I have to give the Sharks full credit. they didn’t make it easy for themselves, but they found a way and won the last four games. Finished a point out of the division title and ended up 7th in the west. The last two games with the Kings were (mostly) well-played and showed what this team is capable of.
Unfortunately, this team seems like it plays best when it’s back is to the wall, and so it seems to have to put its back to the wall to play well. That doesn’t seem to me to be a great playoff strategy, but we’ll see.
So the first round of the playoffs is set. Here are my predictions.
In the West:
Los Angeles/Vancouver — Quick vs. Luongo. Upstart Kings vs. repeating Presidents Cup winners. I really like both teams. I think this is the series to watch out west. I’d love to pick the Kings, but I think the Canucks will take this one in six.
San Jose/St. Louis: I’m thrilled to see the Blues back in the playoffs, and they’re a scary team. The sharks haven’t matched well with them this season. This is, actually, the worst match up for the Sharks, so I have to pick the Blues in five. It’ll be interesting to see if the Sharks can solve this, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Chicago/Phoenix: Also great to see — the Coyotes in the playoffs. They’re a fun and scrappy team playing in “mission from God” mode. the Blackhawks just don’t seem to click reliably. Not sure Laurie will like hearing this, but I have to go with the Coyotes in six.
Detroit/Nashville: Nashville is a solid contender. Detroit is, well, Detroit, and you rarely profit betting against them. they are a team that just finds a way. There have been chinks in the Red Wings armor this year. I like the Predators; not flashy, but they get it done. And so I think they will in five.
So in summary: Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix, Nashville.
And my pick for the west going into the first round? St. Louis. (then Vancouver)
In the East:
Ottawa/New York Rangers: The Rangers are a fine team (shh: don’t tell Larry Brooks, he hates it when things go well, nothing to whine about). The Senators are a good team, but not in that league. This one goes to the Rangers in five.
Washington/Boston: The Capitals are a very talented team that have never found a consistent winning rhythm. the Bruins have had a few air pockets but they’re still a team you need to be wary of. I can’t see how the Capitals will beat the Bruins the way the Caps have been playing, and Boston is really the better team. Bruins in 5.
New Jersey/Florida: like betting against the Red Wings, until the last few years, you didn’t bet against Brodeur in the playoffs. But he’s shown a strong tendency to fade late, and age is not doing him favors. The Panthers have finally built a good team, and I think they’re rewarded in this round. Panthers in six.
Philadelphia/Pittsburgh: the series to watch in the east by far. Two really good teams that have a big hate on for each other. You have to wonder if the team that survives this round will have anything left for round two. This match is almost a toss-up, but I’m going to pick the Penguins in seven. I also predict one season ending injury and at least one line brawl.
In summary: New York Rangers, Boston, Florida, Pittsburgh
And my pick for the east going into the first round Pittsburgh (then the Rangers)
My pick for the cup? Pittsburgh.
Now, a few days off to rest up, and the second season begins.