Okay, so after finding out the final matchups were set, I took out a post-it (my favorite writing tool) and wrote my predictions down. What you are getting here are my first thoughts, and I haven't changed anything based on what I may have heard or read in the last couple days, although truth be told, I've had little time for much and haven't read any "experts" picks. This is me trying to not overthink anything. Thus, no fanfare, no fuss, well, except for a little fanfare and fuss on the Rangers/Captals Matchup, of course.
San Jose over Anaheim - 5
I still think this is San Jose's year to prove themselves.
Columbus over Detroit - 6
I think Columbus has as much a chance as any to knock of Detroit, especially if Steve Mason can stay hot.
Calgary over Chicago - 7
I think this is somewhat of a coin toss series, but I am going with Calgary based on their having been there before.
Vancouver over St. Louis - 5
I think St. Louis may lack the experience to do battle with a rejuvenated Canucks team and a goalie like Luongo.
Carolina over New Jersey - 6
I think Carolina is playing as good as they have since they won the Cup and if Cam Ward can out-duel Brodeur, they have a good shot.
Boston over Montreal - 5
I think Montreal might steal a game in there, but Boston has too much going for them this year.
Philadelphia over Pittsburgh - 7
I think it'll be a close series, but I believe the longer the series goes the better the chances that Philadelphia can overcome their cross-state rivals.
Washington over Rangers - 6
I think Ovechkin and Co. will be too much for this year's Rangers to handle.
Okay, so I'll give you more than a sentence on this matchup. (But aren't you all very impressed that I kept the above predictions to just ONE sentence each? To tell you the truth, I kinda am myself!)
My heart wants me to pick the Rangers to win. It really does. And if, by chance, the Rangers do win, I'll be as happy as anyone. BUT....
This team has lacked a few things from the beginning of the season.They do not score very much, although it's been better under Tortorella. Their powerplay has been horrendous from day one. They lack a group cohesiveness and a strong sense of leadership. All three things are vital to a team's playoff chances. Great teams, perhaps, can overcome their shortcomings. I'm not sure the Rangers are a great enough team to do so. If I am being honest with myself, which I am trying to be.
The Rangers win this series if they can shutdown Washington's superpower offense, plain and simple. We all know how good Ovechkin and Co are. That is not a surprise. It is not up for debate. They are just that good.
The Rangers would need a true game changer to make a difference in this series. As discussed here at NHTP about a week ago, they have a potential one in Henrik Lundqvist. If he can shut the other team down, then, yes, the Rangers can win.
But, while I'm not questioning Lundqvist's talent or determination, I am just not sure he can do this on his own.
Now he'll have Marc Staal, who automatically becomes the Rangers second most important player in this series for his previous one on one battles with the Great Ovechkin. Marc Staal, although one of the youngest on the team, may just be the most composed person on the entire Rangers roster. I do have great faith that he will do all in his power to try to slow Ovechkin. Because, again folks, you slow the league's great players, you can't stop them.
However, it is really more than just Ovechkin. I'm not sure what Staal is expected to do if he slows Ovechkin and everyone else on the Capitals runs circles around the rest of the Rangers team.
Staal and Lundqvist aside, I turn my attention to this team's leadership. And I do not want to make this an attack on the big money makers on this team. I won't. That's a regular season and an off=season debate. BUT...
While I believe Tortorella is not the type of coach to let his team roll over and play dead, he cannot play along side them. Whatever happens on ice is truly, at this point, left up to the 20 players on the game day roster. And I'm not sure they - collectively - have it in them.
Yes, Drury and Gomez have been there before. And Gomez was a good force for New York last year against New Jersey. But what if that isn't enough? There is no one player on this team that can single handedly win these games for the Rangers. (Remember, Hank can only stop the puck. He cannot help this team score). Unless someone, or preferably a few somebodies, step up and play beyond what they have in the regular season, I do not know how they can do it. Motivation is great, but they need to have something to back it up.
A team that wasn't perfect last year in New York, still had a guy like Jaromir Jagr, who in game four said, screw this, we are NOT going to lose this game today. And he came through, like legendary players do.
Washington has Ovechkin, a guy who we've seen do the same thing against our very team. The old, "climb on, guys, I'm leading us there" type mantra he lives by.
Who, really, do the Rangers have?
Callahan? Antropov? Avery? Zherdev?
Do any of these players really strike fear in the heart of Washington that they will score enough to compete with Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Green, etc?
Now Avery is a wild card. If he can effectively take Washington off their game, he can make a difference. But I just don't see it working like it did in the past. Avery versus Kovalchuk. Avery versus Brodeur. Avery versus Ovechkin? I just don't see how Ovechkin gets riled up by Avery like Ilya and Marty did. And even if one of their goal scorers does bite on Avery's advances, there are a half dozen more in his place.
Now that doesn't mean that Sean can't be effective and help the cause - because he most certainly can. I'm just not sure it's enough. I'm not sure any of it is enough.
The one major thing to the Rangers advantage is that Jose Theodore is not the best goalie in the playoffs. He might, in fact, be the worst. Does that make a difference in a series? - you bet it does. But it would mean more to me if the Rangers were a high-powered scoring team. Based on the fact that at many times they don't even shoot the puck, I am somewhat afraid it won't make much of a difference who the Caps have in net.
Wayne Gretzky said something about not having a chance to score any goals if you don't take the shots, or something. You know where I'm going with this. And you also know he's right.
But be sure, if the Rangers were to win, they'd have to get scoring from unlikely sources (or anyone!), and score on the powerplay. Washington is not going to give them a free path to their goalie. They are going to have to work hard for their chances. And take advantage of the ones that they get.
For the reasons above, and perhaps a few more, I just believe - in my head - that the Rangers just do not have enough to beat the Washington Capitals, who got a taste of the second season last year and want it even more this year.
If it means anything though, folks, I do hope I am wrong. I really, really hope I am wrong.
**Author's note. I think all these Eastern series are fantastic matchups and we, as fans, really lucked out. The West's I'm a little less sure about but I think there's a chance for a few doozies as well. But regardless of my predictions - and rib all you want because it's all in fun - enjoy the playoffs. One of the best times of the year!**