Monday, April 12, 2010

2009-10 NHL Playoff Preview

Well, the second season of the 2009-10 NHL campaign is upon us. I guess I'll toss my two cents (1% of a Tom) in. The problem is, I have a bit of a split personality when it comes to sports. My head and my heart often have two very different opinions of the same thing. So, in that spirit, I will give both versions of the same series. Shal we begin at the beginning?

Western Conference

#1 San Jose Sharks Vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche

Heart: SWEEP BABY!!!!!!

Head: Honestly, there was no better matchup in the first round for the Sharks than the Avalanche. Colorado's young team took advantage of the rest of the Western Conference's inability to make a run at the playoffs. The Sharks have talent to spare and should breeze through this matchup...except for one thing. Over the last two seasons, the Sharks have had a knack for going into a cruise control mentality inn situations where they feel that they should win easily. The tale of this series will be in games 1 and 2. If the Sharks don't put the screws to the Avalanche early on, they could be on a collision course with another early exit.

#2 Chicago Blackhawks Vs. #7 Nashville Predators

Heart: Preds shock the hockey world with a win in 7.

Head : On paper, this looks to be a no-brainer. However, as they say, games are rarely played on paper. The problem for the 'Hawks will be in the net. Cristobal Huet is quickly becoming the NHL's answer to Penn and Teller...Making his talent disappear while making people laugh. Antti Niemi's numbers and play have been more than enough to take the 'Hawks to a division championship, but the playoffs are a completely different animal. If the rookie can't adjust, it could be very rocky. That dark cloud does have a silver lining for Chicago. The 'Hawks have more than enough talent to overcome the goaltending issues and win shootouts. Unfortunately for Nashville, I don't think they have enough goalscoring to match up with Chicago. The 'Hawks advance, but if they get a bad matchup in the second round, it very well could be an early exit for them.

#3 Vancouver Canucks Vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings

Heart: It doesn't matter as long as it goes 7, bloody games!

Head: If we are going to see an upset, this will probably be it. Yes, the Canucks have the Sedins and Roberto Luongo is one of the NHL's elite netminders, but the playoffs are all about the production from the 3rd and 4th lines. When you have a defenseman tied for 7th on your team in goals scored for the regular season (Christian Ehrhoff with 14) it could spell trouble in the post season. The Kings, if they want to pull off the upset, are going to need an epic performance from Jonathan Quick and their defense. If these games stay low scoring, the Kings have a shot. If not, it may be an early trip to the golf course for the LA boys.

#4 Phoenix Coyotes Vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings

Heart: Phoenix in 7 bloody overtime games!

Head: The Coyotes are in the playoffs simply because of the stellar play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Career highs in games played, wins, GAA, shutouts and second best save percentage helped Bryzgalov carry Phoenix to a #4 seed and a mere 6 points from a division championship. Out of all the matchups that the Coyotes could have had, probably the worst one for them was the one they got. No team has more post season experience over the last several years than Detroit. Combine that with their 8-1-1 run to end the regular season, and the Wings are poised to do what they do every year; make a deep run into the playoffs. The one upside for Phoenix is that this is the first time since 1997-98 that the Red Wings have ended the regular season without a 30 goal scorer. If the Coyotes can sneak a few past Jimmy Howard and keep Bryzgalov hot, they may have a chance to advance.

Eastern Conference

#1 Washington Capitals Vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens

Heart: Caps all the way!

Head: This series is the exception that proves the rule. The Caps have too much for Montreal to overcome. Yea, the Habs may steal a game, probably in Montreal, but there's not going to be a whole lot of doubt how this series will turn out. The only objective that Montreal should have in this series is to not embarrass themselves.

#2 New Jersey Devils Vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers

Heart: Devils in 4! YEA!

Head: The Devils are probably the only team in the East, possibly in the NHL, that have a chance to take out Washington. Jacques Lemaire's defensive scheme, Martin Brodeur the goaltending cyborg, and the offense of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk will combine to make the Devils an almost unstoppable force. The Flyers do have enough to take a game or two, but there's no way they put together enough to beat the Devils four times.

#3 Buffalo Sabres Vs. #6 Boston Bruins

Heart: Who cares? The matchup of the loser to either New Jersey or Washington in the second round.

Head: Buffalo will need to be more than Ryan Miller if they want to advance. While they have plenty of depth (4 20 goal scorers and a total of 12 with at least 10) what Buffalo seems to lack is that one superstar that can take the team on his back offensively and lead them to the promised land. Boston's struggles to even make the playoffs could be the spark they need to give Buffalo a run. The only issue there is, where's the offense going to come from? Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas have been a remarkable tandem in net but, even though I love the guy, Marco Sturm leading the team with 22 goals isn't quite what you want to put fear in your opponent. This series will go as the first game goes. If Buffalo comes out strong and dominates, it will be a short season for Boston. If it's a back and forth affair, it will be a long, toss up series.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. #5 Ottawa Senators

Heart: Penguins roll! The Igloo will see some more playoff hockey!

Head: Oh the East. Only in the NHL can a team like the Penguins end up a #4 seed. Once again it will be Sidney Vs. the World. The only problem with placing all of your hopes on the back of one player is that if your opponent can shut down your star, you could be in trouble. For the Penguins, that is a whole lot of trouble. If you remove Crosby from their team, Pittsburgh becomes remarkably average. 3 20 goal scorers, a defense that even with Crosby can only produce a +/- leader at a +7, and Marc-Andre Fleury having his worst season statistically since 2006-07 leaves you with a team that would be lucky to be in the playoffs. Will somebody shut down Crosby in the playoffs? Probably. Will it be Ottawa? Very unlikely.

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