The time has come for the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs! Whether you are yaying or naying, the playoffs are times of intense hockey, and blood, sweat, and tears. Every hockey fan tends to see themselves watching the playoffs - even if it's just the finals.
Now that the pressure is on and the kitchen is getting hot, the time has come for me to make my predictions. Round 1, here we go!
Match-up 1: #1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers; My pick: New York Rangers
Despite statistics saying that Washington is the better team, the Rangers are the better team in the head-to-head match-ups. The Capitals have a 1-2-1 record against the team from The Big Apple, having only one PPG against them and only stopped four of the thirteen New York powerplays.
But like many series, it boils down to goaltending a lot of the time. Henrik Lundqvist is probably one of the best goalies in the NHL in the post-lockout era. He leads the NHL in the most shutouts (11) and has in the Top 10 of the GAA and save percentage leaders. Albeit the back-up for the Capitals (Semyon Varlamov) succeeds Lundqvist in both categories, I doubt that he will see as much ice time as the seasoned Swedish goalie. It appears that Michal Neuvirth will be in goal for the Capitals, but no amount of offence and defence can surpass the spread out scoring and amazing goaltending the Rangers have.
Match-up 2: #2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres; My pick: Philadelphia Flyers
I don't have a real reason for picking the Flyers nor do I have a reason to not pick the Sabres. I just went with my blind gut and picked who I first said would win in this match-up.
Match-up 3: #3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens; My pick: Montreal Canadiens
Okay, this may be a slightly biased pick, but it is my pick nonetheless. Montreal got the spark plug of energy and confidence they needed before heading into the post-season. Boston may have an edge that Montreal doesn't. Boston know how to clog up the wings and the lanes. Montreal plays a transition game that uses the wings, speed, short passes, and the shooting lanes. It's a game on the move that depends on the speed that they play with.
Now for those doubting my choice, I can totally understand that. Boston also plays a big physical game which the Canadiens aren't exactly equipped to par up to. Montreal might get out bodied, but they have made an unremarkable underdog run before.
But like all other series, it boils down to goaltending. Both of these teams have the best goalies as their starters. Both Carey Price and Tim Thomas are well-rested, ready, and healthy. They are stellar goaltenders that make the spectacular saves and also make the spectacular saves look easy. I gotta give it to these two, man. This is a toss-up. But my edge goes to Carey Price.
Match-up 4: #4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning; My pick: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Stanley Cup champions of 2009 may be without their captain and their former Conn Smythe trophy winner, but they can still win. No matter who is out of their line-up, the Pens find ways to win and pull together their act to see the outcome go their way.
Tampa Bay is not as strong as some may hope they are. They have some goodness in their line-up with great chemistry amongst the players and some decent defence, but their goaltending is extremely shaky. Marc-Andre Fleury may be slightly shaky sometimes, but he can easily measure up to the task before either of the Tampa goalies.
Match-up 1: #1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks; My pick: Vancouver Canucks
What makes Vancouver so much better than Chicago this year? They have depth throughout every line. Even the fourth line is more of a scoring line than a checking one! The goaltending is deep no matter who they have in net. Albeit you wouldn't want to have Cory Schneider in net for every game, but seeing him in net won't be as nerve wracking as having some other back-up in between the posts. The defence is healthy (finally) and even if we get injuries, you know the Canucks can play with whomever they call up. Vancouver has had the most injuries to their line-up than any other team yet they remain to be the best. The Canucks also can play a physical, gritty, dirty game if need be. They have the big bodies to do so and the former "soft players" are no longer so *cough* Sedin twins *cough*. And don't forget that pretty much half of this team is composed of some great chirpers.
The Canucks also are the best in special teams. The top two power-play units can rack up the points and the top two penalty-kill units can put up points as well. This team plays with great back-checking and fore-checking.
Chicago Blackhawks do have a dark horse: Corey Crawford. Just recently coming into the light, Crawford is a huge reason as to why the Blackhawks made the playoffs. Before they were on the outside looking in. With Crawford they moved into the playoff picture. Don't forget the superstars named Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa. But even then, they haven't been as good as they were before. Same goes with their defensive players like Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. But their third and fourth lines play big components in their winning style.
Match-up 2: #2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 LA Kings; My pick: LA Kings
I don't know much about either team, but I have a feeling about the Kings (it may be wrong, it may not be, but it is a feeling). The Kings have better goaltending than San Jose as far as I can tell (Quick over Niemi any day), and LA has a better defensive game than I have seen from the Sharks. Sharks have also been chokers for the past couple of years; the Kings, I think, will have their moment this year.
This series, though, can go either way. These two teams know each other well. They're in the same conference, same division, and even in the same state! The next closest thing you could get is an LA-Anaheim match-up!
Match-up 3: #3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes; My pick: Detroit Red Wings
No offence to the Phoenix Coyotes, but I have to go with the Detroit Red Wings on this one. I give all of my hope of Phoenix, but I give my confidence to Detroit. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but the Red Wings look to be in better playoff shape than the Coyotes.
Detroit has a lot of things in the bag. Offence from three lines, good goaltending from Jimmy Howard, and the defence comes from their forwards and their defencemen. Not to mention that Detroit has 20 straight years of playoff experience under their belt.
Match-up 4: #4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators; My pick: Nashville Predators
This serious could go either way. I just picked who I trusted to win and is quite another blind pick. Both of these teams are good and dangerous and it's a 50/50 shot. I've always pegged Nashville to make it further because I like their defensive game. And Rinne doesn't look to shabby to me either.