The Hockey Barn asked me to write down my predictions for the opening round of the playoffs, and although predictions are for gypsies, as Toe Blake used to say, I’m giving it a shot.
Anything can happen come playoff time. Every team is just one small injury or one bouncing puck away from sinking like the Titanic. Surprises are the order of the day. Overwhelming favourites stink the joint out. Journeymen rise, at least for a few weeks, to stardom. Cheers and tears abound. Pencils are sharpened for playoff pools.
And in the end, after it’s all been sorted out, the team with the will, talent, luck, endurance, and great goaltending emerges from the pack and hoists the Stanley Cup while champagne is poured over interviewers’ heads, and there’s wild celebration and dancing in the street. It’s a beautiful thing. Trust me, non-hockey fans.
In the east, Montreal and Boston will lock horns for the 32nd time. Washington will play the Rangers. New Jersey meets Carolina, and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia fight it out.
Who will emerge?
This is the playoffs, not the regular season, so throw out the window Boston’s marvelous regular season record where they ended up first over-all. It wouldn’t be the first time the first place team fell to the eighth place squad. Montreal’s the solid underdog, no one with any sense at all gives them a chance. And for that reason alone, I’m picking Montreal in seven.
Washington’s too good, I think, for New York, with the great Alex Ovechkin to cause fits. But also add star defenceman Mike Green to the mix and it proves too much for the Rangers, who have the dubious honour of having Sean Avery on the team. So, who would you pick, a team with Ovechkin and Green, or a team with Avery? Washington in six. I’d say five but New York has one thing going for them, a solid goaltender named Henrik Lundqvist. And we know what goaltending can do in the playoffs.
New Jersey ended high in the eastern standings, but Carolina came on strong late in the year. This is a close one to pick, but I’m saying New Jersey in seven, only because they have a winner in goal named Martin Brodeur. Although he’s old. But so were Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower in 1967.
In the Battle of Pennsylvania, Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and company should outlast the Flyers. I’ve got a personal Habs-related grudge against the Flyers, and the Kate Smith magic vanished years ago. Penguins in six.
In the west, first place San Jose takes on Anaheim, Detroit meets Columbus, Vancouver and St. Louis will battle, as will Chicago and Calgary.
San Jose should have no problem whatsoever with Anaheim. I think it’s going to be short and sweet. Sharks in five. Of course, I may be way out in left field about this one, but I’m sticking with short and sweet.
Same for Detroit over Columbus. Detroit, the defending champions, just have too much artillery, and although Columbus played well this year, they should prove no match for the Wings. Detroit in six.
You never know what you’re going to get from Vancouver. How many times can they disappoint their fans in the playoffs? They have possibly the best goaltender in the league, a good, solid defence, and some great forwards like Ryan Kessler and Alex Burrows. (Should I mention Mats Sundin, who scored nine goals in 41 games?) So, with Luongo and the Sedins and Burrows etc, my prediction is – St. Louis in seven.
I really want Calgary to beat Chicago, but I don’t think it’ll happen. The Flames are not going into the playoffs in playoff form, they’re injured, and Chicago has had Calgary’s number this year. Although it would be fun to see, there should be no upset here. Chicago in six. Sorry Calgary. I hope I’m wrong.