Tonight the 2012 Stanley Cup tournament begins, and the cousins insisted on weighing in on the other series in the first round. First up, the Eastern Conference. Guys…take it away…
New York Rangers (1): 51-24-7, 109 points
Ottawa Senators (8): 41-31-10, 92 points
Cheerless: This is gonna be an “icky” series. Henrik…Gaborik…Derik (that’s Derek, cuz). They even have a Bickel. But here is why they will win… 2,419. That is how many hits they had this season. It’s a metaphor for their game. They don’t do any one thing too well (hits was the only thing they led the league in), but they work hard night in and night out. The Senators are going to be a smear on the windshield before this is over.
Fearless: Can’t hit what you can’t catch, cousin. And the Senators did beat the Rangers three out of four games, the last two by three-goal margins. This is a team that showed evidence lately of an ability to light things up. They laid eight goals on Pittsburgh and six on Winnipeg in consecutive games in the last week in March. And for all the talk of Erik Karlsson as a possible Norris Trophy winner, they got a return to elite scoring status from center Jason Spezza, who finished with his highest goals (34) and point (84) totals since 2007-2008.
Peerless: This series is the irresistible force (Ottawa’s speed and offense, fourth in the league) against the impenetrable object (the Rangers’ defense and especially goalie Henrik Lundqvist). We are going to find out if Erik Karlsson’s game translates well from the regular season to the playoffs. That is the fault line for this series. We’re betting it will not.
Rangers in six
Boston Bruins (2): 49-29-4, 102 points
Washington Capitals (7): 42-32-8, 92 points
Fearless: With all due respect to your prognostication, cousin, Boston is a team built for the playoffs – solid goaltending, sturdy defense, deep forwards, and a nasty streak. They were tested last spring with three seven-game series and passed their tests on the way to the Stanley Cup victory. The Caps? Well, what can I say. It is always a race to see which will fall first, the cherry blossoms off the trees or the Caps out of the playoffs. And this is not one of the Caps’ stronger teams.
Cheerless: 1998, cuz. That is the last time a champ repeated. There’s a reason for that. You spend nine months playing hockey, win a championship, do the whole media circuit thing, tour with the Cup, get just a couple of months off, and then do it again? It’s like trying to get to work on time after a late night out partying, and I know whereof I speak. And sure, Boston might have clinched the Northeast Division before New Years and coasted the rest of the way, but how easy is it to turn things on again?
Peerless: I haven’t heard anything here to make me change my mind about the prognosto, guys…
Capitals in six
Florida Panthers (3): 38-26-18, 94 points
New Jersey Devils (6): 48-28-6, 102 points
Cheerless: Shoot, I forgot the Devils played hockey this year. Ain’t heard spit about ‘em. They still have that Brodeur guy in goal, I s’pose. I’m tryin’ to figure out how they do it. They were 15th in offense, tied for eighth in defense, tied for 19th in 5-on-5. Their power play wasn’t that good (tied for 14th). They were just about the worst in the league in faceoffs (29th). But they won 48 games.
Fearless: This is the battle of the trick shot masters. The Devils won 12 games via the Gimmick (most in the league), and Florida earned 23 of their 94 standings points in Bettman’s Folly. What to make of this series, now that the freestyle competition has been taken off the program. Here is how Jersey wins… they deny opponents opportunities. Only St. Louis allowed fewer shots per game, and no team was better on the penalty kill. With that combination, Martin Brodeur did not have to be his hall-of-fame self (and he wasn’t; his 2.41 GAA and .908 save percentage ranked 16th and 34th, respectively, among qualifying goalies).
Peerless: Only three teams in the East had fewer wins in regulation plus overtime than Florida. Their weaknesses will be laid bare – they don’t score much (27th), their defense is middling (12th), their penalty killers aren’t very effective (25th), and while their power play is decent (7th), it plays right into the strength of the Devils. This series will not be close.
New Jersey in five
Pittsburgh Penguins (4): 51-25-6, 108 points
Philadelphia Flyers (5): 47-26-9, 103 points
Fearless: Why are we bothering? Pittsburgh can’t be stopped. They have the best player in the game. They have the second best player in the game. They have the best coach, the best general manager, the best arena, and for all we know the best press box spread in the NHL. Oh, the Flyers were 4-2 against the Penguins this year, you say? They scored 22 goals in six games against the vaunted Penguin defense and best goalie in the East not named “Lundqvist?” Marc-Andre Fleury was 1-3-1, 3.41, .872 against the Flyers? Surely that is a misprint.
Cheerless: One of the problems the Penguins have had is that when Sidney Crosby has been out of the lineup, Evgeni Malkin steps up in a big way, but when Crosby returns Malkin sort of steps back. That hasn’t been the case in the latest instance of Crosby returning from injury. Yeah, Crosby is 6-19-25, plus-8 in 14 games since returning for good from his concussion, but Malkin is 12-13-25, plus-6 in those 14 games, too. Two guys on an almost 150-point pace to finish the season? There isn’t a duo in the league close to the performance level of these two right now.
Peerless: This is the series in which the Flyers will miss Chris Pronger. On a team that has a years…no, decades-long reputation for nastiness and fearlessness, Pronger takes a back seat to no one who ever wore the orange and black. He is the perfect villain and would have been a good bet to neutralize some of that Penguin firepower if he was in the lineup and at the top of his game. But he is not, and Philadelphia just does not have enough on the back line, especially with Andrej Meszaros out and Nicklas Grossmann dinged up, to compete over a seven game series. The Flyers will go deep in the series because they have a knack against this team, but they will not come out on the back end as a winner.
Penguins in seven