After watching one of the best nights of hockey I’ve seen in recent memory last night, I felt compelled to foolishly make predictions on one of the most unpredictable tournaments in sports. In case you missed it, the Senators, Flyers, Coyotes and Avalanche all won tight, one-goal games over the Penguins, Devils, Red Wings and Sharks respectively. Most experts have predicted last night’s losers to win their series but as I said before, the NHL Playoffs just cannot be predicted (but here’s my attempt).
10. Sidney Crosby will NOT lead the Penguins in points.
Yes you read correctly, Sid the Kid will finish second or lower in points for the Penguins. Seeing Evgeni Malkin tear up the Senator defense last night made me realize that he is the cog that keeps the Penguins’ gears turning. Crosby has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and has scored some very big goals in his career (see Vancouver Olympics) but Malkin is the man who strikes fear in the heart of opposing defencemen.
9. The San Jose Sharks will not make it past the second round.
The Sharks have a sickness of crumbling come playoff time. San Jose perennially has good regular seasons and this year was no different. The Sharks are the top seed in a competitive Western Conference and face the plucky Avalanche in the first round. If they can manage to avoid a second straight postseason first-round exit then I have a tough time believing they would have what it takes to get through another series. The Western Conference is very good this year and there are a number of teams who appear hungry for a championship. What the Sharks have in talent, they always seem to lack in hunger.
8. Neither the Red Wings nor the Penguins will be in the Cup final… again
The Red Wings struggled mightily this season and used a late run to secure the fifth seed in the West. The experience is there for the proven Red Wings but as mentioned before, the West is very good this year and I believe that age and fatigue will be the downfall. Not to say that they will be pushovers in any round of the tournament, but a certain team in Phoenix seems to be playing some very good hockey right now. The Penguins have had tough times as well during the season. Their power play was ranked near the bottom of the league at times and their goaltending has been questionable (see last night’s game against Ottawa). Plus, let’s be honest, these two teams have played a staggering 290 games apiece since the beginning of the 2007-08 season. That makes me tired just thinking about it.
7. The Cup goes to… an American team
Sorry Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa fans but it’s obvious that your team will not capture Lord Stanley this year. A Canadian team hasn’t won the Cup since the 1993. That’s a 17-year drought for the country that hockey was born in. Montreal will be lucky to win a game against the Capitals in the first round. The Canucks and Senators will be so bruised if they come out of the quarterfinals that neither of them will make much noise. There just isn’t enough depth on any of these three teams to compete with some of the teams that aren’t afraid to roll four lines throughout the game.
6. There will be at least two series that go the distance in the first round
Yes, I have a sneaky feeling that there will be some compelling match-ups in these quarterfinals. First of all, the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers have the goods to deliver on a seven-game series. Brain Boucher carried the Flyers to a win in Game 1, but I would have to think that he cannot keep that pace up for a full series. He’s a good goalie – but the guy on the other end is pretty decent too. Martin Brodeur has stolen his share of playoffs games and has three Cup rings to show for it. He won’t let his Devils be stunned like they were after their series with the Carolina Hurricanes last year. Also, the Phoenix Coyotes might just take the Detroit Red Wings to a seventh game. The Red Wings would appear to be the better team, but the Coyotes have a playoff-proven goaltender and a spunky group of guys that work well together and work for each other.
5. There will only be one sweep throughout all of the playoffs this year!
Yes, that’s right. One four game sweep this year. This group of teams seems fairly well-matched with no real favorites to steamroll the competition. The West is as competitive and balanced as ever and the East could produce any number of teams to compete for the Cup. You might ask yourself… “Who’s getting swept?” Well, I don’t want to offend anyone out there but I just don’t see Montreal winning any game against the powerful Capitals. If people thought the Caps had goaltending issues then they haven’t seen Montreal’s netminders. Carey Price was replaced by Jaroslav Halak during the season and neither goalie could produce the kind of consistent effort Habs fans were looking for. Also, the team never seem to gel as management thought it might with so many new faces on the team.
4. An unlikely goal scorer will score to end a multiple-overtime game.
With the games being as close as they have been, it seems obvious that some of them will go to overtime, and some of those will go to another overtime, and some of them will go to ANOTHER overtime. Multiple overtimes make games more and more dramatic as they go on and it seems as if big-name goal scorers never seem to be the ones to score the winners. Look for people like Craig Adams of Pittsburgh, Patrick Kaleta of Buffalo or Jannik Hansen in Vancouver to end a dramatic game at some point.
3. Jose Theodore will start every game for the Capitals
I like Semyon Varlamov just fine, but Theodore has already been named as the starter for the top-seeded Capitals and appears to be ready for the postseason. Goaltending isn’t the strongest point for the Caps and hasn’t been since Olaf Kolzig was in his prime. Fortunately for Bruce Boudreau’s team, it doesn’t need to be. The Caps have the firepower to win games on offense alone and they have proven that. Washington has no problem with winning games 6-4 instead of 3-1 because of that key word… winning.
2. The Buffalo Sabres will beat the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Chicago Blackhawks will eliminate the Los Angeles Kings in the West.
Wow.. that was a lot of information to handle all at once. In the East, Buffalo’s goaltending will shine over the Capitals high-octane offensive attack. Ryan Miller almost led the US to a gold medal and he will carry the Sabres into the Cup Finals the same way. Alex Ovechkin and Co. will have to settle for just another step in maturity in the playoffs (first-round exit in ’08, second-round exit in ’09). The Caps have all the tools to win it all but you cannot deny the Sabres goaltending and desire to get to the Cup Finals for the first time since 1999.
In the West, the youthful Blackhawks are one year older and one year wiser. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will lead Chicago past the upstart LA Kings in what should be an exciting matchup of two fast-paced teams. Jonathan Quick is a great goaltender and he will shine in the spotlight of the playoffs. The Kings are an underestimated team will good talent such as Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Ryan Smyth, Jack Johnson and numerous others. Former sniper Justin Williams came back from injury to post 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in just 49 games. Chicago will have their hands full but will move on to play Buffalo for the 2010 Stanley Cup.
1. The Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup
For the first time since 1961, the Stanley Cup will call Chicago home. The Blackhawks will defeat the Buffalo Sabres in six or seven games in what should be a very exciting Finals matchup. Ryan Miller’s magic will eventually run out and he will have to settle for second place for a second time since losing in the Olympics. He will, however, win the Conn Smythe trophy awarded to the playoffs MVP. The talent of the Blackhawks will come through and they will skate around competition until the clock clicks down to zero and they call themselves champions.
Then again… I could be wrong