring series.
But, there’s a problem. San Jose doesn’t have the best playoff history and Anaheim is only a two years removed from winning the Cup. Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf may just carry them. And Barry Melrose picked the Ducks as a sleeper.
Well, that’s enough for us. Sharks go down in flames.
Prediction: Anaheim in six.
No. 2 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets
A tale of opposites. The Wings are making their 18th consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, are the defending champs and have won 11 Cups overall. They are loaded up with stars like Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk.
The Blue Jackets are making their first-ever playoff appearance behind soon-to-be rookie of the year Steve Mason in goal and stud forward Rick Nash.
I really, really like Mason’s game. And Nash’s, for that matter. But at just 20 years old Mason needs a little more experience before I’m ready to see him leading the Jackets past a team as deep and talented as Detroit, although it would be fun to see.
Prediction: Detroit in five.
Is there another goaltender as hot as Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo? It’s hard to imagine. The Canucks rely on him to be solid every night, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in this series.
St. Louis has been a nice story, going from clearly out of the playoff picture to the sixth seed. The last time it won a playoff series was in 2002. Unfortunately for those in Missouri that’s not going to change this time around. Luongo is just too good.
There are those that like Vancouver to win it all, and they very well could, but we’re not willing to go just that far. For now, we say they get through this series rather easily.
Prediction: Vancouver in six.
No. 4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 5 Calgary Flames
Now for the series which we care about the most. Our resurgent, youthful, exciting Blackhawks are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
On paper it’s hard to believe this series looks so one-sided. Chicago won the season series 4-0 and outscored the Flames 19-7. Pure domination.
Any team with Jerome Iginla is still dangerous, but Blackhawks netminder Nikolai Khabibulin has been on fire lately, with two shutouts in his last three starts. He might have pushed Cristobal Huet out of the net during the playoffs.
Prediction: Chicago in six.