It absolutely figures that the first year I do this in a very public manner is my worst year for predictions yet. I went2-6 in Round 1, with a spectacular 0-3 in the Game 7s to close it out. The team I picked to win it all (Pittsburgh) was almost swept, but I'm quite pleased with that one (me no likely the Penguins). I got one upset right in picking the Kings over the Canucks, but that one seemed obvious to me. The St. Louis Blues were the other team that pulled through for me. My adopted team, the Chicago Blackhawks, thoroughly dominated their series but came up against a top notch goaltender and were done in by their own awful special teams and two overtime goals that were amongst the worst of all time. To top it all off, the Coyotes got production out of a line made up of first round draft busts from 7-9 years ago: Gilbert Brule, our own Kyle Chipchura, and Marc-Antoine Pouliot.
The first round blew up in my face badly. I've gone 7-1 before, but 6-2 and 5-3 is pretty normal for me. The worst I've ever remembered doing before was 4-4. Well, I'm 2-6 this year. A new low. I went 0-4 in the East, the Conference I'm more familiar with as a Habs fan. One thing you've got to give me: this was an impressive failure.
Goaltending was a huge factor in Round 1, be it good or awful. Each team that advanced had a better 5 on 5 SV% than the other team, sometimes significantly so (Phoenix and Nashville over Chicago and Detroit, respectively). This isn't surprising that it is a huge factor in the results, but it's just so hard to predict which goalies will flame out from round to round.
I'm hoping this year that means my luck turns around for Round 2, which I usually am terrible at. I've lost my confidence, so maybe that's a good thing. Feel free to openly mock my abilities after the jump.
Braden Holtby made me one very proud Saskatoon Blades fan. It's not often we get an ex-goalie to make it to the NHL, and it's not often any Blades alumni does something notable in the postseason... probably not since players like Wendel Clark and Brian Skrudland were around, to be honest. Holtby helped knock off the Stanley Cup Champs and is a hero across Habistan for it. The Rangers, meanwhile, survived a real scare from Ottawa, not ever really impressing in that series but finding the proverbial way to get it done. The four teams left in the East are all old Patrick Division rivals, so those looking for emotional series in Round 2 should be happy.
The Rangers will rely heavily on Dan Girardi-Ryan McDonagh to counter Ovechkin, who has mainly been playing with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer in a weird line that seems to have little purpose. Really, they might be better off going up against Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Marcus Johansson. Dale Hunter's coaching is confounding. At least John Tortorella makes sense in his combinations. There's no real reason to expect the Capitals to win this series, but there wasn't any last round, either. I'm going with the favourites again and hoping I'm wrong. Rangers in 5.
From one geographic rivalry to another for Philly. There are tons of Flyers fans in New Jersey, a state that lies just across the river from the city of Brotherly Love. The rivalry is real and this series offers probably the best chance to see pure hate for the other team in Round 2. The Devils are a pretty good club this year and stand a decent chance here, but Ilya Kovalchuk needs to be more of a factor and it is widely believed he is playing through a significant injury. Kovalchuk is still playing more than any other Devils forward, though... you'd think if it were a significant injury Zack Parise would be getting more ice time than Kovalchuk.
The Flyers, meanwhile, are a bit rested and Ilya Bryzgalov, try as he might to avoid it, is through to the second round for the first time since he became a legitimate NHL starter. Claude Giroux had an amazing first round, as did Danny Briere, and Peter Laviolette found a way to utilize Jaromir Jagr in a soft minutes role that worked wonders. This is a very deep Flyers squad, one that should get better goaltending going forward and at his age, Martin Brodeur isn't really much to be counted on to thwart such an onslaught as what Philly can muster. Besides, there's the whole Winter Classic repeat that depends on the result I'm predicting. Flyers in 6.
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
AKA, the part of my bracket that I got right. Goaltending, forechecking, collapsing in front of your net, never ever giving an inch. This is Western Conference hockey, folks. It's not the passive trapping we're used to seeing from teams like the Devils and Capitals, it is in your face, scrappy, keep the play to the boards... make the game about winning puck battles rather than bad turnovers. There's never any open ice. Something is always happening but there is no obvious flow to the game. It can be excruciating to the naked eye, but you should be able to see the action for what it is: players trying to make plays and never ever let the other team dictate what is going to happen, good or bad.
The top Kings line is a dream. Unfortunately, Justin Williams is on it. Damn him and his eye sticking. The Blues' best players are incredibly anonymous to the point that no one realizes they are that good. Andy MacDonald, Roman Polak, Patrick Berglund, Alexander Steen... these are very good players. Both have elite skating defencemen in Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo anchoring their team. Jonathan Quick is really, really good; Brian Elliott is flourishing having to do the least amount of work he's ever been asked to do. My prediction is, since this is the only bracket I got right, that the winner of this series will win their franchise's first Stanley Cup. And I'm thinking it'll also be the first time we've ever seen an 8th seed win it. Kings in 7.
Operation Sunbelt's shining moment. Look, the Coyotes are awful. They don't play good defence, they don't have an offence, they just beat the Blackhawks because Mike Smith was incredible and the Blackhawks had hilariously inept special teams and especially goaltending. The Nashville Predators do not have either of those things. The Predators may be better than their season long advanced numbers indicated (see the first round preview) and they quite legitimately can lay claim to having the league's top goaltender and defence combination. They have much better depth d-men than the Hawks did as well, so the chances that the team will be burned by Phoenix's 4th line is pretty minimal.
All that being said, I find it hard to call the Predators a real contender like a lot of experts out there have annointed them. But there's no doubt they are a favourite to make the Western Conference Final at this point. I'm very doubtful they can move past the team coming from the other series, but as has been proven several times already, I don't know what I'm talking about. Predators in 5.