Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Round 1: Let the Games Begin!

'Tis the season. No. It's not Christmas but it feels a little bit like it. NHL playoffs begin tomorrow and, in the Miller house, we're ready to go. I suppose it helps that one of our teams has survived the season and will join in the action.

Okay, it would be better if it were my team but, alas, it's another building year...finally I think Edmonton is actually at a stage when it says "building" it means building. Eberle, Hall and the Nuge give me hope. They're just fun to watch! Can you imagine what Nuge would have done without missing 20 games!? Dubnyk is proving his mettle between the pipes (did anyone see their last game against Vancouver? I sure did. 40 plus saves is not half bad if you ask me and boy, were some of them pretty!). If tonight's draft lottery goes well, we'll add another such young gun to the mix. So, while part of me is looking forward to next season and what that could mean for the Oilers, there is still a good two months of hockey to go. Let the games begin!

So, for what it's worth, here's my picks for this round:


Ottawa (8) VS the Rangers (1)

I feel a little at odds with this series. I think part of it is that, being from the west, we don't get the same opportunity to see the Eastern teams in action...except for Toronto and Ottawa. Thank you Hockey Night in Canada for your early Eastern-viewer biased broadcast. Here's what I know. The Rangers have been this seemingly slow and steady entity all season thanks, in part, to the performance of their goaltender. Lundquist, of all the goalies making their way into the playoffs, finishined the season with one of the highest save percentages. The team finished with a solid 51-24-7 record. They can confidently boast deep offense and strong, solid, lock down defense.

Then there's Ottawa. Surprise!? Where did they come from? Also boasting strong, playoff tested offense - with guys like Spezza finishing the season in much finer form than they started- and a will to win, they could make this fun. They're on a bit of a roll and have a great record against Lundquist. It seems that they have his number.

If anyone can pull of an upset, it's going to be Ottawa so, while it might be against my better judgement, I'm going to pick Ottawa in 7. Yup. I said it. Yikes.

Washington Capitals (7) vs Boston Bruins (2)

Here's what Boston has going for them. A pretty stellar season. Tim Thomas, who I would suggest is easily one of the top goalies playing for Lord Stanley's Cup, even though he's been a bit streaky this season. I think he's got another level, the one that showed up during the post season last year, just waiting to be released.

They started the season with a bit of a hangover from their 2011 win and found themselves in a bit of a cold streak but have since pulled up their hockey socks and picked up their sticks finishing, like I said, having put on a pretty great show. The question could be depth. Horton's concussion could make him a question mark in the lineup. How big an impact that will be is yet to be seen.

Then there's Washington. What do they have going for them? Not that much. Ouch. Okay, okay. Sure they've got talent like Ovechkin and Backstrom to showcase but between some underproduction and lots of injury, have not seen what they should or could from their name players. As a team, they've been inconsistent and streaky. Did I mention injury? Starting the playoffs will be a rookie goaltender pulled up from the AHL thanks to injuries to their two big men between the pipes.

While I think it would be fun to see this one be big and beautiful with all names playing to potential, my pick is Boston in 5.

New Jersey Devils (6) vs Florida Panthers  (3)

If you can say that a team "squeaked" into the 3rd spot, then that's exactly what Florida did. Their regular season record is surprising. They've got nearly as many post regulation wins as they do regulation time wins. Either that means they need to pick it up during regulation or they really know how to stick it out and play when the heat is on. You pick. Boasting some solid, playoff experienced players, they're not going to be a pushover team.

If you've followed my ramblings at all, you know that I hate Detroit. Arg. That hasn't changed. This season they've been streaky and just plain annoying. Brodeur has had a strong back half of the season and could throw a monkey wrench into Florida's playoff dreams if too many games go to overtime with 23 shoot out wins to his credit this season.

Will this be a battle of the goalies, Brodeur vs Theodore?  So whether it's because of spite or stats, I'm not entirely sure but I'm going with Florida in 6.

Philadelphia Flyers (5) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

This will be a series to watch. In the words of my hot husband, "This one will be war." War indeed. The only thing I think would be more fun would be to see the battle of Alberta (or Vancouver vs Calgary) played out in the first round. Fun, fisticuffs and fanatical fans.

Since the return of Crosby and Letang, Pittsburgh has been the team to be beat. Provided they stay healthy, they're on a roll. They've proved that they are in playoff form, a team to beat.

That said, Philly is well suited to this team and couldn't have asked for a better match up. There is certainly no love lost between these two teams and this season, if stats are worth anything, Philly has come out on top in more than half of the meetings between these two teams.

Offensively, defensively and by way of goaltending, these teams are matched. By way of attitude and, well, plain, blood-red hatred, they're matched.

Already the coaches are waging this war in the media, Philly's main mind calling Crosby and Malkin two of the dirtiest players in the league.  Them's be fightin' words.

Penguins in 7.


I guarantee you who it won't be. It won't be the Calgary fLames. How sweet it is. Have I mentioned that I love living in Calgary and watching the band wagon jumpers attack their own team? I never need to gloat, badger or otherwise beat down the team I despise when their own fans are willing to do it!

Colin and I went to a fLames/Avalanche game with about a week left in the season. Apparently, by the numbers, the fLames still had a playoff hope although if you ask us, that dream had died a painful death a long time ago. It was fun. Sitting in the rafters with the "real" fans, watching a stinker of a game (for real, the Zamboni was the most entertaining part of the game) and listening to the fans complain about their team. At one point a chant of "Let's go Oilers" filled the air. Oh, how much joy that brought to my Edmonton loving heart. And, just when I thought it couldn't get any better, they switched it up; "Let's go Blue Jays." That is the moment when a city full of bandwagon jumpers made me smile.

So no fLames.

That leaves us with four rather interesting battles.

LA Kings (8) vs Vancouver Canucks (1)

LA can boast some strong defensive power, resting on some Quick goal tending. While potentially slightly biased, I figure that's the best that LA has to offer. Offensively they have been fairly quiet even with the players they acquired during the season. At the helm is Sutter. There's no love lost in my books for the Sutter brothers and Daryl's post season experience doesn't leave me feeling like he's got many tricks to pull out in the post season...no Kipper to ride this year.

Vancouver didn't pull out the number one spot by accident. With a rough start to the year, similar to Boston's post playoff hangover, they too have pulled up their socks. Some would say that they are not the team of 2010-2011 and stats would seem to suggest the same, with the talent they have, I feel like it's safe to say they have the legs to find another gear. Home ice advantage and the hunger of the fans will fuel the fire and help with that energy. Kesler isn't done. He's just angry. More to come from that monster. While Daniel didn't skate today, I wouldn't be surprised if that's a bit of gamesmanship from Coach V. Henrik has been in fine form, even without his brother. If you listen to the media, the only question is Luongo. There's another gear to be found in this guy who is more than able to put a string of wins together. Whether teams will get in his head or not, whether the playoff are too much for Lou or whether he's the man for the job is somewhat irrelevant, actually, considering they've got Schneider, another A level net-minder waiting in the wings.

I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed Colin would be if I picked LA. That said, this is one of those things I wouldn't do just to make my husband happy. I do this of my own accord. Vancouver in 6.

San Jose Sharks (7) vs St.Louis blues (2)

I've lost track of how many times I've wondered aloud about the placement of St.Louis this year. How have they risen to the top of the western conference? How? That said, they ended the season on a weaker note due to an injury riddled attacking line that is slowly, very slowly, returning to health.

Halak's goaltending is strong. Can the rest of the team stand tall in front of him?

Word on the street is that defensemen Alex Pietrangelo could be a game changer. I will be curious to see what impact this young gun will have on the team's playoff run.

San Jose is boasting star power, play off experienced star power. Thornton, Marleau, Boyle and Niemi.  While their regular season was a bit of a roller coaster, they've proven themselves, or at least Niemi has, in the playoffs.

That said, I'm not feeling brave enough to call for the upset. St. Louis in 7. 

Chicago Blackhawks (6) vs Phoenix Coyotes (3)

Boring. Who plays for Phoenix again? Do they even play hockey there? Oh, and Chicago? Ug. Despise them.

Okay, for real. There's not much to say here. Not a lot of playoff experience for Phoenix. Chicago is the offensive power of the two. Phoenix plays defensively. The difference between these two teams, I think, will be injury and special teams. Both teams are finding themselves to be injury prone, Chicago facing some significant absences, most remarkably that of Toews who's out thanks to a concussion. If he's back, there's no telling what condition it will be in. A significant loss to the Blackhawks. Neither team has proven to be stellar on the power play, each holding  records in the bottom of the barrel.  Penalty kill is a different story. To go along with their defensive prowess, Phoenix has proven to be tops on the penalty kill while Chicago has been dismal. Dismal.

Really, that's just a lot of grumbling. As much as I hate to say it, I think it's going to be Chicago in 5.

Detroit Red Wings (5) vs. Nashville Predators (4)

Or should I say Howard vs Pekka Rinne?  While Detroit can bring it with a team of proven veterans, their season has been spotty to say the least. Watching the last couple games, they do not look like a team getting ready to shine in the playoffs. Nashville has the top power play in the league and some outstanding goal tending.

Zetterberg,  Datsyuk, and Lidstrom aren't going to make it easy but I still say Nashville in 7. Or maybe it's that I just don't like Detroit either. I don't. I hate those guys.

And that's what I have to say about that.

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