The Stanley Cup playoffs start tonight, and for a second consecutive year I don’t have a vested interest in who wins. I don’t believe in having a second-favourite team, and I don’t care if a Canadian team wins the Cup (I hate that mentality, as last year’s blog entries should have made abundantly clear). All I want is two months of exciting hockey; that isn’t asking too much, is it?
Ironically–and I don’t pretend to be an expert here–I’m envisioning a tournament which ends, sickeningly, with the Stanley Cup returning to Canada anyway…and a champion which would want to make me move to America. I’ve decided I should prepare myself for the worst–so with that, I present a reverse ranking (#16-1) of how I see this year’s postseason shaking down, as well as how fifteen teams will meet with their eventual demise. Again, I’m not an expert: I’m just a fan with an opinion, and now that I don’t have a favourite team* I see it going down like this:
- Tampa Bay (vs. New Jersey, 4-0). Tampa Bay clinched a playoff berth almost in spite of itself, and they’ll be gone before anyone notices they arrived. I almost pity John Tortorella having to choose between Mark Denis or Jesper Holmqvist.
- New York Islanders (vs. Buffalo, 4-1). The New York Islanders overcame tremendous odds to make this year’s playoffs, helped in no small part by a 5’8″ goalie with Yoda pained on his helmet. The Islanders are happy just to have made it; I see awful things happening to them at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres (and no, I’m not bitter).
- Pittsburgh (vs. Ottawa, 4-1). At first I thought I was making this pick out of spite…until I realized I was picking in favour of the Ottawa Senators. I’ll (grudgingly) admit that the Penguins were impressive this year, although the extent to which it was due to a league-wide conspiracy remains to be seen. The Senators, however, are the last team they’ll have wanted to face in Round 1. Gary Roberts is much older than he was when he single-handedly knocked the Sens out of the playoffs in 2002, and Ottawa can outscore anybody. Plus–and it needs to be said–Ray Emery is arguably the most underrated goalie in this year’s playoffs, and he’s certainly better than Marc-Andre Fleury, who might potentially be as fragile as Britney Spears. I actually think Ottawa will massacre the Penguins. Call me crazy.
- Calgary (vs. Detroit, 4-2). Like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary tired hard not to make the playoffs. They even blew a 2-0 lead at home against the Edmonton Oilers when a win would have clinched them a playoff berth; fortunately for Calgary (and, by extension, me, since Bri is a Flames fan) the Avalanche couldn’t beat the Nashville Preditors either, and so the Flames backed into the postseason. I like this team; I’d be happy if they did well, although that shouldn’t translate into “I’m rooting for them”. But I can’t back them against Detroit, not when their road record is so utterly abysmal. Miikka Kiprusoff has to be other-wordly for them to beat the Red Wings. He’s done it once; I don’t think he can do it again. Sorry, Girlfriend…hey, at least your team made it!
- Atlanta (vs. New York Rangers, 4-2). At one point this season the Atlanta Thrashers–the Atlanta Thrashers!–were first overall in the NHL, but by March they were fighting for their playoff lives. Their late-season swoon got them a date with the New York Rangers, who are one of the hottest teams in the league coming into the playoffs. Mortgaging the future on Keith Tkachuk is about to look really, really dumb.
- Dallas (vs. Vancouver, 4-2). I read a Sports Illustrated article today about Marty Turco using this year’s playoffs to exorcise his playoff demons. Which is a nice thought, except he’s clearly the second-best goalie in his team’s opening series against the Vancouver Canucks.
- San Jose (vs. Nashville, 4-3). I don’t know why I’m betting against the Sharks, because on paper they’re a championship-calibre team. The thing is, so is pretty much everyone else in the Western Conference, and that includes Nashville. I’m going with my gut on this one.
- Anaheim (vs. Minnesota, 4-3). Anaheim was untouchable at the start of the year, and even when they came back down to earth they were still pretty good. No one can argue with their pedigree; also, they’ve got the two best defenceman in the game manning the point for them and a rejuvenated Jean-Sebastian Giguere in goal. They’re a great team…and I’m calling them to lose in Round 1. Again, call me crazy.
- Nashville (vs. Vancouver, 4-2). I wish Nashville well: they mortaged their future on Peter Forsberg, who’s contributed nicely since coming over from Philadelphia in February. But the San Jose series will be a slugfest, and I see the Predators running out of gas against Vancouver. Also, at what point does Forsberg go down with a season-ending injury? I’ll say Game 3.
- Detroit (vs. Minnesota, 4-2). Detroit bowed out to the Edmonton Oilers in last year’s first round, which was about as shocking as Britney checking into rehab. Bringing in Todd Bertuzzi was supposed to bolster their chances…which is puzzling, since he’s never been part of a particularly successful team. Once again, it’s all about goaltending in Detroit. If the Volatile One decides it’s worth sticking it out this year then the Red Wings could very easily win the Cup. I’m sure I speak for all non-Detroit fans when I say that another Dominik Hasek playoff burnout would be truly regal to watch. Minnesota marches on.
- New York Rangers (vs. Buffalo, 4-3). The Rangers came out of nowhere in the Eastern Conference, where they toiled in anonymity for two-thirds of the season before catching fire and surging to the sixth seed. They’re a definite dark horse, especially if Henrik Lundqvist stays hot; they can certainly score with the best of them, and Jaromir Jagr is capable of winning a series on his own. A Rangers/Sabres match-up would be great, notwithstanding the obvious innerstate rivalries. The Rangers can make it interesting; I just don’t think they can finish the job.
- New Jersey (vs. Ottawa, 4-3). I’ve grown to like the New Jersey Devils, if only because it’s increasingly difficult not to like Martin Brodeur. The defense isn’t as strong as it used to be–duh–but the team is still going to be competitive. Unfortunately for them, the Senators–gulp–match up well against New Jersey.
- Vancouver (vs. Minnesota, 4-3). This year’s Canucks remind me of the 2002/03 Anaheim team that got to within a game of the Stanley Cup: they’re essentially nondescript up front, they’re defensively sound and they’ve got a goaltender (Roberto Luongo) who can steal a series all on his own. They’re hot coming in. There’s no reason not to back them to go deep into this year’s playoffs. I just have a gut feeling they won’t make it all the way–no matter how well Luongo plays.
- Buffalo (vs. Ottawa, 4-2). In a way I’d be happy if Buffalo won the Stanley Cup. Their fans are beyond tortured; they’re easy to spot when the visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, since they’re the ones who march up to the Stanley Cup, point at the 1998/99 Dallas Stars and say, “That was ours.” (It wasn’t: even if Brett Hull’s goal would have been disallowed, Buffalo was still trailing three games to two and would have had to have gone back to Dallas for Game 7…but I digress.) This could very well be Buffalo’s year: they’re fast, they’re aggressive, they’re incredibly potent and they’ve got strong goaltending (although Ryan Miller does have a propensity to get lit up every so often). The problem with Buffalo’s Cup run is that they match up poorly against the Senators, who are the one team in the East who can get into a full-on arms race with them and win. But imagine an Ottawa/Buffalo series? It’d be must-see TV every night. I wish Gary Bettman could fix this year’s playoffs to make it happen…y’know, if he weren’t so busy fixing them so that Pittsburgh could get this far.
- Minnesota (vs. Ottawa, 4-2). The Wild flew out of the gate in 2006/07, then hit the skids when Marion Gaborik got injured (which also destroyed countless fantasy hockey teams, mine included). Then Gaborik returned, Niklas Backstrom became the #1 goalie and the Wild finished on a 20-7 run. The parallels between this year’s team and the Wild team which went to the Western Conference Finals are striking–but this year’s edition boasts a more balanced scoring attack (Brian Rolston has been sensational) and lacks any real goaltending controversy. Plus, that building is a house of horrors for opposing teams. Minnesota’s problem is that it doesn’t score a lot of goals; this is fine when you lead the league in fewest goals allowed per game, but it’s not an ideal situation. Moreover, can Backstrom hold up this long? I don’t know if he can. Let’s move on.
- YOUR 2006/07 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS: Ottawa. I have just vomited in my own mouth.
There. I feel better already.
(*–If I did have a vested rooting interest, I’d root for Calgary or Minnesota. No Eastern teams. That is all.)