Oh, yeah, the playoffs. Apparently some people are actually getting geared up for some exciting, intense hockey, rather than sitting at home in their bathrobes watching Flintstones re-runs. (I’m talking to you, Ales Kotalik.)
A quick look at the first-round match-ups:
Sharks-Avalanche – It’s the usual choking season for Joe Thornton and the rest of the Sharks (Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley have their own problems this time of year). They struggled after the Olympic break and hardly look like the Cup contenders they appeared in the first half. Still, the Avalanche – save for a couple of clutch wins in the last week of the year – look shaky themselves. In a sloppy series, talent will prevail, setting the Sharks up for their traditional failure in Round 2. Sharks in 5.
Blackhawks-Predators – The Hawks are the team to beat in the West. Just way, way too deep and talented for the Preds to handle. Nashville was white-hot down the stretch, and could give Chicago a scare, but not much more. Hawks in 6.
Canucks-Kings – It’s hard to overstate just how much I loathe the Canucks, so my view on this is tainted. But if there’s an upset to be had in the first round in the West, this is the one. The Sedins may have had a huge year, but they’re still the Sedins – and “the sisters” don’t respond well to the beating they take in playoff hockey. The growing legend of Drew Doughty is about to grow some more. Kings in 6.
Red Wings-Coyotes – Would make a nice story for the Coyotes, wallowing in bankruptcy last year and playing in front of pee-wee-league-sized crowds when the season began, to knock off the mighty Red Wings and take an unlikely Cinderella-story run at the Cup, wouldn’t it? Ain’t gonna happen. Detroit proved in the past month that they’re back, on their game, all cylinders firing. And rookie goalie Jimmy Howard is the real deal. Wings in 5.
Capitals-Canadiens – Fans in Montreal spent decades enjoying the thrill of high-speed, creative, majestic hockey from some of the greatest artists who ever played the game, and this year is no exception. Too bad it will all come from their opponents. Habs have no answer for Ovechkin (who does?), never mind all the other talent Washington brings to the table. Caps in 4.
Devils-Flyers – The Devils are the smothering defensive nightmare they’ve always been, Martin Brodeur is still a shutout machine, and now Jersey actually has some offensive talent to go with it. The Flyers have skill up front, but are trying to scrape by wth a couple of AHL goalies. Devils in 5.
Sabres-Bruins – It’s a low-scoring toss-up. Both teams lack the high-end offensive talent to put a scare in anyone, but they both have goalies who can give you fits on any given night. (Hell, Boston has TWO of them.) Ryan Miller will out-duel Tukka Rask and/or Tim Thomas, but just barely. Sabres in 7.
Penguins-Senators – The Pens had an up and down year, but they’ve been here before, have strong leadership (Sidney Crosby has raised his game to a new level of “holy shit”, and has the Olympic gold medal and Rocket Richard Trophy to prove it), and they know what it takes to win. The Senators? Which Senators do you mean? The team changes personality almost by the shift, let alone game by game. They can be great, they can be awful. And against Pittsburgh, will probably be a bit of both – but too much of the latter to stand a chance. Pens in 6.