48 games in the books. Normally that would be a look at the halfway point in the season, but this year, the abbreviated season makes for an abbreviated prognostocation of the playoff race that is not.. abbreviated. I would do Western Conference picks up to the Conference Champs one day, and the Eastern picks the next. This year, why not put it under one roof. Also it's late and I am tired.
Western Conference Quarterfinals
#8 Minnesota Wild vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks - Does anyone really think the Hawks are going to have the season they had to drop a playoff series to the Wild? As much as I like seeing the underdog take out the number one, the Wild haven't had enough consistency to get it done this season, even with big time summer signings. Sorry, but Hawks in 5.
Blackhawks defeat Wild in 5 games
#7 Detroit Red Wings vs. #2 Anaheim "Mighty" Ducks - New lease on life, the Ducks under the direction of Bruce Boudreau have proven to be a power house in the Western Conference. But, wait, where have we heard this tale before? The Red Wings are a sleeper team this year, and if they can finally put it together, you really can not count them out. Wings wake.
Red Wings defeat Ducks in 7 games
#6 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Vancouver Canucks - The goaltender drama of the Canucks certainly caused an early stir for the Canucks, but the pair have put together a great backstopping tandem that added stability to Vancouver. This will be a great series, one for the record books. But the Sharks are playing well of late... so there.
Sharks defeat Canucks in 7 games
#5 Los Angeles Kings vs. #4 St. Louis Blues - A rematch of the Conference Semifinal a season ago, the Blues look to exact revenge against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Should be a good match up full of twists and turns and some pretty good hitting. Underdogs again, the Kings looked poised to make another deep run, not much the Blues can do about that.
Kings defeat Blues in 6 games.
Western Conference Champs
Yada yada yada, so on and so forth, bottom line is the Blackhawks make this post season their personal coming out party. So yea, Chicago wins the West.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
#8 New York Islanders vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins - If any team sort of "over did" it to load its team with talent full of rentals to make the playoffs, then the Penguins are the mid-life crisis buyers of the NHL. Bringing in the big guns that included the stealing of Jarome Iginla from Boston, the Penguins are poised to push for the Cup even with out Sidney the first round or so. Islanders would be a fun underdog to watch though.
Penguins defeat Islanders in 6 games
#7 Ottawa Senators vs. #2 Montreal Canadiens - A team on the rise, the other stumbling into the playoffs. This was a hard one to dissect. Senators get Erik Karlsson back from injury and it should provide a short boost for the injury-riddled team. The Habs are a pretty fast talented team that could out talent the Senators.
Canadiens defeat Senators in 6 games
#6 New York Rangers vs. #3 Washington Capitals - I will break down this matchup in due time (we don't start until Thursday for Pete's sake). Caps playing stellar hockey down the stretch, Rangers sort of hanging around until a final push late in their season. Sorry Rags fans, no Ilander/Ranger series this year.
Capitals defeat Rangers in 7 games
#5 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #4 Boston Bruins - For a team that going into the third period was a lock for the win, the Bruins have fallen into "no lead is safe" territory. The Maple Leafs are just begging to make an example out of them. Couple of interesting story lines with Phil Kessel returning to face Boston in the playoffs.
Bruins defeat Leafs in 5 games
Eastern Conference Champions
Everything points to the Penguins making it out of the East. They have the most talent that could include the return of one Sidney Crosby. But the road they have to traverse is full of teams that don't have the pressure they have to make it to the Finals. I don't think this team can plug all the holes in time. The Habs or Bruins are also favorites, but unless something extreme happens, Pens should take the East crown.
Stanley Cup Champs
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Picking a winner between two teams that didn't face each other in the short season. But to quickly make a decision, Blackhawks are far to good of a oiled machine for the patch work Penguins.
Blackhawks first team to repeat Cup champions since the '05 lockout.
There you go Chicago, you are welcome. Breaking down the Rags and Caps up next.