It’s that time of year again. Â The most wonderful time of the year. Â No, not Christmas, and no, you won’t see any of those silly Staples commercials.
It’s time for the NHL playoffs.
The annual spring tournament that features some of the most exciting hockey of the season. Â It’s Â triple overtime games that rage on long into the night, games so long that you’ll hope you saved some sick days. Â It’s players skating through pain, all for the common goal of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
And the great fans of the NHL, well they have the best seat in the house.
Around this time of year, especially the first round, marriages are postponed. Â Assignments are left on desks unfinished. Â Scheduled are cleared, or built around. Â Kiss your wife or girlfriend, and tell her you’ll see her in a few months, a better person than when you last saw her.
…Unless you have one of those really cool wifes/girlfriends who spends every night cheering just as loudly as you do (admittedly, I have one of those!)
Either way, it’s the time of year when nothing else really matter. Â Starting this Wednesday, there will be wall to hockey, right up until Early to mid June, as sixteen teams vie for the Stanley Cup.
And with the Stanley Cup playoffs, come Stanley Cup predictions.
Last year I openly asked myself why we, as writers, made predictions. Â After all, they’re somewhat silly, and predicting what will happen in anything, let alone the excitement of playoff NHL hockey, is something that’s very hard to do. Â Your well thought out ideas and analysis can be thrown out the window, fragile, and blown away like a feather caught in an updraft.
But yet, we still do it. Â And I can’t help myself to continue to do it.
I don’t necessary promote or endorse gambling, but hey, you have to admit, it does make things a little more exciting if you’re in a pool, be it for cash or bragging rights with some buddies.
With that in mind, here are my 2010 Stanley Cup playoff predictions, one round at a time. Â We’ll start with the Western Conference.
(1)San Jose Sharks Vs (8)Colorado Avalanche
For one team, it’s a case of ‘here we go again’, and for another, it’s a case of ‘how did we get here?’
It’s another spring, and another year where the San Jose Sharks can look down upon the rest of the Western Conference. Â In the past few years, it hasn’t exactly been a favourable spot, so should we expect this year to be any different?
For Colorado, it’s a team that many expected to be focusing on Tuesday’s draft lottery. Â A team that had a bright future with the likes of Matt Duchene and steady goaltending in Craig Anderson, but who could have predicted that this turnaround would come so soon?
The West is so unbelievably close, you could see every series going either way, and in this case, I am still not sold on the Sharks getting over their Stanley Cup hump, particularly since Evgeni Nabokov has gone south since the Olympic break. Â However, I still think it’s too early in the resurgence of the Avalanche to see them advance.
San Jose In 7
(2)Chicago Blackhawks Vs (7)Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks lost their final game of the season yesterday, a game that could have vaulted them into first place. Â Likewise, the Predators were leapfrogged by Los Angeles and thrown into the seventh seed for the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see what sort of impact that has on both teams.
The Blackhawks are quickly becoming perennial powerhouses of the Western Conference. Â With top flight forwards like Kane, Toews, and Hossa, and solid defense in the likes of Keith and Seabrook, the Blackhawks seemed prime for a long, healthy run at the Stanley Cup.
That is, if their goaltending will hold up.
Nashville is a bit of a study in contrast from Chicago. Â A team that has lost key players year after year, but seemingly continually to put it together and make the playoffs, the Predators are talented up front, but don’t have near the skill of the ‘Hawks starting four lines. Â The defense, very much solid in their own right, doesn’t have the offensive abilities to match the Blackhawks.
The advantage to Nashville may be in between the pipes, where the Predators seemingly always have a goaltender playing well for them. Â Pekka Rinne will be a key for the Predators in this series.
The Predators will play them tough, and will give the ‘Hawks all they can handle.
Chicago in 7
(3)Vancouver Canucks Vs (6)Los Angeles Kings
Like the Avalanche, not many expected the Kings to be this good, this fast. Â Many knew it was coming, with the bevy of young, talented forwards, and solid two-way defense. Â However, I think it would be fair to say no one expected this much, so soon.
The Canucks are looking to erase thoughts by some that they cannot win the Stanley Cup. Â It appears this year may be their finest opportunity to do so. Â Roberto Luongo has had his struggles, but proved in the Olympics that he can be a big game goalie, and the Sedin twins are pacing the ‘Nucks in scoring.
In the end, I think the difference may come down to goaltending, and while Jonathan Quick had a good year, I give the advantage to Vancouver.
Vancouver in 6
(4)Phoenix Coyotes Vs (5)Detroit Red Wings
Just about everybody is thrilled to see the Phoenix Coyotes rise from the ashes of uncertainty to become a Western Conference powerhouse of sorts. Â Myself included. Â But one has to wonder if the clock is inching close to midnight for the Cinderella story of the 2009-2010 NHL season.
No matter the struggles they had early on, no matter where they finished in the standings, make no mistake: the Detroit Red Wings are one of the best teams in the National Hockey League today.
Now finally showcasing a somewhat full roster, one that was decimated throughout the year with injuries, the Red Wings are hitting their stride at just the right time.
Detroit in 5
(1)Washington Capitals Vs (8)Montreal Canadiens
The chosen one returns.
There was a time when Jose Theodore was the darling of Montreal. Â Winning the Hart Trophy and establishing himself as one of the best young goalies in the league at the time, Montreal fans and management quickly turned on Theodore, as they had with so many players previous (and a situation that perhaps sounds familiar with Carey Price?)
Theodore has undergone extreme adversity, both on the ice and off of it, and has enjoyed a stellar second half of the season.
For Montreal, they are a team that is somewhat backing into the playoffs. Â Jaroslav Halak has played extremely well down the stretch, but some of the Canadiens top goal scorers have gone south in the final few games of the season.
Washington in 4
(2)New Jersey Devils Vs (7)Philadelphia Flyers
The NHL couldn’t have asked for much more yesterday, as the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture went down to the wire, a shootout finish to determine who would be in, and who would be hitting the links early.
The Flyers got in, and after going through a rather up and down season which saw them change coaches early on, they are getting all hands on deck heading into the postseason.
The Devils are, well, the Devils.
Every year, and you know exactly where to find New Jersey: right near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Brodeur was shaky in the Olympics, but recovered nicely to have a quality second half, and the high flying forwards of the Devils paced them to second in the conference by the end of the regular season schedule.
New Jersey in 6
(3)Buffalo Sabres Vs (6)Boston Bruins
There is certainly a part of me here that wants to believe in the Bruins, a team that also seems to be hitting that stride at the right time, which we have seen before, can carry teams quite a long ways in the playoffs.
Despite the fact that Rask has had a good first year as a starter in the NHL, he is new to the playoffs, which is an entirely different animal. Â Add to that the fact that he is playing a Hart Trophy candidate in Ryan Miller, and I think the Sabres have the slight edge.
Should be a physical series, and one of the closer ones of the first round.
Buffalo in 7
(4)Pittsburgh Penguins Vs (5)Ottawa Senators
Perhaps it’s genuine Leaf bias (though I really don’t think it is) but I don’t see much I like in the Ottawa Senators. Â Certainly there is something to be said about the fact they finished fifth in the East, but a quick look at the overall standings, and it points to the fact that they wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if they were in the Western Conference.
I just think the Penguins are too strong of a hockey team. Â Great goaltending, solid depth up front, and a great mix of crash and dash on defense give the Penguins every possible advantage.
Pittsburgh in 4
So there are my predictions, how about yours?