SKATE OR DIE… Round 2 of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

The turnaround on round 2 of the NHL playoffs is much quicker than I had anticipated. Suddenly, the second wave of match ups are here. No need to delay; let’s get straight to the mash.
Western Conference Semis
#5 Nashville Predators vs. #1 Vancouver Canucks
The first thing that jumps out at me in this matchup is a matter of emotional peaks. Teams hoping for deep postseason runs have to manage this phenomenon to keep a consistent edge for upwards of a month in order to win out. The question is how much of an effect does hitting such a high emotional peak have on the Canucks, several players of which have commented that winning their 1st round match up with their nemesis Blackhawks in OT of game 7 was more exhilarating than the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal. Really? That’s not a good sign because there’s still a lot of hockey to be played. The ‘nucks struggled mightily on defense but that had a lot to do with a talented offensive corps for Chicago … something that Nashville does not particularly boast. They are defensively solid and have an excellent backstop but do not have the same scoring punch as Vancouver ’s first round opponent. I don’t think peaking so early emotionally is a good sign for the Canucks but its effects are not likely to be felt until the next round when they suit up against the winner of Detroit/San Jose.
For now, the Canucks will outskate, outscore and outlast the Preds in a little less time than it took them to be rid of their playoff monkey, Chicago . Look for Luongo to return to form against a soft offensive attack.
Canucks in 6
#3 Detroit Redwings vs. #2 San Jose Sharks
Ah yes. This playoff match up has been a favorite of mine since the mid 90s when a couple of upstart #8 Sharks teams made my life miserable as a young Redwings fan. A little back story for those who haven’t known me forever and know this already: I fell in love with hockey before the Sharks franchise came into being and at a time when Steve Yzerman (to this day, my favorite athlete of any sport ever) dominated the league with numbers matched only by the likes of Gretzky and Lemieux. The Redwings back then were known as the Dead Things but it didn’t matter because Stevie Y was awesome. Eventually, when the Sharks came into existence, there was a natural conflict of interest. On one hand, I was already a Redwings fan for several years and they were turning things around with stellar drafts of Lidstrom and Federov to complement Yzerman. The Sharks on the other hand sucked so, so terribly with the likes of Kelly Kisio and Pat Falloon (remember those guys? Hehe). I developed a slight disdain for the Sharks. That disdain turned into disgust when the Sharks started to get a little better, sneak into the playoffs and then knock off the top seeded Redwings. That passion remains for me to this day.
So what of this specific match up. Well, the main thing to note here is that the Wings are considerably more rested than they were last year when they came out of a 1st round 7 game session with the Coyotes all beat up and drained just to get suplexed by what is still a very talented Sharks team. Truth is, they’re even better this year but going up against a better rested Wings team will prove to be an entirely different test. The Sharks are going to find Detroit ’s offense a lot more challenging than LA’s injury-riddled front line with the likes of Zetterberg and Franzen coming back from injury. The Wings are the best puck possession team in the NHL and will win the series if they dominate the tempo.
This is going to be one hell of a series as these two Western Conference powerhouses love to go at it. The Sharks are looking for that corner to turn and the Wings are looking to go about business as usual. My bets (and heavily biased opinion) are on the Wings outlasting the Sharks en route to the Western Conference Finals.
Wings in 6
Eastern Conference Semis
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #1 Washington Capitals
I don’t typically like to be wrong in my predicts (I wasn’t particularly happy about the nucks surviving the ruckus comeback by the Blackhawks) but I am perfectly fine with Tampa ousting the Pens. I had selected the Penguins mostly on their championship pedigree but I overestimated the effect of the Penguins defense in making up for the loss of Crosby and Malkin. That said, I should have stuck with my boy Stevie Y in his first year as GM of the Lightning. The Lightning were surprisingly solid on defense (though that could also be just the lack of Crosby and Malkin) while their offense relatively underperformed. Took a few games for Stamkos to get going but a fully functional Lightning team can roll out Stamkos, Lecavalier, Gagne and St. Louis like it’s nobody’s business. They’ll need them to all play extremely well to beat a Capitals team that is far more defensive minded and who focus on puck possession far more than they did in past years. They still have the offensive firepower they’ve always had with scorers like Ovie and Semin and company but they’re now playing with a new defensive resolve and are getting great goaltending.
So tough in fact that I think Tampa ’s run ends here when their weaknesses (generally speaking, defense and goaltending) are exposed by a very good Capitals team. I hate to pick against Stevie Y’s team again but the best team in the East is rolling straight to the Stanley Cup finals.
Caps in 6
#3 Boston Bruins vs. #2 Philadelphia Flyers
Can’t wait for this one, honestly. Incidentally, both of the series I’m most excited for are the 3v2 tilts with this one being maybe even a more difficult call than the one in the West. The Bruins just completed an epic series with their heated rivals from Canada so you know they’re pumped but the same pitfall that may inflict Vancouver with emotional peaks could sink the B’s against a potentially formidable Flyers team. Only problem for the Flyers is that messy 1st round they had with Buffalo complete with Goaltender carousel, media jabbing, the loss of Jeff Carter and all in all, a disjointed, chaotic effort. But they made it out the series and now face a Bruins team that had some trouble of their own early in their series with the Habs finding it hard to score against a good defense and good goalie… and that isn’t likely to get any easier with the Flyers and their defense although another goaltender like Price will be hard to find, especially with the circus they have in goal in Philly.
The Flyers are gonna need to get their powerplay going as they’ve been absolutely awful on special teams which is uncharacteristic for them. Getting Pronger back should help that out a bit. I expect the Bruins to outlast Philly here. I don’t know if the goaltender situation for the Flyers is going to hold especially if the 1st round triumph over Les Canadiens sparks the B’s into inspired play. I’m going with a long, arduous series but
Bruins in 7

dig it

Hardwood Faceplant (NBA Playoff 1st Round Predictions)

The 2011 NBA playoffs tip off soon. On the heels of my wildly popular [/sarcasm] NHL playoff predictions, I’m continuing this unprecedented use of my crystal ball, once again managing to, through pretense, predict what is gonna go down and HOW.
Dig it.
#8 Indiana Pacers vs. #1 Chicago Bulls
The Pacers come into this as fairly heavy underdogs. While it is really nice to see the Pacers get it together down the stretch and get in the postseason with an exciting young team, the Bulls have been one of the best 2nd half stories this season with Rose stalking the inside track on MVP. The combination of Boozer and Noah (even in limited action this round) up front will give the Pacers (and whoever comes next, honestly) lots of trouble and the slew of scorers surrounding Rose are capable of putting up points when Rose attracts multiple defenders (which he will).
I was tempted to give the Pacers a game but this is most likely over in four. Bulls will move forward with relative ease.
Bulls in 4
#7 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #2 Miami Heat
The Sixers have been pretty good since starting the season off sluggishly and out of sync. However, the way the Heat have closed out the season, it doesn’t look promising for what should be a good Sixers team in upcoming seasons if they keep the core together. Right now, the Heat are getting contributions from the “other guys” making the work that Wade and LeBron do that much more infuriating for opponents. The Sixers might not even take one game in this one, either unless they are able to minimize Bibby and Miller and Chalmers and force the entire offense to go through only Lebron and D Wade. As for Bosh, this series gives him time to get back into the flow without needing him in order to advance. A very critical postseason “tuneup” for South Beach .
This should be a four or five game series at longest.
Heat in 5
#6 New York Knicks vs. #3 Boston Celtics
Things are not going well for Boston . I believe that a sports city that truly embraces its teams as a part of its culture has a dynamic relationship with its multiple teams. In other words, the Red Sox suck and right now, so do the Celtics who are struggling to resemble the team that early on in the season looked like a favorite to reach the finals. Since then, Perkins was shipped to the Western Conference, the guys they got in return haven’t really adjusted to the system, the Bulls have put together an impressive 2nd half of the season and now even the Heat have overtaken them for the 2 spot. Suddenly, a first round matchup with a New York team that would love to bounce a Boston team looks like it might be a challenge. The key to the C’s after the Perk trade was that their aging bigs, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal, would pick up the slack down low. As recent weeks would suggest, that plan isn’t working. Ray Allen isn’t getting looks and Pierce and Rondo are not finding much space in the paint to slash and operate. The Knicks on the other hand are finally getting some chemistry together between the new pieces and if Melo, Amar’e and Chauncey can play big, I wouldn’t count them out of anything.
Still, the Celtics are championship pedigree and Doc Rivers knows how to manage his studs, old and young. When all is said and done, the C’s are moving on to the next round.
Celtics in 6
#5 Atlanta Hawks vs. #4 Orlando Magic
There is not much that Al Horford and/or Josh Smith can do to slow down Dwight Howard except maybe foul him, harass him and if they can frustrate him enough to get him out of his game, they can maybe turn him into an overachieving Clark Kent. Otherwise, Superman is going to dominate inside and allow for the rest of the crew to rain jump shots from everywhere on the court. The Hawks just don’t resemble the team that no more than a couple of years ago looked like they had a bright future… now they’re looking like the wrong mix of pieces. They’re in the five spot and can score some points but so can the Magic who could still make a run at the conference championship if they pull the right matchups.
That run will start with an easy five game series against the mismatched Hawks
Magic in 5
#8 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #1 San Antonio Spurs
If there was a bad 1st round matchup for the top seeded Spurs, this is the one. They’ve historically had trouble with the Grizz, they were stumbling down the stretch since a torrid start and they may have lost Manu for a game or two if the hyperextended elbow needs some rest. Need more proof that the Grizz are in the perfect spot to pull a monumental upset? They rested their starters for the past handful of games as if to secure their position and their matchup. I’ve always felt that Zach Randolph was underrated and not given nearly as much credit as other double double grabbin big men in the league. However, Randolph swooped up 12 boards a game while leading a balanced offensive attack that includes Gay, Gasol, Mayo and Conley with 20 points a game. The Spurs will really need Manu’s points as he was their best offensive player in nearly every category.
If the Grizzlies can earn a split in San Antonio , they’re on the inside track to win the series. Oh snap son! I’m feelin’ bold! Hold me back!
Grizzlies in 7
#7 New Orleans Hornets vs. #2 Los Angeles Lakers
Unlike the Spurs, the Lakers were able to avoid their trap matchup. Instead of squaring off against the Blazers, the Lakers turned to Kobe to get ridonkulous at the end of regulation against the Kings and then handled them in the OT period to ensure they’d get the Hornets instead of a Blazers team that could give them trouble in the 1st round. The Hornets back into this series without David West, with only CP3 and with the risk of igniting a dormant giant. Bynum should be ready for the series as it turns out his hyperextended knee isn’t all bad but it would not behoove the Lakers, if they find the going easy in the speak easy, to rest Bynum a bit for the next round.
The Lakers should easily handle the Hornets.
Lakers in 4
#6 Portland Trailblazers vs. #3 Dallas Mavericks
This is going to be an exciting series. The Mavs and Blazers split four meetings this year never more than by eight points and I don’t think this 1st round matchup will really be any different. The Mavs are an elite finesse team that, when playing a fast paced, jump shooting contest, can win on any night with scorers like Dirk and Terry. The Mavs, though, don’t rebound well and don’t play defense particularly well either and that combo can spell trouble against a team that is also balanced on the offensive attack and is considerably better on the boards especially now with the addition of Gerald Wallace. If Brandon Royresembles his old self at ALL, the Blazers will be far more than just a tough out for the Mavs; they can make a serious run at the Western Conference title.
I watched the game between the Mavs and Lakers when Terry, Blake and eventually Matt Barnes all got chippy and kicked off the court. The outlook on the Mavericks, at least for me, since then has not been particularly optimistic.
Blazers in 6
#5 Denver Nuggets vs. #4 Oklahoma City Thunder
Great series. Best of the 1st round, in my opinion; it’ll certainly be the most entertaining as almost everything else (with the exception of my bold Grizzlies pick) is a predictable lock. Most would not have thought so before hand but the Nuggets are a much better basketball team without Carmelo Anthony. In fact, I’d have to say that Melo’s departure did wonders on JR Smith’s maturity and it is clear that the responsibility has focused his game to the point the Nuggets come into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the West. There is a balanced attack, tough gritty play in the paint and much more activity defensively. Melo who? However, as sexy a pick as the Nuggets would be in this scenario, the fact that they face the Thunder makes a Nuggets upset much harder to get behind. Truthfully, I think that he Thunder, outside of the Lakers of course, are the favorite to go to the Finals and will dominate the Nuggets down low. Durant is the second best player in the Western Conference field and Westbrook has elevated himself to elite point guard status. The addition of Perkins cannot be overstated; his presence instantly gives the Thunder the best big man combo (Perk and Ibaka) outside of a healthy Bynum and motivated Gasol. And that isn’t to mention the slew of excellent role players that litter this roster.
There’ll be plenty of fireworks in this series. There may be stretches early on in the series where there may be a little doubt but when all is said and done, it’ll be the Thunder that are moving on.
Thunder in 6
And there you have it. The 1st round is always the easiest to call. Next round is where the real work begins as actual personnel matchups start to matter a lot more. But for now, enjoy my brilliance (rofl lulz) and let me know what you think!

Center ice, son

When you’ve been away from something for a long time, you tend to approach it again with a certain apprehension that perhaps, unlike a bicycle, it’s not as easy to ride again. Writing is really no different. Or at least I think so as I’m sitting here with the proverbial writer’s block towering above me like a slab of stone worthy of a Giza pyramid.
That’s when jumping right in and writing whatever comes to mind becomes the clearest solution.
A lot has happened in the sports world since I last signed off, early in the last NFL season (including the litigious wake of a collective bargaining agreement that turns out is as elusive as the fountain of youth and that has already resulted in a lockout and a decertification of the players’ union… but that’s for another time). 
I’ve grown restless and my fingers hurt. And what better way to knock off the rust than with my trusty (dusty) playoff prognosticator?
The NBA playoffs are around the corner but first things first; the NHL playoffs are set to tee off tomorrow. This is usually around the time the whole thing is usually knocked onto its head. And I’m here to tell you how!
Western Conference
#8 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #1 Vancouver Canucks
At first glance, a non-discerning eye won’t notice how much of a trap matchup this is for the top seed. The Hawks barely snuck in, needing a flustering meltdown by the Dallas Stars to qualify. On the other hand, the Canucks are practically wire to wire finishers with a meaty 117 point season.
Despite Vancouver’s regular season success, the Blackhawks have something the Canucks lack and that is the swagger of experience especially being the defending champs. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to say that the Hawks are likely to come out of this round after a gruesome full tilt 6-gamer or 7-gamer… bruised and lacerated.  Remember also that it was these same Blackhawks that ousted the Canucks the last two seasons as well so while one can see the proverbial monkey on the back being possibly removed this spring, one can also see how the Canucks can fold under the psychological pressure that the defending champs will certainly bring.
The Blackhawks have a very balanced offensive attack with a lot of its firepower coming from the point but with enough big, talented bodies down around the crease to give even a goalie of Roberto Luongo’s caliber a little bit of trouble. Goaltending is a concern for Chicago again (unless Crawford pulls a Niemi) as well as overall defense (another area that Vancouver is vastly superior) but I give a bold edge to the defending champs to pull the 1st round 8 over 1 upset. 
Blackhawks in 7
#7 Los Angeles Kings vs. #2 San Jose Sharks
A good ol’ Pacific division rivalry in the 1st round and were it not for the laundry list of injuries on the front end for LA, I’d call another long shot upset. The Sharks are too good offensively, have a suddenly very effective Antii Niemi (guess last postseason wasn’t a fluke huh?) and if they get on the power play, goodnight.
The Kings are a team on the rise and, with a full cast, are exciting to watch but being a defensive team with injuries up front is too inviting for a turtle effect and especially against a team like the Sharks that led the league in shots per game, that also spells for long, long games for Jonathan Quick and company.
The Kings are tough as nails on the blue line, have great goaltending and will give the Sharks and their big three, Marleau, Thornton and Heatley all they can handle but one has to wonder how long you can hang in a 7 game series relying only on timely scoring and out of this world defense.
Sharks in 5
#6 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #3 Detroit Redwings
The Wings and Coyotes teed up for one hell of a series last year, one so taxing and intense that it all but drained the Wings going into their matchup with the Sharks that they eventually would lose.
The current loss of Zetterberg can complicate things for the Wings offensively but only in terms of puck possession; there are enough scorers on every line that getting goals from other sources such as Bertuzzi, Holmstrom or Cleary shouldn’t be a problem. However, the Wings live and die with their ability to possess and control the puck throughout a contest. If they do this, they win.
This is not to discredit or devalue the Yotes. After all, they have a hot goalie in Bryz and a consistent, albeit star-less attack on offense and a serviceable defense and took these same Wings to the brink last year before being bounced 6-1 in the final contest. They are a mediocre team on paper but their homogeneity make them deceptively so; they are actually quite active and with consistent play from leaders such as Vrbata and Yandle, they can steal one.
That said, the Wings are too veteran savvy and have playoff monster performers such as Franzen who can go off for bunches-o-goals. Howard has been much better than he gets credit for and Lidstrom might play until he’s 80. Wings should be able to survive the first round and get Zetterberg in time for round 2 which would spell trouble for the rest of the Western Conference field. [/bias]
Wings in 6
#5 Nashville Predators vs. #4 Anaheim Ducks
Offense over defense? The Ducks and Preds couldn’t possibly be more different. The Ducks will skate and score, the Preds will hunker down and grind out defensive clinics. Who will win?
The Ducks come in with the league’s top scorer in Corey Perry who had a monster 2nd half and comes into the playoffs as hot as any other pure scorer in the NHL. The Ducks offense doesn’t stop there, of course,with the likes of Ryan, Getzlaf and Selanne but past that is a roster full of hard checking grinders and middle of the pack defenders.
The Preds may not have the scoring but they have gritty, tough defenders like Weber and Suter and possibly one of the top netminders in the world in Pekka Rinne.
Look for the Ducks to try and jump on the Preds early and keep them and their unintimidating offense at bay. If the Preds can consistently get early leads, they’ll be the team to move forward. I don’t see them having enough firepower to outlast Anaheim unless Pekka Rinne can get hot and steal one. With home ice in the OC, count the Ducks moving forward.
Ducks in 6
Eastern Conference
#8 New York Rangers vs. #1 Washington Capitals
You know what’s scary for the Caps? The last three meetings between these two have resulted in a 15-1 goals edge for the Rangers. That doesn’t bode well for a team that has great scoring (albeit not as elite as it was a year ago) but shaky, questionable, platoon goaltending.
That said, the Rangers really don’t have much punch and at least not enough to make a deep run in the playoffs or even this round. They’re missing Ryan Callahan, have a not so 100% Marian Gaborik (then again when is he ever) and a slew of role scorers who will try to match goals with the likes of Ovie, Semin and Backstrom. The Rangers are a defensive team with young studs like Staal and Girardi on the blue line who will have to play out of their heads to keep the Caps off the score sheet. And of course there’s Lundqvist and he’s as good as it gets between the pipes.
The Caps were stunned pretty hard by the Habs last year but that team was vibing at the right time and took their Cinderella run all the way until midnight struck in Philly. I don’t see the Rangers with a similar run or a similar vibe making it, as tempting as it is, difficult to call them for the upset here. The Caps should be able to get out of this round without too much incident.
Capitals in 6
#7 Buffalo Sabres vs. #2 Philadelphia Flyers
Well, here are two teams doing two totally different things right now. The Sabres are winning games pretty frequently and the Flyers are bumbling down the stretch playing .500 hockey. So what to make of it?
The Flyers have much to be optimistic about regardless of the last several weeks of their season. After all, they have nearly a dozen capable scorers (and by capable we mean very good) and possibly the best defense in the Eastern Conference playoff field. Their real questions lie between the pipes (again) with no clear cut netminder and no really comforting or encouraging option. They’ve struggled to win games as of late due to shoddy overall play but come playoff time, I’m not counting against them to make another deep run if not repeat as Eastern champs.
The Sabres have looked really good the second half of the season and of course have maybe the best goaltender in the world playing at the top of his game. They lack elite scoring punch but play balanced, consistent hockey. They don’t really need much if Miller plays insanely well; enough offense out of the likes of Vanek and Stafford can get them out of the 1st round with a monumental upset.
But my money is on Philly to roll. Danny Briere is a Sabre killer and there are just too many weapons on this team for it to stay dormant for four games out of seven. Unless of course the goaltending is awful and then it doesn’t really matter. This will be a great series in my estimation and might go the distance but
Flyers in 6
#6 Montreal Canadiens vs. #3 Boston Bruins
Oh yippee dee! We have ourselves a Habs/Bruins matchup! Boy, they don’t get any chippier than this. Welcome back to Original Six facesmashing, folks, it’s gonna be fun. What’s not to like about two teams as old as time beating each other up because they quite frankly despise their opponents, their logo and everything it stands for?
More importantly, are you going to tell me that the massive WWE meltdown earlier this year between these two teams and the ensuing retaliations are not going to pepper this 1st round with all sorts of pleasantries? It’ll be fun to watch but honestly, that’s where the intrigue stops.
The Canadiens don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Bruins (or anybody else) on the scoreboard and their defense is broken with injuries. Carey Price is pretty good in goal but Tim Thomas across the pond is even better. The way these two stack up, the games will be entertaining and violent but the results will be one sided. And Zdeno Chara. Enuff said?
Of course, the Habs can pull a 2010 with Cammalleri and co. playing out of their heads but I just don’t see Cindy #2 happening any time soon. But watch this stuff anyway cuz it might get bloody!
Bruins in 5
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #4 Tampa Bay Lightning
This not being quite the Penguins team that dominated the Eastern Conference for the past couple of years and certainly not as explosive without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, they may surprise with their defense, perhaps tops in the conference. Conversely, the Lightning can light up the scoreboard but, sadly, also have a knack for letting their opponents do the same.
This will be an interesting series to watch in that it’s entirely possible that the Penguins’ playoff savvy shore up the gaps in their scoring with their two best scorers unavailable indefinitely. The Penguins can win a series if it comes down to intangibles and special teams although if their defense is unable to slow down Tampa’s scorers, it won’t really matter at all when they can’t keep up.
Still, the edge has to go to a team that has been a dominant force in the East for the last several years to make it work some way.
Penguins in 5
alright that’s it for now. not a bad start. let’s see how we do
see ya soon!