The playoff seeds are finally set and we have the Presidents' trophy winning Sharks, whom I hate. But the first round also features some intriguing matchups including the return of the Blues, who square off against the Canucks, as well as the Blackhawks, who drew the Flames. In the East, the battle of Pennsylvania continues, and there's a clash of two original 6 teams with a long history of hate, in the form of a Boston-Montreal series. So the question this time is easy and in two parts: First, what do the Ducks need to do to ruin another postseason for the Sharks, and how do you see the other playoff matches going?
The Sharks haven't lost in the Conference Quarterfinals since 2001. In fact, they've qualified for the playoffs in five of the six seasons since then, and have skated into the second round every time. Now, you can blame their recent second round exits on Ron Wilson, an exceptionally young core of talent or just bad magumbo. But Sharks management fixed two of those three things by bringing in McLellan and making the best offseason moves by a team not named the Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper, they've done what it takes. However, from playing Detroit, Anaheim is very familiar with watching the right coach and the right players not getting it done.
There is no statistical key to the first round upset. It happens because the top seed can't survive the series, the lower seed rides a dominant goaltender or because the lower seed just happens to be better on four of those seven nights. And it would be foolish of me to bring in statistics when this Ducks team has spent so much of the season trying to find itself.
I think the Sharks were exposed in last year's matchup with the Flames for their inability to stay consistent in a seven game series. If they are the same team, and on paper they're not, Anaheim will have to press them 60 minutes a game for 7 games. Anaheim has the advantage of having played well with its new lineup, both against the Sharks and the rest of the league. If this Ducks team is still improving, and I believe it is, then it has the potential to surprise the Sharks when the teams are still feeling each other out.
Detroit - Columbus: When you factor in playoff experience, it's foolish to accuse Detroit of dropping a game here. But I think the Wings have struggled of late, and will learn to perform or perish in this series. Detroit in 6.
Vancouver - St. Louis: I don't think anyone in the NHL wants to face this Blues team. They've proved me wrong down the stretch, and while these aren't the Blues of old, they have unstoppable young talent in Oshie and Berglund. I think Blues in 7.
Chicago - Calgary: Despite making moves designed to improve their playoff performance, Calgary has been on the slide. I think a consistent Hawks team will jump on them early, and crush their already failing confidence. Chicago in 4.
Boston - Montreal: The Habs are reeling from the loss of Markov and a 100% Schneider. There's no reason for them not to continue their losing ways against a stacked Boston team, even when you factor in the Tanguay-Koivu-Kovalev line. Bruins in 4.
Washington - NY Rangers: By picking up Avery, the Rangers declared war on the entire playoff tree, not just the first round. And in their defense, he's looked good in the nationally televised games. I think Ovechkin will need to take this series over, and he will. I say Caps in 6.
New Jersey - Carolina: I really like the number of old school Devils on this team and their ability to win WITHOUT Brodeur. Having Marty back, I just don't see how Carolina can bang, despite an improved Cam Ward. NJ in 6.
Philadelphia - Pittsburgh: Even with a healthy Philadelphia, I just like this Pittsburgh squad too much. Philly's defense and Biron will need to stand tall against the Pens centers, and I think they might be able to for 3 games, just not 4. Pitt in 7.
I agree that it's almost impossible to predict what it will take for the Ducks to upset the Sharks. There's no single statistic that will indicate how well the Ducks will play. Things that I like going into the series are that Hiller looked good in the last stretch and that Jiggy was solid in that last period. Jiggy has been clutch in the playoffs, and I think he won't be a liability. We've also been good on the power play and consistently finding the back of the net. The only thing that really worries me going in is the PK unit. We've given up at least one power play goal for something like 10-12 games in a row. If we give up one a game this series, it might be an early exit for us. I think if we split in San Jose our chances of winning get really high.
Detroit-Columbus: Detroit is just too stacked. Columbus has been hurting and Huselius may be back, but he was hurt just a week ago. Detroit has the experience and the weaponry to put Columbus away. The Jackets' only chance is for Mason to steal this one, and I just don't think the rookie has that kind of series in him.
Detroit in 5.
Vancouver-St. Louis: I love this matchup. Because you are 120% right in saying no one wants to play this Blues team. They've been on fire and I read a rumor a week ago that Kariya might come back in the middle of the series. Not to mention the Blues have their own Mason between the pipes who has been doing an outstanding job.
St. Louis in 6.
Chicago-Calgary: After the deadline the Flames looked like they might be in the same league as San Jose and Detroit; now they've tumbled all the way to fifth and are facing a really solid Chicago team. Kane and Toews are going to be an excited and tough pair to deal with and let's not forget Khabibulin looks like he can still dominate. I think Kiprusoff only steals one game
Chicago in 5.
Boston-Montreal: I'm glad there's an original 6 matchup happening, I just wish it looked like a tighter series. The Bruins are too good. They have plenty of scoring, a solid D and Thomas flirts with being great. I just can't see any scenario where Montreal even puts up a fight.
Boston in 4.
Washington-New York Rangers: This one is tough for me. This Washington group was a disappointment last playoffs and they've gotten better. Ovechkin can and will dominate, Avery will piss off everyone. My real concern is whether or not he can get into Theodore's head. Lundqvist is a Vezina finalist. If Theodore gets rattled, I don't know if Washington can overcome. Still, I don't like the Rangers and I think they're getting it done with smoke and mirrors.
Washington in 7.
New Jersey-Carolina: Props to Carolina for coming this far. They recognized a mistake and got Cole back and he's been great for them. My favorite thing about New Jersey has always been my inability to name more than 4 players on their team. I don't know how they do it, but this team is always so well put together and focused. It's truly a team in every meaning of the word. Brodeur is still great, Parise is amazing, and that D is still hard to get through.
Devils in 5.
Pittsburgh-Philadelphia: Picking up Kunitz has been great for Pittsburgh and he's going to do wonders for this team's confidence going down the stretch. Philadelphia's goaltending is suspect at best and Pittsburgh has been tearing up the league since Bylsma took over. Let's see if they've got the grit to keep the league in fear and put everyone on watch for the Crosby-Ovechkin Conference Final the press is praying for.
Pittsburgh in 6.