Welcome to the third annual Bring On The Cup predictions on P.H.T. I just have to say that I am more than excited to get this ball rolling with the Caps securing a playoff spot of their own. Unfortunately, Gary Bettman isn't just going to hand the Stanley Cup to the Capitals, there are 16 other teams in contention for this silver bowl (hard to believe, I know).
Just some administrative duties to attend to first. The Capitals playoff schedule is now in stone and can be found here on the right column >>> under the Pic of the Week. The Caps get Philly instead of Ottawa in the first round after the Flyers beat the Penguins on Sunday 2-0.
Okay, back to the predictions. There are some surprises and some new faces, especially in the Eastern Conference. But as always, I will start in the wild, wild West.
#8 Nashville Predators at #1 Detroit Red Wings - I think it's easy to pick Detroit here, and I think that's also a mistake. Nashville definitely didn't look like a team that was going to make it, especially after a loss to the Capitals a few weeks ago. But with the Northwest Division being a battle, the Preds sneak in the back door and get some playoff life. It's just that they have to face down big bad Detroit in the first round. Just how healthy the Wings are could determine if it's a one and done for the President's Trophy winners. I can see the Predators giving the Red Wings more than they can handle. But we are talking about Hockeytown.
Detroit wins in 6 games.
#7 Calgary Flames at #2 San Jose Sharks - Oh lord, let's hope that the San Jose fans mind their manners and not boo at the Canadian Anthem. Besides that, I am expecting a very physical affair between these two. San Jose has finally started hitting on all cylinders, after a ho hum start to nearly going undefeated in March. For the Flames, Jerome Iginla probably would have won the Hart for MVP if it weren't for that Ovechkin guy, he has basically carried this team into the playoffs himself. But he needs some help if they want to solve Evgeni Nabokov. Both teams are relatively healthy so this should be a hard fought series. If only the Flames goaltending was as solid as the Sharks this year.
San Jose wins in 5 games.
#6 Colorado Avalanche at #3 Minnesota Wild - Ah, my seven game series match up. The Wild have had a quiet but effective season while the Avalanche have struggled to make the playoffs. Minnesota has the skill, but their state of emotion will be the deciding factor. Sure the Wild has bulked up with the addition of Chris Simon, but the rule of thumb playing the Wild is be physical and they will lay down. The Aves are just looking for some old time magic to spark their once proud playoff tradition by bringing back Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg. It should be a great goaltending duel with Jose Theodore and Niklas Backstrom both manning the net for their teams. Will the Avalanche's experience be enough to out battle Wild's speed and talent? Short answer, no.
Minnesota wins in 7 games.
#5 Dallas Stars at #4 Anaheim Ducks - The Stars are coming off a relatively successfully season. I say relative, because their record since the trade deadline is nothing to write home about. Since acquiring Brad Richards their once winning record in February became a losing one in March. They will also be with out Sergei Zubov on the blue line as he is out with foot surgery. While the Ducks found some late legs with Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer back in the fold, they still need some dependable goaltending and good secondary scoring. One could draw a conclusion that the Ducks have an easy opponent in the Stars, but often when one overlooks any team, that is when they are the most dangerous. The Stars might be limping, but they still have some fight.
Dallas upsets the Stanley Cup Champs in 6 games.
Round 2 - probable match ups based on 1st round predictions.
Dallas Stars at Detroit Red Wings - This is stirring up to be an all out shoot out, two very talented teams. The Stars have to be pretty beat up walking through the Ducks, so I don't expect they have very much fight left in them. Thankfully, Detroit is known more for their puck possession rather than the Ducks' beat-you-down method. If the Stars still have the legs, they could take Detroit to the brink. If.
Detroit wins in 5 games.
Minnesota Wild at San Jose Sharks - If the Wild's first series wasn't a battle royale it better be against the Sharks. It should be another great goaltender head to head with Backstrom and Nabokov with the waffle irons and mitts on. This is were Minnesota's toughness will have a chance to prove it's worth and San Jose should be wary of this quiet unassuming team.
San Jose wins in 6 games.
Western Conference Championship
San Jose Sharks at Detroit Red Wings - I actually predicted this two season ago, and it seems this might be the year we see these two giants settle it out in the conference championship. Detroit has come this far pretty unscathed, but this will be no cake walk for them. If there was ever a time to question the Red Wings' goaltending, it would be here and now in the Conference finals. The Sharks come into this contest battle tested and hungry. When these two teams face each other, I wouldn't be surprised to feel the ground quake and the skies quiver. Can Hasek/Osgood keep this Wings in it?
San Jose wins in 7 games.
The Sharks, I think, have learned their lesson from playoff series past. The previous two post seasons they faced Nashville and beat them 4 games to one, only to lose the next series 2-4 to both Edmonton and Detroit. But if the linage runs much as I have laid out here, they have had wonderful success against Northwest Division teams. Facing them in the first and second rounds is a good indicator that leads me to believe they are a Conference bound team. Since losing last year to the Red Wings I would expect Ron Wilson to use that as some inspiration in the Shark locker room.
As for the Red Wings, I think they will enjoy the spoils of winning the President's Trophy and will make quick work of their first two opponents. But if the goaltending is tested by a playoff veteran team like the Sharks, it may crack. The only bright spot may be home ice advantage.
Stay tuned for some Eastern knowledge I will be throwing your way next as I will start in on the Eastern Conference tomorrow. Feel free to comment. I will also have my prediction on who will be taking home the hardware, hockey's top prize: the Stanley Cup.