In 2009, I went 7 for 8 in first round predictions. Somehow, I think that’s very unlikely this year. It was difficult for me to decide who I think will win a couple of the series this year, which I hope means there will be some great match-ups. Here are my predictions…
Capitals vs. Canadiens
Capitals in 5 – I don’t think this will be at all challenging for the Capitals, but I think the Canadiens will win a game, hopefully at home for their fans.
Devils vs. Flyers
Devils in 6 – I think the Devils will take this one unless they have a completely unexpected breakdown or the Martin Brodeur of the Olympics resurfaces. It seems like Marty is determined to make everyone forget about his horrible performance in the 2010 Olympics, which will probably help the Devils, but the Flyers are still a very good team in spite of how they were playing the last couple weeks. I think they’ll bounce back and win a couple games.
Sabres vs. Bruins
Bruins in 6 – I know it’s not a popular choice, but I think the Bruins are going to step up and beat the Sabres. Buffalo hadn’t been doing that great in their last couple weeks and Boston may just take their winning streak into the playoffs.
Penguins vs. Senators
Penguins in 4 – A lot of those who know me will say I’m being too much of a fan in this prediction, but I disagree. I think that the Penguins (especially their Captain Sidney Crosby) still remember the 2007 meeting with the Senators in the playoffs. The Penguins swept the Senators when they faced the team the following year in the quarterfinals and I think they’ll do the same 2 years later.
Sharks vs. Avalanche
Avalanche in 6 – I know everyone keeps saying the Sharks are bound to break out of their playoff slump some year, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. The one thing that makes me a bit skeptical about this pick is that (unlike recent playoff years) the Sharks went 8-1-1 in their last 10 games of the season as opposed to barely squeaking by to win the western conference title. The Avalanche have struggled at the end of the season, so if the Sharks don’t crash and burn early, they may get past the Avalanche and lose in round 2.
Blackhawks vs. Predators
Blackhawks in 6 – I think the Blackhawks will take the series, though it’ll be more difficult for them than it would if they had a better goalie. A team can win the Stanley Cup with an amazing defense and an okay goalie, but Huet is near the bottom out of all ranked goalies. Niemi has been doing well, but has very little experience. Of course, many new goalies (even those like Hedberg with the Pens, who had played only 9 regular season games) have great playoff runs, so I think the Blackhawks will get through the first round in spite of the goaltending questions.
Canucks vs. Kings
Canucks in 6 – I’ve talked to a lot of people who think the Kings will win this one, but I have to go with the Canucks for a few reasons. First, the Canucks have a lot more playoff experience than the Kings. I don’t see them making it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but I do think they’ll get past the Kings. In 2007, I was sure the Penguins would beat the Senators and then collapse. Instead, they were out of the playoffs in 5 games. I think the Kings will win one more game than the 2007 Pens, but they don’t have much playoff experience and I think that’ll hurt them. The other issue in this match-up is the goaltending. Luongo just won the gold medal with Canada in his home arena in Vancouver. Conversely, Quick (who Terry Murray keeps reminding everyone is the “number one guy”) had never played as many games as he did this season (72). He played only 44 last season and came from college hockey, where he played fewer games. It’s been speculated that part of Nabokov’s problem in the playoffs is that he’s so tired (he played 71 games this season). If a lot of games affect a seasoned goalie the way they have Nabokov, what will it do to a goalie with a lot less experience? As if that’s not enough, the Canucks have the number one scorer in the NHL (and 3 of the top 25). All those factors add up to me thinking the Canucks will win this round and a picture similar to that of Sidney Crosby’s depressed locker room shot of captain Dustin Brown.
Coyotes vs. Red Wings
Red Wings in 7 – This series was the hardest series for me to pick a winner, which is why I had to predict that it’ll go to 7 games. The Red Wings have been doing so well lately (8-1-1 in their last 10 games) that I had to pick them. Until I started writing this, I was going to pick the Coyotes. I think it’ll be a great series. The Red Wings do seem to already be in playoff mode, though, and their playoff goaltending has been amazing lately (leading them to two Stanley Cup Finals in the last two years and one Cup). I don’t think the Red Wings will get as far this year, but I don’t think they’ll collapse until at least the second round. The Coyotes have been playing really well this season, but recently they’ve been good, but not great and I don’t think that’s quite enough to beat the playoff Red Wings. Would anyone have predicted that the Coyotes would have home ice advantage in this series? It’s doubtful. The Red Wings didn’t play that well overall this season, but they know how to win in the playoffs. They have a history of winning for a reason.
Hopefully, a lot of the match-ups will be exciting this year. I think that’s all most serious hockey fans want (other than their own team winning the Cup, of course, but we can’t have that every year).
Enjoy the playoffs!