Despite the success of my NCAA Basketball predictions (where I finished dead last in my pool), I’m going to try to predict the Stanley Cup Finals. Yes, I know the playoffs started Wednesday, but I thought up these picks Tuesday night. Follow my picks at your peril. Putting on my Big Game Animal hat, let’s go into…
THE CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS!
(1) Boston v. (8) Montreal. I am a believer in jinxes. This is why I know that the Colts can never beat the Chargers when it counts, why Tiger can’t win a major if he isn’t leading after Saturday, and why the Bruins cannot beat the Habs in the playoffs. That said, their too good to go down without a fight, and I can see the Bruins making a Finals run next year if they can stay together. Canadiens in 7.
(2) Washington v. (7) NY Rangers. The Caps have all that firepower – Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and more. The only place the Rangers have an edge over the Capitals is in goal, with Henrik Lundqvist emerging as one of the league’s dominant goalies. This will be a tough matchup, but I gotta think Bruce Boudreau will find a way to beat the Blueshirts. Capitals in 6.
(3) New Jersey v. (6) Carolina. Martin Brodeur didn’t make a name for himself by winning more regular season games than any other goalie in NHL history. He made it by taking teams that, frankly, were never the most talanted in the league deep into the playoffs. Since I can’t name a single Carolina Hurricane, I think the Devils get through as long as they can score. Jersey in 6.
(4) Pittsburgh v. (5) Philadelphia. The Flyers have had a very good season, but they’ve played mediocre hockey down the stretch, 11-10-1 since March 1. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has been one of the hottest teams in hockey, riding a hot coach and too many hot sticks to name to home-ice advantage today from playoff question marks last month. The Flyers will find this series surprisingly easy. Penguins in 5.
(1) San Jose v. (8) Anaheim. The Sharks think they’re ready to get over their playoff hump. The Ducks are drowning in aging talent. The only thing they have going for them is J.-S. Giguere, which will be good for at least two wins. The Sharks, though, have a fine goalie of their own in Nabokov, not to mention Thornton, Cheechoo, Clowe, Marlowe… Sharks in 6.
(2) Detroit v. (7) Columbus. Detroit is far and away the better team. That said, they’ll still find a way to screw up at least twice at this stage. Wings in 6.
(3) Vancouver v. (6) St. Louis. The Blues will have their time, but it won’t be against Roberto Luongo, who I still hold as the best goalie in the league, pound for pound. The only reason the Canucks won’t sweep is because Vancouver hasn’t been able to score in the playoffs since 1995. Luongo and the other guys in 5.
(4) Chicago v. (5) Calgary. This pains me to say, but this series is a real mismatch. The Hawks are a hot young team that finished second in the best division in hockey. Their goalie, Khabibulin, is playing like he did in 2004, when he backstopped the Lightning to a Cup win over the Calagry. The Flames have been foundering of late and spent the last two weeks of the season choking away the Northwest Division. As a Flames fan, with a heavy heart, Blackhawks in 5.
In the Conference semis, I currently have Washington over Montreal, Pittsburgh over the Devils, San Jose beating the Blackhawks, and Detroit going to town on the Flying Luongos. My money is on San Jose beating Pittsburgh in 6 to take the Cup, but that practically guarantees that it’s not happening.