Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 NHL Playoffs - First Round

As you may or may not know, I am a hockey fan. While this blog is about Canadian politics, there is nothing more Canadian than hockey. And since I project electoral results, why not hockey results?

So, here are my predictions for the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I invite you all to make your own predictions, and the winner will get bragging rights and a "guest post" of their predictions for the second round.

The last time I made predictions, I was 7 for 8 for series winners but only guessed the right amount of games once. Hopefully, this year I'll do better.

Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

The Capitals won 15 more games and scored 101 more goals than the Canadiens this year. However, they also allowed ten more goals. So what we have here is the best offense in the league against a relatively decent defensive squad.

Jaroslav Halak will be starting for the Canadiens, and he seems to flourish when he gets a lot of action in a game. While the Capitals like winning games 5-4 or 6-5, the Canadiens don't have the kind of offense to be able to keep up. What they will count on is sound play from Halak and the hopes that they can get to Jose Theodore or Semyon Varlamov enough to grab a lead.

The Canadiens have two decent lines in Cammalleri-Plekanec-Kostitsyn and Pouliot-Gomez-Gionta, but neither one of them can match the consistent offensive output of Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin. Try as they might, the Canadiens will be over-powered but may squeak out a win on home ice.

Prediction: Washington Capitals in five.

New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers made it into the playoffs in an emotional shoot-out win over the New York Rangers, but it is a lot to expect them to take that win and turn it into four over the Devils. Brian Boucher can run hot and cold, but he is not a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, and Martin Brodeur is a hall-of-famer. The Flyers do have Jeff Carter back, and you can't discount an offense that boasts the likes of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and Daniel Briere, but the Devils are solid defensively and now, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Travis Zajac, can score.

Though the Flyers put up a fight, New Jersey takes it.

Prediction: New Jersey Devils in six.

Buffalo Sabres vs. Boston Bruins

An old Adams Division match-up, pitting the league's worst offense (Boston) against its third-best defense (Buffalo). Boston can't manage to score for their lives, and Ryan Miller has put together a Vezina-worthy (Hart-worthy?) season. Really, that's all you need to know. If Marc Savard wasn't injured, maybe the Bruins will have a chance. But key Sabres like Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy are playing well, Tyler Ennis is a revelation, and Miller ensures they can stay in the game. Boston will win one at home, but that is all.

Prediction: Buffalo Sabres in five.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators

As a Habs fan, the Montreal-Washington series will get my attention. But as an Ottawa resident, I expect to watch a lot of Sens hockey as well.

This will be a really good series. The Penguins have played a lot of hockey over the last three years, and are not the same team that won the Stanley Cup. Of course, Sidney Crosby has been exceptional, and Evgeni Malkin plays well in the post-season. But after these two the team doesn't have much. Alexei Ponikarovsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin? That isn't much of a supporting cast. And the defense is missing Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi. But Marc-Andre Fleury is still between the pipes, so that gives them the advantage.

Why? Because the Senators will be playing Brian Elliot. He's a good goaltender, but has been forced into the No. 1 position by the mediocre play of Pascal Leclaire. Elliot can get the job done, as he showed in the Senators long winning streak earlier this year. But these will be his first playoff games, so how he will react no one knows.

The Senators are well-coached and play with heart. Daniel Alfredsson is there to lead them, and he is backed-up ably by Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, and Mike Fisher. Alex Kovalev, who shows up every two to three games, will be out with an injury and that hurts Ottawa. But Peter Regin has shown a lot of promise, and the Sens picked up veteran Matt Cullen to play a supporting role. The defense is good, with Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov the shut-down pairing. Erik Karlsson has been terrific, and Andy Sutton has proven to be a good partner for him. And the antics of Matt Cooke will not go unpunished with the likes of Sutton, Matt Carkner, and Chris Neil on the ice. And Jarkko Ruutu is a more effective pest.

Nevertheless, the Stanley Cup champions have the skill and experience. The series will be hard fought, but the Penguins will move on.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins in six.

San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche

Finally, it looks like the Sharks will have an easy opponent they can dispatch quickly. Will they finally break their post-season jinx? I think they will, but only because Colorado has limped into the playoffs. They're a young squad, relying on the likes of Paul Stastny, Peter Mueller, and Matt Duchene for scoring. Craig Anderson has struggled of late, and I feel they just won't be able to over-come the powerful line-up in San Jose.

Prediction: San Jose Sharks in five.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

Chicago is hungry, feisty, and young. But they have experienced veterans like Marian Hossa and John Madden mixed into the line-up. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are offensive dynamos, while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are two of the best defensemen in the game. Nashville has a good defense, but not enough offense to take advantage of Chicago's Achilles' heel in nets. Whether it is Antti Niemi or Cristobal Huet doesn't matter if the Blackhawks can score 3+ goals per game.

Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks in four.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings

The Sedin twins had an outstanding year, with Henrik winning the Art Ross and Daniel on-pace for 111 points had he not been injured. Add Alexandre Burrows, Pavol Demitra, Ryan Kesler, and Mikael Samuelsson to the mix and you have a stellar offense. They more than compensate for Vancouver's injury-riddled defense and Roberto Luongo's unsteady play. Los Angeles is an up-and-coming franchise, but they will peak in a year or two. They'll gain some much-needed post-season experience, but won't be able to out-play the Canucks.

Prediction: Vancouver Canucks in four.

Phoenix Coyotes vs. Detroit Red Wings

Poor Phoenix. Against all odds they had an outstanding season. They got good production out of second-line players, and a Vezina-worthy season from Ilya Brzygalov. But they've now run-up against the Detroit Red Wings, who would've undoubtedly been in the top-four in the conference had it not been for a spate of injuries. They're on the up-swing, and will continue their resurgence right through the first round. Phoenix's only hope is that rookie Jimmy Howard falters, but with the experienced line-up in front of him, it is hard to imagine even that could down the Wings.

Prediction: Detroit Red Wings in six.

So, I only have the Red Wings with the "upset", though they are the favourites going in. I just don't feel that any of the other bottom-four teams in each conference has what it takes to get past the first round. If any exist, look for surprises from Montreal, Ottawa, and Colorado.

Please, post your predictions in the same format. Ties between correct predictions will be resolved by correct series-length predictions.