2014 Stanley Cup Playoff Thoughts

SJ Sharks

Until his appearance for Canada at this year’s Olympic tournament, Marc Edouard Vlasic was probably the most underrated defenceman in the NHL. Though never flashy, Vlasic does all the little things well – gap control and positioning, smooth outlet passes, and the complete and utter destruction of dangerous scoring chances. In my opinion, Vlasic is a microcosm of his team – an underrated, but incredibly important cog in a team who often rides second fiddle to the big names in the Western Conference like Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and 1st place Anaheim. Is it finally time for the Sharks to rise up and claim their rightful place as one of the NHL’s elite post-lockout teams?



Boston – Detroit

A veteran laden Bruins team which finished atop the NHL standings faces an underdog group filled with talented youngsters. The Bruins long-time core of forwards (Krejci, Lucic, Bergeron, Marchand) has been filled out nicely with the additions of Jarome Iginla and Reilly Smith, as well as a pair of Swedes in Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg. While Detroit has done exceptionally well given their injury depleted lineup, it’s hard to imagine super sophomores Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar keeping up their recently torrid scoring pace in a 7 game series against the likes of Rask and Chara. And with Pavel Datsyuk not at 100%, and Henrik Zetterberg out for the series, the smart money is on Boston. Their four-line attack is a lot for any team to handle, especially a team like Detroit, who doesn’t really have the horses on defence that they once did; of their top-4 defenders from the 2011 playoffs – Lidstrom, Kronwall, Rafalski, Brad Stuart, only Kronwall remains.   


Pittsburgh – Columbus

The most potent offence in the East faces off against the Eastern Conference’s version of the Nashville Predators. Columbus has a number of underrated forwards, like future star centre Ryan Johansen, small sniper Cam Atkinson (reminds me of Steve Sullivan), grinding power forward Brandon Dubinsky, and two-way Russian centre Artem Anisimov. To say nothing of last year’s Vezina winning goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky. They also employ a tough forecheck, and have a lot of skilled guys who are also muckers, like Foligno, Calvert, and the aforementioned Dubinsky. But the skill in Pittsburgh is overwhelming – Sid, Gino, James “the real deal” Neal, Kunitz, etc. Kris Letang is back to anchor the D-crew, and for all the talk surrounding him, Marc-Andre Fleury has been very good this season. Plus, Pittsburgh has been banged up all year, and now that they finally have Martin, Orpik, Scuderi, Malkin, and ‘Tanger all ready to go, I think they’ll raise their game enough to beat a young, albeit tenancious opponent. I think each game will be hard fought, but it would take a small miracle for Columbus to make it out.


Tampa Bay – Montreal

Sometimes you hear people say “this team is red hot”, or “wow this player is on a tear”. That expression could be used for Carey Price, who’s put the world on notice ever since his uber-solid play at this year’s Olympic games. But if you want to suggest he’s “on a hot streak”, I object. I don’t think Price is “so hot right now”, I think he’s flat out the best goalie in the NHL. Some goalies “steal” games – they get shelled and still manage to win. Other goalies are solid – they win you the games you’re supposed to win. Not that many goalies do both. Price does both. You know who else did that? Patrick Roy. Bam. Comparison made. Montreal has had a lot of scoring depth the past two years, but now that they’ve added Tomas Vanek, they also have a legitimate top-line with Pacioretty-Desharnais-Vanek which could make them a handful for their next opponent if they’re able to move on. (Would likely be Boston…!) On the Tampa side, the health of Ben Bishop, Valtteri Filppula, and rookie sensation Ondrej Palat are all in question, and I think as a whole, they just won’t have enough to get by a solid group in Montreal.


New York R – Philadelphia

Very even match-up. New York has the edge in goal with Lundqvist – especially if Steve Mason is out (already not playing game 1), but Philadelphia has the depth and talent that New York can’t match. Voracek is big, fast, and has tons of skill; Simmonds is a beauty power forward with size, strength, and surprising hands; Hartnell is a great net presence with good finish, Matt Read is an underrated sniper who plays responsibly too, Sean Couturier is a future Selke winner, and Vinny Lecavlier has been there before. And then there’s Claude Giroux – what can you say about this guy? With the exception of size, Giroux has everything you could possibly ask for – speed, shot, hands, vision, and most of all, a tremendous ability to raise his game when it’s on the line. Furthermore, the best pick-up at the Trade Deadline this year was defenceman Andrew MacDonald (similar to St. Louis’ Jay Bouwmeester who was acquired last season). Good size, skates well, makes very good decisions, moves the puck well, and keeps the game simple. He’s already re-signed long-term, and has formed a nice shut-down pair with Luke Schenn. All that said, New York is a good team too – they also have plenty of depth at forward, and a nice defence, but their top-end guys are really under the gun. After 19 games with the Rangers, Martin St. Louis scored only 1 goal, and for his part, Rick Nash has never been a big guy in big moments. I also feel that Henrik Lundqvist isn’t quite what he used to be; his backup – Cam Talbot, had a better G.A.A and save % this season by a wide margin, (2.36 vs. 1.64; .920 vs .941), and provided a lot of stability at times when Lundqvist was struggling. And when your top-scoring forward over 82 games is Mats Zuccarello, I think that says something about the quality of your team. New York also suffered an injury to a key player – Chris Kreider – a big young winger who can really fly. He’s exactly the kind of player who would have been valuable come playoff time when things tighten up and there’s a little less room to move. When all’s said and done, I feel that Philadelphia is one of those aggressive, attacking teams that really takes the play to their opponent. If Lundqvist doesn’t stand on his head, I think Philly comes out ahead.



Anaheim – Dallas

Is it as simple as Perry and Getzlaf versus Benn and Seguin? If so, this would be a tough series to call. But after those four potent talents, Anaheim boasts way more depth. Cogliano, Bonino, Perreault, and Palmieri are all underrated forwards who have quietly helped this team finish atop the Western Conference. They generate a lot of chances and puck possession for the Ducks. Silfverberg is another young talent, and Maroon has been playing an increased role of late. Anaheim also skates better than almost any team in the league, and their versatility is impressive – to a man, these forwards are either big and fast, or fast and skilled. Kari Lehtonen is a good goalie for Dallas, but he’s going to have to stop everything including the kitchen sink to win this series, and if the Ducks can hold Seguin and Benn even a little in check, I’m not sure where the rest of the offence would come from. For Dallas, Ray Whitney is day-to-day, Rich Peverley is out for the year after the heart scare, Erik Cole hasn’t generated much since early in the year, and 18-year old Russian talent Valeri Nichushkin might be spent after playing his first 82 game NHL season. Only question mark for the Ducks is in goal, where it looks like opening day starter Jonas Hiller will be a 2nd or 3rd string goalie – Frederik Andersen was a revelation for the Ducks, and will start, with goalie-of-the-future, John Gibson serving as back-up.


Colorado – Minnesota

This is an interesting series. At first glance, it would seem to be all Colorado – they finished 2nd in the West and 3rd in overall in the NHL, won the season series, and boast the better goalie. But they’re also a very young team – O’Reilly and Landeskog are 21; Mackinnon is 18 – are without their best player, Matt Duchene, for at least the first two games of the series, and they’re playing a veteran group that boasts some great players like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, and Mikko Koivu. Is Colorado ripe for an upset? If they are, it seems like not many are calling it. Perhaps that’s because Ilya Bryzgalov is an average goalie, at best, and despite Duchene going down with a knee injury, and Colorado having a high seed already locked up, they just managed to keep winning down the stretch. Their turnaround this year has been unbelievable, after finishing last year in 29th overall, and a lot of credit goes to the incredibly inspiring and stabilizing force that is Patrick Roy, who should call the cops if the Jack Adams trophy is awarded to anyone but him. Minnesota will be a tough challenge to be sure, but even without Matt Duchene, Colorado’s potent attack and strong goaltending should be enough to get by a strong Wild team.


St. Louis – Chicago

Two weeks ago, most people would have taken St. Louis. But now with the health of Backes, Oshie, Sobotka, and Berglund in question, and talented Russian Vladimir Tarasenko out indefinitely, the Blues are walking wounded. And Chicago is not the team you want to play when half of your top-9 forwards are shuffling in and out of the infirmary. While the Ryan Miller acquisition obviously made sense, it sucks that a team who’s been struggling to score (only 5 goals in their last 6 games!) effectively gave up power forward Chris Stewart (Blues scoring leader last season), and replaced him with 3rd line pest, Steve Ott. If all that wasn’t enough, Chicago is finally healthy after their own run of injuries. Assuming Toews and Kane are near 100%, coming off relatively minor shoulder and  knee injuries, the entire Hawks group has a clean bill of health. They don’t quite have the depth they had last year after losing Frolik, Bolland, and Stalberg, but they still have so much high-end skill with Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Toews, and Keith – more than enough to get by a once mighty, now floundering Blues squad. Awful timing for St. Louis, but them’s the breaks.


San Jose – Los Angeles

For me, this is the single most interesting series in the first round. While everyone is talking about Chicago-St. Louis, I think the Stanley Cup finalist from the West will come out of this series. And I think it will be San Jose. Everyone talks about Quick, Kopitar, Carter, Doughty, and the grating, defensive style LA plays that is so conducive to playoff success. But when I look at how these teams match up, I see a Sharks team that has top-end talent similar to Chicago, and more depth than any team league wide, including Boston. The top-4 of Thornton, Marleau, Couture and Pavelski is second only to the Chicago four (Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa). But following them, you have Brent Burns – who is really coming into his own as a top-flight power forward; Tommy Wingels, who plays like a poor man’s T.J Oshie; dynamic rookie Tomas Hertl, who’s now healthy following knee surgery (and still has Joe Thornton’s admiration); Tyler Kennedy, who despite a somewhat underwhelming season offensively, is a versatile third line winger, and Marty Havlat, who for all his injuries over the years, can still be a dynamic top-6 forward over a brief stretch. They also have playoff predator Raffi Torres, who will be looking for his next Czech forward to run into oblivion. (If you’re unaware, youtube “Torres-Michalek” or “Torres-Hossa”). Depth guys like James Sheppard and Andrew Desjardins have moved up in the lineup and been very reliable, and if more injuries hit, the Sharks have another youngster in Matt Nieto who is both skilled and highly touted. This is a veteran group who is hungry to win. With the exception of Thornton & Marleau,(34), and Boyle (37), most of the other key players are in their mid-to-late 20’s. They also have a lot of size and skill, meaning they can’t be pushed around easily, even by a team like LA. Aside from their forwards, their defence boasts quiet stars in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and veteran Dan Boyle, as well as some other unheralded young players – Justin Braun, and Jason Demers. In goal, Antti Niemi had just an ok year, but he was actually named the Sharks’ MVP last season, not to mention that he was good enough to win the cup with Chicago in 2010. I’m not saying Niemi will be the reason the Sharks go deep, but he’s good enough to take them there if they play as they can.


2013 NHL Playoff Picks



So it’s that time of year again. The time when beards are grown, money is wagered, and legends are made. It’s the NHL Playoffs. If there’s a more exciting event in sports, I haven’t experienced it. Nothing else compares to the pace, drama, ferocity, and suspense which the Stanley Cup Playoffs provide us year after year. Perhaps fans of other sports would beg to disagree, but if so, I’d beg them to watch a better sport.

Since about 2004, I’ve been making NHL playoff brackets. The goal – nay, the dream – is to have a perfect bracket. It’s never happened for me to date, and the odds of it ever happening are slim. And every year it makes me try harder.

This year, I’ve gone to new lengths – almost laughable lengths – in my efforts to be right. I know from past experience that more information does not mean better decisions, and yet something compelled me to strive onward. So I have some information which, if nothing else, should be neat to look at. (Is 15 hours really worth “neat to look at?”) For now, I’m just going to lay out each series and make some picks, but I’ll be posting my crazy methodology once the playoffs are underway.



(1) Pittsburgh versus (8) New York Islanders

It may not be a tight series, but it should be fun to watch. John Tavares has emerged as one of the top-5 forwards in the NHL, and has pulled the Islanders along with him. The only knock on Tavares on draft day was his skating, which was considered average at best. But in the past four years, Tavares’ Crosby-like work-ethic has turned that weakness into a strength. Shutting him down in a 7-game series is not possible.

But what’s truly different about the Islanders is the supporting cast. It’s no longer just Matt Moulson riding shot-gun to Tavares, but 2nd line guys like Nielsen, Bailey, and Okposo who are bringing it for New York, and providing the kind of balanced attack which saw them score 139 goals, good for 8th in the NHL. Veteran puck moving d-men like Lubomir Visnovsky and Mark Streit are also a big part of that turnaround.

But…it’s Pittsburgh. On paper, the Pens might be the best NHL team in over a decade. If you knew prior to the season that they’d have Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Neal, Morrow, and Kunitz up front, you’d need a very good reason to pick anyone else to win it all. It just looks frightening. I didn’t even list Pascal Dupuis, since he isn’t a name that sticks out to most people, and yet he scored 20 goals. And then there’s Kris Letang, who would have been the odds-on favourite to win the Norris Trophy this year had he not missed a quarter of the season with various lower-body ailments.

In fact, the Pens won more games in overtime and regulation than any other team in the league – including Chicago – 33 in all. They beat the Islanders in 4 of 5 meetings this year, and swept one of the other Eastern Conference favourites – the Boston Bruins – 3-0. In fact, the Penguins only have a losing record against one team in East: the New Jersey Devils. And with the Devils ready to hit the golf course, it’s hard to find a team that has an obvious advantage over Crosby and Co.

If there is a weakness on this team, it’s the injury bug. Crosby probably won’t be ready for game 1 of the series due to the broken jaw he suffered on March 30th, and Malkin, Letang, and Neal have all returned just recently from their own injuries. But unless they lose all those players again, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Islanders can overcome that juggernaut.

(2) Montreal versus (7) Ottawa

Folks, this is a tight one. In a series like this, it’s hard to resist shaking your head and simply picking the favourite. But here’s how I see it shaking down.

The Habs exceeded expectations all year with strong early-season play from Carey Price and a great powerplay, led by the return of prodigal son, Andrei Markov. After several injury-plagued seasons, Markov regained his health, playing in every game this year – the first time he’s done so since ’07-’08. P.K Subban put up career numbers with 38 points in only 42 games, and the Canadians got balanced contributions from Pacioretty, Plekanec, Gionta, Ryder, Desharnais, Eller, Galchenyuk, and Gallagher.

The Sens are more or less the opposite story. With early-season injuries to their elite offensive talents – Jason Spezza, and Erik Karlsson – the Sens had to do it the hard way, grinding out 2-1 games, and picking up OT points by keeping games close. They gave up only 104 goals all season, the lowest total in the high-scoring Eastern Conference. They only allowed 20 while short-handed, and I have a feeling that the Habs, who relied heavily on their #2 ranked powerplay (42 goals on the year), will have trouble piercing their defensive front.

And then there’s Erik Karlsson. The surprising return of last year’s Norris Trophy winner wasn’t expected anytime this season after Matt Cooke’s skate severed 70% of his achilles tendon. But he returned Thursday in Washington, and posted 2 points in 27 minutes of action. He is easily the most talented offensive defenceman of his generation, with an unparalleled combination of skating, passing, shooting, and above all, vision. His return cannot be overstated for a Senators team which finished last among all playoff teams with 116 goals.

And then there’s Craig Anderson. If not for a high ankle sprain which came him out for several weeks, Anderson probably would have won the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender. His numbers are almost unfathomable: a 1.69 goals against average, and a .941 save %. He plays an aggressive game, similar to 2011 Vezina and Conn Smythe Winner Tim Thomas, minus the extreme political leanings. And with a solid and versatile group of defenders in front of him, including shut-down men like Methot, Cowen, and Phillips, who prevent high-quality chances, and puck movers in Karlsson, Gonchar, and Wiercioch, who lead the transition game from their own zone, the Senators are tough to bottle in their own zone.

Of course, if Price can regain his early-season form, then Montreal will be able to win some close games and carry the day, but if I’m betting on a goalie in this series, it’s Craig Anderson.

(3) Washington versus (6) New York Rangers

This is one of the most interesting series in the 1st round because there’s so many ways to look at it. The Rangers have Lundqvist in goal, so they should be favoured. The Caps have Ovechkin in MVP form, so they’re the favourite. The Rangers have size and grit, with Nash, Callahan, Clowe, Boyle, and Kreider, but the Caps have the skill, with Backstrom, Ribeiro, Green, Erat, and the aforementioned Ovie. Both teams were hot down the stretch.

What’s the difference maker? I don’t think it’s Washington being “hot”, because I don’t think they are. I think they’re just good. While it’s easy to point to Ovechkin’s dominance as the reason for the Caps’ turnaround – and it is a huge reason – but I think the health and play of Mike Green is just as important. Green is making people remember how we forget he’s a defenceman, and I mean that in a good way. The man has scored 10 goals in the last 18 games, as a defenceman. That’s ridiculous. With his re-emergence, their powerplay is once again deadly – they have the shooters – Ovie & Green; they have the set-up men – Backstrom and Ribeiro; and they have the net presence – Brouwer. Since they generate a lot of chances with a solid three-line attack, they draw a lot of penalties. And if you take too many penalties, your odds of winning are dismal.

In last year’s 2nd round, the Caps took the Rangers to a 7th game. The Rangers finished 1st in the East last year, while the Caps finished 7th. New York was a grinding team, and the Caps didn’t have the firepower to overcome them. But if I’m a Rangers fan, what scares me isn’t just the Caps’ offensive renaissance, but the fact that their best defensive defenceman – Marc Staal – remains sidelined with a fairly severe eye injury. Staal has resumed skating, but his vision is still blurry after taking a shot to the eye on March 5th. Girardi and McDonagh are a good defensive pairing, but the drop-off to the 2nd pairing of Del Zotto and Stralman is a huge concern.

All that being said, Nash and Stepan have been very impressive this year for the Rangers, and Richards and Callahan have picked up their play of late, so it’s not like New York can’t win this series. But I think Washington’s “hot streak” isn’t a result of a team playing above its long-term capability, but rather a sign of a team that’s found its way.

(4) Boston versus (5) Toronto

This is a strange one. If you looked at this series a month ago, it would have been a nice match-up. The Bruins are just two years removed from their Stanley Cup winning performance, and boast a solid, deep team at all positions, particularly up front. Meanwhile the Leafs were on the rise, with strong offensive performances from Kessel, Kadri, and Lupul (when healthy), and the surprising play of goaltender James Reimer.

But both teams have sputtered of late. The Bruins had a few injuries, first with Bergeron and Marchand, and more recently with Nate Horton and Jaromir Jagr. Zdeno Chara only scored 7 goals this year, and 19 points, and was on pace for his worst offensive season in over a decade. David Krejci’s offence also dryed up down the stretch, and Milan Lucic found himself a healthy scratch at one point last week.

But the Leafs’ play was on another level of bad. They averaged about 19 shots per game in their last three,  and lost 4 of 6 to end the season. They probably would have lost all 6 if not for the heroic play of Reimer, who allowed just one goal in those two wins.

All things considered, it’s hard not to pick take Boston. The Bruins won three of the four match-ups this season, and with neither team playing well, it’s hard to point to a reason why the favourite won’t win. Sorry Leafs fans, but I don’t pick Boston to win, as much as I expect Toronto to lose.



(1) Chicago versus (8) Minnesota

There isn’t too much to say about this one. Minnesota limped into the playoffs, dropping their last home game against Edmonton, when they had the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. It was an unimpressive performance in a long string of underwhelming play which started around the trade deadline on April 3rd. The Wild have a pretty good group of forwards, led by Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, but their defence begins and ends with Ryan Suter – though rookie Jonas Brodin has a very bright future.

Chicago’s speed and skill will overwhelm Minnesota. Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa are as deadly a quartet as you’ll find in the NHL, and the Hawks have developed a nice supporting cast behind them, with Bickell, Kruger, Stalberg, and rookie Brandon Saad supplying a nice dose of secondary scoring. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been solid all year – in fact, Emery is 17-1-0 on the season. (I haven’t checked, but that must be a record). Minnesota will play hard, but I just can’t see them keeping the puck out of their net.

(2) Anaheim versus (7) Detroit

Although this isn’t like me, I just “have a feeling” about this series. Detroit won two of the three meetings this season, and lost the other game without the services of Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. Not only will those two be playing in this series, but they, along with Henrik Zetterberg, seem to have found their old form in the last 10 games. By contrast, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were their old selves in the first half of this season, but after they all but clinched a playoff spot, and pocketed some rather large contract extensions, each of them have come back down to earth. Getzlaf has also missed a few games with unspecified injuries, which is not unusual given his history in the past several years.

Overall, I’ll still give the edge on offence to Anaheim, as Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan have more finishing ability than their counterparts in Detroit, and don’t need as many chances to find the back of the net. But what I can’t get past is the indescribable play of Anaheim’s back-end, where their make-shift group of Souray, Lydman, Allen, Fowler, Lovejoy, and Sbisa, has only one high-quality NHL defenceman – Francois Beauchemin. Sbisa is probably the next-best, and is currently out of the lineup. Souray, Lydman, and Allen all lack foot seed, and Fowler isn’t known for his defensive play at this stage of his young career. I see Detroit holding the puck in the Anaheim end for long periods of play, and Anaheim running around desperately trying to get it back.

You might suggest that Detroit’s defence isn’t much better. And I don’t completely disagree. Losing Brad Stuart and Nick Lidstrom was a huge double-blow, not to mention Brian Rafalski the previous off-season. But the Wings also suffered countless injuries to the players who were supposed to fill those gaps – Smith, Quincey, and Colaiacovo all missed chunks of time. Finally, everyone on the back-end is healthy, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Wings’ play has improved of late. I also give a slight edge in goal to Detroit, as Jimmy Howard has performed well in the playoffs in the each of the past four years.

(3) Vancouver versus (6) San Jose

A rematch of the 2011 Conference Final, which the Canucks won in 5 games. While each team has declined, they still possess most of the pieces that made up those squads just two years ago. Sedin x2, Kesler, Burrows, Edler, Hamhuis, Bieksa on the one end; Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture, Boyle, Vlasic, and Niemi on the other.

What’s interesting is that most people don’t see either of these teams going too far in these playoffs. I disagree. I think San Jose is underrated, and will give Vancouver all they can handle. Niemi is having a career year, and will be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Meanwhile, Schneider had a very good year as well, so assuming he’s healthy, (he missed a game on the weekend), the goaltending should be tight in this series.

San Jose also went on a huge run after trading Clowe and Murray around the deadline- apparently no one told them that being a seller meant they couldn’t go 12-5-1 down the stretch. But Vancouver added Derek Roy at the deadline – just the injection of tenacious, offensive talent they needed – and finally, finally may have a healthy Ryan Kesler. With those two in the fold, and Mason Raymond having a good year, the Canucks have the offensive depth they lacked most of the last year, which was especially apparent in last year’s 1st round, when Daniel Sedin missed the first three games against LA (all losses). Jannik Hansen is also having a career year, and Chris Higgins has rejuvenated his career in Vancouver, establishing himself as an excellent third-liner.

While the Canucks still aren’t what they were in 2011, they still have an excellent group of top-4 defencemen, with Edler, Hamhuis, Bieksa, and Garrison all possessing some measure of of size, skating, and offensive ability. So while overall, they don’t possess the elite offensive skill of teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago, they also don’t have any significant holes to speak of. I think they will sneak by San Jose, and could make a serious run in the West.

(4) St. Louis versus (5) Los Angeles

A re-match of last year’s 2nd round match-up, which the Kings swept in 4. But don’t expect this year’s series to be so short-lived.

The Blues are more or less the same team which finished 2nd in the Western Conference last year – only they might be better. Adding Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary was huge, as it solidified their top pairing, giving Alex Pietrangelo a stable, veteran presence who can help him defend against the other team’s top players. Adding Jordan Leopold also gave them more depth on the back-end. Up front, they still don’t score as much as you’d expect, but between Perron, Oshie, Backes, Steen, McDonald, Stewart, Tarasenko, and Berglund, the talent is there. The one concern for the Blues is in goal, where de facto starter Jaro Halak has missed some time with injuries, and his back-up, Brian Elliot, has been wildly inconsistent (though quite good of late).

For their part, the Kings are also more or less the same team, but different. They’ve had great goaltending, except it’s been more Bernier than Quick. And apart from Jeff Carter, they still aren’t scoring as much as it looks like they should based on the abundance of talent they have in Kopitar, Richards, Williams, Brown, and Doughty. They’ve also missed their key shut-down tandem of Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell terribly, though Greene is almost 100% now, and Robyn Regehr – acquired from Buffalo – is almost a dead wringer for Mitchell.

The deciding factor for me is the Kings’ recent success against St. Louis. Not only did they sweep them in the playoffs last year, but they took all three games this season. It’s a case of two teams who play a very similar style – defence-first – and LA has the edge in star power both in goal, and up front. St. Louis has tons of depth, but when you’re looking at David Backes as your best forward, I’ll raise you Kopitar, Carter, and Richards, before I get to Dustin Brown, who is basically LA’s version of Backes. I think St. Louis will make this a really tough series, but if I’m putting down money, it’s on LA.


Pick Summary:


(1) Pit over (8) Nyi

(7) Ott over (2) Mtl

(3) Wsh over (6) Nyr

(4) Bos over (5) Tor



(1) Chi over (8) Min

(7) Det over (2) Ana

(3) Van over (6) Sjs

(5) Lak over (4) Stl

2012 NHL Playoffs: 2nd Round Picks

I don’t have as much time as I’d like to elaborate on these picks, but I’m morally obligated to make them prior to any games beginning, so here they are. I’ll be doing a post-mortem on round 1, as well as a more detailed look at the rest of the playoffs, so stay tuned.

(If you’re up for a laugh, check out my 1st round playoff picks. I went 3/8! Bear in mind that I am not always  this foolish – I was 7/8 last year, and 6/8 the year before.)


(2) St. Louis vs (8) Los Angeles

Winner: Los Angeles

Why: The Blues matched up really well against San Jose – bigger, faster, younger, and better goaltending. But the same can’t be said against LA. The Kings have tons of size up front – Kopitar, Carter, Brown, Penner, King, and Nolan – and  lots of speed between Richards, Williams, Lewis, Richardson, Stoll, as well as the aforementioned Carter and Brown. Furthermore, Jonathan Quick is about as good a goalie as you’ll find. Because both of these teams are so good – and so evenly matched – it may come down to who gets a break in a key game 4/5. And when the game is tight, I like to have Mike Richards on my side.

(3) Phoenix vs (4) Nashville

Winner: Nashville

Why: Speaking of evenly matched, how about Phoenix and Nashville. Great goaltending, tight defensive systems, very strong bluelines, and – at least on paper – a bit challenged offensively. The reason I like Nashville is that they have a bit more talent up front than in the past, adding a game-breaker like Alex Radulov, which helps bring more out of other skilled players like Erat and the Kostitsyn’s. And while Nashville’s two-way centres like Fisher and Legwand are countered by Phoenix’s Hanzel, Vermette, and Langkow, I prefer Nashville’s depth guys better – Gaustad, Halischuk, Bourque, Spaling –  to the players in Phoenix’s bottom-6 like Pyatt, Gordon, Brule, and Chipchura. Phoenix has been resilient all year so don’t count them out, but I think Nashville – for probably the first time in their history – has just a little more star power.


(1) New York vs (7) Washington

Winner: New York

Why: This one is a struggle to explain, because I actually think that Washington is probably a better team from the goal out, but I like the Rangers to come through. Yes, Braden Holtby was majestic against the Bruins, and out-dueled last year’s Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, but I don’t think lightning will strike twice. I’ve seen this story before, where the underdog goalie outplays the heavily favoured rival goalie, and it usually doesn’t last. In 2004 when Philly’s Robert Esche played unexpectedly well against New Jersey’s legend Martin Brodeur and forced them out in the 1st round. But he got worse in each round that followed, eventually losing to Tampa Bay in the Conference Finals. Same thing in 2010, when Brian Boucher was significantly better than Brodeur in a 5-game series win by Philadelphia. Boucher was terrible in the next round against Boston, before getting hurt and making way for Michael Leighton’s unexpected heroics (which again only lasted for about 1 round). I’m not saying that Holtby isn’t a good goalie, but there were no expectations of him beating the Bruins; now that they’re into the 2nd round, guess what: expectations.

And then there’s Henrik Lundqvist – the consensus best goalie in the world, and one with a history of success against Washington. He nearly stole their 1st round series in 2009 – a time when the Caps were a far more dangerous team offensively. The Rangers took a 3-1 series lead against the heavily favoured Capitals squad, solely due to the play of Lundqvist, before succumbing to the Caps’ then-dynamic attack. To my eye, Washington is no longer the same team, and though I think the series will be close, I like New York to once again squeak it out.

(5) Philadelphia vs (6) New Jersey

Winner: Philadelphia

Why: I think this series will be very interesting. Just like Washington is no longer the offensive juggernaut they once were, New Jersey is no longer the defensively stifling, systems-oriented team of their past. They actually have very good offensive depth up front with the likes of Parise, Kovalchuk, Elias, Zajac, Henrique, Clarkson, Zubrus, and Sykora, as well as a little more on the back-end with the deadline-day addition of Marek Zidlicky. In some ways, this will present a greater challenge to Philadelphia, whose defence is banged up with injuries to Grossman and Meszaros, and of course Chris Pronger. While Coburn and Timonen were matched up against Malkin and Neal, leaving only two truly dangerous Pens in the rest of their lineup (Staal and Crosby, the latter of which didn’t look right for most of the series), Philly’s depleted blueline will now need to stop the Elias and Henrique lines, and hope that Timonen and Coburn can shut-down the ever dangerous Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk line.

All that being said, I don’t think New Jersey will win the series. Philly just has too much skill, and different types of players that complement each other. Small, quick, skilled forwards like Briere and Read mixed in with big, skilled forwards like Voracek and Jagr; gritty guys Hartnell, Schenn, and Simmonds; two-way players like Couturier and Talbot; and then there’s the guy that stirs the drink – a man whom Flyers coach Peter Laviolette boastfully called “the best player in the world” – # 28, Claude Giroux. I’ve  watched Giroux for years, from his days in Gatineau of the QMJHL, when he barely made the team as an undrafted 17-year-old,  to his play in the 2008 WJC for Team Canada, his quick 33-game transition through the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, and now his gradual but steady ascent to the top of the NHL’s elite. He was very noticeable in his first-ever NHL playoff series in 2009, playing against the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

(Go to 2:57 to see Giroux’s short-handed magic)

He was instrumental the following year in the Flyers’ unexpected run to the Stanley Cup final, scoring 10 goals (2nd) and 21 points (3rd) on his team in scoring. He was the 3rd most dominant forward in the NHL during the season, behind only Malkin and Stamkos, and during this year’s playoffs, he’s taken it to a whole new level, displaying a combination of speed, skill, grit, vision, and pure passion that very few players will ever possess.

I don’t think New Jersey will be able to stop him.

2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

It’s been a long time. I know why I haven’t written in so long, and it’s because when I do, it takes, FOREVER. but I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour with the following two-part series. Today, I break down the series’ in brief, along with my picks for the entire playoff season. Tomorrow, I go into further detail and tell you the rationale behind my thinking. Without further ado, here is my 2012 playoff preview. Continue reading