Preparin’ To Be Wrong: NHL Playoff Edition

Eastern Conference:

1) Washington over 8 ) Montreal in 5.

7) Philadelphia over 2) New Jersey in 7.

3) Buffalo over 6) Boston in 5.

4) Pittsburgh over 5) Ottawa in 6.

I honestly can’t remember an NHL playoff year where it was this difficult to picture anyone but one team coming out of a particular conference, but I’d be stunned if the Capitals lose a Best of Seven series before the Cup Finals this year. The Pens, Devils, and Sabres all look exceedingly vulnerable at the moment, but the bottom half of the conference is even worse, making for a number of toss-up-ish series as teams stave off a likely inevitable loss to the Capitals.

The Canadiens seem particularly well-built for an early playoff exit with their combination of teeny forwards and middling offensive defensemen, though I can foresee Jaroslav Halak stealing a game and keeping them in a couple before they’re escorted out, lasting just long enough for me to get annoyed by their lame-ass “Ole ole ole!” chant.

The Sabres aren’t great defensively and rely more on Ryan Miller than most consistently successful upper-seeds depend on individual goaltenders, but Boston’s offense is absolutely toothless, and I’m unable to picture a Bruins upset even in the most devil’s advocate-ish of cases.

Devils/Flyers is a toss-up too, partly because Philly’s dominated the Devils recently, partly because Jersey’s been just as inconsistent as the Pens down the stretch even against bad teams, and partly because the Prudential Center will be half-full of Philly fans. People will assuredly point out the Flyers’ shortcomings in net, but Martin Brodeur’s never been a steal-a-series type goalie, especially later in his career, and his recent playoff exploits have been downright alarming. Goaltending is still an edge for Jersey, but not big enough of one to dissuade me from making this my obligatory first-round upset pick.

Which brings us to the Pens and Senators:

Looking at this series from a Penguins fan’s perspective, and with full respect for an Ottawa team that’s extremely well-coached, strong in net, and has played consistently better than Pittsburgh since literally about November, I see the series boiling down to two fundamental questions:

Question #1: Will the Penguins resume giving a shit?

While it’s a poor excuse for inconsistency, the fact that the Penguins clearly haven’t played with much urgency this season is still mostly understandable; they’re coming off two long Cup runs culminating with a climactic Game Seven victory over the Red Wings, then approximately four days later, they were back to playing regular season games three times a week over a six-month semi-insignificant season knowing that they’ll be in the playoffs again unless they totally collapse. Some lapses in defensive effort, power play urgency, and physical play are understandable; hell, my job is to sit in front of a computer and refresh the internet constantly, but if I won the Championship of Internetting one year, would I really be 100% focused the next year for 40 hours a week, week in and week out, when the quality of my work didn’t really matter? YES I WOULD BECAUSE I’M AWESOME!!!!!!!!! (The true answer is two letters long, preceded by an expletive).

So can the Pens suddenly find the elusive Playoff “urgency” they always talk about in the locker room after regular season losses (then play non-urgently the next game anyway), or will they indeed get beaten to loose pucks, out physicalled, and out special teamsded (I like creating verbs) by a Senators team that’s never unprepared from a coaching stand point? I’m very, very confident that they will, if only because the alternative will involve me murdering Kris Letang through my tv screen when he gets caught pinching in the first period of a scoreless game, and none of us wants that (the pinching part or the murder part).

Question #2: Will Fleury play well? Not “not-retardedly”, I mean, actually “well”?

We’ll know the answer to this question three 30-foot wrist shots into Game One. If Nick Foligno scores on an undeflected wrister from the right circle on the third shot of the game, and you think to yourself “Well…I guess Fleury might’ve had like, a little screen there, so it’s not…totally his fault, I guess…”, then queue up this sound effect, cause the Penguins are a-losin’!

I am less confident about Question Number 2 than Question Number 1, though I do believe that the Pens will manage to overcome any B+ Fleury play against Ottawa. I think Crosby, Malkin, and Staal are all ready to go, I think the special teams is gonna shock the world with a random power play goal we’re not expecting, I think the Pens can hold Matt Cullen to only 7 goals this series, and I think the atmosphere of Mellon Arena combined with an actual sense of purpose for the Pens and having all their stars back and healthy will rejuvenate them — they did, after all, win the Cup last year as a 4 seed.

And if they don’t, whatever, they won last year. I’ll enjoy the nice weather. Especially the nice weather on my way to Kris Letang’s house to murder him. Laaa deee daaaaa…

Western Conference Quickpixxxxx:

1) San Jose over 8 ) Colorado in 5.

2) Chicago over 7) Nashville in 6.

3) Vancouver over 6) Los Angeles in 7.

5) Detroit over 4) Phoenix in 4. (In the words of Principal Skinner, “Prove me wrong, kids! Prove me wrong!)

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