Note from Al: It’s my honor and privilege to post the Stanley Cup Playoffs predictions made by the EJSIC message board’s very own rocket scientist, Magic. (Yes, I have resorted to posting the work of guest writers because I have been seized by writer’s block and am unable to write anything brilliant of my own. I blame the forward thinking granular jargonistic writing leveraged by my colleagues across all projects.)
Ah yes, the time has finally come for one of my absolute favorite sporting events: The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. And while I know that Gary Bettman has done his best to kill this sport off by putting this fantastic event on a television channel that all of about 3 people nationwide have access to, he can’t get rid of me that easily. So here it is, my preview of this year’s playoffs and my predictions.
Western Conference: 1st Round
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
The Vancouver Canucks have been the most talented team out West this year, but it was only a late season blistering hot streak that allowed them to lead the NHL in points. And oddly, after star and perennial crybaby and diver Daniel Sedin was lost for the rest of the season with a concussion from a vicious elbow, Vancouver has gotten even better. With an extremely talented offense, strong netminding, and decent defense, Vancouver has the makings of a team that could win the cup. The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, only made the playoffs because of their own late season hot streak. The Kings, who had struggled offensively most of the year, suddenly started finding the back of the net, and, considering how solid this team is on defense and in net, if they can get some consistent offense, they’re a very dangerous playoff team. When I think of goalies that can single-handedly win a series for a team out West, the first name that jumps to mind is Jonathan Quick and his 1.95 Goals Against and 92.9% Save Percentage. To win this series, L.A. is going to need Quick to steal them a few games and be able to put the puck in the net when they get their high-quality scoring chances. I don’t see Vancouver losing this series, but expect these games to be a lot closer than they would appear on paper.
Magic Prediction: Vancouver in 6
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
St. Louis has certainly been the surprise team out West, leading the incredibly strong Central division with some great defense, timely offense, and phenomenal goaltending in the form of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. And while they have 107pts, they enter the playoffs struggling, losing 7 of their last 10. Yes, this could just be complacency from wrapping up their division, but it is very tough to “flip the switch” in hockey come playoff time, especially if you aren’t a team with a whole heck of a lot of playoff experience and you’ll be considered a favorite. San Jose, meanwhile, has struggled mightily this season. They were expected to challenge for best record in the West and have really fallen short of those expectations. That said, they put a heck of a last two weeks together, playing some very good hockey, and “sneaking” into the playoffs. With Cup Winner Antti Niemi in net and playing much better hockey, and with San Jose having a lot of playoff experience on this roster, I really think the Sharks might just pull the shocker this year, especially because they will be a bit out of the spotlight for once. While St. Louis has only lost 6 games in regulation all season, and has a 4-0 record against San Joe in the regular season, I have a feeling they find themselves in an early hole this series, losing 1 or 2 at home and falling flat against a team playing much better hockey than them at the moment
Magic Prediction: Sharks in 6
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
The Phoenix Coyotes ended the season on a tear, winning the Pacific Divison from behind, catching the Dallas Stars, L.A. Kings, and San Jose Sharks in surprising fashion. Phoenix is a team that doesn’t really do a single thing in an impressive manner, but they do a lot of things well. Very balanced and consistent team with a good 1st line in Vrbata, Whitney, and Doan. The Hawks also come into the playoffs streaking, only losing 1 game in regulation in the past 10, but they have given up late leads in the past three games and that is a bit worrisome. The big question mark is will the Hawks get their captain back? Jonathan Toews has been sidelined with a concussion for a quarter of the season. The Hawks are optimistic they’ll get him back, but in what capacity? The Hawks when healthy are a very dangerous offensive team. Their problem has been special teams, goaltending, and defense. While they’ve made strides in the latter two, Power play and Penalty Kill have been a killer for them and could lead to an early exit. I just don’t see it happening against this team.
Magic Prediction: Hawks in 6
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
An incredible matchup pitting two of the best teams in all of hockey against one another. There’s the youngblood Nashville Predators, a team built on speed, the counter, getting to the net, and really punsihing teams for going to the penalty box. Then there’s the old guard Detroit Red Wings, a team with extremely skilled forwards with phenomenal net presence, and they’re extremely well disciplined to boot. The one thing really holding them back this year has been injuries. This should be an absolutely phenomenal series, and the Wings are used to long 7 game 1st Round Series. I really like the Preds, but I don’t think they’ll get over the hump if this series goes 7, even in their home arena. Shame these 2 Central teams have to meet so early in the playoffs
Magic Prediction: Red Wings in 7
Eastern Conference: 1st Round
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Sentors
Similar to the Blues in the West, the Rangers in the East have been absolutely surprising this season, coming out of nowhere to lead the Eastern Conference standings. With extremely strong goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist, solid defense, and a great 1st line of Gaborik and Richards, this team is built for very consistent play. Ottawa also didn’t have all that much preseason buzz, but they had a good start to the season and with a strong final week road it to a playoff spot. Their play has certainly been spotty at times this season, especially on the defensive end where they have had problems all year keeping the puck out of the back of their net, but offensively with Spezza, Michalek, and Alfredsson they certainly can light the lamp. Problem is, in the NHL playoffs, great defense and toughness with a decent offense beats great offense and spotty defense almost every single time
Magic Prediction: Rangers in 5
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
Boston is as steady as they come. They have a great playoff goalie in Tim Thomas, a Stanley Cup caliber defense, and they have multiple lines that can score with no single offensive name jumping out at you. These are the types of teams that win Stanley Cups. One half expected a Stanley Cup layover for this team, but it just didn’t happen. And they will be an awful matchup for most in the playoffs. The Capitals have been a major disappointment this year, and the reason for that is that their team is the exact opposite of Boston’s. They have a player in Alex Ovechkin who, while phenomenal, overshadows his teammates and doesn’t play within the structure of their team. They have a defense that seems like they couldn’t care less some games and goaltenders in Neuvirth and Vokoun who don’t scare anyone. Washington might have a game or two where they put on a dazzling offensive display in this series, but it won’t get them anywhere.
Magic Prediction: Bruins in 6
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
Similar to the weak Pacific division out West, the Panthers won the very weak Southeast to face an extremely dangerous team from the powerful Atlantic division in the New Jersey Devils. Florida stumbled and bumbled their way into the playoffs winning just 2 of their last 10 games and one has to think that at this point they are happy just to be there. New Jersey on the other hand has the likely immortal Martin Brodeur in net for his 60th or 70th Stanley Cup Playoffs and has great scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Petr Sykora and the strong Patrick Elias in center. The one worry for this team is their defense, but Brodeur, when on, could win a hockey game 1 on 6. Mainly because he’d keep it scoreless until everybody on the other team died of old age, pnuemonia, and dysentary. I almost never would predict a sweep in the NHL playoffs, but this might be it
Magic Prediction: Devils in 4
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
Just like Predators-Red Wings, this is an incredible matchup pitting two of the best teams in all of hockey against one another. It’s an absolute shame and almost a catastrophe that these teams have to meet in the first round as both teams are Stanley Cup caliber teams and one for sure won’t make it through the first week. In this case, there are the extremely flashy, highly potent Pittsburgh Penguins featuring numerous scoring lines, highly skilled players and the top offensive team in the NHL. Then there are the high scoring and physically nasty Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams have problems on the defensive end with the slight edge going to Pittsburgh and both teams are very questionable in goal with a Marc Andre Fleury who seems to struggle come playoff time in high pressure situations and an Ilya Bryzgalov who has struggled to find his game since he was on the Coyotes. Here’s the thing: In a series where you expect a ton of scoring and little goaltending, the team that has the most fight in them and gets the ugly goals is the team that will end up taking it. Whoever wins this series has a good chance to win the Stanley Cup. I just think it’ll be the Flyers who win out, sending the Penguins home early yet again.
Magic Prediction: Flyers in 7
Western Conference: Semifinals
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
The Sharks, after pulling the upset, will have to face a step up in competition, and Daniel Sedin or no Daniel Sedin, I see Vancouver moving forward rather easily in this one.
Magic Prediction: Vancouver in 5
(5) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
This made for a great regular season series with two very similar teams. If the Predators make it through the first round, I think they win this series, but since I have a feeling it’s Detroit, I see a very tough series unfolding where goaltending and defensive ability will be the key. Chicago has played fairly well against Detroit in recent years and with Jonathan Toews I think they win this series in 6. Without him they lose in 6 or 7. Either way, if this goes 7, I think Detroit takes it.
Magic Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
Eastern Conference: Semifinals
(1) New York Rangers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
New York has had a tremendous season and a ton to be proud of. I know they’d like to add a Stanley Cup Finals appearance to that list, but I don’t see it happening as the Devils pepper the net and Brodeur does all the rest
Magic Prediction: Devils in 6
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
This would make for a great great series with two physical teams going at. The winner of this series, I have a good feeling will be playing for the Stanley Cup. Boston is the far superior defensive team and has a much better goalie. But the Flyers just seem to know how to score bunches of ugly goals no matter the goalie. I see Philly beating the Bruins in an OT or double OT game in Game 7.
Magic Prediction: Flyers in 7
Western Conference: Finals
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
I’d have Chicago going out earlier especially because of their deficiencies on the power play and penalty kill, but I cannot possibly foresee a Stanley Cup Playoffs where these two teams don’t meet up for the fourth consecutive year. This series is extremely nasty with their most recent meeting resulting in Daniel Sedin getting T.K.O’d with a vicious Duncan Keith elbow. Both teams clearly hate each other. Vancouver is still a team of headcases. And if these two teams met again, I see Vancouver looking to “settle the score” and forgetting the game in hand, resulting in yet another year of Canada not bringing back home the Stanley Cup.
Magic Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
Eastern Conference: Finals
(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
For the 5 vs. 6 matchup I’m projecting, what a great matchup this is. Two very solid teams and I could see each winning this one. That said, I think the Bruins, Penguins, and Flyers are all beter than the Devils, and Brodeur, while he certainly can steal a series will have trouble with the hard charging Flyers.
Magic Prediction: Flyers in 5
Stanley Cup Finals
(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
Can you say rematch? I sure can. The talented Hawks facing the gritty Flyers would make for must see TV. And this time, I think Philly gets the best of the Hawks with timely goals, hard hitting, and good net presence
Magic Prediction: Flyers in 6