Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NHL 2012 Playoff Picks- Round 1

It's that time of year again when I sit on my ass for the next couple of months and watch hockey, hockey and more HOCKEY. I love the playoffs, especially the first round when there WILL be upsets, fights and lots of goals. Every night in the first round there will at least a couple of games on CBC and TSN TV and it will force me to postpone meetings and limit my social activities. I'll try to make my predictions BEFORE each series, so score along and watch me NOT choose the winning teams.
1. New York Rangers- 109 pts. 
8. Ottawa Senators- 92 pts.
Sounds like a mis-match on paper, but are the Rangers for real? Everything says the Rangers could end this early, but I think there's faint hope the Sens could pull the upset. If the Rangers get down early in the series, at least Tortorella's post game rants will be interesting. Canada needs 2 teams to move forward to the next round. Go Sens!
Senators in 7

2. Boston Bruins- 102 pts.
7. Washington Capitals- 92 pts.
The defending Cup champs could have their hands full with a Caps team if they have a healthy Backstrom and Green. The Caps have had trouble scoring this year and it won't help when they face a solid defensive team like Boston. It will come down to goaltending and I wouldn't bet on Braden Holtby or the Caps, if Vokoun or  Neuvirth aren't available. Even so...
Bruins in 6
3. Florida Panthers- 94 pts.
6. New Jersey Devils- 102 pts.
This could be a tight series that will be a battle between veteran goaltenders, Martin Brodeur and Jose Theodore. New Jersey had a 8 point lead, but Florida gets home ice because they finished atop their division. My gut tells me New Jersey, but I'm gonna pick the Panthers because of the home ice and they are more entertaining to watch.
Panthers in 7

4. Pittsburgh Penguins- 108 pts.
5. Philadelphia Flyers- 103 pts.
The anticipation of this all-Penn state series has rabid lovers of blood drooling. These two teams will continue their intense rivalry and it's no secret, they don't like each other. Scott Hartnell says, it will be a "bloodbath", but I think after the first couple of periods things will settle down and they will stick to playing hockey, but it will still be a great (hopefully) memorable series. There's not much more you can say except, Crosby and Malkin versus Giroux and Jagr, yeah!
Penguins in 7

1. Vancouver Canucks- 111 pts.
8. Los Angeles Kings- 95 pts.
Of all the playoff bound teams, I know the least about the L.A. kings. I don't think I saw them play at all this season, but I do know Jonathan Quick has established himself as an elite goalie. They acquired Richards, Gagne and more recently Jeff Carter to try to boost their offense, but the team still relies a lot on Anze Kopitar who led the team in scoring. The Canucks have the swedes, Kesler and Luongo (and Schneider) and a solid supporting cast of third-liners. The Canucks have something to prove and can't lose out early, because their goal is only the Stanley Cup, but they better not look too far ahead.
Canucks in 5

2. St. Louis Blues- 109 pts.
7. San Jose Sharks- 96 pts.
The Blues had an amazing turnaround early in the season, one of the rare times a coaching change can make such a huge difference. Statistically, the positions have changed with the Sharks just squeaking into the playoffs instead of near the top of the standing and the Blues challenging for first overall after past years of barely qualifying for the playoffs. The make up of the team reminds me of Boston, strong defense, two quality goalies and a solid top three lines of forwards without any offensive stars. The Sharks have replied in past years on their top line centred by Joe Thornton and the lack of scoring has finally caught up with them. I would choose the Sharks on experience, but I think the upstart Blues will go deep.
Blues in 6

3. Phoenix Coyotes- 97 pts.
6. Chicago Blackhawks- 101 pts.
Another series where the team with home ice had less points in the regular season. The key to Coyotes will be Mike Smith who went above and beyond replacing Ilya Bryzgalov who fled to the Flyers. Smith turned in career highs for wins (38) and recorded 8 shutouts, but will be tested by a skilled scoring Hawks team. That is if Jonathan Toews returns from a concussion that caused him to miss the past month. Even without Toews, the Hawks are deeper in scoring, but Toews leadership is needed if the Hawks hope to advance far.
Hawks in 6

4. Nashville Predators- 104 pts.
5. Detroit Red Wings- 102 pts.
Besides the Pens/Flyers series, this could be the series to watch. This is a battle between an older, veteran club that hasn't missed the playoffs in...a long time and the Preds are desperate to advance to the second round. Nashville is the upstart team with some veteran experience (Gill, Legwand, Fisher, the Kostitsyn's and Martin Erat), all-star defensemen (Weber, Suter), and one of the best goalies in the league (Rinne). The Wings are similar, but their goaltending is suspect. Jimmy Howard has been up and down and hurt all season which could be a big factor how this series turns. The Red Wings always find a way to win and a team that has Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterburg and Nicklas Lidstrom still on their payroll can't be overlooked. The late season return of Alexander Radulov could be the difference maker, so this will be very interesting.
Predators in 7