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 every playoff year, there were some surprises, some upsets, and some predictable results in the first round. Since they’re not giving us much turnaround time to pontificate about early round results, let’s get on to the recaps and picks, after the jump.
Grading the First Round – The Western Conference
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
Prediction: Blackhawks in 4
Actual Result: Blackhawks in 5
The Wild managed to take a game, and could have just as easily won the first game as well, but the Blackhawks, who had been resting many important players at the end of the season, got their legs back and took care of the rest rather easily. They look just as deep and deadly as the team that won the Cup a couple of years ago, with Toews, Hossa, Kane, Sharp, Keith and Seabrook all still in place and a retooled bunch of supporting players that can both score and defend. Unless Coach Q screws something up, they are definitely the team to beat.
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
Prediction: Ducks in 6
Actual Result: Red Wings in 7
The other team I was rooting for, the Anaheim Ducks, also fell in the first round, keeping it from being the first time all three California teams advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The veteran playoff experience of the Red Wings proved key, and surely Blackhawk fans are a little worried; even though they’re the better team, they’d probably rather not face the thorn-in-side Red Wings yet again.
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Prediction: Canucks in 7
Actual Result: Sharks in 4
Well, I got this one about as wrong as I possibly could, huh? The goaltending for Vancouver didn’t hold up, the Sharks gutted out an impressive overtime win to close out the sweep, and on they go. This from a team that lost to the Blues last year! I can make that joke, by the way, because I am a hometown fan of the St. Louis Bengals—I mean Blues.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
Prediction: Kings in 5
Actual Result: Kings in 6
The only surprise here was that the Blues managed to win more than one game. As they are the team I have watched all year, I know all of their weaknesses, and their losses were incredibly predictable. If they got a lead, they sat back, thinking talent would carry them through, even though the Kings are more talented. If they got behind, they tried hard to score but in many instances kept shooting the puck wide or high of the net. Even breakaways did not lead to shots on goal. The Blues took a major step backwards this year, and need to evaluate the direction they’d like to take in the future. On the other hand, after the first two games, the Kings looked to be back to their playoff selves, Jonathan Quick making stops when he needed to, Jeff Carter scoring goals when he needed to, and their offensive-minded defensemen pitching in. They probably will not repeat their run to the Cup, but they’ll be a tough out.
Western Conference Average Grade: C
Grading the First Round – The Eastern Conference
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders
Prediction: Penguins in 5
Actual Result: Penguins in 6
The Islanders gave the Penguins a tougher matchup than everyone predicted, but Sidney Crosby returned and even with half of his jaw missing was still the best player on the ice when he was out there. The Isles have a good team, though, and since they can do some scoring, they’ll likely be a team to watch for years to come. They’re just not quite there yet. The Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury’s problems in net notwithstanding, very much are.
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
Prediction: Canadiens in 6
Actual Result: Senators in 5
In playoff hockey, the tougher team tends to win, and that’s what happened in this series. The Senators dominated, the Canadiens fought back with cheap shots, and instead of complaining to the referees the Senators policed the game themselves with two full line brawls where each member of the Ottawa team handed his Montreal counterpart his lunch. Montreal wrote some checks with their mouths that their bodies could not cash, and other cliches. Thus, O-Ottawa moves on and it’s yet another year without a new banner in Montreal.
(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers
Prediction: Capitals in 5
Actual Result: Rangers in 7
Another year, another Capitals flameout, and more Ovechkin excuses. They just didn’t play well, especially on the road, and the Rangers deserved to win, despite what Ovi and other Caps are saying about the officiating. The officiating wasn’t one-sided, it was just bad . . . sort of like the Capitals in the final game.
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
Prediction: Bruins in 6
Actual Result: Bruins in 7
This had all the hallmarks of another epic collapse for the Bruins, letting the Leafs back into it after going up 3-1 in the series, then trailing by three goals with just ten minutes left in the third period of the deciding game. Instead, the Leafs were the team that collapsed, and Boston gets to move on.
Eastern Conference Average Grade: B-
Overall Average Grade: C+
Round 2 Predictions – Western Conference
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
Though the Blackhawks have been the better team over the last few years, the Red Wings have long been the dominant team in the Central Division, with the Blues and Blackhawks alternating places as the division’s also-rans. Now that the Hawks are definitely better, it still seems like they’d probably rather have faced the Sharks or Kings in the second round, instead of their old nemesis. That being said, the Hawks really are the better team, and should take this one—they’re deeper, they have a roster full of recent Cup winners, and they have the home ice advantage.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
(5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Hockey dominance in the Golden State has long been the Sharks’ domain, but now the Kings are the defending Cup champions and the Sharks are the underdogs. When Cup series have evenly matched teams, it’s best to go with the hot hand in net, which, once again this year, is Jonathan Quick.
Prediction: Kings in 6
Round 2 Predictions – Eastern Conference
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers
An original six rivalry between two cities who the media loves to have play one another. I for one can’t wait to not watch this!
Prediction: Rangers in 7
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
The Penguins and Senators do not like each other much, and the Senators proved they can hold their own in a violent series by completely dominating the Montreal Canadiens physically. I’d like to see Daniel Alfredsson get a Cup finally, but the Penguins look mighty tough, especially after the change to Tomas Vokoun in net.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
Onwards we go, marching toward the Cup finals. Ratings are up this year—we all know the lockout hurt NHL business; what my article presupposes is, maybe it didn’t? Wildcat . . .
I’m just gonna go.