My history as a NHL playoff prognosticator is checkered at best.
With the exception of one horseshoe-attached-to-my-fingertips spring a few years back, I have basically been mediocre at picking the playoffs.
Since 2005-06, my collective record is as follows:
(Totals are based on each series picked round-by-round)
Totals: 68-37 (64.8 percent)
That’s barely enough to cover the vig – especially with how many upsets occur in the NHL playoffs.
Alas, people have requested my picks. So, for entertainment purposes only – anything else would be downright crazy – here’s how I see the first round playing out:
Pittsburgh vs. New York Islanders – The Penguins are clearly the superior team, and maybe the best team in the tournament, but the Islanders have shown some serious chutzpa and I think John Tavares emerged as a real Hart Trophy candidate this year. With Sidney Crosby’s return still uncertain, I think the Isles can make it a series. But that’s about it. Penguins in six.
Montreal vs. Ottawa – I have to admit, I looked at that Canadiens roster at the start of the season and thought they had a shot at the first overall pick in the draft this year. That’s how little I know. Nevertheless, there’s something about this Montreal team that I still don’t like when it comes to the thought of an extended playoff run. Meanwhile, Ottawa is a team that has no business being in the playoffs after all they’ve been through injury-wise this season. Yet their resilience and determination has been impressive. That’s why I’m taking the upset. Senators in six.
Washington vs. New York Rangers – Definitely the best series of the first round in the East and one I wish didn’t have to happen. Both of these teams were playing very good hockey down the stretch and could make a lengthy run in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin has returned to Hart Trophy form after a miserable start to the season, while Henrik Lundqvist remains the difference-maker for the Rangers. However, King Henrik can’t steal the series all by himself, which is why I’m going the other way with this pick. However, unless somehow it’s a short series, I can’t see either team surviving past round two right now because of how physically demanding the series will be. Capitals in seven.
Boston vs. Toronto – They may be the closest in seeding in the East, but they are not that close when it comes to being playoff-ready. The Bruins are battle-tested. The Leafs, are happy to be here after a nine-year absence. The Bruins play great defense and have a superior goalie in Tuukka Rask. The Leafs stay will be brief. Bruins in five.
Chicago vs. Minnesota – The Blackhawks are a machine. They score a ton of a goals and more importantly play stellar 5-on-5 defense. If they get a lead, forget about it. That’s going to make the Wild’s stay in the playoffs a short one. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter won’t be able to make the difference Minnesota fans had hoped for because both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been MVP-type players and the rest of the ‘Hawks have followed. Blackhawks in five.
Anaheim vs. Detroit – In most years, this would have been a flip-flopped seeding and a flip-flopped selection for me. Not this year. The Ducks operated for much of this season in the shadow of the neighboring reining champion Los Angeles Kings as well as behind the early-season point streak of the Blackhawks. Now, is their time to shine. The Red Wings got hot at the right time to make the playoffs for a 22nd straight year, but their defense just isn’t the same and the Ducks have a lot of firepower – and are playing for Teemu Selanne, who will likely retire at season’s end. Ducks in six.
Vancouver vs. San Jose – While many would think this matchup is lopsided, I say think again. The Sharks have played excellent hockey over the final month, buoyed by probable Vezina Trophy candidate Antti Niemi. The Canucks have peaked at the right time too, but they are always haunted by the goalie carousel constantly spinning. I think they survive, but don’t be surprised if the Sharks pull a stunner. Canucks in seven.
St. Louis vs. Los Angeles – Bar none, the best series of the first round. Do yourself a favor, and don’t miss a minute of this series. You just might find yourself falling in love with the way both teams play. It’s a shame one of them has to go home so early. The unfortunate thing is, by these two teams playing one another right off the bat, it might make it easier for other teams down the road – much like the situation with Washington and the Rangers in the East. Still, this one will be a beaut – and it can go either way. So much so, that I just changed my mind… again. Blues in seven.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email asanfilippo@comcast spectacor.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37