It’s on again – that glorious orgy of hockey and its attendant passions known as the NHL Playoffs. I’m going to make a few actual predictions, but first, some observations and opinions.
I will offer no direct predictions about my beloved Detroit Red Wings, but I have to say that it is difficult to be overly optimistic about their chances. They’ve been inconsistent and generally mediocre for a couple of months now, and while they’ve shown an ability to get sky-high for a specific game, there seems no reason to think they can sustain that sort of effort for four high-intensity playoff series. But I’d be more than happy to see them do an about-face, confound my expectations, and rock the Stanley Cup come June.
We move next to the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. They backed in through the slamming door to the playoffs at the last possible instant, close enough to feel the doorknob whack them in the nuts. It is poetic justice that they will begin their quest for a duplicate title by facing the Vancouver Canucks – whom they have faced and beaten in the playoffs two years in a row going into this series. Vancouver had the best record in the league this season and is favored by many to go all the way, but it is proper and fitting that they will have to vanquish their nemesis, the Blackhawks, to reach the Promised Land. As for the Hawks, I see no reason for particular optimism. There would seem to be several teams in the Western Conference that should be able to take them out – but if the Hawks can get by Vancouver, who knows? It might change everything. Look no further than last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs if you require a lesson in the Art of the Possible.
Most of the hockey world will justifiably be focused on the Montreal Canadiens/Boston Bruins series as the highlight of Round 1, and I won’t argue with anyone who is captivated by that matchup – it has all the makings of a memorable classic. But the series I’m most intrigued by (aside from the teams that are near and dear to me) is the one pitting the Anaheim Ducks against the Nashville Predators. The Preds, as many fans know, have developed a habit of getting into the playoffs and losing in Round 1. In fact, they’ve never won even a single playoff series in the history of the franchise. The Ducks feature the brilliance of Corey Perry, who led the league in goals as the only player to reach the 50-goal mark this season. The Ducks will have the home-ice advantage in this series, which begins Wednesday night in Anaheim. But here’s my one concrete prediction; my one big chance to look like a fool (at least in terms of hockey predictions): I’m going with Nashville over Anaheim. All the elements are in place: Nashville is hot and hungry. The Ducks may have scoring firepower, but they’re highly suspect in goal, and that’s where I think the difference will lie. I don’t think you can hide a weakness like that in a 7-game series. It’s gonna be like Ducks in a shooting gallery. Check back in two weeks – call me a fool when I’m wrong, but please call me a savant when I’m right (or at least call me admirably lucky).
I have very little to say about the various post-season awards that are to be handed out to individual players. To me, they’re like little foil-wrapped chocolate Santas on Christmas morning – they’ve very sweet and tasty, and Christmas wouldn’t be complete without them, but they’re not the reason you got out of bed at 7 a.m. to look under the tree. No, you’re there to grab the major hardware. Likewise, there’s the Stanley Cup… and then there’s a lot of other shiny trinkets, every ounce of which would happily be traded for a sip from the Cup.
As you can see, this post is not a comprehensive examination of all the playoff teams and subplots, but it’s some of the stuff near the top of my brain as the breathless NHL post-season gets ready to go. I may write more about it in future posts, assuming that the outcome of Round 1 doesn’t depress me so thoroughly that I hurl myself into baseball pennant races and Championship Bass Fishing on Versus and drown my sorrows there.