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The grind is over! And the marathon begins!

Wednesday, 04.15.2009 / 1:16 PM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals

By Sean Pronger - "The Journeyman"

What's up hockey fans! Sean Pronger here, but please, call me "The Journeyman."  I know what you're thinking: "What in the 'Gretzky' are you doing on NHL.com?"

Great question, just like my playing career, I'm fooling someone ... and it feels good!

Since everyone with a keyboard and a microphone is making predictions on the playoffs I thought "Wayne It," I'll make mine too! So here we have The Journeyman's Western Conference Quarterfinals picks:

San Jose vs. Anaheim
: Anaheim in 7. I'm sure everyone is shocked. Obviously, I have a slight bias toward the Ducks. Not only did I used to play for them, but we all know I'm related to one of the Shark Tank's favorite players "Lou."  And yes, my driver's license does read "Chris' Brother Sean" but that, my new friends, is not why I'm picking them. Here's why: The way the Ducks played down the stretch when everyone (including yours truly) counted them out. The key players from the 2007 Cup team are healthy and hitting their stride: Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne, Pronger, both Niedermayer's. Add in Bobby Ryan coming of age, Ryan Whitney and his playoff experience, Francois Beachemin's incredible return and you have a team that is a "Wayne-load" better than eighth place. They have perhaps the best defense in hockey and the real question is their goaltending. If Jonas Hiller plays the way he did in the last month of the season, the series may be shorter than 7.  However, if he stumbles, they have a Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winner dying to get back in the net to prove himself and erase a disastrous season. Who are the Sharks going to throw in the net if Nabokov struggles? 

The X-Factor: Joe Thornton – All bets are off if he can dominate in the playoffs the way he does during the regular season. But based on past playoff performance, Olympic performance, and the Ducks' defense core, I'm putting my monopoly money on the Ducks.

Detroit vs. Columbus: Columbus in 6. Yeah, that's right! The Blue Jackets are knocking off the Stanley Cup champs. And yeah, I played for them too! The overachieving Blue Jackets will continue to ride Steve "Don't call me Patrick Roy" Mason right into the second round. OK, OK ... I can't tell a lie! The real reason for my pick is I've had, what some might call, a few troubling experiences playing against Detroit. Here's a little taste of my world back in the day. I was with the Anaheim (Mighty back then) Ducks and anchoring the fourth line. We were playing the Red Wings in Detroit, so they had the last change. And they were not afraid to use it! As soon as my line jumped over the boards, here came those "Mother Gretzky Russians" ... Fedorov, Kozlov, Larionov, Konstantinov and Fetisov.

Warren "Bundy" Rychel would come over to me before each faceoff and say, "You realize if you lose the draw, we're going to be chasing these guys the entire shift," and my entire career as it turns out. I still have nightmares about those guys. So you see, I have my reasons, but I stand by my pick. Columbus in 6!! Deal with it Detroit!

Vancouver vs. St. Louis:  Vancouver in 5. Alright, alright. I played for them too. But it was only for three games! I just think the Canucks have too much depth and a goalie that is capable of winning a series by himself (won't be necessary however), not to mention they've been playing some decent hockey for the last two-plus months. St. Louis made a valiant effort to get in, but unfortunately their time is up.

Chicago vs. Calgary:  Calgary in 7. And no, I didn't play for the Flames or the Blackhawks! I made this pick the old fashioned way -- coin flip. I like the Flames' mix of skill and grit and I believe their goalie will answer the bell for the postseason. I love the Blackhawks' youth, skill, and passion, but for some reason the coin kept coming up Flames. I think deep down I just want to see the Canadian teams go deep into the postseason.

There you have it Peeps. Make sure to place your bets before the puck drops.

***

A special thanks to Kevin Smith, my fellow blogger ... brilliant. Kevin, feel free to steal any of my one-syllable words. No need to thank me, it's all about the game.

Signing off

-- The Journeyman, aka "Chris' Brother Sean"

Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares