I noticed some dumb little flowers poking out of the ground this past freakin’ weekend, and I thought about one thing: NHL PLAYOFFS. Thanks, flowers! Sorry you’re all probably frozen to death now. It’s actually your fault for being tricked by that January sunblast, though. But, anyways, T-Bone and his HDBFFz are so excited for the coming of Spring and the thawing of Lord Stanley’s cup from the secret, sacred glacier-cavern in Northern Ontario that we’ve decided to take our show on the road! To Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania! To find out exactly when Spring is going to begin! Based on what the groundhogg (Punxsutawney Philip) tells us. That’s right, another TB&theHDz exclusive: we’ll be rappin’ with America’s #1 psychic groundhogg to find out not only when Spring is comin’, but who all’s gonna be washin’ babies and eatin’ gravy out of that fancy silver bowl come summertime.
But that won’t be for another couple of days. So, in the meantime, I’ll use my human powers of conjecture and prejudice to explore how the playoff picture is shaping up.
There’s a good chance that the teams battling for the Cup this year will be legit (hence their inability to quit via playoff elimination). That’s right, this ain’t the year for scrubs, flukes, fakes, phonies, or charlatans. Your Tampa Bayses and Carolinases are stinking their respective places up, so don’t worry about them winning no Cup. Oh, wait… They already did. Well, heck, Whaddyagonnadoaboutit, right?
But, ‘hey, wait, Huskey- what about the first round upset? What about that?’
Well, first off, what about manners? Cuz that was rude. But, looking at the East’s 6-9 seeds as of today, we’ve got Ottawa (who’ve played 3-4 more games than their competitors), Florida, New Jersey, and Toronto. No knock on any of those teams, but none of them possess the thing that gets them out of the first round alive: phenomenal goaltending. Jersey used to have it, but they’ve fallen on hard times/their goalie’s fallen and he can’t get up. Ottawa and Toronto are both pretty run ‘n’ gun, but that strategy won’t garner teams of their caliber much besides four straight 6-3 losses against Boston, New York, or Philadelphia. And Florida should just be happy if they don’t wind up at the golf course the day after the regular season ends. None of these teams are a trade away from making something happen, neither. So don’t go there!
Out in that rugged and lawless conference known as the Wild West (but still with Detroit, Columbus, and Nashville), the idea of an ‘upset’ in the traditional sense just don’t make as much sense. Cuz all the teams out there are pretty good. Six teams right now are fighting for the last two playoff spots and you have to think that the two teams that squeeze in there will probably be playing some pretty good hockey. Good enough to beat Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, or a team of that hockey ilk? The odds there are better than in the East, but it still remains highly-doubtful. On the surface, LA is the best bet: young, talented, and playing fairly well under their new coach. Their biggest variable is Jonathan Quick, who has been tearing shit up this year. His playoff numbers are the very definition of pedestrian, though: .900 save percentage and a 3.32 GAA. That won’t do. But with the year he’s having, one hopes he won’t do (that again).
So what about those un-upsettable dudes at the top? What’s gonna happen to them? Well, I suspect they’ll all cream the crap out of one another for a couple weeks while we viewers continually wake up on the couch surrounded by empty Genesee cans and a bowl full of popcorn kernels. While that second part is nothing out of the ordinary, the first thing is something to get excited about.
As we’ve been documenting all season long, Boston is looking good. It remains to be seen how they hold up as the year goes on since they have played what amounts to an extra ¼ of an NHL season when compared to teams like, I dunno, the New York Rangers. The B’s have enough depth to battle through an injury or two (unless their Golem gets hurt, in which case the townspeople of the NHL can run them out of playoff-town), as do the Philadelphia Flyers, who have played consistently well this year while always seeming to miss some vital cog. Of course, injury or no injury, they’ll be missing a vital cog: a starting goalie. All eyes will be on Ilya Bryzgalov in the opening days of the Playoffs, and I’m sure that he will play solid and instill a great deal of confidence in his fellow players and coaches, who would think it foolhardy to switch starting goaltenders during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, anyways.
Speaking of injuries, I think the Penguins lost a man game or two. Something about Crosby being out due to an injury. But that’s inconsequential, because Geno has the strength of ten mans. And, like we’ve (well, Moonpie) said about a dozen times, the Pens are still a good group of forwards, a talented defense, an at-times out-of-this-world goalkeep, and a savvy and charming coach. Sound familiar? Pittsburgh’s players and playoff plans are plainly parallel to… uh, the Rangers. Fuck. I mean, yeah, New York also has arguably the best goalie (that’s in a band with John MacEnroe) and a deep lineup that plays their system well. They’re number one in the East for a reason.
In conclusion: I don’t know who’s gonna win, but it won’t be Washington! And it should be fun to watch the heavies rumble in later rounds. If you had to get something out of this article, then… I select New York- just because of that MacEnroe thing.
And then there’s the Bestern Conference, where everybody’s getting in on the ‘hey, let’s be fucking sick at hockey- like throwing up blood sick, guys!’ bandwagon. Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, St. Louis, Nashville, and Chicago. That’s how the conference deck is stacked, 1-6 right now. Talk about some sticks and pucks of outrageous fortune! All these squads are very well-coached, but they also bring a lot of different skills to the table. I can’t wait to see who’s kung fu is stronger. For starters, the opening round between the four and five seeds is going to be epic, but probably not like Enter the Dragon or some such kick-assery. It’s gonna be more like the Somme: a bunch of guys tossed in a meat grinder until ‘the winner’ gets to go play Detroit.
As was mentioned earlier in the Eastern Conference assessment, a lot of this stuff is contingent on team health. Despite being deep and skilled, Chicago is always dealing with a poorly-timed injury- except that year they won the Stanley Cup. Take a guy like Toews, Sharp, or even Bolland out of the ‘Hawks lineup, and the onus falls on whoever is playing goal, which ain’t where Chicago want’s to place their onus.
Nashville, though, has no problems in goal, where Olive Garden special Pekka Rinne has been guarding the goal like Polyphemus on sheep. But even the biggest cyclops is no match for the cunning of an Odysseus, I mean, a Kessler. Am I advocating that someone ‘accidentally’ gouge out Pekka Rinne’s eye? Well, technically, that depends on what your definition of ‘gouge’ is. Not to mention what ‘accidentally’ means when it’s in quotes.
But, yes, there is a way around great goaltending in the playoffs, and the way is usually equal parts irascibility and chicanery. Vancouver has plenty of that (with skill to match) and the Red Wings will find a way to put the lotion in the basket no matter who’s in goal. But don’t sleep on the Blues. Sleep away the blues when you’re depressed, but don’t sleep on the hockey team unless you want to look dumb in front of your hockey friends and family. St. Louis has the ingredients to make a splash this year and their pontoon goalie system is closer to Boston (Thomas/Rask) than Chicago (that one guy/that other guy).
Oh and San Jose, they, uh, they’re good. I don’t have anything funny to say or particularly insightful (‘nothing new there, asshole!’), other than I don’t see this as the year for the Sharkies. Too much talent, evenly spread out, for them to be the ultimo hombre. Of course, San Jose has had Detroit’s number the past few years. Now if they could just get Chicago and Vancouver’s numbers, too…
Conclusion #2: The West is going to be even more fast-paced, hard-hitting, and heavily-hyphenated than the East. Nobody trustworthy could venture a solid guess as to what’s going to happen other than a lot of great, seven-game series and some broken bones (and hearts, boo-hoo!). Injuries to a 3rd-4th liner or a sixth defenseman could be dealbreakers for any of these teams and, likewise, a smart tradeline acquisition could drastically shake things up between now and April. Instincts/biases tell me that Vancouver is still the team to beat, but reality tells me that they can be beat. My T-B&theHDz fun buxx are on a Vancouver/Chicago conference final just because I want it so bad. Puh-leez!? It can be my birthday and Christmas present!
All right, guys, that does it! Did I leave something out? Besides the Minnesota Wild? Let us know! And let us know if you have any questions for Punxsutawney Phil, too.