Monday, April 9, 2012

The Pursuit of Lord Stanley's Cup: 2012 NHL Playoffs Preview

The second season begins Wednesday, April 11th...
It's my favorite time of year.  The NHL playoffs.  It's the best postseason with the coolest traditions.  The game is on another level and the reward is the greatest trophy in all of sports.  If your team is in it, you live and die by every single shot.  If you win a game, you're on the highest of highs for 48 hours and if you lose a game, you think the series is over.  If you've never seen a hockey game, now is the time to seek one out.  You won't be disappointed.  Over the course of the next two months, battle lines will be drawn and playoff beards will be in full effect.  Get ready Bottom Dwellers because it's the Cup...

Last summer the NHL agreed to a nice new 10 year TV deal with NBC.  This postseason it will pay off immediately.  For the first time in the history of the league, all playoff games will be televised nationally.  You can catch all games on NBC, NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), CNBC, and the NHL Network.  I don't have the NHL Network but I don't care because it's carrying the crappier series haha!

As quick reminder, the lower seeds (1,2,3,4) have home ice and the games breakdown is 2 home, 2 away, 1 home, 1 away, 1 home (if it goes 7 games).  After the first round, teams will re-seed for the conference semifinals.  I'll be bringing you day-by-day updates throughout the playoffs, nothing thorough, just reminders of where we are at, so get ready!

In regards to rules, in the regular season, games that did not end in regulation went to a 4 on 4 five minute overtime followed by a shootout if necessary.  In the playoffs, there will be continuous full 20 minute periods of 5 on 5 until the winning goal is made.  Yes, that means we could see 2, 3, or perhaps 4 overtimes.  It is sudden death so every time the other team has the puck you will die a little on the inside.

Here are the Eastern Conference match ups:

#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators (Ottawa won season series 3-1)
Don't let the #1 seeding fool you, this will not be a 4 game sweep.  The Sens match up really well with the Rangers and I expect this series will go 6 games at the least.  Look for free agent pick up Brad Richards to finally show up this season for the NYR.  It will be a good test of depth for the younger Senators but I don't see King Henrik (Lundqvist the goalie) losing in the first round.  
Gainer's Pick:  NYR 4 - OTT 2

#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals (Washington won season series 3-1)
Again, another time the higher seed dominated regular season match ups.  Ovechkin and the Caps got hot super hot late and snagged a late playoff spot.  This series is going 7 but the Caps goaltending situation (third stringer Braden Holtby) will cost them in the end.  Boston is the defending champs and Tim Thomas will look to repeat his Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) performance of last year.
Gainer's Pick: BOS 4 - WASH 3

#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils (Season series split 2-2)
The Panthers have made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.  It was the longest drought of any team in the NHL.  Unfortunately they draw a veteran squad led by hall of famer goalie Marty Brodeur.  Parise, Kovalchuck and company for the Devils will withstand the initial excitement down in Miami to take this series in relatively easy fashion.
Gainer's Pick: NJD 4 - FLA 1

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers (Philadelphia won season series 4-2)
My Pens take on hated inter-state rivals the Flyers.  Frankly, that's all you need to know.  It will feature 2 of the top players in all the NHL with the Penguins' MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin and Flyers young stud Claude Giroux.  Special teams will decide this series as boiling points will be reached in this battle.  I predicted the Flyers in the Finals back in January but screw that, Sid the Kid is BACK!
Gainer's Pick: PITT 4 - PHIL 3

2nd Round Predictions:
#1 New York Rangers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #4 Pittsburgh Penguins

On to the Western Conference Series:

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings (Vancouver won season series 2-1-1)
The Canucks took home the President's Trophy for the best record in the NHL.  The Kings squeaked into the playoffs.  However this is a trapper series for Vancouver.  Their goalie Roberto Luongo can be Jekyll and Hyde at points and he's going up against a Vezina (top goalie) contender in Jon Quick of LA.  Can the Sedins rebound after their disappearing act in last year's finals?
Gainer's Pick: VAN 4 - LA 3

#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks (St. Louis won season series 4-0)
This would seem like a no brainer especially since the Sharks failed to beat the Blues at all.  I, like Boomer, like the Sharks in an upset here.  While the Blues are built from the net out through defense, the Sharks have experience and past champions on their side.  Look for Jumbo Joe Thornton of SJ to dominate and their power play changing the series.
Gainer's Pick: SJ 4 - STL 2

#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks (Phoenix won season series 3-1)
This series has been tabbed by many as the "easy" upset pick.  I disagree.  The Blackhawks still aren't certain if Captain Jonathan Toews will be back, that's huge.  I don't like Crawford in net for them.  The Yotes are riding THE hottest goalie in the NHL Mike Smith and he will steal games.  Marian Hossa sucks and look for former CBJ stand outs Ray Whitney and Antoine Vermette to be X-Factors.
Gainer's Pick: PHX 4 - CHI 3

#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings (Season series split 3-3)
The 4-5 match ups are usually the greatest series (see Pitt/Philly) and this one is no different.  Division rivals. David and Goliath.  The Red Wings have made the playoffs 21 seasons in a row.  Nashville hasn't left the 2nd round in their brief history.  Preds goalie Pekka Rinne (NHL's wins leader) is the difference maker.  Sorry Detroit but your age has caught up to you.  Shea Weber is awesome.
Gainer's Pick: NASH 4 - DET 3

2nd Round Predictions:
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #4 Nashville Predators

Here is the TV schedule breakdown for all the series:

NHL Draft Lottery

And for you guys and gals out there who's team is not in this year's hunt, the NHL Draft Lottery is tomorrow (Tuesday, April 10th) at 8pm on NBC Sports.  Especially you Ohioans, the Columbus Blue Jackets have the highest odds for the overall #1 pick in which they have never had (minus the trade up to get Rick Nash). This will determine the order for the 14 teams that did not qualify.  Best of luck to you...NEXT YEAR!