Monday, April 09, 2012

Into The Crystal Ball: 2012 Playoff Edition

When the clock turns to April, there’s only thing left to do: turn to everyone’s favourite orb to tell you just how the Stanley Cup Playoffs will work itself out.

Eastern Conference

Quarterfinals

#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators: The Senators rediscovered themselves with speed and defence but the problem is so too did the Rangers, who not only possess the better goaltender but better overall personnel. This should be quick. Rangers 4, Senators 0

#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals: About the only thing going in Washington’s favour is that Nicklas Backstrom is back in the lineup. Unfortunately, that’s all they have going for them. The Bruins won their Cup last year wearing down skilled teams like the Capitals, and, considering Washington’s goaltending woes and Boston’s prowess in net, there’s hardly any reason to think Boston won’t make quick work of the Caps. Bruins 4, Capitals 0

#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils: The Devils re-enter the playoffs after a one year hiatus, the Panthers after eleven years, so guess who will be rustier. The good news is that these ain’t your father’s Devils, so the Panthers should be able to put up quite a fight, and you have to ask questions about Ilya Kovalchuck’s mental toughness on the Devils’ side. Still, the Devils have enough playoff moxie- and greater depth- to see them past the Panthers, though it will be tough. Devils 4, Panthers 3

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers: You know times are different when it’s the Penguins- not the Flyers- being accused of dirty play (with one of those accusations coming from the Flyers), but such are the times we live in. It’s no secret that the Pens haven’t been the greatest of sportsmen in recent weeks, and you have to wonder if they can bury the antics long enough to let their skill shine through. Pittsburgh has made gains this season- no longer are they just Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and some spare parts, there’s some genuine depth in the form of James Neal (40 goals), Chris Kunitz (26), Pascal Dupuis (25), Jordan Staal (25), Matt Cooke (19) and Steve Sullivan (17). The Flyers, though, can match Pittsburgh’s depth, with Claude Giroux (28 goals and 93 points), Scott Hartnell (37 goals), Jaromir Jagr (19), Wayne Simmonds (28) and super rookie Matt Read (24). Philadelphia has also received better rearguard play (slightly) and ostensibly has the better goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov, but Bryzgalov has been up and down whereas Marc-Andre Fleury is a proven playoff goaltender. I lean Pittsburgh’s way because of it, but this will be very close. Penguins 4, Flyers 3

Semi-finals

#1 New York Rangers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils: Their first meeting in the playoffs since Sean Avery’s buffoonery with Martin Brodeur should play out much like the last time- minus the antics. In 2008, the Rangers disposed of the Devils with their superior depth, and this time they have even more of it to call upon with the additions of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, not to mention the fact Broduer himself is a shadow of his former self. It adds up to the Rangers becoming the first team since the 1985 Edmonton Oilers to start a playoff year 8-0. Rangers 4, Devils 0

#2 Boston Bruins vs. #4 Pittsburgh Penguins: Skill vs. braun, antics vs….well, more antics; and two Conn Smythe goalies going head to head. Paper suggests that this should be a runaway for the Penguins, but so did it for the Canucks last year in the Cup Final and we all know what happened. The way this looks, it’s déjà-vu all over again- the Penguins come in skilled but ansty while the Bruins come in tough and stingy. Close series but again a Bruin win. Bruins 4, Penguins 3

Finals

#1 New York Rangers vs. #2 Boston Bruins: You have two great defensive teams with great goaltenders squaring off for the Eastern final, one that uses speed (Rangers) and one that uses braun (Bruins). In fact, it’ll be so stingy that the first team that gets to four goals gets to win the series. In this case, the Rangers should do it since they have the firepower (the series’ only forty goal man in Gaborik) the Bruins do not, but it will be very close. Rangers 4, Bruins 3

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings: The Kings were supposed to be world-beaters this season with the addition of Mike Richards to the team while the Canucks have been world-beaters- with or without Daniel Sedin. On paper, this is an even matchup (which should count for something) but Los Angeles is far too inconsistent to take seriously. Canucks 4, Kings 2

#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks: There’s a saying: beware of the good team that had a bad year. There’s another saying too: beware of the bad team that had a good year. While the Blues don’t qualify as a bad team, there’s no doubt they’re overachievers, basing much of their success on the backs of goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott and coach Ken Hitchcock’s defensive scheme than raw talent. The Sharks, meanwhile, return many of the same players that dominated the West for years, and, while they haven’t dominated like in years past, they still have plenty going for them in these playoffs. St. Louis has made a lot of strides, but the Sharks’ playoff savvy should see them past the green Blues. Sharks 4, Blues 2

#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks: Lost in the hoopla about the Coyotes’ imminent turn to Quebec City is the fact that this is the Coyotes franchise’s first division title in their history. Won’t mean much in this series since the ‘Yotes are outmatched against Chicago, but not by much. Phoenix finally has the skill to match their work ethic, but the ‘Hawks are a deeper bunch. If Jonathan Toews returns, this could be a quick series, otherwise it’ll be a long one. Blackhawks 4, Coyotes 2

#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings: Now that Alexander Radulov is back in a Predator uniform this series becomes much more interesting. The Predators come in much more structured and poised than previous incarnations and now they finally have the firepower to compete with Detroit, who are a fading bunch heading into the postseason. The Wings still have more skill, but they have questions in net whereas Nashville does not, and the Predators can now say they’ll win the blueline battle. It’ll be very close but this time the Predators have the upper hand. Predators 4, Red Wings 3

Semi-finals

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #7 San Jose Sharks: Hard to believe that with virtually the same cast in both cases that this won’t go the same way that it did last year- in the Canucks’ way and quick. Might even be quicker considering the Sharks aren’t as good as they were last year and the Canucks are better. Canucks 4, Sharks 0

#4 Nashville Predators vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks: This will be the year the Predators vanquish their playoff foes, as they’re the team on the rise and their foes will be the ones on the decline. This time, it’s the Blackhawks, who, while stronger than a year ago, still have a ways to go before they’re back as Cup contenders. Nashville, however, is already there, with a deeper blueline, a great goaltender and finally some forwards they can hang their hats on. Predators 4, Blackhawks 2

Finals

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #4 Nashville Predators: Amazingly, the Predators’ run will match them up against every team that defeated them in the playoffs, and the Canucks will be their last test. I know I said this would be the year they would vanquish their playoff foes, but it only came with the qualifier that the team be on the decline. Vancouver isn’t on the decline- far from it, actually. This is a better Canuck team than the one that Nashville played a year ago- they finally have size in their top six and have actually filled it out, combined with a talented bottom six- so while Nashville should provide a fight, they’ll see they still need a few pieces to really get over the hump. Canucks 4, Predators 2

Stanley Cup Finals

#W1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #E1 New York Rangers: 1994 rematch, with the Canucks this time with home ice, and prospects of a much more even series. The two teams are a clash of styles- the whirling dervishes of the Canucks against the workmanlike, stingy Rangers- and both play it so well that this series will go back and forth. In the end, though, the Canucks have been here before and will want to atone for last season’s mistake, and they can play the defensive game as well as the Rangers, whereas the Rangers can’t score with the Canucks. It’ll be a close series but this will be the ultimate revenge for 1994. Canucks 4, Rangers 3

-DG


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-DG

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