Hey Scribe, who the hell is Paulsen? Yeah, I can hear you asking that. His name is not Robert Paulsen. He is a hockey player, pretty smart sometimes and wanted me to pass along his predictions. I suggest you give him a rash of crap in the comment section even if you agree with him. It’s more fun that way. Besides, he picked Chicago at the beginning of the season to NOT make the playoffs. Can you believe that? In retrospect, he actually nailed that one but for the minor technicality that the Hawks backed into the post season.
Much like an NCAA March Madness bracket, every hockey fan put their expert opinion to the test and predicts playoff outcomes series-by-series and round-by-round. Conforming to tradition, and feeling maybe a little overly confident from my preseason prediction about the Blackhawks, I would like to offer my first round predictions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers: The Capitals’ season has looked somewhat like a roller coaster this year, lost of extreme ups and downs without ever having much warning. Their inconsistency gives the Rangers some hope, but the Rangers haven’t had too much consistency themselves, outside of Henrik Lundquist. It’s going to take more than a usual solid performance from Lundquist for them to get passed a potent Washington offense. I see the Caps winning in 6.
#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres: Although Philly is 3-4-3 in their final 10 games of the year and Buffalo is 8-1-1, it’s hard to go against the deep Flyers offense. This is an offense that is always dangerous, including an impressive 13 shorthanded goals (T-2nd in the NHL, surprisingly behind the Islanders…Yeah, I don’t know how that happened either). The Flyers are not only 3 lines deep who are capable of scoring, but also possess an impressive defensive core that has stepped up when vets like Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen were out with injury. Even though I don’t think they’ll win the cup with rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in net, I do see them beating Buffalo in a tough 7 games.
#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens: Probably going to be the premier matchup of the first round so if you have the chance to watch then do not pass it up! An original 6 rivalry, which means there’s a ton of history and a ton of fans who hate their enemies! I’ve had the pleasure of learning quite a bit about this in my past three years in Massachusetts and I can tell you that I’m pretty sure a Bruins fan would rather end up sipping scolding coffee in hell rather than spend a day with a Habs fan (and vise-versa). This matchup is set to be a good one even if it wasn’t a rivalry. You’ve got two great goaltenders in bounce-back seasons, young guys who are making a name for themselves pretty quickly, and two solid defensive teams (both in the top 10 in the league for goals against per game). I think the Bruins have more depth and, as much as I don’t like him, Tim Thomas is having a heck of a year so my decision is in Black and Gold. Montreal puts up a fight in a classic rivalry but it’s still the Bruins in 7.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Sidney Crosby out means advantage for Tampa Bay. How much do the services of Crosby mean to the Penguins? They made serious trade deadline moves for Alexei Kovalev and James Neal to try and help pick up the offense in his absence. On top of that, it’s been a less-than-par year for Evgeni Malkin which means Pittsburgh is facing an uphill climb. If Tampa had to worry about keep both Crosby and Malkin off the scoresheet, then I would be concerned. Only one of them, I feel like they’ve got a good shot, especially when he’s struggling to stay healthy. Oh, and I guess I could mention the St. Louis/Stamkos duo going on in Tampa Bay. Try and keep them off the score sheet! Pittsburgh wins the first game but Tampa ultimately takes the series 4 games to 2.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks: This is where I’m going to take the leap. At first, I was saying for sure that it would be Vancouver to win this series but, the more I look at it, I keep seeing a Chicago upset (and I know this may seem to contradict my preseason prediction for the Hawks). Sure, Vancouver has the better goaltender but Crawford has found some confidence between the pipes and could show us a very impressive performance in this matchup. The offensive capabilities are about equal for each team but Chicago still possesses a deeper defensive core that should play a big role and, lets face it, Vancouver just hasn’t been able to find a way to get it done in the playoffs in the past. This should be the prime series to watch in the west. I’m going with Chicago in 7.
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 L.A. Kings: Now the moment all you Kings fans have been waiting for, and unfortunately I probably won’t be making any friends in the next few sentences. The Sharks are all offense, which really can be a disadvantage. If you struggle in your own end, you struggle with keeping pucks out of your own net. The only reason why this doesn’t look to be an advantage for the Kings is simple: Kopitar and Williams’ injuries. With their two leading scorers out, it puts a lot of the pressure on Dustin Penner (best single acquisition of the trade deadline by the way, tip of the hat to the Kings for that one) and Dustin Brown who are both power forwards and not the playmaking type that you would find in Kopitar. I see two major keys for the Kings to have a chance in this series: 1. They’re going to have to find a way to shake up Antti Niemi, which at select times throughout the season, hasn’t been a great challenge and 2. They’ve got to turn this series into nuts and bolts type of hockey. Get real gritty and real tough along the boards. Don’t let anyone get off the ice from a shift without getting bumped around a few times. I think the Kings have a chance but I think San Jose outscores them without Kopitar and Williams. Sharks in 6.
#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes: These two also met in the first round last year and what a great series to watch! Unfortunately, it won’t be the same this year. This is a Phoenix team that isn’t quite as good and doesn’t have the same emotion that they did last year. Wolski is gone, Bryzgalov isn’t playing quite as well, and they’re not getting as much production from their deeper lines like they did last year. The biggest question for Detroit is Jimmy Howard, but as good as they are defensively, Howard rarely has to stand up and put his team on his shoulders. Better offensively, better defensively, I’m taking Detroit in 5.
#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators: For those of you Kings fans who’s kettles haven’t boiled over and were kind enough to continue reading, this is where I gain at least some redemption. Anaheim has had a strong finish, the league’s top goal scorer in Corey Perry, and the league’s top scoring defenseman in Lubomir Visnovsky but they have some pretty big question marks in net with Jonas Hiller being out. Nashville always has some sort of sneakiness about them, too. They’re easy to forget about until you look at the standings and they’re sitting in a spot where they can compete for home ice advantage. With Pekka Rinne finding a way to throw himself into the Vezina picture too, it makes them a tough team to play against. You have to respect Nashville’s style as well. There’s nothing really flashy about it but they just know how to get the job done, and that’s all it takes to win games, especially in the playoffs. Overall I think it will be a good series with the Predators winning in 6 games.
Now all we do is sit back, analyze/bash my decisions (always welcomed and appreciated though), and watch some great playoff hockey!