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.
The lockout-shortened hockey season resulted in a race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that extended even beyond the planned final day of the regular season, as the marathon bombing and its aftermath in Boston pushed a game to the Sunday after the season was supposed to end, with the result giving us the seeding we have for the first round matchups in the East.
The lockout-shortened hockey season also resulted in this die-hard hockey fan watching the least hockey he has since getting back into the sport after a loss of interest following the previous lockout, which wiped out an entire season. As a St. Louis Blues fan, I didn’t watch an entire hockey game that didn’t involve my home team, and because of the scheduling this year, that means my Eastern Conference predictions (Western teams only played Western opponents, same with the East, due to the lesser number of games) will be even less informed than usual. Perhaps that means I’ll actually get them right for once.
Hockey playoff pixies after the jump.
Round 1 Predictions – Western Conference
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
The Blackhawks began this season setting records and didn’t really let up the whole way, sewing up the number one seed in the West long before the season’s end and trying out minor leaguers while getting their stars rested up as the season wound to a close. Patrick Kane is playing the best he has in quite a while (word is he’s cleaned up his off-ice act and will no longer be missing games with flu-like symptoms, also known as day-long hangovers), Jonathan Toews is a rock, the roster is stacked, and Coach Q is staying out of the way. With the talent and health of this team (only Patrick Sharp, of the main guys, could potentially be hobbled at all, but should be fine come later rounds) they should coast their way to the Western Conference Finals, if not farther. On the other hand, the Wild ass-backed into the playoffs and, barring miracle hot goaltending, probably won’t even take a game in this series.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 4
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
Lost amongst the record-setting done by the Blackhawks is the great season that the Ducks had out West, putting together a great record and a year that would have been the talk of the league if not for the Blackhawks and the fact that the American hockey media only really cares about teams in the Northeast. If my hometown Blues can’t come out of the West and win it, I’m rooting for the Ducks, because they’re a fun team to watch and they feature a great player in probably his final year still performing to the high standards he’s set for himself: the greatest Finnish scorer of all time, Teemu Selanne. He’s old, he’s awesome, he for all intents and purposes seems like a great guy, and I hope they go all the way, though the Blackhawks will be a tough obstacle. This year, though they normally would be, Detroit should not be, barely making it into the playoffs and still stabilizing after losing their own longtime still-great Scandinavian, Nicklas Lidstrom. They’ll put up more of a fight than the Wild against the Blackhawks—they still have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, after all—but should go down to the Ducks.
Prediction: Ducks in 6
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
This series is much harder to predict. Neither team has been that great this year, and even though the Canucks took their division, they seem entirely beatable. The Sharks also look eminently beatable. The difference will probably come to goaltending, where the Canucks have a stronger one and two, at least when it comes to the early rounds. I’ll take the Canucks in a squeaker.
Prediction: Canucks in 7
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
This one isn’t as hard to predict, even though it’s a 4-5 matchup and those are usually a toss-up. I wish it were harder to predict, since the Blues are the team I root for and they’ve come into the playoffs with some good momentum following some serious lulls throughout the shortened season. But these are basically the same teams that met last year, when the Blues were upset and swept by the eighth-place Kings on the way to their fairly effortless Stanley Cup win. When it comes down to it, the Blues and Kings are the same team, but each component is a little better on the Kings: goaltending is better; hard-hitting, talented, somewhat dirty captain Dustin Brown is slightly better than hard-hitting, talented, somewhat dirty captain David Backes; Anze Kopitar is a better two-way European forward than Alex Steen; and so on. I do think the Blues will take a game or two this time around, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
Prediction: Kings in 5
Round 1 Predictions – Eastern Conference
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders
My predictions for the Eastern Conference come with a lot less first-hand knowledge, as I only watched games involving the Blues and thus did not see any Eastern Conference teams play, except when one of them happened to have highlights shown in between Tebow speculations on SportsCenter. I do know, however, that the Islanders making it to the playoffs is a surprise, and that with or without Sidney Crosby the Penguins are the most stacked team in the East, since everyone wants to play there—much like the late-nineties, early-oughts Red Wings. Long Island will soon lose their team to Brooklyn, so they hopefully won’t take this first-round loss too hard on the way out the door.
Prediction: Penguins in 5
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
The Canadiens and Senators facing each other means a couple of things: big ratings in Canada and at least one Canadian team guaranteed to make it to the second round of the playoffs. The Canadiens are the stronger team this year, and the Senators would likely have been more fired up to play the Penguins, the team they hate most. Without that axe to grind, they will likely lose out in the first round and the Habs will move on.
Prediction: Canadiens in 6
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers
In the series NBC really wanted to happen, the resurgent Washington Capitals, riding on a Hart Trophy-worthy season from Alex Ovechkin, will face the Rangers, who just ass-backed themselves into the playoffs and will bring their inconsistent play and consistent TV ratings to the NHL postseason. Before this year, it seemed that the Crosby-Ovechkin debate was over and done with, but with Crosby out injured yet again, and Ovechkin having the short-season equivalent of a 50-goal year, it’s time to bring that debate back. The Caps should take this one, and if they play like they have during the second half of the season, they will.
Prediction: Capitals in 5
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
Both of these teams have reasons to be excited and motivation. The Leafs are in the playoffs for the first time in forever, with Phil Kessel leading the way for the guys in blue and white. He’ll be motivated against the team that got rid of him before winning the Cup. The Bruins have that whole hashtag Boston Strong thing going for them. The Bruins’ experience should carry them through this first round—it’s only two years ago they hoisted the Cup.
Prediction: Bruins in 6
Because of the lockout, the Stanley Cup Playoffs start as some of the first round NBA playoff series have already ended. This means the Stanley Cup won’t be hoisted until after the NBA Finals have occurred, because exactly what we need is hockey well into summer. Thanks, ownership and players’ associations for making your sport a joke yet again, without even solving the labor issues that led to the lockout in the first place.
And, Let’s Go Blues.