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NHL Playoff Preview 2016: Canada-Free Edition

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Where have you been, my blue-eyed son? It’s time. All my powers of expression, and thoughts so sublime, could never do it justice, in reason or rhyme: the NHL playoffs. I’m sure the ghosts of electricity are howling through the ghosts of your face as we speak. After going 11-4 last year and 13-2 the previous year, you can take these picks STRAIGHT TO THE BANK, just like my predictions about Republican primaries. As always, we will be favored with the Eastern Conference wisdom of celebrated author, sniper, and former Grand Poohbah of American Literatchoor Michael Berubue. One more cup of coffee for the road, and we shall go to the valley below:

#1 DAL v. WC2 MIN Admittedly, I have a vested interest in the Stars making it to the conference final. But I see a slow train coming up around the bend for Minnesota here. The Stars are one of the best even-strength possession teams in the league, while the Wild can be found with the likes of the Canucks and Blue Jackets well below average. One caveat: the Stars have impressive firepower and solid defense, but their goaltending is more frailer than the flowers. The Wild won’t have Zach Parise but they do have an excellent goaltender in Dubnyk (and how about the Oilers selling low on him, huh? They’re idiots, babe, it’s a wonder that they still know how to breathe. Please, NHL, how about we give then 5 #1 picks in 7 years! They could hire Sam Hinke and keep the chain going!) If you have better goaltending, you have a chance. Still, I’m guessing the Wild will be quickly headed back to the golf course, I do believe they will have seen enough. STARS IN 5

#2 STL v. #3 CHI The Blues are an excellent team that has been left standing in the doorway, crying, in the dark land of the early rounds because of the simple twist of fate that they happen to share a conference with two better ones. They have the Hall of Fame coach, they have excellent defense, they have the Hall of Fame-caliber coach, but they haven’t had the Towes, the Kopitar, the transcendant talent than can be the difference between the very good and the great. If Tarasenko isn’t in that class now he’s certainly very close, Brian Elliot had an excellent year, and the still-formidable Blackhawks did show some decline with their depth having thinned out a bit and an awful lot of wear on the tires. The Blues might continue to be the Show-Me State’s answer to the Sharks. But I think it will finally be time for the Windy City’s tears. BLUES IN 7.

#1. ANA v. WC1 NASH Having records that outpaced their possession for years, the Ducks overcame an unlucky start and some free agent defections and were an elite team in every respect this year. This should make for a good series with a fine Nashville team that isn’t spectacular but is solid two ways.
But I feel there will be buckets of rain over the Nashville skyline by the time Anaheim’s superior front-line talent causes the Predators to throw it all away. DUCKS IN 6.

#2 LA v. #3 SJ You know the Kings — they’ve got everything they need, they’re artists, they don’t look back. They have solid offense, great defensive talent coached by a defensive master, size, goaltending. They’re the neighborhood bully; around them the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken. And unlike Chicago, if anything they’re getting better. For San Jose’s longtime core, meanwhile, if it’s not dark yet it’s getting there. Still, Peter DeBoer has done a nice job getting a bounceback season for the Sharks. For all the postseason frustration that seems to be written in every leaf that trembles and every grain of sand, Thornton and Marleau appear forever young, and Hertl makes them devastating up the middle. Who knows — perhaps San Jose will find that they were so much older then, and they’re younger than that now, and we’ll see a changing of the guard. But given the matchup I think the groom will still be waiting at the altar. KINGS IN 6.

And, now, we turn to Michael:

Well, LGM readers, it’s time to turn that heartbeat over again. Any major dude with half a heart….

No, wait. No. Not this year. I’m not going to offer my Eastern Conference playoff picks by lacing them with Steely Dan lyrics. Not because I want to give you a break, but because you don’t deserve the effort. Year after year Scott and I comb through the catalogue of the craftiest, most convoluted, involuted, and self-indulgent songwriters in 70s rock in order to bring you the only NHL playoff predictions that tell you not only who to watch for but also to be careful what you carry, and all you do is complain. “Steely Dan sucks,” you wittily retort, because you’ve been telling me you’re a genius since you were seventeen. I was going to punish you all this year by making my first-round picks by lacing them with Billy Joel lyrics instead, but in the end I just couldn’t do it. It would hurt me far more than it would hurt you. And besides, when will you realize that Vienna waits for you? Me, I’ve got the old man’s car, I’ve got a jazz guitar, I’ve got a tab at Zanzibar….

Besides, my picks this year are determined by the fact that I got to precisely one game all year, Ducks v. Islanders in the Barclay Center, in late December when the Ducks were last in the West and Montreal was burning it up in the East. What the hell happened since then? A mess of stuff, I suspect.

(Metropolitan 1) Washington v. (Wild Card 2) Philadelphia. Feh. An annoying, perpetually underachieving team faces off against demon spawn. I suppose I should be grateful to the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn for colliding with surprisingly talented Penguins backup goalie Matt Murphy in the final game of the season and knocking him out of the lineup, but I’m not, really I’m not. As for the Caps, they will go very far someday, if and when they realize it takes four games to win a series in the new “best of seven” format. They were formidable in the regular season. Impressive, even. That will get them through round one—fairly easily. I think the only question is whether the Flyers will be reduced to pleading for God’s sake, don’t shut me out. Capitals in five.

(Atlantic 1) Florida v. (Wild Card 1) New York Islanders.I spent at least half the Islanders game wondering what it will mean for the franchise to have moved to Brooklyn. Back in the day (1972-73), building an arena in Nassau County and ensuring that mass transit could get nowhere near it was an emphatic statement: this is the burbs. This is not New York. This is the Gisland. This is O’Reilly-and-Hannity Land. We revereBilly Joel here. Whereas half the Barclay Center that night, it seemed, consisted of Rangers fans looking for cheap tickets (I got mine on StubHub below face value) and checking out the likely first-round competition. Alas, because the Isles dropped their final game (to the Flyers, an otherwise meaningless makeup-because-snowstorm game), they get the Panthers and the ageless Jaromir Jagr, 68 years old (I think?) and still a force to be reckoned with. This series could go either way, but something tells me it will go south, and who knows? The Panthers could make a real run, as they did for no discernable reason in 1996. They say the playoffs are either sadness or euphoria, and these two franchises have been all about the sadness for many years.Panthers in six.

(Metropolitan 2) Pittsburgh v. (Metropolitan 3) New York Rangers. So instead of Rangers-Isles, my boys in blue get to face the hottest team in the league, a team that just happens to have beaten the Rangers three times in March alone, a franchise that is still seething from the Rangers’ 2014 comeback from 3-1 (which derailed the Pens badly) and last year’s embarrassing five-game first-round exit. But Evgeni Malkin will not play. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is out with a concussion. Backup Murphy (see above) has been given a head injury by demon spawn. The poor Pens are frantically calling up a 20-year-old from Wilkes-Barre, Tristan Jarry, to serve as backup behind the very inexperienced Jeff Zatkoff. Tristan Jarry combines the épater-le-bourgeois rebound control of Tristan Tzara with the ubu-roi butterfly style of Alfred Jarry, which is to say that I have never heard of him. Meanwhile, two of the Rangers’ best are questionable–captain Ryan McDonagh will not start and franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been uncharacteristically erratic in recent weeks (including one memorable meltdown in Pittsburgh!). This one is going to depend on who fills their holes better, and my head tells me Pens in six. But I can’t root against my own pick and I don’t want to see the lights go out on Broadway, so Rangers in seven because reasons, and who knows, we might even see backup Antti Raanta in net at some point. Facing down the fearsome Tristan Jarry of Wilkes-Barre.

(Atlantic 2) Tampa Bay v. (Atlantic 3) Detroit. Please, if you feel the need to complain about the fact that the NHL has teams in Miami and Tampa Bay, do it on some other blog. I am just tired of that shit. It is like complaining about the new “best of seven” format. The Lightning are a good team, an exciting team. They dispatched the Red Wings last year, then the Canadiens, then the Rangers– taking that series by winning three games in Madison Square Garden, the last two by convincing 2-0 shutouts– before falling to the mighty Black Hawks. (The first team to meet four Original Six teams in one playoff year!) Meanwhile, the Red Wings have made the playoffs for the 25th straight year. Remember when the St. Louis Blues made the playoffs for 25 straight years? Yes, well, the Blues did that from 1979 to 2004, and for the first 15 years of that run, the NHL had 21 teams and a 16-team playoff, leading Dick Young to quip that if World War II had been conducted like the NHL, Poland would have made the playoffs. The Blues did not reach the finals once– and reached the conference finals only twice– in that span. Whereas the Red Wings have won four Cups and have lost in the finals twice. The point is that this is a real streak; they are always to be feared, even when Pavel Datsyuk is distracting his teammates with talk of retirement. The Blues knew this well, developing a fatal case of wingedwheelphobia in the 1990s that sucked all the strength from their limbs whenever they had to face Detroit. Still, you can linger too long in your dreams, right? Now the Wings are in the East and the Blues cannot beat the Hawks. But I will leave that to Scott, of course (Hawks in six). All I will do is wonder why Detroit is back in the East and why the East has sixteen teams to the West’s fourteen. Was this to give Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, or Vancouver a chance? Because that’s not working out so well. Lightning in six.

[SL]: I’ll take the Caps, Panthers, Red Wings, and (sorry Michael) Penguins. And now, to make up for the lack of SD references, I bring you this seminal event in the history of American music:

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