HOCKEY PLAYOFFS – I WARNED YOU ABOUT THIS

22Apr12

Now you know why I decided not to prognosticate beyond the first round of the NHL playoffs.  This is the one sport that you can count on upsets throughout the brackets.  It’s also the only sport that allows the top seeds to face the bottom seeds in every round, so you really don’t know who your next opponent will be until the existing round is pretty much played out. 

That’s why St. Louis and Nashville are both sitting at home, resting and healing, and waiting to see who they play next.  If Los Angeles finishes off Vancouver, the Kings will travel to St. Louis.  If Vancouver makes an incredible comeback and takes the series, then the focus will turn to the Phoenix/Chicago series to determine who meets who in round two. 

Yikes!  That was the easy conference.  What in the world is going on in the eastern portion of this great continent?  There are so many different scenarios going on over there, my head may explode if I try to sort them out.  Oh well, let’s live on the edge. 

Here’s a look at each of the eight matchups, along with my initial predictions.  We’ll start out west. 

L.A. Kings (8) vs. Vancouver (1) – My Prediction: Canucks 4-2.  Actual: Kings 3-1.  I knew this would be a hard fought series, but I believed that Vancouver was one of the top three or four teams in the league, so I figured they would at least take care of business at home.  The Kings quickly proved me wrong there, taking both of the first two games in Vancouver before going home and winning game three.  The Canucks won game four in L.A., but now must win three more in a row to stay alive. 

San Jose (7) vs. St. Louis (2) – My Prediction: Blues 4-1.  Actual: Blues 4-1.  This is the only series that I nailed.  It didn’t start out that way, though.  The Sharks came into St. Louis and stole game one in overtime, setting the stage for another upset.  Apparently the Blues had simply needed a wake-up call, because they took over at that point and never looked back.  Even in game five, when San Jose had dominated the game for 2 ½ periods, you could just tell that the Blues knew they would come back.  When they scored twice inside of 45 seconds to take the lead, it was over. 

Chicago (6) vs. Phoenix (3) – My prediction: Coyotes 4-2.  Actual: Coyotes 3-2.  I will still get this one right if Phoenix can take game six at Chicago.  Since the visiting team has won four out of five of the games so far, you’d think they’d be favorites, right?  This has been a brutally hard fought series.  The Blackhawks have outshot the Coyotes by nearly two to one, but Phoenix has a similar edge in blocks and one of the best goalies in the league in front of the net.  Just for something different, let’s see if game six can be settled in regulation and without anyone being suspended! 

Detroit (5) vs. Nashville (4) – My prediction: Red Wings 4-2.  Actual: Predators 4-1.  I couldn’t have been farther from the results in this one if I’d tried!  I pegged the Red Wings as the Yankees of hockey.  You know, as long as they get into the playoffs, you can’t count them out.  Apparently the boys in Nashville had never heard of that logic, as they dominated this series from the beginning.  The fact that their goalie is virtually unbeatable makes them a favorite to go deep in the playoffs. 

Now for the east.  Let me remind you that I had initially stated that I haven’t followed the eastern conference as well as I should have this season (see “Hockey Playoffs – They Started Three Weeks Ago”, 3/30/12).  Based on my predictions and the actual outcomes to date, I’d say that I’d better pay more attention next season.  Here goes: 

Ottawa (8) vs. N.Y. Rangers (1) – My prediction: Rangers 4-0.  Actual: Senators 3-2.  I don’t know where to begin with this one.  All season long, the Rangers have been a dominant force against the entire league.  Meanwhile, Ottawa was in a battle to make the playoffs right up until the final day of the season.  Naturally, the Rangers should be able to dispatch of the Senators in a rather quick fashion, right?  I guess the memo didn’t make it across the border because Ottawa is playing like they are the number one seed.  The Rangers better wake up right away or their vacation will begin about a month earlier than expected! 

Washington (7) vs. Boston (2) – My prediction: Bruins 4-1.  Actual: Capitals 3-2.  All you have to do is read the previous paragraph, but substitute Boston for New York and Washington for Ottawa.  What’s going on with the New England powerhouses? 

New Jersey (6) vs. Florida (3) – My prediction: Devils 4-1.  Actual: Panthers 3-2.  I really thought that New Jersey would walk away with this series.  Not only were they up there with New York, Boston and Pittsburgh, but Florida was down there with Ottawa and Washington.  So much for that logic, huh?  The Devils need to win game six to stay alive.  And they need to win it big so they can go back to Florida for game seven with some momentum.  Otherwise, the Panthers will walk away with this one. 

Philadelphia (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4) – My prediction: Penguins 4-3.  Actual: Flyers 3-2.  I had this series pegged as the best of the playoffs.  Not just the first round, but the entire playoffs!  Two teams that were evenly matched and couldn’t stand each other.  What more could you ask for?  The first game lived up to the hype, with the Flyers winning in overtime 4-3.  Then the wheels fell off for Pittsburgh, as they allowed themselves to get sucked into a brawl, instead of playing hockey.  They got their clocks cleaned twice before they realized how to get back into this series.  When they simply played hockey in game four, they destroyed the brutes from Philly.  Now they’re only down 3-2 and can bring it back home for game seven, as long as they keep playing hockey in game six and don’t get sucked into a another street fight! 

As the eastern conference stands right now, seeds three, five, seven and eight are all one game away from moving into the second round of the playoffs, while seeds one, two, four and six all have to win game six in order to force a game seven.  This only happens in hockey, which is why I love the game so much.  Any team can catch fire at the right time and go all the way. 

As far as the entire playoff picture, the possibility of two number eight seeds meeting for the Stanley Cup is still very real.  Not like the NBA, where the first two rounds are irrelevant and the only question is will Oklahoma City or San Antonio meet Miami or Chicago in the finals?  And when is the last time two #6 seeds made it to the Super Bowl?  Try never! 

This is why I purposely did not make any predictions beyond the first round, because this is hockey.  The only sport where the games must be played out completely before moving on to the next round.  Which means we must all sit back and enjoy the current battles before we even think about round two.  What more could you ask for?

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