There’s no question that the NHL Playoffs are the greatest part of every season. An easy argument could be made that the postseason tournament is the best amongst the four major sports. The series format, structure and seeding are nearly perfect with the change back to the divisional format this season.
While there isn’t a thing I’d change about the playoffs in their current form, I’ve wondered recently about an adjustment to the series structure. The idea shuffles the order in which the games are played to not only add value to home ice advantage, but to give the higher seed an extra opportunity to clinch a series on home ice.
The NHL model, as it stands now follows a 2-2-1-1-1 format with the home team hosting games one, two, five and seven. It is far superior to the NBA’s awful, horrible, no good 2-3-2 order that sees the higher seed forced to the road for three straight games. The system that I’m proposing would see the lower seed host the first two games while giving the higher seed four of the final five games. Continue reading
For the third-straight season I rolled up six out of eight correct playoff series predictions in the first round. I fully expect to almost completely whiff on my second round predictions for the third-straight season.
While I swung and missed on my Cup Finals prediction, I managed to guess most of the second round participants and I’ll now provide my predictions for the second round series.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators
This will be a very interesting series to follow. The main storyline is the Penguins struggles in net but this will really come down to Pittsburgh’s firepower matching up against Craig Anderson and Ottawa’s ability to defend. Pittsburgh has a deep offensive lineup that would create ugly matchup choices for an All Star team, let alone the seventh seed in the playoffs. If Paul MacLean can work his magic and Anderson stays hot, this will be a long series.
Why Pittsburgh will win: Firepower is the name of the game for the Penguins. They outscored their way to the second round with little more than average goaltending supporting their back legs. This is an offensive juggernaut which also has a pair of bottom six lines capable of mixing offense and defense quite nicely. Goaltending will obviously be an issue and the hot button issue until Tomas Vokoun proves he can carry this team.
Why Ottawa will win: The Senators have continuously proven that they’re capable of overcoming and they did a fine job of that all year. They certainly weren’t overmatched by the Canadiens but I feel they will be in many ways during this series. However, if they can find offensive success they should have little issue being very competitive against this team
Outcome: Penguins in six Continue reading
Marc-Andre Fleury or Tomas Vokoun. That’s the decision that Dan Bylsma has to make before tomorrow’s game one against Ottawa. This is a vitally important choice, but it may not be as difficult as some are indicating.
The Penguins sat through two-straight first round exits in which Marc-Andre Fleury just wasn’t good enough for them (particularly last year). Their first round series with the Islanders was heading off the tracks before Vokoun was inserted and notched a pair of wins that sent the Penguins into the second round. However, Fleury is Pittsburgh’s five million dollar man while Vokoun is the emergency chute signed last summer as insurance for the Pens’ Cup winning netminder.
This year’s flame out marked the third-straight first round series in which Fleury’s save percentage didn’t rise above .900. It also gives Fleury 57 goals against (on 453 shots) over just 17 games these past three years. Vokoun has only played a pair of games behind the Penguins this post season but the solution for Blysma should be simple; play the hot hand.
When it comes to goaltending the key is playing the goalie who gives your team the best opportunity to win. As of right now, Fleury is not that player for the Penguins. Some debate will proceed over what a prolonged benching will do for his psyche but I wouldn’t be concerned with that currently. This is a team that served up a hefty ransom to obtain a trio of deadline pieces that would elevate them to a Cup Finals appearance. If Vokoun gives this cast the best opportunity to win then it shouldn’t matter who he’s replacing. Continue reading
With the West taken care of I now move along to the Eastern Conference and who will earn the right to play the Penguins in the Conference finals. I don’t necessarily think that the Penguins are guaranteed to cruise to the Cup, but I certainly think they’re one of the easiest choices as a favorite.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #8 New York Islanders
All the shuffling at the bottom of the standings found the Isles in eighth when the dust settled and they’re not heading to Pittsburgh for the first round series. The Isles get a raw deal here as they were a few wins away from a much more favorable seed.
Why Pittsburgh will win: You could basically go back and read the reasons for the Blackhawks if you want. They’re first powerplay unit is straight out of an All-Star game: Iginla and Letang on the point with Malkin, Crosby and Neal. That’s insane. This is not a team I’d want to play for seven games.
Why New York will win: The Isles have gotten strong goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov this season and certainly have a few horses that can run with the Penguins. They may not enough horses, but there is some talent on this roster.
Outcome: Penguins in 5 Continue reading
I may never recapture the magic of the 2012 2ITB Playoff Predictions. Specifically, the magic of my 5-for-8 first round in which the Blues, Penguins and Bruins fell as teams I chose to advance. Regardless of that fact I will offer my thoughts on each round of the playoffs just as I have in previous years. Beginning with the Western Conference.
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #8 Minnesota Wild
Minnesota snuck in just ahead of #Lumbus for the eighth spot in the west and their prize is to face the Presidents Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks. Congratulations. Minnesota has a nice little roster and can certainly give teams fits, especially if their guns start firing. However Chicago is about three players short of being an All-Star team and have a pretty impressive makeup for a long playoff run.
Why Chicago will win: Depth and talent. Simply put the Blackhawks have one of the most impressive rosters I’ve seen this side of my NHL 99 team that had Steve Yzerman playing in a third line role. When you have players like Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on your second line, you have a very impressive roster. There is a reason the Hawks rattled off that “unbeaten” streak earlier in the year. Their fans just have to hope that magic is still in the room.
Why Minnesota will win: The Wild, on paper, have the edge in goal. I think there could be some contention in Chicago over whether Ray Emery or Corey Crawford should start (especially if one of them falters). Nik Backstrom is a great keeper and could definitely give the Hawks headaches if he stands on his head. Minnesota will need to avoid certain matchups to fully take advantage of the talent they have as compared to the near limitless depth of the Blackhawks. Continue reading
With the Stanley Cup Final poised to begin this weekend, I’ll take one final stab at prognosticating who may win the final series of the 2011-12 NHL season. I suffered through an up-and-down run of picking this year’s series and stand at 5-8 entering the Finals.
This year pits a pair of unexpected opponents as neither entered the playoffs as a sexy pick to be playing for the Cup. While the Kings have been an annual choice for pre-season success, they had an underwhelming regular season and nosed their way into the playoffs. The Devils were quiet for most of the year and are just now getting fully healthy. While their aging goaltender was average in the regular season, he has been stellar in the playoffs.
Somewhat ironically, the Devils enter this series as the more potent scoring team as the Kings were the team whose blanketing defense helped them through the regular season. However, Los Angeles has played David to the NHL’s Goliath this spring, knocking off the top three seeds out west thanks to terrific goaltending and a recent injection of offense.
This may serve to be a very entertaining Cup Final, and has the potential to make a major impact on the national sports scene with LA as part of the series. While the NHL and NBC didn’t get their silver platter matchup of the Rangers and Kings, the Devils seem to be slowly reminding people in the tri-state area that hockey is indeed a serious sport. Continue reading
For the ninth episode of The Instigator, Eric and I talk about the first round of the NHL playoffs, parity and non-traditional hockey markets. Of course, we also play plus/minus.
Thought, comments and criticism is welcome here, there or on Twitter. Find us: @3rdmanin @2ITB_Buffalo