First of all, I must give credit where credit is due. Every logo you see is courtesy of Chris Creamer's Sports Logos (sportslogos.net). The template is courtesy of exceltemplates.net. The official 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs logo was taken from fangsbites.com.
So, it's that time of year again. No, not Opening Day for baseball or the NCAA March Madness or the NBA Playoffs, it's hockey time and it's time for the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. This was one of the toughest brackets I've done for hockey. Usually, I feel confident with all of my picks, but this season, I could literally make a case for any of the 16 teams winning a round. With that said, here are my picks:
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers
There's storylines heading into this series. The Rangers have battled through injuries all season and Marian Gaborik has a terrific, injury-free season. Umm, okay, maybe not, but they got lucky getting into the playoffs, as Carolina lost on home ice and blew a chance to get in. The Caps are a much more defensively-aware team, translated: they don't score like they used to. In fact, neither team was particularly strong offensively this season. The difference in this series (ugh, here we go again) will be goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist is leaps and bounds stronger than any of the Caps' young goaltenders, and he will be able to lead the Rangers past Washington. It won't be easy, but I don't think this is the season Washington gets over their playoff struggles. With that said, if the Caps get by the Rangers, they could be on their way to the Finals, but I'm not sure they will.
DGA Prediction - Rangers in 7.
#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres
I might sound hypocritical here. I just rambled on and on about goaltending, yet I am predicting the city of revolving goalies, Philly, to knock off one of the world's greatest goalies, Ryan Miller and the new-look Sabres. This isn't going to be an easy series, either, but I think the Flyers will wake up and win the series, although I'm not terribly confident in my pick here. I think the Flyers have enough depth at forward to beat the Sabres and, oh crap, is that Michael Leighton I see???
DGA Prediction - Flyers in 6.
#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens
That's odd, I sense tension between these two teams coming into the series. I'm probably wrong. I'm pretty confident with this pick, however. I don't really think the Canadiens are going to go on a long playoff run this season. I think Boston is a deeper and more talented team in every category, including in net. I would actually be surprised if Montreal wins this series, contrary to most of the other series, where any team could realistically win. The silver lining for Montreal: they won't get swept.
DGA Prediction - Bruins in 5.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Let's see, the Penguins are better defensively and probably in goal as well, but the Lightning are stronger offensively. However, it is easy to overlook two important factors: Steven Stamkos cooled off faster than a piece of burned toast sitting on an iceberg in the season's second half and apparently, the Penguins are close to getting a really, really, really good player back from injury. Hypothetically, this player could help Pittsburgh, and I believe they will win this series.
DGA Prediction - Penguins in 6.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks
I can almost guarantee you that nobody in Vancouver is singing "Chelsea Dagger" right now, and if they are, it's giving them nightmares. But have no fear, British Columbia, these Blackhawks are not the Hawks of the past two seasons, and this Canucks team is much more talented and deeper. Obviously, there could be a mental aspect of this series, but assuming the Canucks can overcome that, they'll win this series. This isn't the Canucks' year to win the Cup, but they'll make a run.
DGA Prediction - Canucks in 7.
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings
The Kings really do nothing for me in the impressive department. The Sharks, however, have quietly had a very strong season. Here's another rare series that I would be surprised if a certain team won, and I think San Jose will come out of this series, relatively easily. The Kings are not as talented, and their injuries will catch up to them and ultimately knock them out of the playoffs. I know the subject has been beaten to death, worse than baseball fans in San Fransisco (I do wish the injured in that incident all the best), but L.A. needs scoring, and it won't happen this season.
DGA Prediction - Sharks in 5.
#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes
If you're a new hockey fan, you might not be aware of the existance of a hockey team in Arizona, but trust me, there is one. They're quite strong, too. Phoenix isn't getting as much attention as they did last season, but this is still a solid team. The problem is, they're playing a much more experienced, mightier Red Wings team, and Detroit will repeat their efforts from last season's playoffs and eliminate the Coyotes again. I am fairly confident in this pick, but Detroit's inconsistencies in goal are scary.
DGA Prediction - Red Wings in 6.
#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators
The Anaheim Ducks are an exciting offensive team, and they've made a strong run into the playoffs, but they're not deep enough to beat the Predators' strong defense. Nashville's star defensemen (and maybe their star female celebrity country singer, too) will shut down the big offensive power of the Ducks. Besides, if they don't, the Finnish Giant, Pekka Rinne, will clean up their breakdowns. This isn't Anaheim's year, but next season, they'll be very strong if Teemu Selanne comes back. Cam Fowler is going to be a star defensemen. This season will be Nashville's first series win.
DGA Prediction - Predators in 6.
So, there you have it, my semi-conservative, not-too-confident playoff predictions for round one. You can see my predictions for the remainder of the playoffs in the bracket above. I think Pittsburgh will be able to claw their way to the Stanley Cup Finals, but they'll be topped by a very strong Sharks team. As I sat in the stands of the Sharks-Devils game in February, I thought to myself, this team is going to the Finals (not the Devils...), and I'm sticking with that pick.
I think Vancouver will be able to make it to the conference finals, but again, San Jose will be able to get by them. As for the East, Philly will edged by Pittsburgh in a long, tough, physical series.
So what do you think? Am I a complete idiot or is there a method to my madness? Take a minute to leave a comment and share your thoughts.