A lot of hockey reporters publicly lament this time of year, when the public expects them to make their playoff predictions known. The reasons behind their reluctance are simple and twofold. One, there are far more variables at play during a series than a single, winner-take-all game. Secondly, no one who is paid on the basis of their hockey expertise wants to be proven hopelessly wrong.
Well, no one here gets paid for their opinions. And I have no fear of making my ambition public. 15-0 baby. A perfect season of playoff series predictions.
If we can scale Mount Everest… if we can put a man on the moon… if we can make Emmitt Smith a TV dance champion… there’s no reason why someone can’t be perfect.
The quest begins here. Take the following to the bank.
Washington (1) vs. Montreal (8)
Alex Ovechkin has returned to earth a bit post-Olympics, but this is the deepest Caps team in years. Washington holds an advantage physically, offensively and behind the bench (Jacques Martin is a historically overrated coach). The length of this series boils down to whether Jaroslav Halak can steal the series for Montreal, or, less likely, if Jose Theodore can botch the series. Theodore’s been solid so far in 2010. Caps in 5.
New Jersey (2) vs. Philadelphia (7)
A tough, grinding series that will add a lot of wear-and-tear to whichever team that prevails. Lemaire’s reputation as tactician is stronger than Laviolette’s, but both coaches have Cup wins to their credit. Boucher versus Brodeur looks too one-sided on paper, especially given Marty’s age (37) and workload (77 games played this year). Philly has some pop, especially if their small snipers (Giroux, Briere) can find open ice. The over-under on Chris Pronger high-sticking penalties should be 10. Flyers in 6.
Buffalo (3) vs. Boston (6)
One of the top goalies from this year will be eliminated after this series is over. Ryan Miller looks like a Hart candidate, but Tukka Rask has been the NHL’s best goalie since the Olympics. Expect a tight-series, with Buffalo’s scoring depth giving them the edge. The over-under on goals for this series should be 20. Sabres in 6.
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Ottawa (5)
There may not have been a more valuable player to his team this year than Sidney Crosby, who had 23 goals and 32 points more than his next-closest teammate. Ottawa has received strong play down the stretch from Jason Spezza and Brian Elliott, but the loss of Alexei Kovalev (torn ACL) and the disappearance of Mike Fisher (9 pts since March 1st) means these Senators are a one-line team. The Pens are weaker than last year, but are deep enough to grind this round out. Penguins in 5.
San Jose (1) vs. Colorado (8)
It looked like Tommy Salo in net for San Jose in March, but Evgeni Nabokov has rebounded with a solid April. Colorado goalie Craig Anderson is running on fumes, having never played more than 31 games in an NHL season until this year (70 games). Colorado’s scoring depth and youthful speed could give San Jose fits, but I don’t trust their goaltending. San Jose in 6.
Chicago (2) vs. Nashville (7)
Don’t look now, but Chicago may have found a goaltender in Antti Niemi, who’s been terrific in March/April. Nashville has never won a playoff series, and look inferior to Chicago in almost every area. A quick series will help Chicago get some rest in the travel-heavy Western Conference. Blackhawks in 4.
Vancouver (3) vs. Los Angeles (6)
There are a lot of questions facing the Canucks heading into this post-season. Is Luongo fatigued? Will Demitra show up? Is their defense healthy? Add to the mix an interesting Los Angeles team that is young, fast and aggressive. This has all the makings of a long, brutal series, with Cup final veterans Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll and Fred Modin adding important experience to the Kings cause. That being said, Terry Murray hasn’t won a playoff round in 13 years, and his teams have always had a playoff reputation for under-performing. A pick ‘em. Canucks in 7.
Phoenix (4) vs. Detroit (5)
The Red Wings are hot and are a popular darkhorse choice to come out of the Western Conference. They’re healthy, experienced and play a formidable puck-control style. But Ilya Bryzgalov, a likely Vezina and Hart trophy candidate this year, is good enough to steal a game or two for Phoenix. The Coyotes also have an old-school Dallas Stars air about them. Dave Tippett’s done a masterful job getting this team to excel defensively. Shane Doan had one goal after January and they still earned home-ice advantage in the West. No one believes in this Phoenix team, but remember: the last Olympic season saw the heavily-favoured Red Wings bounced early by the Oilers. Phoenix in 7.