Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1

It's time for the NHL's second season, where those who survived now fight it out to play more hockey. It's a real "twilight zone" type of scenario with several teams sitting with home ice advantage, but their opponents have better point totals. Florida and Phoenix have shocked the hockey elitists by making it this far. Can they go farther? Only they can answer that.

Here's my annual tradition of delivering my encapsulated features of this years playoff matchups.

Western Conference

Vancouver v. Los Angeles

Vancouver is going into the playoffs once again saddled with the pressures of being the sole hope of ever bringing back the Stanley Cup to Canadian soil as well as the "curse" of the Presidents Trophy. If things get shaky with Luongo again, they have Cory Schneider to fall back on. Los Angeles was looking good for a while, but wound up drawing the just short of being eliminated from playoff contention. Look for Richards and Carter to make LA competitive, but in the end, it's Vancouver with the experience.

Prediction: Vancouver in 6

St. Louis vs San Jose

Prediction: San Jose in 6

Chicago vs. Phoenix
You wouldn't believe me if I told you that the Phoenix Coyotes have the division championship as the home ice advantage over the Chicago BlackHawks. Goaltender Mike Smith is really doing well this year and could possibly earn himself an MVP nomination. Look for him to steal a few games. Chicago's powerplay hasn't been all that great and if captain Toews isn't 100%, the Hawks are in trouble. It shouldn't be an upset, but maybe the Coyotes have something to prove.
Prediction: Phoenix in 5

Detroit vs Nashville

It seems every year, the way to the second round always runs through rival Detroit for the Predators. But before this looks like deja vu all over again for the Preds, this year they have the home ice advantage. The Wings scored a whole new home winning streak, so, it's best for the Preds to use their own home ice (aka "Smashville") to good use. Detroit is always a solid playoff team but due to their inconsistent goaltending woes... it just might be their weak link. Look for them to take the early exit this year.
Prediction: Nashville in 7

Eastern Conference

Ottawa v. N.Y. Rangers

This match-up is a possible short one with most experts who won't deny that the Ottawa Senators are overachievers. They were expected to rebuild and contend for a lottery draft pick, but instead, they perform admirably and earn a playoff berth. Look for Tortorella to stay silent this round and wait for the next round to be more vocal. Gaborik and Richards should lead the playoff scoring race once this series is done.

Prediction: NY Rangers in 4

Boston v. Washington

Washington Capitals were on the verge of not making the playoffs and the chaotic situation with the coaching staff may still come into play. Look for Ovechkin to get his goals, but Boston knows how to out muscle their opponents. Boston is the defending world champions and they know how to play like they are. Look for Tim Thomas to hold the Capitals under control.
Prediction: Boston in 5

Florida v. New Jersey

Another one of those head scratching mysteries where the perennial doormat of the NHL is suddenly a divisional champ and facing a tougher reputable team. I don't know if Brodeur has enough left in the tank, but I've certainly been wrong about him before. Look for Kovalchuk and company to keep up with the high scoring. Florida's quick turn around is all due to their GM who built the Chicago cup team two years ago. They'll be back next year. Let this playoff experience be exactly that - experience.
Prediction: New Jersey in 5

Pittsburgh v. Philadelphia

The Battle of Pennsylvania rages on once more through the playoffs as the most amazing hockey rivalry writes another chapter into their history. Crosby and Malkin are set to prove their haters wrong once again. Philadelphia is a revamped team that may have all their ducks in a row - with a few more familiar faces to Pittsburgh fans. Look for Brayden Shenn to stand out, but when the Flyers become their own worst enemy and start piling on the penalty minutes, look for Pittsburgh's power play to pick them apart.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6
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