Wednesday, May 01, 2013

NHL Playoffs 2013 Round 1

I admit it. I'm still feeling a bit of a post strike hangover so writing about the playoffs seems a little bit ridiculous but, the truth it seems, is that once a hockey fan, always a hockey fan so here I am. The other truth I should probably confess is that I probably only watched about half of the hockey games that I normally would in a season (and that's not a reflection of the shortened season). Sure, I caught all the games that my Oil played that I could (pesky work schedule got in the way of a few) and most of the Canucks games (I'm a good wife, after all...or trying) with the exception of our early season fast (read protest/boycott) but those Eastern Conference games...did they happen? With the exception of whichever Montreal, Toronto or Ottawa game got the early slot on Hockey Night in Canada, it was as if a lot of those games didn't exist for the viewership in this house.

But now it's playoffs.

Now the fun begins.

Now it matters.

So, as has been my tradition over the last few years, here's my picks for this round.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh (1) vs NY Islanders (8)
Even without the injury ridden Crosby in the lineup, the Pittsburgh bench goes deep. There's tons of playoff experience and hockey smarts on this year's team. The Islanders just haven't seemed to be able to score this season and, well, the Penguins just happen to be the top scoring team in the league. Either the Islanders need to put up a defensive wall or they'll need to find offense they haven't had all season. Either way, I think it's a long shot.

Pittsburgh in 5.

Montreal (2) vs Ottawa (7)
It seems that both of these teams have had a bit of a roller coaster season. Montreal didn't fare so well at the end of their season, piling up the losses. Curious what that does to a team to have a slide like that just prior to the playoffs. That said, if they could come through the personnel chaos at the beginning of the season they way they did - P.K Subban? Just sayin.' - maybe they are mentally tough enough to get through this too. They were second in the East, after all. They've got rookies, they've got some new muscle this season, they've got some great scoring stats and stellar special teams and they've got a goalie who's willing to pay the price...but you've got to know that a good Canadian match up like this will be full of life. Ottawa has it's strength. They've got veterans like Karlsson and Alfredson who are hungry for the cup, one of the best penalty kills in the league this year, some muscle of their own and a goalie who, if he really is healed from the injury that sidelined him for almost half of the regular season, could be the answer to Montreal's offense. I like Ottawa for this one. This is the team that last year shocked everyone, giving the Rangers a good scare. They're good for the upset.

Ottawa in 7.

Washington (3) vs NY Rangers (6)
Two teams with nearly identical regular season records coming out of the East. Oh joy. It would probably be fair to say that the first half (or more) of both teams' regular season were lackluster at best BUT both teams have turned it on to finish and captured play off spots in their own right. So here we are. We have Washington with Ovechkin - who just wasn't enough to do it last year - and a Ranger squad - changed very little from last year - boasting the fire power of Rick Nash and backstopped by Lundquist. They're two teams that don't like each other much so it will probably be feisty hockey and close games but I'm not convinced that the Capitals have what it takes. Playoff hockey history hasn't been kind to the Capitals.

Rangers in 6.
I saw this on facebook the other night and had to grab it to share.

Boston (4) vs Toronto (5) 
I wish that I could say that I write this with no personal bias but that would be a lie. Toronto bugs me. The fact that they haven't seen playoff ice since 2004 makes me happy. Stephen Harper's mocking tweet prior to the series - "I hope MapleLeafs fans enjoy their 1st playoff game in HD this evening," - gave me a good chuckle. That Toronto is in the playoffs when Edmonton isn't, ticks me off.

So here we are. Two more teams facing off that come into the playoffs with nearly identical stats. I wish I could hold the fact that they haven't been in the playoffs in years and that 15 players on the Leaf's roster have never played in a playoff game against them but I can't. Boston won in 2011 and, barely changing the roster, were out in the first round in 2012. I don't think playoff experience is going to be the factor in this round...unless you want to say that last year's loss makes the Bruins more aware. There's enough muscle to make this series nasty - hello, Chara's a monster - and enough offense to make it fun - Kessel, Seguin, Horton, and Redden to name a few. The difference will be the strength and longevity of the defense. If Rask can hold it together, he could be the game changer.

Boston in 5.

Western Conference

Chicago (1) vs Minnesota (8) 
If Toronto makes me grumpy, it's fair to say I hate Chicago. Hate Kane and Bickell and Oduya and Hossa. I do. But you don't post a season like this one for nothing. Sorry Minnesota.

Chicago in 5.

Anaheim (2) vs Detroit (7)
I feel like this is the same Anaheim team I was watching in high school...or maybe that's just Teemu Selanne that makes it feel that way. That's guy's a veteran leading a team that wants to win and knows they can. They broke all sorts of franchise records this year. They have special teams, penalty kill and goal tending in order. The starting lineup of Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry is impressive and more than capable.  And then there's Detroit. The third team in the NHL that is essentially dead to me. They have experience. They have stars. They have the will to win. They beat Aneheim three out of the four times they played this season. And they're on a roll coming into the playoffs. If you're going to pick a time to "get hot" this is it. I figure this will be one of the hardest fought series this round with more than a few one goal decisions and over time wins. While LA showed last year that a number 8 seed can take it all the way, this Anaheim team has something good going on.

Anaheim in 7.

Vancouver (3) vs San Jose (6)
While not hailed as the hands down favorite this year, it's not as if Vancouver is out of the running. Their playoff hopes are alive and well. Come on, when your backup goalie is Luongo, you're not doing half bad (all haters keep your opinions to yourself. you know you'd want him on your team). I'm not convinced that the Schneider/Luongo question is actually that big of an issue. You've got the Sedins, Burrows, Bieksa, Kessler (if he can stay healthy), Edler, newly aquired Roy, and Ballard. Guys that can win. They're season started a bit shaky but if the end of the season - and games like their last meeting with Chicago are any indication - this Vancouver team is picking it up at the right time. Meanwhile, the Sharks are still boasting a strong veteran core albeit less so after the pre-trade deadline deals that saw some of their depth (like Clowe) finding new homes. Even so, they're coming in on a winning streak that not only propelled them into the playoffs but into the 6th spot. The difference between these two teams is going to come down to offense. I know, I know...the team with most goals wins. I get it. But here's the deal. As they go into game one, these two teams are, on paper fairly evenly matched so the team that can find the offensive solution (and yes, score the most goals) wins. 5 on 5 goal scoring and the power play. If Vancouver can find the power play prowess of seasons past, this could be short lived. Regardless, it's going to be fun.

Vancouver in 7 (and not just because my hot husband wants them to win).

St.Louis (4) vs LA (5)
LA's 2012 run from eighth spot to the cup was, well, magical. Is the magic alive and well for 2013? This is yet another match up of evenly matched teams. Similar in goals for and against and almost equal power play and penalty kill percentages.  LA may have won all 3 games of the season series between the two teams but St. Louis won 12 of their last 15 games of the season, goal tending being the key to those wins with Elliot putting up some stellar stats. Then again, Quick isn't half bad either. These are going to be low scoring, grinding, hard fought games but, in the end, I don't ascribe to the theory that says the magic is gone...or that 2012 was simply a magical anomaly for the Kings. They're a solid team that has tasted the win...and liked it.

LA in 7.

So that's all I've got for now. We'll see how it goes.

Now I'm going to go knit until I'm allowed to watch the game currently recording. What did we do before PVR's?

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