I can’t believe it’s playoff time again already!
Canucks vs. Kings
Canucks in 6 – This is a tough one for me. Clearly, anyone who follows my blog knows I want the Kings to win. I also don’t have much confidence in Luongo as a playoff goalie. However, the Canucks are still #1 in the NHL this season and the team that lost the Finals last year. The Canucks are going to be hungry to get the Cup they lost last year in game 7. On the same side of the argument, the Kings were amazing on paper this year, but never quite performed as well as one would think they should. Though I understand why a team fires a coach in that situation (and the Kings did fire Murray), that’s rarely the main problem and didn’t seem to be in this case. The Kings were everywhere from 3rd place to out of the playoffs the last few weeks and just barely made it to the playoffs. I think I have to pick the Canucks for this series, but I think it’ll be an exciting one to watch.
Blues vs. Sharks
Sharks in 6 – Another tough one! The Blues led the Western Conference much of this season, which surprised many of us – especially those who know the way the Blues have performed in recent history. Heck, those who know the entire history of the team (tied with the Kings for longest in the NHL without winning the Cup) have to be surprised. Most of the Blues have very little playoff experience and because of that, I predicted that they’d be out of the playoffs this year in 5 or 6 games months ago. The Blues haven’t gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since 2002. Perhaps this is the year, since it has been 10 years. The Sharks have a history of performing very poorly in the playoffs, too. I picked them for an early exit last season and got burned. I think the Blues will help the Sharks to advance this time and do better in the 2013 playoffs.
Coyotes vs. Blackhawks
Coyotes in 6 – Though the Blackhawks would have home ice advantage in this match-up (actually, they wouldn’t even be matched up) if the Coyotes weren’t given 3rd place automatically by winning the worst division in the Western Conference, but I think when push comes to shove they’ll have what it takes to knock the Blackhawks out and advance to the second round of the 2012 playoffs.
Predators vs. Red Wings
Red Wings in 7 – Every time I think the Red Wings can’t possibly pull out another playoff series win and that they’ll exit early in the playoffs, I end up being wrong. This year, it seems like an easier choice even though the Predators are two points ahead of the Red Wings this season and have home ice advantage. The Red Wings are a dynasty for many reasons and one of those is that when the chips are down they bring it – almost every time. They’re a tough team to beat and I don’t think the Predators have what it takes this year. The Predators and Red Wings split their regular season series, so this should be an exciting series to watch.
Rangers vs. Senators
Rangers in 5 – As much as I’d love to see the Senators beat the Rangers, I just can’t see it happening. The Rangers have been too dominant this season and have a lot of playoff experience. The Senators may surprise me, but I doubt it.
Bruins vs. Capitals
Capitals in 6 – The Bruins just won the Cup last year and while they’ve played very well this season, they’re actually tied for the Devils in points and would be in the 4/5 position without the automatic division-winning top 3 ranking. The Capitals haven’t done as well as many would think they should in the playoffs, but I think they’ve got what it takes to get to the second round again.
Panthers vs. Devils
Devils in 5 – Without the automatic top three ranking given to the Panthers for winning the worst division in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers would be ranked 6th (facing the Flyers without home ice advantage). I don’t think even the home ice advantage can help them get past the Devils to the second round. The Devils are from the only Eastern Conference division with 4 teams in the playoffs and have had to fight harder to get there than the Panthers. I think the Devils are already in playoff shape and ready to move on to round two.
Penguins vs. Flyers
Penguins in 6 or 7 – I think this series is going to be a blood bath. The Flyers and Pens have a long history and fierce rivalry. They’re ranked 2nd and 3rd in the conference by points and 4th and 6th out of all 30 teams in the NHL. It’s a great match-up and NBC Sports Network (*shudder*) should be thrilled. I think the Penguins will win this one, but it’ll be tough. This is going to be another nail biter for fans of both teams, but an exciting series for all.
Other Playoff Notes
The Atlantic and Central divisions both have four teams in the playoffs this season. I didn’t go back too far, but know it’s pretty rare for both conferences to have two divisions with 4 teams making it to the playoffs. I’m not sure what (if anything) that will do the ratings. Fortunately, for those in television, some of the most popular teams for ratings (Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, …) are in those two divisions, so it may actually improve the ratings in spite of the teams playing teams they faced a lot in the regular season for the playoffs.
The Atlantic division almost has the top four teams in the Eastern Conference (the Devils would be in 5th ranked by points, due to their number of wins in regulation & OT), which is also pretty rare.
I know the NHL playoffs work differently than other major league sports and it doesn’t make sense to those who only follow sports like basketball, baseball, etc. where there is a simple bracket to follow, but NHL putting this fake bracket together does not help with the confusion. If you look at this bracket, you might assume that if the Kings, Sharks, Coyotes, and Predators won round one that the Kings would face the Sharks in round 2 while the Coyotes face the Predators. However, if that were to happen, the Kings would face the Coyotes (the top remaining seed) and the Sharks would face the Coyotes. The NHL has always reseeded and I think it’s a great idea. Yes, it makes it difficult to answer the question “Who will the Kings face in round 2 if they make it to the second round?” But if someone who doesn’t understand how the NHL playoffs works sees a chart supposedly showing them how the playoffs will go and it changes for round two, it’ll only frustrate them. Maybe one of these days the NHL will realize that going up against the more popular US sport (basketball) and trying to confuse fans are not the best plans for a league, but I’m not holding my breath.
Here’s hoping this year’s playoffs are exciting even though it’s more nerve wracking for fans of the teams involved. May the odds be ever in your favor…