10 April 2012

2011-12 Eastern Conference Playoff Picks

If you write a Western Conference playoff picks, then it creates an expectation that you're going to do one for the East too, right?

In the West, while I think things are primarily between NSH/STL/VAN to make it to the finals, I could legitimately see any of the lower seeds making some serious noise and presenting problems for the favorites in the conference. In the East, NYR/BOS/PIT are here to take care of business, and no one else will or has any business going on any sort of run. In the end, a healthy PIT (if they stay healthy) is the closest thing to a perfect team in the East (and maybe the NHL), while every other team has some warts. NYR's position as the #1 seed gives them a dramatically easier road to the Conference Final, facing the East's weak sisters, but I don't think that I'm buying into Tortorella and the Rangers to do any more than that. Also, it's been a long time since I've mentioned this, but I really do hate the Eastern Conference.

Round 1:
#1) New York Rangers VS #8) Ottawa Senators
NYR in 4 - OTT isn't a lottery team, but they aren't a great team either. OTT can score, but that's about it, and it gets a lot harder to do that in April and May. Lundquist makes this one nice and quick.

#2) Boston Bruins VS #7) Washington Capitals
BOS in 5 - This matchup makes me smile. BOS is everything that WSH lacks, including playing in the next round. Maybe getting the heart, determination, physicality, sacrifice, and the defensive awareness that they lack shoved in their face helps WSH in the long-term. In the short term, WSH gets outmuscled and outworked in a short series.

#3) Florida Panthers VS #6) New Jersey Devils
NJD in 5 - After Florida made all their free agent signings, I sent this email which was read on the old Puck Daddy Radio show on The Score/Sirius, taking issue with Greg Wyshynski's contention that FLA was a free agency "winner":

Someone over there, please do me a favor and tell Wysh he's a friggin' idiot, if he thinks FLA was a winner in free agency. It's not just that [Dale Tallon] overpaid guys by incredible amounts - its that he did it long-term, for no reason at all - if you're gonna overpay guys, just sign em to 1-2 year deals, no point in tying up future money too. And not only did he pay guys for the sake of paying guys, but he didn't improve his team that significantly. At best, this pushes FLA into the 8-11 area in the conference standings, which is not good enough to actually be remotely relevant, yet its good enough to keep you out of the top of the draft.

Also, if the Panthers are going to overpay someone, why not just get some fan favorite grinder 4th liner type and give him 6M for 1 year? At least that makes a good story.

I was getting scared early on when FLA was really hot, but I think in the end, I'm right. This is an 8-11 team, and one of the worst division winners to ever appear in the NHL playoffs. The only reason this team is at #3 and not at the 8-11 spot that they belong in is because of an incredible collapse on the parts of both Tampa Bay and Washington. Basically, FLA lucked into their first and only division title, and they'll go home quickly to a NJD team that isn't great, but is better than they are.

#4) Pittsburgh Penguins VS #5) Philadelphia Flyers
PIT in 6 - This series is going to be mean and nasty, but it's going to be largely one-sided. If PHI were showing up healthy, I'd like them a lot better in this series, but PIT is coming in healthy at the right time, and PHI is just limping to game #83. I'm sure PHI will rush some guys back for the series, but they won't be in good enough shape to flip the script.

Round 2:
#1) New York Rangers VS #6) New Jersey Devils
NYR in 6 - I just realized that I picked the same seeds to advance in both the East and West. In any case, this is where the NYR #1 seed really helps out. NJD will put up a fight, but they aren't good enough on the back end and in goal anymore to pull off the upset.

#2) Boston Bruins VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 6 - If the Penguins get through PHI relatively healthy, they should be able to take this one. I like their offensive depth, even against as good a defensive team as BOS. BOS has faltered at times this year, and they already play on the razor's edge, having to play the low-scoring style that they do. It's a hard line to walk, and I think PIT can push them off.

Round 3:
#1) New York Rangers VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 5 - NYR can probably beat any other team in the conference, but I can't see them beating PIT. The Penguins are just too fast, too good, too deep, and are a fully balanced team from top to bottom, front to back. The Rangers play defense, they block shots, they rely on Henrik Lundquist, and they don't score that much. If PIT can score 3 goals a game (and they can), they can beat NYR (and they will).

Stanley Cup Finals:
#1) Vancouver Canucks VS #4) Pittsburgh Penguins
PIT in 7 - In 2009, DET lost to PIT in 7 games in the Cup Final. That year, PIT got to cruise through a joke conference (PHI, a soft WSH team, then swept CAR), while DET got murdered by ANA and CHI on their way. DET started the series strong, but couldn't keep it up for 7 games, and PIT got their first Cup in almost 20 years.

Why do I mention this? Because I think the same exact thing happens this year. PIT is going to make it, and their road may not be as easy as it was in 2009, but it won't be the sort of brutal that VAN is likely to see from CHI and NSH (or STL or SJS for that matter). It may be one of the best Cup Finals we'll ever see, between two fantastically talented teams, but PIT's road won't be nearly as arduous as VAN's. Besides, if the city of Vancouver thought last summer's riots were bad, can you just imagine the completely shitstorm that happens if the Canucks lose in Game 7 at home again?

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