The staff here at Weekend Predictions have been itching to pick some games ever since the bowl season ended in college football. But I'm sure Western Canada isn't in the mood to read updates on how spring practices are going, nor do they care about the spread in Saturday's G-Day Game (Red Team wins, but take Black Team and the points. At least the practices are outnumbering the arrests this spring....way to go, Richt!) And since the NFL seems hell-bent on not playing games this fall, we need to pass the time somehow. The local hockey team has checked out, and the NBA's Hawks look to be joining them shortly (Take the Magic to finish off the flight-less Hawks in 5 games.)
The last playoff game played saw the oddest victory celebration in Stanley Cup history: One player celebrating, 40 other team personnel unsure what was going on, 18,000+ orange-clad fans Philadelphia fans silented (a historical first), and a referee wearing a headset. Shortly after the Cup parade, Chicago sent half their roster to the rest of the NHL, cementing the NHL's new campaign slogan: If you can't beat them, wait until their cap capacity forces them to dismantle!
There's one team the Canucks wanted to face, and there's one team the Canucks want no part of. They just happen to wear the same sweaters. For Vancouver, this series will be more mental than it will be physical. Chicago's got their number....they've eliminated the Canucks the last two seasons, and split the season series this year. So hard to get a read on this series...it's one that Vancouver probably should win easily, but likely will give them all sorts of trouble. (And, for what it's worth, the Blackhawks were 3rd-best in goal differential, which suggests that they had some puck un-luck during the year.) Chicago won't be overwelmed like the Kings were last year. This is no ordinary 8th-seeded team. And if the Canucks fall behind in the series, the ghosts of the past two postseasons will only haunt them more.
Be very nervous, Vancouver. All the pressure's on the Canucks. They'll get through, but only by the skin of their teeth. Canucks win in seven.
Sharks vs. Kings: This would be such a fun series to watch if Los Angeles were at full power. Justin Williams is out, but he's always injured. Losing Kopitar is huge, because this was their chance to earn a top seed for the playoffs. Instead, they play a San Jose team that's been the hottest team since Valentine's Day, at least in terms of games played through regulation. (The Sharks are my pick to win the Cup, by the way.) Sharks cruise in five.
Red Wings vs. Jets Coyotes: Funny how the team with revenue problems got to draw one of the teams that has a big travelling fanbase again. Haven't seen too many Coyotes games, but they don't seem to be as god as they were last year. Heard they had attendance problems, though. Wonder if the Mayflower trucks know where Jobing.com Arena's at? The Red Wings were the last team to play the Winnipeg Jets, and they'll be the final team to visit the desert. After maximum revenues for this series have been reached, of course. Red Wings in six.
Ducks vs. Predators: This is Nashville's best chance to escape the first round, and they're playing the best they've played all season. Unfortantely for them, Anaheim's riding a hot streak, too. The line of Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan is one of the most dominant lines in the NHL, and they'll be getting a healthy dose of Weber and Suter. This will be one of the more entertaining series that no one will talk about, a la Carolina-New Jersey a couple years ago. Nashville finally breaks through. Predators in six.
Capitals vs. Rangers: The Caps earned the top seed in the East again, but this time through defense. Probably the quietest rise in the standings in recent memory. Remember when Washington lost 8 in a row? The Rangers are all sorts of inconsistent. The shootout victories by Lundqvist saved them this season, as did Carolina choking away to clinch the playoffs on home ice. New York may steal a game, but they'll be done quickly. Capitals in five.
Flyers vs. Sabres: Buffalo had such a strange season, but they wind up in the playoffs again, just as they usually do. However, they're playing a Flyers team that's probably been the most consistent as any in the East. Tough to go against Philadelphia not reaching the Cup Final. Flyers in 6.
Bruins vs. Canadiens: Seems like these two teams face each other in the first round every other year. Should be fun for the fans in attendance. Not sure if this will be a fun series to watch on TV. Bruins games are usually a chore to watch, anyway. Hopefully we'll only be subjected to Boston's play for one round. Canadiens in 7.
Penguins vs. Lightning: It's quick to forget how much young talent the Penguins have, as they'd get lost in the spotlight that lingers over droolin' Sidney Crosby and Malkin. Suprised that they held the ship for the final three months of the season. Tampa Bay's got no shortage of offensive firepower, and still have some players that won the cup for them in 2004. Pittsburgh will be relying heavily on Fleury, whom I'm convinced is overrated, even with his performance in Game 7 at Detroit a couple years ago. Here's his chance to prove his mettle. Lightning in six.
Lock of the Quarterfinals: Padlock