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NHL Predictions: Can Montreal 'Oh, Canada' Over Boston in Round 2?
Last week, I revealed what I'll now must be prefaced with, "I admit"...
I had picked the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks to meet in this year's Stanley Cup Final. After the first round – finished last night with, you guessed, Los Angeles's fourth straight win over said Sharks – I'm out. If I was a betting man, and I have been on occasion, I'd be flushing for a new hand.
My reasons for picking Detroit were, I thought the Wings would transfer well to the Easter Conference, and I thought the Wings would pluck (pun intended) the normally favoured beasts in Pittsburgh and Boston, two teams I thought were overrated. To some degree, I still think that. But on another degree, I just watched Boston confidently stomp Detroit, standing over them like Clubber Lang stood over Rocky wondering, "That's it? That's all you got?"
My reasons for picking San Jose were, I thought it would be hilarious if they actually pulled it off.
In my predictions for round one, I was worried I'd picked the wrong team to go on. I had, again, picked Detroit to beat Boston. They, of course, lost in five. And then I picked L.A. to win in seven – a scenario which, after three nights, left me ashamed. But then the Kings became the Kings and the Sharks became the Sharks, and now L.A. floats into the second round against Anaheim, while Joe Thornton readies himself for another 82-game-then-STOP performance.
I felt you should know these things before you read the rest. Because, really, why should you care what my predictions are?
But nearly everyone publishes their own – from Grantland to Yahoo to the lowly ones like me, serving a handful of viewers off my Facebook page – and this is my attempt to matter, if only to myself...
EASTERN CONFERENCE – SECOND ROUND PREDICTIONS
1. Boston Bruins vs 3. Montreal Canadiens
Why would I even talk about the Boston Bruins?
What could I say about them that you don’t already know? And if you know I’m from Vancouver, you’ll just think I’m a homer dwelling on something that happened – deservedly – three years ago. And if you don’t know I’m from Vancouver, you’ll think I’m from Toronto and, well, DITTO.
But I’m here to talk about Montreal.
It’s not that you need to be reminded of their status – the Canadiens are the last ‘Canadians’ standing – or that you need something poetic waxed about P.K. Subban, Carey Price, Max Pacioretty.
It’s just that, well, somebody needs to put this whole thing in perspective. Because the last thing Boston needs is a rivalry.
The Bruins are a learning species, but so are the Habs. In 2011, when Montreal was a much worse, much fresher, much leaner team, they had no business being in that quarterfinal, which Boston eventually won in Game 7… in overtime… on their own ice.
Through seven games, Montreal gave Boston everything they had. They tend to do that in the playoffs, those Habs, except when they‘re the favourites. In 2008, Montreal entered the second season as the East’s first seed. Last year, they finished second – ahead of Boston. Both times, the Habs came up empty. Flat, and empty.
But when they’re doubted, there’s no team funner to hop behind than Montreal.
Everything they do is done like everything their province has always done – with a chip on their shoulder, frost on their lawn, and a smattering of as*hole-ish charm.
The Canadiens are alive. Boston is ready. I have no need to call it early, or call it the way someone else sees it. I’m putting it on the line and putting my faith behind Carey Price.
Prediction: Montreal wins in 6 games
1. Pittsburgh Penguins vs 2. New York Rangers
I'm so sad to see Alain Vigneault not sad. I’m upset he’s doing better than I am. I'm upsetting we lost the break-up, Vancouver.
And I really, really thought he’d meet his match with Philadelphia. I banked on Claude Giroux carrying his team through Manhattan, the same way he carried them through the second half of the season – a second that I think, personally, was more valuable than everything Sidney Crosby has done this season.
Well, what do you know? Speaking of Crosby…
The Penguins are soft. Not that that matters. It hasn't always. They have a Stanley Cup, after all.
Crosby doesn't make them soft. Neither does Evgeni Malkin. Or Kris Letang, James Neal, or Chris Kunitz. Not even Marc-Andre Fleury can spoil what they have that tastes so good.
But it’s the Penguins as a team that bother me, and everyone else, who’s tempted to put a dime on them.
Pittsburgh’s loss to Boston last year – a humbling sweep where Sid and Geno failed to find the net, GPS and all – has ruined this team’s perception, maybe for the next decade. Until they win their second Cup, we’ll all look back at what they couldn’t do against Boston. The Bruins have that effect on team… right, Vancouver?
But last year’s Conference Final made us realize, "You know, they’re not that good."
And when you’re not that good, it's not long before everyone else figures out the secret. And when they do, you can't intimidate them.
Your spells spew out of your fingers like sand falling out of a gun.
Ask Jordan Belfort. When you’re selling nothing, well, eventually you’ll sell nothing.
This prediction has nothing to do with the New York Rangers, and I'm sorry about that. I could just write HENRIKLUNDQVIST several times over and tell you to shut up unless you have a better comeback.
Fortunately, I won't.
I don't trust Pittsburgh anymore. Whether they lost this round or the next, they'll lose early. And nobody outside Pennsylvania will be surprised.
Prediction: New York wins in 6 games
WESTERN CONFERENCE – SECOND ROUND PREDICTIONS
1. Anaheim Ducks vs 3. Los Angeles Kings
Why would I even try to predict this one? Why wouldn't I just tell you to watch Freddy vs Jason and flip a coin?
It ain't hard to imagine either of these teams slingshotting through the second round, right on over the Central Division – even with their Blackhawks n' stuff – and into the Stanley Cup Final. And when they get there, if they're not gonna face Boston, why not just chisel their names into the Cup right now?
Well, funny thing… because we talk all the time about how the strongest Western teams beat the crap out of each other and leave the bits and pieces for the hungry Eastern promised lands. And I fear that’s going to happen… again.
L.A. is big. Anaheim is big. They're both clutch, as the first round showed. Sure, the Kings came back from a once-impossible 3-0 hole to beat the Sharks. But the Ducks scored two late goals to tie Dallas in Game 6 – in Dallas – and then wasted no time burying the series winner past a very good Kari Lehtonen in overtime.
The Ducks were set to stumble into Round 2. Instead, they quacked right on out of Texas.
And sorry, but L.A. is waiting.
And sorry, but L.A. has Anze Kopitar. And Jonathan Quick. And Drew Doughty. And no offence to anyone in Anaheim, but that post-to-post triumvirate is strong enough to tilt the tables.
Prediction: L.A. wins in 6 games
3. Chicago Blackhawks vs 4. Minnesota Wild
Um. I'm tired.
I've just turned three pretty amateur predictions into several paragraphs, and now I have to talk about The CHAMPS. You know, the Blackhawks. Last year, they became the first Presidents' Trophy winners since the 2008 Red Wings to actually clutch up and win a Cup they were supposed to.
And they had to go through these Minnesota Wild to do it.
Some of the faces have changed. The Hawks lost Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik. They can get through that.
The Wild added Matt Moulson and switched up their in-goal bureaucracy, favouring Darcy Kuemper (if healthy) over Ilya Bryzgalov. Players like Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter have gone from X-Factors to flat-out factors. And now that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are in the second round, maybe we’ll know whether they’re actually doing anything out there in the Midwest.
I'd bet on an upset, normally. I think if Minnesota could fight tooth-and-nail through Colorado – if you don’t know, they tied up last night’s Game 7 three separate times before Niederreiter won it in OT – then they could certainly fight through an overripe Chicago team.
But the Blackhawks just choked out St. Louis, and they looked great doing it. They won't be your favourite team, and Duncan Keith is no humanitarian.
So I won't pick against Chicago. But if Minnesota proves me wrong, I'd be happy to write that story.
Prediction: Chicago wins in 7 games