Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Round One Playoff Analysis and Round Two Predictions. . .

Now that the first round has finally concluded let's take a look at how I faired at my predictions.

Out West, I went 1 for 4, which was abysmal yet again.

Prediction: San Jose over Anaheim - 5

Reality: Anaheim over San Jose - 6

I never credit Anaheim, because, selfishly, I do not like them because their Cup win was the most boring Final I may have ever sat through and a lot of their players, Pronger for one, drives me crazy, in a bad way. I like Jiggy, even if he isn't playing and I think Jonas Hiller deserves major credit. But I never credit them on a whole and it came back to bite me. Then again, I, along with almost everyone, put way too much stock into San Jose, a perennial playoff team with no punch. I just really - for once - thought they'd gotten past their demons. Apparently a new coach, lots of regular season success, same old crunch time problems. I feel bad for them but I know they are embarrassed enough. The question was always, who would go, Marleau or Wilson? Wilson left, Marleau stayed, but he did not have a great year. Neither did Cheechoo or Thornton, really. The guys that most impressed me on this years team were guys like Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and Devon Settogucci. There has to be something else going wrong with this team. Do they gut it and get new guys in there, in hopes that will shake it up? Honestly, what else can you do at this point? You can't keep throwing the same group of players out there every year and hoping they'll finally "get it" - can you? This was "their year" and they failed in every concievable way to make it memorable.

Prediction: Columbus over Detroit - 6

Reality: Detroit over Columbus - 4

Ouch. I already said all I need to say on this series, except one thing. I knew that Detroit had been knocked out first round post-Cup before and I still hold true, that the opening round is their most vulnerable point in the entire playoffs while they are still trying to settle in. But I since read the stat that Detroit became the first Cup defender to advance past the first round since 2002. That's a pretty stunning stat, no? I mean, so really, it was, (despite all we know and the fact that I was ready to award the Cup to Detroit last July), against their odds that Detroit advance. Now, mind you, none of this justifies my picking Columbus with such robust intensity. That pick, as admittedly are some of mine, was with my heart, not my head.

Prediction: Calgary over Chicago - 7

Reality: Chicago over Calgary - 6

Look, I called this a "coin flip" series and, really, I am not disappointed at all. The Hawks are a great story and I love that they won, and would love it if they continue to do so. I think perhaps it came down to two things. One, the utter desire of the youth of Chicago to get it done when the pressure was on. To be honest, they played with youthful exuberance and I bet they felt much less pressure than the Flames did. Two, the Flames were obviously injury riddled going in; that's a fact and that hurt them.

The bigger questions certainly fall with Calgary. A team I watch a lot of - because their games start after the Rangers games are over, I see a lot of those West Coast games and Calgary ususally has the late game on HNIC - and I, again, thought that they'd finally battle through some of their own demons. XM204 Hockey (I do forget which show) pointed out the dreadful fact that in the last four years, Calgary has never made it out of the first round!? I mean I guess I should have known that, but I ask myself, why do we, as fans, and me, personally, get so excited for teams like Calgary and San Jose when they really, have proven nothing yet. That's what the guys on XM204 asked and I, as I continue to be shocked by the reality of it all, completely agree. Jarome Iginla is my pick for best captain in the NHL, currently, but is that enough if his team keeps falling to the same fate year after year?

Prediction: Vancouver over St. Louis - 5

Reality: Vancouver over St. Louis - 4

Really nothing to comment on here. If Luongo can play hot and stay hot, I would not want to play him at any point in the playoffs.

In the East, I went 3 for 4, much better. (Not that silly predictions prove anything, but I guess I do know the East better).

Prediction: Carolina over New Jersey - 6

Reality: Carolina over New Jersey - 7

So I got this one right, although with less than 2 minutes to go, my pick didn't look safe. This was literally the most back and forth series and probably the closest series of them all. And I bet the one the fewest people watched. It seems magic doesn't seem to happen in NJ anymore; rather it's the other teams continuing on. Maybe it is just time, after years of success with what I know was effort, but always seemed so effortless, that finally it gets to be someone else's turn. Good for Carolina for never counting themselves out of the series or out of a game. You want an example of a "never say die" attitude - look no further than this game 7. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you play the games and play to the final buzzer every time.

Prediction: Boston over Montreal - 5

Reality: Boston over Montreal - 4

I never like to predict sweeps, but obviously if I was going to pick one series to end in one, this was it. No surprises whatsoever. Boston is dominant and still my pick for the Eastern Crown and Montreal was a decimated, sorry group, facing many off-season questions, as I've detailed and will continue to examine in the weeks to come.

Prediction: Philadelphia over Pittsburgh - 7

Reality: Pittsburgh over Philadelphia - 6

I still like this prediction, despite it's failure to stand up. If Philly had split the games in Pittsburgh to start, and they were really close to doing so, I think it's a new series. The Flyers crushed me with that loss in game 2 on stupid penalties. That was their backbreaker. They came back for a great game three, but were always a game behind thanks to that 2nd game. I feel Philadelphia was legit because they were able to win on Mellon Arena ice. And that's something some teams cannot seem to do. (Rangers, *ahem*, Rangers). I credit them for scoring a bunch of goals. I guess, if anything, it came down to collapses at wrong moments. And credit Pittsburgh to that point. They never let up even when they were down in a given game. That wins you series and is another example of not counting yourself out.

Prediction: Washington over Rangers - 6

Reality: Washington over Rangers - 7

All I will say right here is that the better team, overall, won. And I expected them to. It was a longer series than I expected and that credits the Rangers for pushing the Capitals to the ultimate brink. They sure made game 7 exciting - that I will not argue with. But it didn't have to come to that, and what we'll remember, besides some bad decisions and some shenanigans, is that the Rangers had three chances to close this team out and they simply couldn't get it done.

Playoff thoughts:

Let's take a look at the NHL playoff world pre-lockout. Colorado, Detroit, New Jersey, and Dallas were usually top teams and Cup contenders.

Post-lockout, Dallas had a good run last year. Colorado has been human and finally fell out of playoff contention twice. New Jersey hasn't made it through a second round. And Detroit, well, they've been very good, again, especially the last two years.

But the times have changed. And you know what - I'm glad. Not because I dislike those teams; I just disliked them winning all the time. Remember, between 1995 and 2003 only four teams won the Stanley Cup - Detroit 3 times, NJ 3 times, Colorado 2 times and Dallas 1 time. And that got very, very boring.

I like that, this year, with the exception of Detroit, Anaheim, and Carolina, the other five teams in contention haven't won a Cup since 1992 at the earliest (Pittsburgh) and that there are two others that have never won it (Washington, Vancouver). I know the NHL is all about their big market teams and big name superstars, but I will forever have some great memories of watching the 2004 and 2006 Final, between little market teams in the South East and big Western Canadian teams.

I love that there is a fair chance that a team that hasn't won before or hasn't won in a long time will get to do that this year. And, with all due respect to Detroit, I genuinely hope that's the case.

And now, in spite of how bad I literally am at this - no really, guys, I'm pretty bad, I'll do my picks for Round 2, without any fuss whatsoever. I really have no idea and feel only half-way confident about knowing where one of these matchups will go.

2009 Playoffs/Round 2 Predicts:

Western Conference:

Detroit over Anaheim in 7
Vancouver over Chicago in 6

Eastern Conference:

Washington over Pittsburgh in 7
Boston over Carolina in 6

One Final Note:

While I am not a fan of Detroit, I think Pavel "Hello Again" Datsyuk seems a fascinating player and obviously one of the most underrated in the entire league. And since he has been nominated for not only the Lady Byng and the Selke as we'd expect, he is the surprise nominee for the Hart Memorial. For this reason, I will try my best to devote some time to watching him in this series to see what all the non-fuss is about. When, apparently, there should be a big fuss over this guy and all he does year in and year out.

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