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2010-11 NHL Playoff Preview: The West

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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.

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  • richard

    You’re assuming Hiller will be in goal for the Ducks. He is still suffering from vertigo and likely won’t play in the first round. And Emery still has a lower body injury. That leaves Ellis. And although he had two good games to end the season, I don’t think he’ll be up to playoff pressure. Nashville in 6.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Ah, you’re right; bad research on my part.

  • Quicksand

    In the East, I’ll pick the Rangers, Buffalo, Boston, and Tampa Bay.

    Yikes, really?

    I’m a Western Conference partisan (Sharks, if you must know — I have the paper bag ready) but even given what little I know of the East, that sounds highly implausible.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Well, the sabermetric analyses I’ve seen have the Rangers and Sabres series as near toss-ups…

      • Dennis

        Sabremetric analyses favoring the Sabres? Hmmph. Typical.

  • jrd

    Agree on all in the West except the Phoenix-Detroit series. Small sample size, etc., but the half dozen or so times I saw the Red Wings I thought that they were the best team in the league.

    I also don’t see the Rangers beating the Caps, but I concur on the Sabres beating Philly.

  • The Judge

    If the Rangers pull the upset and bounce the Caps, that will make it four straight years they haven’t been able to get out of the first round, 2 of the last 3 against NY, and back-to-back years of losing as the #1 seed to the #8 seed.

    Mass suicide watch in DC if you’re right.

    • Corey

      The Caps won the ’09 series against NY, they lost in the 2nd round to Pittsburgh.

    • Um, the Caps came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Blueshirts in ’09 and then lost a brilliant 7-game series to the Penguins.

    • The Judge

      I would swear that Wikipedia lied to me, but the lack of edits on the pages in question would prove that wrong. Clearly I need new contacts.

  • joejoejoe

    90% of the difference statistical difference between Chicago and Vancouver is the difference between backup goaltenders, who likely won’t play in the series. My diehard Blackhawk fan friends here in Chicago have gone from morbid to overjoyed in a week by 1) making the playoffs and 2) drawing Vancouver, who they have beaten 2 years running.

    • Scott Lemieux

      That’s a really good point; 90% is an exaggeration, but you’re right that if you take out Turco’s 29 shitty games the defensive gap between the teams is less.

  • Fred

    The Wings will take the Coyotes in 5, even without Zetterberg. Bryzgalov gave up plenty of goals to the wings earlier this season. I hope to see something out of Datsyuk now that he’s back. Regardless of the outcome these should be good games.

  • CapnMidnight

    It is 100% unacceptable to call Jonathan Richman middlebrow. Classic-rock radio stations’ assimilation of Road Runner into the 150-song playlist upon which they all rely cannot take away the demented nature of the song, let alone I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar, etc.

  • Anonymous

    The NHL is still around?

    /googles

    Huh, Phoenix and two teams in Florida. Sounds stupid.

    • jrd

      Amazed that you took time commenting on a post that discusses a subject about which you apparently don’t care. If only all of us had such free time.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I dunno, jokes about teams being in the Sun Belt are pretty cutting edge material…

        • Fred

          Plenty of Canadian snowbirds get to what their favorite teams in action at a reasonable cost. The locals, that’s another story.

    • witless chum

      Anyone else think anonymous is Gary Bettman?

  • After years of ineptitude flowing by like tears, San Jose’s old GM has done a terrific job rebuilding the Kings

    I can’t resist.

    We’ve seen the last of Good King Wilson
    Ring out the past his name lives on
    Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher
    Raise up your glass to Good King Dean

    As the song says, Kings.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Turn that inept management team over again.

      • I am ashamed to say I only managed seven Steely Dan references in this comment. But I will try to do better in round two.

  • OK, let’s try that again with extra added competency with the htmlitude.

    After years of ineptitude flowing by like tears, San Jose’s old GM has done a terrific job rebuilding the Kings

    I can’t resist.

    We’ve seen the last of Good King Wilson
    Ring out the past his name lives on
    Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher
    Raise up your glass to Good King Dean

    As the song says, Kings.

  • Seitz

    After the Kings really started to get it going on their ten game road trip, I was really looking forward to this playoff year. But there aren’t too many players in the league who do more for their team than Anze Kopitar. He’s a point a game player who is also arguably among the top five defensive forwards in the league. They could weather the loss of Justin Williams (who looks like he’ll be back for the playoffs), but the loss of him and Kopitar was brutal.

    Still, he’s supposed to make a full recovery, and assuming Doughty bounces back, they have a chance to be really, really good for the next few years. It will be interesting to see what Lombardi does with the goaltending situation, and they have three defensmen in Manchester who could play for the Kings right now if there was any room. They may not be active in the free agent market, but he’ll have a lot of chips to work with this off-season. Plus, they already have Kopitar, Johnson, and Brown signed for a while, and they have the cap space to keep that core intact.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, I really like the Kings going forward. That core is dynamite if they stay healthy and Lombardi can get them a little more help.

      • Seitz

        Something else worth watching: Brayden Schenn’s Saskatoon Blades are about to be eliminated in the WHL series, clearing him to be called up for the NHL playoffs. Right now Lombardi appears to be torn, but he’s got some NHL experience. Could be a nice shot in the arm for a team struggling to score goals.

        • richard

          Didn’t know about Schenn being available. Can he be called up whenever Saskatoon is eliminated even if the NHL playoffs have started? I hope Lombardi calls him up because that kid is explosive.

          • Seitz

            They can call him up, but I’m not sure if it’s possible once the series starts, unless there’s an injury (which can always be conjured up if necessary, I guess). I’d imagine they could do it between series’ if they somehow miraculously get past the Sharks.

            And I’m right there with you. I get the Center Ice package every year because I live in Chicago, but I watch every Kings game. Grew up in Socal and have been a fan since before the Miracle on Manchester.

            • richard

              I grew up in SoCal and still live there but, like most Angelenos, didn’t follow ice hockey as a kid or young adult. My son, however, became a fanatical Kings fan during the 1992-1993 season and his passion swept me along. (He has the Kings crown logo tattoed on his back). Hoping we can take one of two in San Jose.

            • richard

              My son tells me that they can call him up before the first series starts and between series. However, since he has already played 8 games for the Kings this year and the limit is 9, calling him up would burn one year off his contract. That makes it a very hard decision.

      • richard

        The Kings look great for the next few years but Kopitar’s injury this year (adding to the offensive problems they’ve had all season) make them very unlikely to beat the Sharks. That said, it looks like Justin Williams will be back for Game One tomorrow and, as a diehard Kings fan, I will be rooting hard.

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