But I’m afraid he/she sure does to a large extent with hockey. My favorite time of the year begins later today and below are some thoughts/predictions. I preface everything with the caveat that individual hockey games, and to a lesser extent individual series, are determined in no small part by the various manifestations of luck, ranging from injuries to bad calls to plain old the puck was bouncing all funny (there are some very complicated mathematical models out there which try to pinpoint just how much luck plays a role in hockey outcomes, and I won’t even link to them let alone try to engage in discussion; suffice it to say, it’s a crazy game). So with the understanding that any of these matchups could easily go the other way, this is how it should all play out.
Boston Bruins (1) vs. Montreal Canadians (8) – the Bruins have basically rolled through the East from beginning to end of the season while the Canadians’ much ballyhooed centennial season had plenty if not everything go wrong – a multitude of injuries to key players, allegations of players partying too much, a star-player told to leave the team for a little while, a fired coach, and the reporting of a vague connection between certain player and local mafia elements. Nonetheless, this is as fierce a rivalry in the history of the sport and I expect it to be close. The Bruins, as dominant as they’ve been and as deep as they are, they’ve relied on a fair amount on smoke and mirrors as they’ve actually been outshot by their opponents at even-strength, though I guess Tim Thomas in net makes up for some of that. But they’re relatively healthy, and while Montreal still has some firepower up front – and Kovalev always raises his game in the playoffs – they’re missing Markov on the back end at least to start and just don’t have the dept up front or on D right now to handle the big, bad Bruins. The only bad part of the onset of the playoffs is that the regional telecasts will soon give way to Versus and NBC and we won't get to hear the maniacal laughing and blatant homering of Jack Edward much longer. Boston in 6.
Washington Capitals (2) vs. New York Rangers (7) – my current team against my most recent team. The Capitals dominated the Rangers this season – certain stretches of play were particularly lopsided – but NY is a different team now with a different coach and some important personnel additions. Lundqvist is probably the biggest threat as he can steal a game or two by himself, but all that said, I’m not all that worried. If the Caps play as they’ve had for the most of the season, this one shouldn’t be all that close. Washington in 5 (or 6).
New Jersey Devils (3) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6) – Both teams have good even-strength shot differentials and are a bit mediocre on the PP (though NJ gets shots to the net on the PP but without converting those chances, as you’d probably expect given their limited skill). That said, Carolina has gone on an insane hot-streak towards the end of the year, one that I’m hesitant to attribute to the normal ups and downs of a season because it coincides with a coaching change and an important roster addition (Erik Cole). And plus, I really hate the Devils, the state of New Jersey, Devils’ fans, and the state of New Jersey’s fans. Carolina in 7.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5) – Each of these teams have the ability to go into a deep playoff run. I think Philadelphia is certainly deeper up front and on the back end and probably better overall, but the Penguins have played great under their new coach, and they have a pair of once-in-a-generation players in Malkin and Crosby on their team, and those are the dudes that usually have more to give in the playoffs. It’s probably a toss-up, but I’ll go with Philadelphia in 7.
San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8) – San Jose has been dominant all year, though they struggle a bit late. I actually think the Ducks could give them a bit of a tough time here as they’re physical and deep if not as spectacular as they once were on D. But they’re essentially a one line team and Todd McLellan is too good a coach to not figure out how to stop them. San Jose in 5.
Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7) – Detroit is the best team in hockey by far and if they had received in decent goaltending over the season they would have ran away with the President’s trophy. The Blue Jackets are actually a good team and they’re going to be even better next year. But it would take heroic effort s on the part of Steve Mason in net and some of the key younger, playoff-inexperienced players (Nash, Russell, Voracek, Brassard), as well as a monumental goaltending collapse at the other end, to pull off the upset. Red Wings in 5.
Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. St. Louis Blues (6) – phenomenal effort to the get into the playoffs by a Blues team that suffered some very severe injuries to important players early on in the season and were certainly written off, by me at least, a few months ago. They’re playing great hockey and they’re for real I think, but it’ll take a game or two for young players like Berglund, Oshie, Perron, Boyes, and Polak to adjust to the speed and intensity of the second season, and that’ll be too much ground to get back against a Vancouver team that is absolutely built for the playoffs. Vancouver in 6.
Chicago Black Hawks (4) vs. Calgary Flames (5) – youth and skill vs. experience and grit would be the general and non-nuanced narrative of an American sports channel’s TV producer trying to create a plot line for the series rather than let the beauty and drama of the games themselves play out. I’ll go with my head over my heart. Calgary in 7.