The NHL Playoffs started Wednesday night before I had a chance to offer my misinformed and completely amateur analysis on the postseason matchups.
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
Henrik Lundqvist is a superb goaltender. He’s been the Rangers best player all season and the anchor of the NHL’s premiere defense. Still, all of Lundqvist’s success hasn’t translated to playoff glory. He’s only won two playoff series throughout his entire career. Maybe that can be attributed to a poor supporting cast. Or, maybe he just doesn’t have that extra gear that Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, and Martin Brodeur had when they carried teams to Stanley Cup titles. What we know for sure is this: The Rangers are a team built for playoff success. They’re physical, tough, and play menacing defense. Having one of the NHL’s top four goaltenders only solidifies the Rangers as Cup contenders.
As for Ottawa, I’m optimistic they can compete. The Senators have a plethora of young talent. Sometimes young players don’t know they’re supposed to be intimidated by the playoffs. In this case, ignorance is indeed bliss. While the Rangers must deal with enormous pressure to make a deep playoff run, the Senators are playing with house money. Not only does that combination make for an exciting series, but it’s also a perfect brew for an upset. You see, I need Ottawa to win, because if they lose and the other top three seeds in the East move on, and the Flyers win, then the Flyers end up facing New York. Who, you know, finished 6-0 against the Flyers this season.
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
Since they took over the NHL as Star A and Star B, I’ve always been an Alex Ovechkin fan and Sidney Crosby hater. That changed three years ago when I began hating both; Ovechkin because he continually underachieved in the biggest moments and became a total a-hole, and Crosby because, well, he’s Sidney Crosby. As a Flyers fan, watching the Capitals excel during the regular season only to disappear in the postseason was good fun. I even wrote about how the Capitals and Ovechkin didn’t understand winning. But now, it’s no longer fun watching Ovechkin struggle. He’s too talented and too important to the NHL to flirt with irrelevancy. I can only hope something clicks for Ovechkin and he finally transforms into the franchise superstar he was earlier in his career and not the disinterested prima donna he’s become. Most importantly of all, I’d enjoy seeing Boston fans suffer.
Though, in reality, the Bruins are too good to let a lesser team like Washington remove them from the postseason. While it hasn’t been a smooth season for Boston, they deserve a ton of credit for another impressive effort. Defending a title is never easy. You always get your opponent’s best effort. Add that to the controversy surrounding how the Bruins celebrated winning the Cup and the Tim Thomas/White House drama, and it’s borderline amazing the Bruins finished with over a 100 points. The Bruins are an under-the-radar threat to repeat. Never count out a team that’s already overcome so much.
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
Let’s play a numbers game. 10: The number of players I can name from each team. 24: Number of days until Martin Brodeur turns 40. (40!) 8: Dainius Zubrus’ number. I can’t tell you how much we argued over who got to be Zubrus when we played hockey as kids. 3: The number of times within a six year span my beloved Eric Lindros-led Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs by these two teams. 1: The number of times I’ve seen these teams play this season. So, before I say something totally ignorant, let’s just move on.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
I love the Flyers. No professional sports team was a bigger part of my childhood than the Flyers. Unfortunately, I’m trapped in a weird Bermuda Triangle situation where I only have access to a handful of games each year, so the playoffs are very, very important to me because I actually get to watch the Flyers play instead of listening on the radio or following them online from some crappy webcast.
Anyway, the Penguins are the princesses of the NHL. The Flyers are the ugly peasants with long, curly red hair. I love ugly peasants. I also love Wayne Simmonds, who is officially my new favorite NHL player. Since I haven’t had a favorite hockey player since Eric Lindros, this is a pretty big deal.
Also, if you played a drinking game during Game One of this series where you drank every time Evgeni Malkin’s name was mentioned, you’d probably have ended the game sober. As NBC noted during last night’s telecast; no team eliminates Malkin as well as the Philadelphia Flyers.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
The Kings currently hold a special place in my heart for two reasons. 1. I love their uniforms. Crisp. Cool. Intimidating. They’re perfect for hockey. 2. The Kings are essentially the Flyers West. Justin Williams was one of my favorite Flyers growing up. His bobble head still sits in a box inside my closet. Although things never really panned out in Philly, he’s carved himself a successful career that includes a Stanley Cup in Carolina. For whatever reason, Williams still feels like a Flyer. Yes, probably only to me, but still a Flyer nonetheless.
Ahh yes, who can forget the disgraced castoffs. Despite an ugly divorce, I still really like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. While they were partly to blame for the team’s failures, they were unfairly made the scapegoats. Even without Richards and Carter, the Flyers still went through a similar midseason swoon in 2012 as they did in 2011. So, sorry boys for getting sunk with a ship you didn’t solely destroy. And Mike Richards: The Flyers especially owe you an apology for sullying your name after you gutted that 2010 team to the Stanley Cup Finals. “Gutted” is absolutely the wrong word there but it works. I know it does. Just trust me.
Moving on… I like the Kings chances here. Obviously, their victory in Game One helped me come to that conclusion. The Kings are an excellent defensive team facing a finesse Canucks team that has really struggled at times in the postseason. (Yes, I’m aware they came within a game of the Cup last year.)
The Canucks are unbelievably talented but also fragile. They’re the Penguins of the West. The postseason isn’t always kind to teams that can’t grind out wins like the Kings did on Wednesday. Facing one of the league’s top goaltenders won’t make it any easier for Vancouver. The always unpredictable Roberto Luongo between the pipes won’t do the Canucks many favors, either.
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
If the Blues could find a way to use both of their amazing goaltenders at the same time, they’d be the hands-down favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Sadly, hockey requires only one goalie at a time.
I know the sexy thing here is to jump on the Sharks bandwagon and use “experience” and “talent” as an excuse to pick San Jose, but I’m not buying. I can’t think of a team that underachieves more in the postseason than the San Jose Sharks. Weren’t they supposed to win the Cup for the past three or four seasons? And what do they have to show for it? ..… That’s what I thought. I believe in the Blues, Ken Hitchcock, and Ken Hitchcock’s quadruple chin.
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
People liked to make a big deal about how Chicago and Detroit should finish off the regular season in a fashion that would match them up with the Coyotes. Tanking to play a specific opponent never makes sense to me. Not only does it show your lack of confidence, but it also motivates the team you’re hoping to play. Thankfully, that didn’t happen here. The Red Wings finished strong enough to clinch the 5th seed and the Blackhawks got the Coyotes.
This just in: Outside of the Devils, who rode a six game winning streak into the postseason, the Coyotes were the NHL’s hottest team down the stretch, finishing 7-1-2 in their last ten. Do they choke in the playoffs almost every year? Pretty much. Is there any one thing they do so well that scares the opposition? Nope. Will the Blackhawks advance to the 2nd round? Yes. Did I just waste 31 seconds of your time pretending I had something valuable to offer? Yep.
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
Outside of Flyers/Penguins, this is my favorite series. First, Carrie Underwood is likely to be in attendance for at least one of Nashville’s home games, so that’s always a plus. Second, the Nashville crowd seems a little crazier/intense than other southern cities with an NHL team. A good crowd cannot be overstated. And let’s not forget about those ridiculously weird yellow jerseys. Third, the Red Wings nearly stole Game One by scoring late in the 3rd period and coming within inches of tying the game in the final minutes. And that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was that moment right after Game One ended when you felt the series escalate to the next level. Here’s what happened…
Nashville captain, Shea Weber went WWE on Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg. Weber not only deliberately punch Zetterberg in the back of the head, but he followed it up by placing both hands around Zetterberg’s head and slamming it full force into the boards. Did the NHL suspend Weber? Nah. Who cares if a dude just went Macho Man Randy Savage on a defenseless player.
Although the NHL dropped the ball in punishing Weber, it’s the fans who come out victorious. Since the league didn’t handle the situation, the Wings undoubtedly will. On ice retribution is one of many reasons playoff hockey is so mesmerizing. In only one game, this series went from a competitive, exciting playoff series to a flat-out grudge match. How do I know this? Because I haven’t missed an NHL postseason since I was nine years old. You learn to recognize these things.