It’s time for the annual tradition, and since Berube has already spoken it’s time for me to weigh in. I was planing to do a Scocca-like graph except that my rooting interests can pretty much be summed up by “whoever’s playing Vancouver,” a criterion that is all too likely to be relevant throughout the playoffs. Since I’m a mere political scientist and not the Grand Poobah of the American Study of Literachoor, instead of highfalutin’ literary references I will continue last year’s tradition of middlebrow 70s popular music references.
#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago Can’t you hear them knockin’? Many have got the blues for Vancouver fans after years of their team letting playoff success slide through their hands, with Roberto Luongo playing like he just had a fortnight’s sleep necessitated by visits from sister morphine, Vancouver looks about as complete as a team has in many years: the first team to be the best offensive and defensive team in the league since the Bowman-era Canadiens. That’s not to imply any kind of equivalence — we should probably wait for the Canucks to at least make the finals before we compare them to the best team ever — but their balance of offense, defense, special teams and coaching figures to be formidable. That’s not to say that it will be easy. Unlike two years ago, when the ‘Nucks drew a ludicrously overmatched Blues team with predictable results, this time they’re facing a defending champion that, while diminished, is pretty tough for an #8 seed. Offensively, the difference between the teams is trivial, and I suppose you have to worry about whether the evil playoff jitters have Luongo in their sway. And the Malholtra injury hurts. But even so defensively the teams aren’t in the same league, and I like the defensive team in the playoffs. Because of the cap the Hawk’s next championship may be a moonlight mile on down the road, and I suspect Canucks haters will need a needle and a spoon to take the pain away. CANUCKS IN 6.
#2 San Jose vs. #7 Los Angeles Fact’s a fact: after years of playoff frustration — with last year’s deeper run spoiled by humiliation at the hands of the Hawks — one can understand the destructive urges of Sharks fans, and certainly I need this very talented team to prove it. After years of ineptitude flowing by like tears, San Jose’s old GM has done a terrific job rebuilding the Kings, who have a talented young core standing underneath the marquee moon. So what’s the prediction? San Jose is still a hell of a team who did win to rounds last year. So the Kings are probably at least a year away, and without Kopitar will finally find themselves falling into the arms of Venus De Milo. SHARKS IN 5.
3. Detroit v.6. Phoenix. The Wings may be in love with the old world, but they remain (with the exception of Todd Bertuzzi who — unlike Pablo Picasso — has certainly been called an asshole) dignified and old. The offense (essentially tied with Vancouver’s) still runs 100 miles an hour, and their depth remains impressive. And, yet, I was going to pick a major upset this would be it. Lidstrom — still good at 40 — comes from a higher astral plane, but Norris talk aside he’s not nearly the player he was 2 years ago, going from +31 to -2 on teams of similar quality. (He’s had an astonishing career, but if we wins the Norris this year it’s a joke.) Phoenix are also extremely well-coached, has tremendous goaltending an is exceptionally stingy even strength. There will be a lot of close games, and it may come down to how often Detroit gets its superb PP out there. But I don’t like betting a lot on teams that are dependent of getting a lot of PP chances to score — this may be a series where the breaks finally fall for the starcrossed franchise. PHOENIX IN 7.
#4 Anaheim v. #5 Nashville Subjectively, Anaheim is a team that I would hate to play; they have enough talent to beat anybody, and they also have the toughness; if they’re going to go down your going to come with them. Interestingly, the sabermetrics see Anaheim as last year’s model, too dependent on the little triggers of their special teams to be living in paradise this year. And while the city would rather play with their toys than watch them, you have to give Nashvill more than lip service; nobody can claim that the Preds provide no action. Weber pumps shots like a fire hydrant, Rinne thiks goals are just a tumor than need to be cut out — Poile and Trotz continue to run a superb organization in dire circumstances. But something tells me that the Ducks will pump it up again; I like their front-line talent up front over Nashville’s depth in a short series, and Lydman gets my vote as the most underrated players in the NHL, and Hiller had an excellent year in his own right. I won’t be rooting for them, but my guess is that the Ducks will get at least another round of night rallies. DUCKS IN 7.
In the East, I’ll pick the Rangers, Buffalo, Boston, and Tampa Bay.