Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
Like Terrell Owens once rapped terribly, I’m back. Organized Sports returns from the hinterlands just in time for one of the best sports months of the year. In April, Major League Baseball returns, causing thousands of terrible sportswriters to wistfully remember fictionalized accounts of their dads pulling them out of school for a day to attend an afternoon game in which Old Willie Juicebox gutted out a game-changing triple against the Rochester Housecats. But while, outside of all the sentimental garbage, the opening of baseball season is undoubtedly great, the true excitement around these parts comes with the beginning of the playoffs in two of the four major team sports. The NBA playoffs won’t start as early as usual due to the lockout-augmented season, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the NHL begin today, which means, if you haven’t been paying attention, it’s time to watch hockey again!
Organized Sports will be making predictions throughout both the NHL and NBA playoff seasons, starting now. Unlike the hockey broadcast media (NHL on NBC, NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) and NHL Network, we will be acknowledging that teams besides the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins actually exist by beginning with the Western Conference, after the jump!
Round 1 Predictions – Western Conference
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Having, until a few weeks ago, lived in Los Angeles, the Kings are the team I’ve seen the most of throughout the season, and I have to say, they are thoroughly unimpressive. They are a tough defensive team with a great goalie in Jonathan Quick, but they can’t score to save their lives and nearly all of their stars (Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and especially Dustin Penner) have underachieved. Unless Quick gets ridiculously hot, they have no chance, and even if he does get ridiculously hot, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo doesn’t choke till the later rounds anyway. Though they tied their season series, each winning two, Vancouver will take this one, and delay their lame rioting for at least a couple more weeks.
Prediction: Canucks in 5
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
After head coach Davis Payne was replaced by Ken Hitchcock, the Blues became a surprise team this year by actually playing up to their potential, and up to the last night of the season could have potentially ended up winning the West. They swept the underachieving Sharks this year, winning all four meetings between the clubs. All that being said, the Blues have historically had problems with the Sharks in the playoffs—the Blues’ last President’s Trophy win was quickly erased by the Sharks in the first round with a healthy amount of help from the Marty Schottenheimer of hockey, Joel Quenneville, in 2000. The Blues are a young team and have limped down the stretch, and since this core has little playoff experience, they’re going to have trouble. Full disclosure: I am a Blues fan, and I have my doubts they’ll make it out of this round.
Prediction: Sharks in 7
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
The Coyotes rode a hot goaltender to a division title and the third seed, earning home ice advantage. There isn’t much to say about their team beyond goaltender Mike Smith, though, and the Blackhawks are tough opponents, even though they no longer have the excessive talent needed to overcome the coaching shortcomings of the aforementioned hockey Schottenheimer, Mr. Quenneville. I see them making it out of the first round, though, mostly because I can’t imagine the Coyotes’ home ice advantage meaning much of anything in a state that forgets it has a hockey team.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
This series will be a battle of styles and hockey philosophies. The Predators play tough, disciplined defense and depend heavily upon strong goaltending from Pekka Rinne and the backline pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, two of the league’s best d-men. The Red Wings play a beautiful puck possession and transition game—they’re great on defense, too, but a lot of that is never letting the other team have the puck. It’s hard to count out Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nick Lidstrom in the playoffs. The European-style team wins this round after it goes the distance.
Prediction: Red Wings in 7
Round 1 Predictions – Eastern Conference
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
I typically hate teams from New York, especially when the coverage dedicated to them far outweighs their importance or impact within the particular league. This year, though, the Rangers earned the coverage by winning the East, on the back of handsome man/goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a team finally successfully implementing the system of entertainingly profane and easily angered coach John Tortorella. I have no doubt that those who Range New York will collapse under the pressure of being a New York team trying to succeed in a later round, but they should have no trouble with the Ottawa Senators, who surprised this year by even making the playoffs.
Prediction: Rangers in 5
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
The Boston Bruins won the Cup last year by embodying everything about hockey the league was supposed to have killed off with the post-lockout changes to speed up the game and make it watchable. Instead, they “grind it out,” they “protect their own,” they “stir things up” and all other sorts of things that Mike Milbury glamorizes and no other hockey fans under 45 and/or outside of the Boston area give a fuck about. The Capitals feature stars who score and make beautiful plays. We all know how this is going to go when the refs swallow their whistles for playoff hockey.
Prediction: Hockey Pedroias in 6
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
The Florida Panthers reminded people that they are, in fact, a franchise in the NHL with a surprising season ending in their first division title. The Devils have had a mediocre year, their fortune depending almost entirely upon the up and down play of eternal netminder Martin Brodeur. They tied their season series with two wins each, and are pretty evenly matched teams overall. Expect the Devils to take it the distance and eke out the series win.
Prediction: Devils in 7
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
Sidney Crosby is the NHL’s biggest, best star, and the amount of games he’s lost to concussions has been terrible for him, his team, and the league. But none of that changes the fact that the Penguins are one of the league’s most hateable franchises right now. Here’s the aforementioned John Tortorella’s words on the matter, following a cheap hit from Pens defender Brooks Orpik, who kneed the Ranger’s Derek Stepan: “Absolutely, it’s a cheap, dirty hit. I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there, I wonder what would happen? So I’m anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just no respect among players. None. It’s sickening […] It’s one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time and look what happens. It’s ridiculous, but they’ll whine about something else over there, won’t they? Starting with their fuckin’ stars.” Tortorella was fined $20,000 for telling the awful truth about the league’s current darling franchise. The overcovered Penguins will play the overcovered Flyers in a battle of overcovered teams that will receive all the national first round coverage. There’s a lot of bad blood between the teams, because they’re both teams full of cheap-shot artists who belong on the suspended Shanaban list. I don’t care who wins because I hate them both, but since I hate the Pens more, they’ll probably win.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
There they are, the Organized Sports predictions for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expect most of them to be wrong, and expect a column about the Blues if they do happen to win at least a series. And expect more bad jokes and awful puns next time.