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The Best Time of the Year: notes and predictions



blog-0392896001334178776.jpgHoly Hell. It's like Christmas right now! I love this time of year and as I wrap up my final quarter at college, I hope my grades don't slip as I spend every moment on my laptop in the back of class watching games.

Everyone seems to be using this time to make their prediction on what will happen down the stretch. I'm going to start by making some anti-predictions:

1. The Sharks will NOT win the cup this year!

Big surprise here, as the playoff failures once again find themselves rolling into the post season. This has been a rather mediocre season for the Sharks. One that, on paper, looked like it would probably catapult them to the top of the conference once again.

As a hockey fan from the San Jose area, I'm thrilled to see the Sharks struggle for once. I think the San Jose fan base is, for the most part, awful. Not because they are a northern California team, but because they know very little about... well... very litte. They are a fan base comprised mostly of rich, over privileged snobs who go to games regularly because it's something to do. They generally know NOTHING about the game, the league, the standings. All they know is, your team sucks, our team doesn't and Patrick Marleau is god's gift to hockey (at least when he scores). Why do I want to see the Sharks fail? Not due to lack of talent, grit, etc. but because rewarding the hockey fan wanna-bees in the bay area is ludicrous.

That being said, it has been a while since the Sharks stumbled into the playoffs rather than clinching the conference. This adversity or lack of expectations this year may be just what they need. This could be the year they find themselves in their first Cup final battle, but don't look for them to take home the top hardware.

(Side note: top 2 worst things I've hear at sharks games: "What?! Why are we losing to the Bruins?! They're not even that good... (last season)" and "That's the 10th time thats happened this game and they missed the penalty again! (as puck goes out of play, over the glass from center ice...)

2. Nashville will NOT beat Detroit in the first round!

It seems like all the analysts are picking Nashville over Detroit this year. Lets not forget who we're talking about here. Sure, Nashville is great this year. They've found some over-achieving scorers and Radulov has been solid toward the end. But this is Detroit. This team, EVERY YEAR, finds another gear in April and becomes that much better of a team. This is the time of year that everyone on the team shines. Rinne and Weber aren't gonna be enough...

3. Vancouver should prep itself for another riot!

I'm joking of course. But I'm not joking about their outcome. They have all the tools to make it to the finals again, and they most likely will. The problem is they're likely to face an Atlantic division team there, and their 2-2-1 record this season includes a win against the Islanders...

On to some REAL predictions:

There are some great match-ups this year, along with some oddball ones. However, the strange match-ups (like Ottawa/NY) can sometime yield the most entertainment. Either way, I'm excited about them all. Lets go through them and I'll give you my predictions of what I THINK will happen and what I HOPE will happen.

Eastern Conference:

#1 Rangers vs. #8 Senators

Like I said before, this is one of the strange match-ups, but none-the-less intriguing. Ottawa is fast, surprisingly young and has a scoring depth that has shot out of nowhere this season. Ottawa won the series 3-1, with two wins at Madison Square. I like the chances for an upset here, but if New York finds another gear, Ottawa's surprise run will come to a quick end.

What I HOPE will happen: Ottawa in 7

I'd love for Ottawa to win this series, not because I'm anti-New York, but because I think they run the table if they make it past the first round...

What I THINK will happen: New York in 6

New York has been way too solid this season to go out in the first round. It's hard to bet against them. The longer the series the better, however, as battered and bruised Rangers stars make for better series against teams without as much depth down the stretch...

Question mark of the series: Craig Anderson

#2 Bruins vs. #7 Capitals

Both of these teams have had their "moments" of mediocrity this season. Some more than others. Once again, the low seed has topped the high seed with Washington going 3-1 and 2-0 at TD Gardens this year. This could be one of the closer series we see.

What I HOPE will happen: Washington in 7

What I THINK will happen: Washington in 7

In case you haven't noticed yet, I love 7 games series, and when match-ups are close, I always predict 7. Anyway, I think the key for this one is Washington's health. Their team has the ability to beat any other team if they all show up to play 100%. I think Thomas has showed some regression down the stretch and Boston's offense needs to be less streaky if they want to win this series.

Question mark of the series: Brayden Holtby

#3 Panthers vs. #6 Devils

Here's my sweep pick. I don't have anything against the Panthers, I just have no faith in them. Congrats on making the playoffs, sorry to see you go so quickly...

What I HOPE will happen: Devils in 4

What I THINK will happen: Devils in 4

Sorry Panthers, you're Billy Beane style overhaul of the leagues star under-achievers isn't enough to grab my attention, or my vote.

Question mark of the series: Offense. Specifically the Panthers ability to match the Devils big three in Kovy, Parise and Elias.

#4 Penguins vs. #5 Flyers

Probably the most anticipated match-up of the season is just that for me as well. I cannot wait for this to go down. Both of these teams have found major success this season, some with key injuries and some with surprising breakout performances. Whoever comes out victorious in this series will not be the same team. In my opinion, this here, is the battle for the east. Winner runs the table, bring on the west...

What I HOPE will happen: Flyers in 4

I'm not gonna sit here and pretend not to be a Flyers fan. I am, and I would love nothing more than to see the tears of defeat roll down Crosby's face while Scott Hartnell farts in his face... while riding a broom... at center ice...

What I THINK will happen: Penguins in 7

All jokes aside, this is going to be a brutal series. Fighting majors every game, hard hitting, cheap shots, net presence, goalie interference, etc. I think if anyone is going to take down Pittsburgh it's Philly. Their style of play, at times, frustrates the Pens (season series 4-2 in favor of the Flyers). But if Philly gets down on themselves early in the series and the goaltending refuses to show every night, this could just be the first step in the Penguins road to another Cup...

Question mark of the series: The flyers defense. I'll include goaltending here just because Bryzgalov has the possibility of slipping back into his early season form, post injury. The Flyers defense will be key here. If they stay healthy, the blue line monstrosity that is the Philadelphia Flyers can frustrate and shut down the best in the league...

Western Conference:

#1 Canucks vs. #8 Kings

The Kings were strong down the stretch (minus the San Jose series). They looked a lot more like the team they should have been all season. However, the Canucks have been solid all season long, with very little to be disappointed about. Even minus a Sedin twin, this team should have the talent to make swift work of LA. If the Kings can play to their highest ability and Quick continues his Vesina type season, the Kings can be a playoff dark horse. The season series is split.

What I HOPE will happen: Kings in 6

Quick may very well steal a game or two and if the offense can find consistency, the Kings have a great chance.

What I THINK will happen: Vancouver in 6

The presidents trophy winners are just that... the best team in the league right now.

Question mark of the series: Philly West. I don't question the defense and goaltending in LA, and the Brown/Kopitar/Williams connection has proven their worth of late. We all know the playoff talent and presence that Carter and Richards posses. It needs to shine through in a major way if the Kings want to make it out of the first round.

#2 Blues vs. #7 Sharks

What can I say about St. Louis that hasen't already been said? They were shot out of a canon this season and headed straight for the top. They've owned the Sharks in the season series and are a heavy favorite for this series. My approach? Turn the clock back one year, two years, three years, etc. Nobody picks the Blues in this series. Sure, it's a new year, a different year, but the playoffs are a whole different beast. If St. Louis doesn't continue their hard-nosed, stellar defensive style, this series could look very different than imagined.

What I HOPE will happen: Blues in 4

Not a sharks fan, not gonna route for them...

What I THINK will happen: Sharks in 7

It's time for Halak and Elliot to show that they too, are human. The sharks look good toward the end of the season and may ride that high into the first round.

Question mark of the series: San Jose scoring. Marleu and Pavelski have been better on the score sheet toward the end, and Thornton's leadership has been visible. These are the three guys who need to get it going in the first round and will make or break the teams success.

#3 Coyotes vs. #6 Blackhawks:

This is the series where my frame of reference give me no inkling into a possible winner. The offensive firepower of the Blackhawks should reign supreme, but something in that Glendale water is giving Mike Smith the vision of a hawk (no pun intended). Vrbata is also my breakout player of the year. He has been a scoring machine, even after an allergic reaction to penicillin, sheesh...

What I HOPE will happen: Coyotes in 7

I would love to see the Coyotes resilient team and organization find a way out of the first round and give the city something to really cheer about.

What I THINK will happen: Blackhawks in 6

This team has balanced... everything. Scoring, defense, and even goaltending to a lesser extent. There's no reason for them to not advance.

Question mark of the series: Vrbata. No Czech scoring, no cup winning. I guess the same could be said for Hossa but if Toews comes back in this round, his load gets lifted a bit and Phoenix needs a whole lot of help...

#4 Predators vs. #5 Red Wings

I dig both of these teams so, either way I'm happy with the success of either. I'm just looking for an entertaining series. Like I said before, the Wings always find that extra gear in the playoffs, and although Nashville pairs up nicely, they will always get my vote in the first round.

What I HOPE will happen: Predators in 7

I think the Predators success deserves rewarding, they've done it all right this season

What I THINK will happen: Red Wings in 7

History will be made... wait, lets change that.... History will be perpetuated. The Preds will make push, but the Wings will assert their dominance.

Question mark of the series: Health. As deep as these teams are, one injury to a key player on either side may just topple the stack. Jenga.

Thanks for reading.

Have a comment, question, disagreement, rant? Leave it below, I would love to read it.

Or if you want to disagree with me in multiple facets, follow me on twitter: @clotheshanger13


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