News & Articles
Browse all content by date.
CASTLE DANGER… It is Sunday afternoon and I am awaiting the final NHL regular-season game between the Boston Bruins and the Ottawa Senators, but more on that in a bit. The Eastern Conference playoff lineup is still in flux, but the Western Conference has been decided. The Minnesota Wild, despite limping to the finish line, have made it in. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they have to play the Western favorite Chicago Blackhawks. Is this a series the Wild could win? Well, nothing is impossible, but that series is not my first-round upset pick.
Using head-to-head performances, stats, team goal differentials, regulation wins, karma, last 10 games, two shots of Cuervo, and hunch and gut feeling, plus some edu-macated guessing, I will try to ferret out who will do what, with which, and to whom. In the West: the #1 seed Chicago vs. Minnesota. The Blackhawks used the short season to put up an impressive record of 36-7-5. They had the early unbeaten-in-regulation streak, have won 18 games each at home and on the road, have a plus-53 goals differential, and are 7-2-1 in their last 10. After leading the Northwest division in late March, the Wild have gone into the proverbial tank. After a win on the 27th they went 6-9-1 to finish, including a 1-2 home stand with losses to teams behind them in their division and in the conference. A humiliating loss to Edmonton (6-1) last Friday eve almost finished off their playoff hopes. Not enough up front or on the backend (yet), so Hawks should sweep.
#2 Anaheim vs. the #7 Detroit. This is not a cut and dried series. If the Duck also limped through the last few weeks of the regular season, the Winged Wheel suddenly have their game together. The Duck put up a 7-5-1 April after a scorching start. The Wings struggled most of April before going 4-0 in the final week to get a playoff ticket. Plus, G-Jimmy Howard is looking hard to beat again. This is my upset pick in the first round: Wings in six games.
#3 Vancouver vs. #6 San Jose. Most experts and fans thought these two clubs just might put up indifferent regular seasons. Well, they both had stretches where they were trying to get their games together, and they both had periods where they played as if they had done just that. The Canuck have won the Northwest Division once again, and the Sharks might have won the West if not for the torrid start by the Duck. Anaheim put up an impressive 15-3-1 start, almost rivaling streaks by the Hawks and the Pengwah in the East. If not for that, the Sharks probably win this division. This is going to be a tough, almost a pick ’em-type series. With home ice, give me the Canuck in seven games…
#4 St. Louis vs. #5 Los Angeles. The Kings are the defending Cup champions, but the Blues have home ice and a really hot goaltender right now in Brian Elliott. Did you know that his dad William Elliott was the genius behind the old Red Green Show? At any rate, the Blues were hot, then cold early, and have had injuries. The Kings had a full-blown Cup hangover early on but are a bit more on top of it. The Blues will look to avenge last year’s 4-0 series whitewash. Also, the Blues went 0-3 vs. the King this short season, and I don’t look for much to change there. This isn’t a good matchup for St. Louis, and I look for the Kings to advance four games to two. In the Western Round Two, I see Chicago over Detroit and Los Angeles over Vancouver. The Hawks will get into the finals by dethroning the Kings on home ice.
Over in the East, the Senators have just beaten the Bruins in Beantown 4-2 to finalize the Eastern Conference matchups. The Bruins will remain in fourth position and home ice for the first round, and Ottawa will bump up to the seventh spot with the Islanders sliding into the eighth spot. Thus your Eastern series look like this: #1 Pengwah vs. #8 Islanders, #2 Canadiens vs. #7 Ottawa, #3 Capitals vs. #6 Rangers, and #4 Bruins vs. #5 Maple Leafs.
For the Pens-Isles series, while there exists a possibility of an upset, that’s not how I see it. The Pens had a good regular season in spite of a slew of injuries to some important players. Plus, this is the first playoff appearance for the Isles since the 2007 tourney. The Isles are on the upswing but will not have enough for the Pengwah. When you can ice a power play featuring Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kunitz, and Neal, you are probably going to do fairly well. These clubs have recent history but to no avail—Pens in five games.
For the Habs and Ottawa there is not a lot of recent playoff history. In fact, I think the last time these clubs met in a series was in 1928 when the original Senators faced off with the Habs. Montreal had it going on early then cooled off substantially. The Sens have had stellar net minding and maybe the best all-around player in the game in Erik Karlsson. This one will go seven games and the Habs will eventually win.
The Caps vs. the Rangers. The Caps have a rookie head coach, a top-five player in the world (Ovechkin) when he wants to be, and some tough goaltending. The Rangers have had an indifferent regular season, but finished strong and have one of the best goalies in the world in Henrik Lundquist. Skill and experience might favor the Blueshirts, but the Caps finished strong with an 11-1-1 April and Ovi has suddenly found the desire to play again. He won the Rocket Richard goal-scoring trophy and looks like a beast right now. Caps reverse last year’s fortunes and take this one in six games.
The Bruins and Leafs could be interesting. The B’s have basically owned the Leafs the past few years, but that was before the Leafs got bigger, tougher, and better in all phases. The B’s haven’t exactly lit it up going down the stretch, going 6-6-2 in April. The Sens handled them tonight as well. The Leafs put up a 6-5-1 month but have lost three games vs. Boston this season. I just don’t like the way Boston looks right now so I am going out on a limb. This is my East upset pick: give me the Leafs in six games.
In the East 2nd Round I will take the Pens over the Leafs and the Caps over the Habs. And in a Pens-Caps Eastern Final, I am going to disappoint some folks here, but I don’t see anyone in the East right now that can handle the Caps, for a variety of reasons. I know what the Pengwah can throw at you, but I still have a couple of questions about their ability to defend. And in the finals? Give me “Kaner” and “Toewser” to get their second Stanley Cup rings…. PEACE
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.