The NHL’s strike-shortened 48 game schedule has played out, and now the quest for the Stanley Cup begins, in what could be one of the more interesting playoff scenarios since, oh… last season.
The logical consensus on the Cup final is the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Chicago Blackhawks with Pittsburgh winning, with or without Sidney Crosby, in say six games. But consensus didn’t mean much to the Cup finalists last year, which saw the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings best the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils in six.
Ask the last four President Trophy winners – anything can happen in the current incarnation of the NHL.
This year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning Blackhawks face the Wild in the first round.
It doesn’t bode well for the Hawks. The team with the most regular-season points has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three of the past four years. San Jose was bounced by Anaheim in 2009, Washington lost to Montreal three years ago, and Vancouver was eliminated by Los Angeles in the first round last season.
The playoffs will be highlighted by the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs original six series, and the all-Canadian battle between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs won’t beat the Bruins, a team that struggled mightily in its final 10 games of the season. Still, the Bruins should sweep the Leafs away in four.
Another original six Canadiens-Bruins Adams Division title series would be epic, but I fear the Sens may upset the frenetic second-seeded Habs, especially given the return of goaltender Craig Anderson and defenceman Erik Karlsson to the Ottawa lineup.
The hottest team in the NHL has been the Washington Capitals, going 8-1-1 in their last 10. With a revitalized Alex Ovechkin, the Caps should get by the Rangers and beat the odious Bruins to make it to the Conference final. I’ll go out on my first limb, and pick the Caps to shake the monkey off their backs and beat the Pens in seven.
Yet my boldest prediction and upset winner this year will be the Minnesota Wild.
Shocking I know, but with additions of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Ryan Suter, the leadership of Mikko Koivu and the game-stealing goaltending from Niklas Backstrom – who, incidentally, led the league in wins this year with 24 – the Wild comprise a good enough scenario to make them another eighth seeded Stanley Cup champion. It’s a long shot, but in playoff prognostications I’ve grown accustomed to being wrong. Wild over Caps in seven.
• And speaking of human error, I made an egregious one at the end of the Trail Commercial Hockey League final last month. I received information that I used in a Mar. 21 article attributing quotes to players that did not make them. The intended humour did not reflect well in print.
My sincere apologies go to Peter Sheets, Kyle Boutin, and Rocky Dickson and the whole of the TCHL for the error and the delay in reporting it. As sports editor it is my job to verify sources, and in this instance, for various reasons, I failed to do so. Mea culpa.