Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day Ninety-Three: In Which I Pretend to Know Something About Something

Last night was supposed to be part 1 of 2 for our first annual WannabeWordslinger Stanley Cup Playoffs preview, but then Dave decided to start some movie about knitting during WWII late last night, so I didn't have the stamina for a lengthy entry last night and you got something about Easter eggs.

That's how the WBW rolls, kids.

So tonight may be a little less in-depth than it may have otherwise been (then again, maybe not, we'll see) but you'll get the gist of it.

First, here's something to get you in the proper mood:

Let's face it, these things are just fun to do :-)

First round match-ups: Some fantastic ones, and some...meh...not as fantastic. But they'll all feature some great hockey and should be fun to watch. (Unfortunately, the only two channels that carry hockey in the U.S. have decided that some of these series' nobody cares about, and so we won't get to watch a single minute of some match-ups, while we'll get all seven games of others. That sounds fair)

Let's start in the East, shall we?

Yes. Yet another Montreal vs. Boston first round series. This happens just about every year, some way or another. Two "original six" teams with plenty of bad blood between them. These should be some FUN games to watch (though the networks say otherwise). That said, the series has the potential to be pretty lopsided, as the Bruins have been a powerhouse all season long, and the Habs just kinda collapsed their way into the eighth seed. Boston's got more offensive depth, better goaltending, and a freaking giant patrolling the blue line. They've got a great mix of vets and scrappy youngsters. That said, they haven't been the hottest of teams down the stretch, and if the Canadiens can get fired up enough in their underdog role--and if young Carey Price can become a maniac in net, a la Cam Ward in 2006 for the Hurricanes, then there's the potential for a pretty big upset. It'll be a long way to go, though, as the Bruins D should push the Canadiens around pretty much at will, and Montreal's best defender is hurt, and the rest of the Habs D corps are pretty old.
My guess: Boston in 5.

Not to take anything away from the Rangers, who showed some great improvement after John Tortorella stepped behind the bench about 3/4 of the way through the season, but the only way New York pulls off the upset is if Ovy suddenly stops scoring and Great Enigma Jose Theodore completely loses his game. Now, both of those things could happen, because they've both happened in the post-season before, but I wouldn't bet on it against this Rangers team. The Caps have got so many lethal weapons in their offensive arsenal, and the Rangers, well, don't score a whole lot. In fact, they don't really do anything great (though Coach Torts' high risk-high reward system of ATTACKATTACKATTACK has put them on the right track). Instead, they do a good job of doing just enough for the win, and that will get them into trouble when faced with the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Green, and Kozlov. Things could get interested in this series because of the personalities involved. Ovy's a character; Sean Avery is a cartoon character. I wouldn't expect Avery to get under Alexander the Great's skin...but then this is a guy who got Marty Brodeur to take swings at him. (This was before Avery called the winningest goalie of all time "Fatso" on a television interview and long before his "Sloppy Seconds" comment got him suspended and kicked off the Dallas Stars) Potential for fireworks all over the ice with this interesting mix of personalities. My best guess: Washington in 5.

Speaking of Marty Brodeur, what a stranger year it's been for that guy! On pace to break the all-time wins record fairly early in the year, then he gets hurt--like, seriously hurt for the first time in his entire career--and the Devil's AHL goalie comes in and saves the day, playing almost 50 games and winning most of 'em to put the Devils in prime position to take the division. Marty comes back, plays stellar, breaks the record, suddenly can't stop a beach ball, the team limps to the finish line and still has the division title based on how well they played with Clemmensen in net and their awesome streak as Brodeur made history. (By the way, Clemmensen got sent back down to the AHL when Marty came back, but then the backup got hurt the last week of the season and he was called up once again. Strange year to be a goalie in NJ) Anyway, the Devils aren't playing their best hockey recently, and the Canes are playing theirs, and that's reason to worry for the fifteen or twenty Devils fans. (I kid.) I've seen teams fall apart at the end of the regular season who are suddenly bounced from the playoffs before they even realized they'd started. Carolina's got a pretty similar lineup to the team that won the Cup in 2006 (which was almost identical to the team that missed the playoffs in 2007), so they've got the experience to get it done. The Devils have actually got a pretty high-powered offense this year (don't tell all the hockey fans that are stuck in the mid-to-late 1990's!) but their defensive corps are suspect for the first time in recent memory. No disrespect to Johnny Oduya and Bryce Salvador, but there's not exactly a Scott Stevens/Scott Niedermayer in this group. For some reason the #3/#6 matchup in the East is almost always the best bet for an upset, and that's the case again this year. My best guess: Hurricanes in 5.

HECK yes! A rematch of last season's Easter Conference Finals, two BITTER rivals within spitting distance of one another, a TON of young offensive superstars, and one team that surged from 10th to 4th in about two months (Pittsburgh) while the other team had a pretty good grasp on 4th before slipping to 7th and settling for 5th (Philly). Game. On. I give Pittsburgh the edge in this one because goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has a whole other level he can play to that he hasn't shown yet this season. Last year it took a challenge from backup Ty Conklin to get him to kick his game into high gear; if the Stanley Cup Playoffs don't do it for you, kid, there's something wrong. I do like Martin Biron in Philly's net, but nothing about him reads "Cup Winner," or even "Playoff Performer." Additionally, the Pens have been tearing up the entire league since the coaching change. History, however, is not on their side. Historically, the team that loses the Stanley Cup one year rarely makes it out of the first round the next year. (And the only recent team that did make it out of the first lost in the 2nd) There are always these Weird Things that always seem to come true in hockey, and this is one of them. Nevertheless, I'm going to follow my heart on this one and say my best guess: Penguins in 7.

All righty, moving on to the West:

Dang, it's good to see someone other than Detroit as the #1 seed. The Sharks have a great chance to win it all this year. They are probably the best team to never have won a Cup. (That used to be Ottawa, but now Ottawa sucks) The Sharks brought in a bevy of Cup-winners this off-season, including the new coach. They'll know what it takes to win. In their way: one heck of a pesky, scrappy Anaheim team who won that there trophy just two years ago. Add the Ducks to the list of teams that got hot at just the right time to make the playoffs. It was looking pretty dismal for the house that Eisner built for most of the season, but a goaltending change and a hotshot rookie helped them find their game again. Plus, with Francois Beauchemin back and joining a blueline that already included Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger and Ryan Whitney, the Ducks have got some depth at just about every position. This will be a tough, nasty, physical series between two interstate rivals with a lot of talent and experience. My best guess: Sharks in 7.

Let's all congratulate the Blue Jackets on their first ever playoff berth! Yay, you guys! Columbus was the last team in the NHL to have made the playoffs, and the hockey community in Ohio is going nuts right now. However, the only way they're beating the Red Wings is if rookie 'tender Steve Mason steals the series and Red Wings keeper Chris Osgood plays the way he has all year. It's astounding the Wings have done so well with such terrible goaltending! They've got such incredible depth at every other position they've managed to make due with less-than-mediocre play between the pipes. It's quite the anomaly in this day and age. They say the playoffs are about goaltending, though, and if that's true then the Wings shouldn't repeat. Which, of course, doesn't necessarily mean they should have any trouble with the Blue Jackets. In years past, highly-favored Wings teams with suspect goalending have had a history in falling to nobodies with hot goalies (another one of those Weird Things), but there's really no reason to believe it's going to happen again. My best guess: Detroit in 4.

Man, I'd love to see the Blues win this series. Not only do I dislike the 'Nucks, but St. Louis had such a rough season, injury-wise. I mean, really? When your starting goalie goes down earlier in the year on account of the kookiest Vice Presidential Nominee in recent memory, you gotta think the Hockey Gods are out to get you. Nevertheless, in steps another young goalie named Mason to save the day, and these boys absolutely battled their hearts out all year to get here. Thing is, now they run into Roberto Luongo's Canucks, who've just been fantastic the last quarter of the season, and Luongo's playing like he's got a chip on his shoulder, which is bad news for the rest of the league, and Mats Sundin is nice and rested since he took the first half of the year as a vacation. The Canucks are a scary team right now, and they could be a pretty legit threat to the Big Two in the West when it comes time for a showdown. My best guess: Canucks in 6.

And, the Hawks are one of the best stories in hockey this year. A once-proud original six franchise, thrown in the toilet by an incompetent, greedy owner finally gets the opportunity to turn things around (after Scrooge's death, sadly) and makes it back to the post-season on the shoulders of some awesome kids and a goaltender with one of the best hockey names in history: Nikolai Khabibulin (Nickname: The Bulin Wall). What a fun team to watch, what a fun team to cheer for. Huzzah, Hawks! As for the Flames, well, they sort of petered out as the year wound down. This is a team that depends very heavily on a small number of players, and several of those players are struggling right now. Mikka Kiprusoff, where art thou? Dion Phaneuf, didst thou rattle thy own brain a bit too much? Calgary needs these guys to be huge if they're going to have any chance this post-season. My best guess: Chicago in 6.

So there's that. I'm actually usually not very good at these things, so don't go placing any bets based on my predictions. Just enjoy the hockey. This is the second most wonderful time of the year.