Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Playoff predictions

It's that time of year again, when hockey scribes make their predictions. The Globe's cast of writers have their first-round picks up on the Globe on Hockey blog, the TSN analysts (including my favorite, Maggie the monkey) made their annual predictions Monday night, and James Mirtle's already filled out a full playoff bracket. As Bob McCown said today on Prime Time Sports, "Every bonehead in the world has their picks up." Well, far be it from this bonehead to stay away, so here's my picks for the first round.

Montreal versus Boston: Habs in five
This one will depend on how rookie goalie Carey Price performs under pressure, and also on if Zdeno Chara and the Boston defence are able to shut down Alex Kovalev. Power plays may be a key as well, considering how many goals the Canadiens racked up there during the regular season. Boston might challenge the Canadiens a bit, but in the end, I think they'll be able to overcome any obstacles raised.

Pittsburgh versus Ottawa: Penguins in five

Ottawa underwent one of the greatest collapses down the stretch in NHL history, but still managed to squeak into the playoffs, due to their amazing first part of the season. The Sens aren't as bad as they've been playing lately, but they aren't as good as they played earlier in the year: in my mind, they're somewhere in the middle. In the end, they really only have one line that can score consistently, and that's even weakened with Daniel Alfredsson's injury. I think there's too much internal strife for this team to go anywhere, and they can't have a lot of confidence in the goaltending of either Martin Gerber or Ray Emery going in. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's been pretty hot, and they have solid scoring from both the Crosby and Malkin lines. Goaltending and defence are issues with this team, but I'll take Fleury/Conklin over Gerber/Emery any day of the week.

Washington versus Philadelphia: Capitals in six

This one could be close. Washington's been hot ever since Bruce Boudreau became head coach, but Philly's got the tried-and-tested rough and tough style of playoff hockey. Both teams have good goaltending with Cristobal Huet and Martin Biron respectively. The Flyers have better depth in my mind, and some good young players like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but in the end, I don't think they'll be able to stop Alexander the Great.

New Jersey versus New York: Devils in seven
Oh boy, this should be a good matchup: a great local rivalry and two very even teams. New York has the better offensive firepower, but I think New Jersey has slight edges in coaching (Brent Sutter over Tom Renney), goaltending (Martin Brodeur instead of Henrik Lundqvist) and defense that should be enough to see them through.

Detroit versus Nashville: Predators in seven
This is probably my boldest pick: after all, Detroit had a terrific season and won the President's Trophy. They've been historically prone to first-round upsets though, and Nashville played well down the stretch (knocking out the Canucks in the process). Detroit could still easily take this, but I'm not sure how well the ancient goaltending tandem of Hasek and Osgood will perform under pressure. The rest of the team is aging as well. They might make it past the first round, but I don't see them going too far. Meanwhile, Nashville's got some good scoring talent with forwards like J.P. Dumont, Jason Arnott and Alexander Radulov, good defence from the likes of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, and a nice goaltending tandem in Dan Ellis and Chris Mason, and I think that might be enough for an upset.

San Jose versus Calgary: Sharks in six

The Sharks just have too much talent for the Flames. Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff might make it interesting, but I see Joe Thornton and Brian Campbell carrying the Sharks to a series victory.

Minnesota versus Colorado: Avalanche in six

This will be another close one. The Wild have been the most consistent Northwest team all year, but lately Colorado's added Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg, who have both been playing tremendously lately. Jose Theodore's also recovered his old form, and the Avalanche have enough balance that they should be able to at least crack Round Two.

Anaheim versus Dallas: Ducks in five
I still think the Ducks are the best team in this year's playoffs. They have tremendous balance on offense, with Ryan Getzlaf and Todd Bertuzzi up front along with a recently-reinvigorated Teemu Selanne and a hopefully-healthy Corey Perry. Their defence is ridiculously good: a lineup of Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Mathieu Schneider and Francois Beauchemin has to be the best in the league, and then they can choose from Kent Huskins, Joe DiPenta and Marc-Andre Bergeron (nine goals and 19 points this year!) for the last two slots. J.S. Giguere gives them a reliable presence in the nets, and they have the league's best checking line with Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen (who Gabe Desjardins from Behind the Net famously branded the "Nothing Line"). In my mind, this line was the biggest factor in Anaheim's cup victory last year: they absolutely destroyed Ottawa's Pizza Line in the finals, and were good all playoffs long. Dallas has improved since adding Brad Richards, but they don't have enough to beat the might of the Ducks. Anaheim has been hot ever since Selanne and Scott Niedermayer returned, and I see them not only winning this series, but also repeating as Stanley Cup champions.

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