Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Playoff Predictions

I wasn't planning on doing this, but urged on by one Jeremy "Father" Brown to at least address the upcoming NHL playoffs here in some way -- I'd much rather talk about how completely, utterly, and criminally insane it was for Chelsea to start the morbidly ineffectual and ineffective Fernando Torres over the consistently dangerous Didier Drogba in yesterday Champions League quarterfinal match against Manchester United -- I'll offer some first round predictions. The important caveat is that each and every one of these could turn out wrong. The largest relative discrepancy in team ability in any of the first round matchups is probably the Washington-New York series and it's probably only around 55% to 45%. That means that some combination of puck luck, officiating, and injuries will likely have more to do with who wins even the most unevenly matched playoff series. If we were to roll a 9-sided die 7 times, the evens would still win that series some of the time over the odds. Nevertheless, here we go:

Washington (1) over New York (8) in 5 - Lundqvist could win this series more or less by himself, and he may have to. But it's a bit hard for me to see Washington being a victim of the hockey gods in that way for the second year in a row. Their penalty killing, defense, and goaltending is too good (the important goalie save metrics are sv% and particularly even strength sv%, and they fairly clearly tell us Varlamov's a better goalie than Nuevirth; I do like Nuevirth, however, and think he'll do fine) to give up too many goals to a somewhat anemic Rangers offense (which is further hurt by Callahan's injury). And the Caps should eventually, though it may not be pretty, score enough goals to advance. I think the games will all be tight and special teams will play a huge role. I guess I could say that about every series though.

Philadelphia (2) over Buffalo (7) in 6 - Lot of people are picking the Sabres here, it seems. I don't see it. Not having Pronger hurts, obviously, but I think he'll be back at some point. I think Ryan Miller is overrated, Buffalo is not deep enough up front or on the back to get past a ridiculously deep Flyers team. Buffalo has been outrageously good down the stretch, the li'l guy Gerbe has some sick moves, but Philly has just too many weapons, and I think Bobrovsky is going to play well.

Montreal (6) over Boston (3) in 7 - I like Montreal's game and they'd certainly be much better with Markov and Gorges not injured and out for the season. Nevertheless, there's gotta be an upset in the East somewhere, and I figure Thomas' magical ride has to end at some point. Boston is a good team, though, and I could see them going very far. Puck luck, officiating, injuries favor les habs in this one.

Pittsburgh (4) over Tampa Bay (5) in 7 - While the NHL would love to market this as Crosby v. Stamkos, this is really the battle of the super coaches, Blysma v. Boucher. The Penguins' success without Crosby and Malkin is amazing and a testament to the coaching ability of Dan Bylsma. Not only will the Pens be without Crosby, it would seem, they'll also lack the penalty killing and overall effective play of one Matthew Cooke, who has in media and player circles become known simply as "the greatest monster of all time." Tough but fair, I guess. It don't matter, the Pens are too deep, and outside of Martin St. Louis, the Lighting are mostly smoke and mirrors.

Vancouver (1) over Chicago (8) in 5 - A bit of a crushing blow for the Canucks to have to face Chicago in the first round who got in on game No. 1230 of the regular season when the Stars failed to beat the Wild (Toe Blake is spinning in his grave after the mention of those team names). Chicago is probably the second or third or fourth best team in team in the Conference, and it's a bit unfair for the Presidents' trophy winner to have to face them in the first round. Chicago has the playoff experience, the swagger from beating Vancouver the last two years in the playoffs, the Patrick Kane mullet, and one of the best captains in the sport. It don't matter, the Canucks are too good with too many weapons: the Sedins cannot be contained, Edler is back and looks healthy, and Ryan Kesler is one of the best players in the NHL. Yes, that's right. A player a lot of people have never heard of, particularly on the east coast, is probably one of the best players in the NHL and certainly one of the most effective forwards. The Hawks are also missing Dave Bolland, which is a huge loss, but it probably wouldn't matter anyway, this is the Canucks' year... to lose farther along in the playoffs.

Los Angeles (7) over San Jose (2) in 6 - You'd think L.A. would have no chance without their stud forward, Anze Kopitar, who cruelly broke his ankle with a couple weeks left in the season, against the big bad Sharks who shook off some early season struggles and rounded into form in the second half. Well, hockey's a crazy mother fucking sport where weird shit like that happens all the time.

Detroit (3) over Phoenix (6) in 7 - Poor Phoenix. They go through bankruptcy hell last year to miraculously make the playoffs, and then face a suddenly healthy Red Wings team in the first round. This year they go through the collateral damage associated with a bullshit public subsidy to a rich businessman and corporate organization resembling a crime syndicate (the NHL) -- lawsuits, threatened lawsuits, protracted bond financing, and even John McCain made an appearance -- and now on literally the verge of its opening round series against, you guessed it, the vaunted Red Wings, it seems that justice has prevailed and the team will likely be moving after all. This is a surprisingly good hockey team put together on a shoe string budget and under a cloud of uncertainty. Kudos to Don Maloney and Dave Tippett. Ilya Bryzgalov, Keith Yandle, Martin Hanzal, and Lori Korpikoski are studs. It's going to be just barely not enough. Hockey's a cruel mistress.

Nashville (5) over Anaheim (4) in 7 - Nashville is essentially put together in the same way as Phoenix and they play basically the same game. One of those two poor bastards has to move on.

Should be a fun ride. The NHL playoffs: when a mediocre husband, pet owner, and associate further neglects his responsibilities.