Attempting to precisely predict any sports team’s fate, either in the regular season or in the playoffs, is like trying to shove a noodle up a tiger in the middle of Times Square: it’s theoretically possible, but more likely than not, you’re going to get mauled for the world to see.
Given that reality, I’ll once again urge readers to see my NHL playoff picks for what they are – one schlep’s semi-educated take on a first round that rarely plays out as anybody imagines. Here they are:
DETROIT RED WINGS (1) vs. NASHVILLE PREDATORS (8)
Proteau’s Ponderings: Detroit is simply too deep, too talented and too focused on not becoming first-round fodder to allow an eighth seed to sneak by once again.
Nashville overcame a dragged-out ownership saga and subsequent decimation of their lineup to squeak into the post-season, but, with apologies to Jan Hlavac, any team whose top right winger heading into the playoffs is Jan Hlavac has next to no shot at upsetting a powerhouse like the Red Wings.
Proteau’s Pick: Wings in five.
SAN JOSE SHARKS (2) vs. CALGARY FLAMES (7)
Proteau’s Ponderings: What can I say about the Sharks, other than (a) they looked practically unbeatable after acquiring Brian Campbell; (b) Evgeni Nabokov is clearly the most underappreciated Hart Trophy contender in the league; and (c) they were my pre-season pick to win the Stanley Cup, and they still are?
It’s unfortunate for Flames fans that their talented team had to run into a buzz saw like San Jose, but I’m not one of those people who believes Calgary’s window to win a championship is on the verge of closing. With Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr locked up for years, the Flames will have an above-par chance at winning it all. Just not this time.
Proteau’s Pick: Sharks in seven.
MINNESOTA WILD (3) vs. COLORADO AVALANCHE (6)
Proteau’s Ponderings: Quite a few prognosticators appear to be enthralled by Colorado’s parade of proven veterans, and so, despite the seedings – and Minnesota’s 5-2-1 record against Colorado this season – the Avs have emerged as media favorites in this series.
I really have no idea why. The Wild’s special teams are far superior to those of the Avs; in Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota has a better goaltender than Jose Theodore; and many of Colorado’s big names are merely a patch of bad ice away from being sidelined by injury. The Wild have the higher seed for a reason, and that will become readily apparent, much to the Avs’ chagrin.
Proteau’s Pick: Wild in six.
ANAHEIM DUCKS (4) vs. DALLAS STARS (5)
Proteau’s Ponderings: Like the Wild, the Stars aren’t afforded much respect at all in most of the predictions I’ve read. That is odd, because Dallas outscored Anaheim by nearly 40 goals during the regular season, and finished with a better road record (22-14-5) than the Ducks (19-18-4).
Granted, Anaheim wound down its year in better fashion (8-2-0) than the Stars (3-5-2), and Dallas’ blueline – especially in the absence of Sergei Zubov – looks like an AHL corps compared to the Ducks’. Ultimately, that will be the difference in the series, but I think the defending champs will have a far tougher go of getting by the Stars than conventional wisdom would have you believe.
Proteau’s Pick: Ducks in seven.
MONTREAL CANADIENS (1) vs. BOSTON BRUINS (8)
Proteau’s Ponderings: Far be it from me to underestimate the Canadiens (again), who finished a smidgen better than the 15th spot I’d pegged them to wind up in last fall. However, the Bruins were similarly disrespected in pre-season predictions, and, thanks to coach Claude Julien’s world-renowned brand of dull-as-dishwater hockey, they also achieved more than many believed they would.
If you’re wondering whether this is my nice way of saying Boston is going to put up a fight, but nonetheless fall to the Habs with relative ease, you’re absolutely right.
Proteau’s Pick: Canadiens in six.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (2) vs. OTTAWA SENATORS (7)
Proteau’s Ponderings: Let’s see – one of these teams has two of the game’s best players, a roster that’s 99 percent healthy, and had the same coach all season long. The other has two of its best players on the sidelines nursing injuries, a dressing room that’s been divided since the saga of its backup goaltender blew up around Christmastime, and a coach-GM who could find himself fired by the organization even if his team makes it to the Eastern Conference final.
Hmmmmm…it’s a real toss-up, but I’m going with the same team everybody else is going with.
Proteau’s Pick: Penguins in five.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS (3) vs. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (6)
Proteau’s Ponderings: Unlike the Bruins and Canadiens, here are two teams I had a good handle on in my pre-season picks. I thought the Flyers were greatly improved from their 2006-07 campaign, but were still a work in progress with lingering questions, especially when it came to their goaltending.
Meanwhile, I liked the Capitals to win the division, primarily because their arguably unrivaled collection of dynamic young talent was augmented by a few newly-arrived veterans who could make a difference.
Pretty close, eh? This series will be almost as close, but the presence of an MVP (don’t tell me you need me to say who) will be enough to push the Capitals into the second round.
Proteau’s Pick: Capitals in six.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS (4) vs. NEW YORK RANGERS (5)
Proteau’s Ponderings: It is a real condemnation of the NHL that a series featuring Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Zach Parise could be the lowest-scoring matchup in the entire first round, but such is the state of the trap-happy Devils and Rangers, neither of whom ever met a dump they wouldn’t chase.
This showdown is going to be on the ponderous side, but the guy who’ll have the biggest positive impact on the outcome plays in net.
For New Jersey.
Proteau’s Pick: Devils in seven.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News’ online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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