Started this a few days late, thanks to a weekend of vodka-crans and kegstands. SORRY FOR BEING YOUNG. Each and every series has played at least one game, so I’ve had a bit of a preview in terms of which teams to pick. Remember folks: if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.
Now before we get started, how unreal was that first round of playoff hockey? Penguins-Flyers was a reincarnation of Braveheart where Mel Gibson and the Scottish kill all the English (Pittsburgh was the English)…the Rangers and Devils narrowly avoided upsets and won their respective game 7′s…Brendan Shanahan laid the people’s elbow on Raffi Torres…and the Kings knocked the Canucks off their high-horse and sent them home (shameless promotion: follow me on twitter @HunterCrowther for constant trolling of the Vancouver Canucks, Kyle Wellwood fat jokes, constant references to The Wire, and whining/complaining/annoying tweets about how much my Toronto sports teams suck).
How did my predictions do? I went 5 for 8 in the first round, with the wrong choices being Philly over the Pens, Caps over Boston, and Los Angeles over Vancouver. I can live with those.
Side note: If you’re the NHL, how do you promote the second round for the Western Conference — LA vs St. Louis, Nashville vs Phoenix — not exactly a real marketable promotion to the fans. I love those teams and how they play the game, but I don’t expect those games to get nearly the same audience on TSN as the Eastern Conference matchups will have on CBC.
Enough with the chit-chat, let’s get to the predicitons.
Huntzy’s Second Round Playoff Picks
#1 New York Rangers vs #7 Washington Capitals
Another side note, regarding Rangers-Sens: I honestly think that Brandon Prust fighting Chris Neil was the turning point in that series. He may not have won the fight, but the fact Prusty takes on Neil and gets his team going pretty much gives the Rangers the advantage. Don’t believe me? Look at the Rangers bench after the tilt, look at how fired up John Tortorella is. If you ever wanted an argument for what purpose fighting serves in the NHL, look no further than that scrap.
Anyway, enough of the past, let’s look at Rangers-Capitals. I couldn’t have been more shocked to see the Caps knock off Boston. I honestly thought that the Bruins were a team built around a solid core of depth on defense, and forwards who could grind their ways to a victory. While they never backed down, Washington never tried to “match” Beantown physically, and simply played their own game. And it worked. Washington is sneaky good.
While the Senators played a helluva series and gave New York all they could handle, the Rangers found a way to win. The amount of shots they block is absolutely ridiculous, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had some stretches in game 7 vs Ottawa that were unbelievable. If they can get Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards going, they could be the most complete team in the post-season.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
#5 Philadelphia Flyers vs #6 New Jersey Devils
How is Philadelphia still alive after that example of bloodsport? Taking out arguably the two best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (with arguably the newest best player in the world in Claude Giroux), the Flyers strutted on the playground, found the biggest man, and punched them in the mouth. And good on ‘em. I loathe Philly (last playoff moment for my Leafs was Roenick scoring in OT), but man are they fun to watch. They have a different kind of toughness on every line — not the “primary fighting” toughness — but a type of toughness that helps you win in the playoffs; finishing checks, hard forecheck, strong defensive play, and disciplined hockey.
New Jersey scared the crap out of me. I had the Devils sweeping the Florida Panthers, but my God did they give them a battle. A small part of me wanted the Panthers to score in OT in game 7, simply so the ice could be littered with rats. Because nothing says playoff hockey like plastic rats being thrown on the ice! Solid series for the Devils though, despite the boring-ass-hockey-that-nobody-wanted-to-watch. Martin Brodeur wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad, and he’ll have to be better if the Devils move on to the Conference Finals. I like poo.
Prediction: Flyers in 6
#2 St. Louis Blues vs #8 Los Angeles Kings
The Blues aren’t fooling around. And the series went exactly like I thought it would, so obviously I know everything about hockey. Just kidding…sort of…but I actually enjoyed watching the series. If you understand the strategy that goes behind a Ken Hitchcock-coached team, it’s fascinating to watch. They’re so tight (that’s what she said) defensively, that it’s almost suffocating.
The Kings; oh, what can I say about the Kings? If you understand what I am, then you can see why I was so happy to see L.A. move on. I hate the Canucks more than any other team in the National Hockey League. I’ll probably get into it in a future column, but I felt that was relevant. Anyway…Kings played well, Mike Richards mentally destroyed Ryan Kesler, and Jonathan Quick emerged as one of the elite goaltenders of the post-season. Los Angeles is built for the playoffs, and with Richards, Dustin Brown, Willie Mitchell, and Rob Scuderi playing solid in their own zone, this could be a defensive…wait for it…Gongshow! (see what I did there?)
Prediction: Blues in 7 (barely)
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs #4 Nashville Predators
Let’s call this one the “Jim Balsillie Summit”, considering both these teams have been on the brink of relocation in the past few years.
While they weren’t the best team in most of the games, the Coyotes played well enough to keep pace, and Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith was lights-out. He played so well that some analysts and pundits were saying he may deserve a roster-invitation to Canada’s 2014 Olympic tryout roster, and I can’t see how you could disagree. If he can continue to be hot, Phoenix might go deeper than earlier anticipated.
Nashville shut down Detroit, thanks in large part to netminder Pekka Rinne. The Finnish goalie had a 1.81 GAA and a .944 SV%, and was pivotal in making up for the Predators lack of scoring. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber continue to look like elite NHL defensemen, and head coach Barry Trotz is an absolute genius as a hockey coach. With both teams riding hot goalies, there might not be much offensive explosion.
Prediction: Coyotes in 7
There ya have it. Agree or disagree in the comment section below, and enjoy the second round of the NHL post-season!