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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If the season ended today

We are at this current moment 25-30 games away from the end of the regular season. This season has been exciting with some great story lines and is setting up to have two of the best conference finals in a long time should the standings hold true throughout the playoffs. With that said though, we may be in line for the most boring first round of the playoffs ever. I cannot realistically see any 6, 7, or 8 seeds challenging and of the top 3 seeds in either conference.


1 Boston Bruins vs 8 Florida Panthers

Boston is currently the best team in the league and outside of it's hiccup last night vs the Fighting Nabokovs, has rarely been beaten badly this season. They score on 23% of their power plays and kill 82% of their penalties. Tim Thomas hasn't woken up yet from his dream season and is playing out of its mind. Florida does not possess an offensive line that scares anybody nor have they picked a goaltender to lead them into the playoffs. Is it Vokoun or Andersen? Who gets the nod to start game one? After either gets shelled in game 1, how long until you see the other in the series? And with all signs to them trading Bouwmeester, the odds of them even making the playoffs are slim at best. But seeing how we are looking at today's standings only, the Panthers are in the playoffs, but won't last long.

Prediction: Bruins 4-0

2 Washington Capitals vs 7 Buffalo Sabres

The most important player in this series will be none other than Alexander....... Semin. Please use the next 20 seconds to throw something against the wall, calm down because I didn't say Ovechkin, and regroup. We good? Great. Alexander Ovechkin in my eyes is the best player in the league. He can score at will, is physical, and creates absolute havoc when on the ice. I have no doubt he will light it up in the playoffs. I am not saying he is not important to the sucess of the Caps. But here is my fun fact of the day. Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin EACH score on average 1.3 points per game. Each averages .7 goals and .6 assists. But the difference is that teams will key on Ovie and try not to let him beat them in the series. This will leave opportunities for Semin. If he can capitalize on those opportunities, these team will go far.

Prediction: Caps 4-1

3 New Jersey Devils vs 6 New York Rangers

It pains me to say this being a Rangers fan, but short of a miracle, they have no chance in the playoffs this year. Let's look at the best case scenario here for the Rangers. Hank plays out of his mind, stands on his head, and allows no more than 2 goals a game. A Devils team who decided the last 15 years of boring hockey wasn't going to cut it decided to go out and get some offense because Brodeur was getting up there in years and was due for and injury letdown (which happened). Marty comes back for the playoffs, with trememdous rest, and the Devils revert back to boring hockey. In that scenario, do the Rangers win 4 games vs. their arch rival. No chance. The Rangers have trouble finding the back of the net and their defense is just bad enough that other teams get multiple scoring chances and cash in on 2-3 a game. Hank does his best to stop them all but he's also human. With Parise, Elias, Zajac, Langenbrunner, Rolston, and Shanny, the Devils are finally poised to take the load off of Marty's back and score more than 2 goals a game. The Garden may give the Rangers a game or 2, but no more.

Prediction: Devils 4-1


1 San Jose Sharks vs 8 Minnesota Wild

The Wild are the Rangers of the west. They play great defense, but can't find the back of the net against regular goalies. Evgeni Nabokov is no regular goalie. Nabby has the ability to play at 75% and shut out inferior teams. He will be able to yawn his way through the first round. The only chance the Wild has is if Backstrom matches Nabby and forces games into OT, where suddenly tensions run high, heart rates rise, and every shot could be the last of the game. That, or if the Sharks overlook the Wild and ready for a 2nd round matchup. In my opinion though, both things are highly unlikely and in this bout, Goliath beats David.

Sharks 4-0

2 Detroit Red Wings vs 7 Vancouver Canucks

Outside of Roberto Luongo (who hasn't looked at all himself since returning from the injury) and the Sedin boys, how are the Canucks ever going to match the offensive fire power of the mighty Red Wings. The Wings boast the top PP in the league (over 27%) and have the most goals in the league by a large margin. The 2nd place scoring team can put up a Dallas-esque 10 in the next game and still be trailing Wings in goals scored. If you are facing Detroit, which guy do you target the most to stop? Datsyuk or Zetterberg? Or Hossa? Or Lidstrom? What about on the PP? Because when you are watching those 4, Samuelsson and Hudler and Holmstrom wreak havoc and light the lamp. This team is simply a matchup nightmare, and Vancouver doesn't have the power to do anything about it.

Prediction: Detroit 4-1

3 Calgary Flames vs 6 Anaheim Ducks

This is by far the most intruging matchup of the 1st round and I strategically left it for last. Somehow after losing two of their top scorers from last year in Tanguay and Huselius, the Flames filled in the cracks and are sitting atop their division and in third in the conference. (Michael Cammalleri take a bow) Each year the Flames are the ugly ducklings of the playoffs. They rely on basically two guys to carry the load on their backs (Iginla and Kipper) and use role players the rest of the way to keep the ship going. With that said though, those role players all take turns stepping up and being the heroes of any given game. The Flames win ugly, but the key is Mike Keenan has found a way to keep them winning.

The Ducks on the other hand don't have "it" this year. They look almost bored out there. This team used to be fun to watch. They hit, they fought, they scored, and they looked like they were having fun out there. Now, they look like they are simply going through the motions until the end of April roles around. There is no sense of urgency or want with this team. While I am not saying that is the end all and be all when it comes playoff time, it is something. On top of that, who is getting the nod game 1? Is it Hiller or Giggy? Easily you can make cases for each, but Giggy hasn't been himself since his father passed away and Hiller is inexperienced. Also, whichever one does start will be looking over his shoulder the entire time, especially once one or two losses happen. I think this will be the closest series that isn't a 4-5 in the playoffs, but for some reason I think the Flames want it more and therefore will take it.

Prediction: Calgary 4-2

There you have it, what may be one of the most boring first rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent memory.

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