Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009 NHL Playoff Preview!

I may not get enough sleep. I may not have the time to shower everyday. But this week, I have the NHL playoffs to look forward to. April is simply the best for sports: the Final Four, the Frozen Four, Opening Day, the Masters, and, saving the best for last, the NHL playoffs. I've written countless times how there is just nothing like it in sports and that feeling won't ever change. The intensity is unmatched throughout the entire two-month battle. Even some non-hockey fans tune in to watch! What other evidence do you need?

And, following upon last year's tradition, I decided to make my playoff predictions for the first round once again. I'm in a five-dollar, March-Madness-esque pool with some friends at school to try and decide hockey bragging rights, but I've thought about it for days and there's only one thing that matters: the Wings. I could make seven asinine picks and still be happy as long as my boys in Red move on. I could lose my left arm to an angry Blue Jackets fan and still be happy as long as the train to 12 keeps on rollin'. But Cam, you'd lose your left arm for the rest of your life! There's no way one more Cup would make you happy all those years...You make a good point Italics. But you're forgetting that Blue Jackets fans don't exist. They're all in your iiiii-ma-ginnnn-aaayyy-shunnn! Anyway, time for the picks; I don't have time to be arguing with myself in different font styles all night.

Eastern Conference Match-Ups

(1) Boston Bruins vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens

This looks familiar. The Bruins were in the Canadiens' spot last season and took the series all the way to a seventh game. The Canadiens haven't looked very good this year, due to a lot of injuries and a dash of Carey Price, but I think they'll turn it up a notch for the playoffs. Problem is, they'll be facing a Bruins team that has been incredible this year. My question all season long for the B's was their goaltending. Not that it was suspect, but that they might have trouble settling on one guy and having a mental game of tug-of-war where everybody loses. Looks like they're set on Thomas though, so I see them winning their first playoff series since 1999. Boston in seven.

(2) Washington Capitals vs. (7) New York Rangers

Interesting series. Lopsided, in my opinion, but interesting nonetheless. The Rangers choke. They do. They always have great teams on paper and lose in the playoffs if they can even make it there. This season, they looked amazing at the beginning of the year, but then Brandon Dubinsky and Nigel Dawes started playing like the real Brandon Dubinsky and Nigel Dawes and the team almost lost their way to a lottery pick. Meanwhile, the Capitals have been very good all year. Good defense, great offense, solid goaltending. I don't like Jose Theodore any more than the next guy, but I don't think he's due for a meltdown quite yet. Washington in five.

(3) New Jersey Devils vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes

I fell flat on my face with a New Jersey pick last year against the Rangers, when the team defense completely fell apart and left their boy Marty out to dry, but this year the team is different. They may have slipped a bit off of their great mid-season pace, but the Devils still have Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur. Lots of people are picking the Hurricanes to upset the Devils here, but I can see right through that. There is no way in hell that two teams from the Eastern Conference's South division are advancing to the second round. Based on that and the big 'ol chip on Marty's shoulder, I'm taking the Jersey Jean-Skiers. New Jersey in seven.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

These two teams met last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. This year, one has to go home in April. Sounds unfair to me, but I don't make the rules. The Penguins have been an enigma this year. With two of the top three scorers in the league and a solid young goalie, the Pens should have been competing for the East's top spot all year. So what if they lost Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa? It's still the freakin' East! But after a huge slump that had people saying they wouldn't even make the playoffs, they picked up Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz at the deadline and climbed the ladder once again. The Flyers, on the other hand, have been fighting in the trenches all season. I love Mike Richards and I love veteran Simon Gagne, but I just don't see it. The Pens are just too talented and more importantly, too good at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh in six.

Western Conference Match-Ups

(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Anaheim Ducks

God, I hate both of these teams. I don't hate them enough to predict (slash hope-for) an explosion, but I'd love to see them beat the living crap out of each other. And oddly enough, that's exactly what I expect. The Sharks and Ducks played a home-and-home series already this month, and it was fantastic theater. The games were full of fights, penalties and very few goals. It was playoff hockey at its finest. The seeds don't matter here, especially with the experience the Ducks have in the playoffs over the past couple years. My boy John Buccigross picked the Sharks in a close series because "San Jose's home ice and goaltending give it the edge." Home ice and goaltending, huh Bucci? Might want to rethink that reasoning. San Jose has Evgeni Nabokov (Playoffs Version) as their "goaltending," and the Ducks have 22 road wins this year. Down goes Frazier in the Shark Tank. Anaheim in seven.

(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (7) Columbus Blue Jackets

People are jumping all over this series like its the next incarnation of the 2003 Ducks, who swept the second-seeded Wings when they were defending Stanley last time. It's the perfect Rocky scenario! Steve Mason is gonna take down the champs! Please. The Wings are too experienced to let that happen, and they still have the Cup hunger in Marian Hossa, who wants to make his offseason pay cut worthwhile. Once this team gets going, they will be hard to stop. All they need to do is squeeze a couple past Mason and get in his head. Then, it's a done deal. Detroit in six.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) St. Louis Blues

The Schmucks and the Lose. Two hot teams that don't have any chance to win the Cup. Ah, so sad. But someone does have to win this series, I suppose. I pick the blue team! Oh, damn. Color selection won't work in this one. I guess I actually have to think about it for a second. The Sundins will probably win because Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the league and usually plays well in the playoffs, but I could see T.J. Oshie and Chris Mason stealing a few overtime games and taking the series to the limit. Vancouver in six.

(4) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (5) Calgary Flames

Melrose: Blackhawks in seven. Buccigross: Blackhawks in seven. LeBrun: Blackhawks in five. Hradek: Blackhawks in five. Burnside: Blackhawks in six. They're a team of rookies with a goaltending controversy! Hasn't anyone noticed this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills! The Flames have Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri on the same line! They have Miika freaking Kiprusoff! I don't care if they only have three forward lines...Chicago hasn't been in the playoffs since who the hell cares and Calgary has Miika Kiprusoff! Why do I feel the need to explain myself!? The choice is clear to me, even if it's cloudy for everybody else. Calgary in six.

I need to get back to work. Early wake-up call and still lots left to do tonight. Enjoy the picks, and Happy Playoffs! It all starts tomorrow...

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