Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton will play a huge role in determining the fate of the San Jose Sharks this playoff season. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Well, it's that time of year again. Playoff time. The best time of year.
Not only is it Round 1 – 14 days of playoff craziness; at least two games a night of amped up, hot team-on-team action – it's prediction time.
Now I've never been great at predictions. Yes, it's true, pretty much everything I've said about the centennial Canadiens has so far come to bear and, although it's not on recoverable record, in July, I did say New Jersey would be a top team in the East. But I also once traded Wayne Gretzky for Sandis Ozolinsh, costing me a playoff pool. So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still in the red, prediction wise.
Nevertheless, I'm offering up my predictions – and a few of my colleagues' – for public consumption, beginning with my Stanley Cup matchup: San Jose over Pittsburgh.
San Jose is simply due. And the additions of Cup-winning blueliners Rob Blake and Dan Boyle could hardly have worked out better; they’ve thrived, adding new ingredients to the formidable Sharks. The team is hungry and rejuvenated, boasts an all-star caliber top six and runs deep. San Jose was a popular pick around the office, garnering seven of 13 THN staffer votes. Boston was next with three.
Pittsburgh was also a popular choice to become two-time losers, with Ryan Dixon and Brian Costello joining my cause. The young Penguins are more battle-tested than last year and are more likely to have gas in May than their older foes. The veterans are experienced and feel privileged to play with some of the best talent of their careers; they'll give everything they have to make this post-season special, but will still come up short.
If things go as they predicted, kindred spirits and kitty-corner officemates Rory Boylen and Ryan Kennedy will see a Vancouver-Carolina final. Boylen has the Canucks planning a parade; Kennedy called Stanley's return to Raleigh.
I didn't venture far from the reservation with my picks as conference finalists. In the West: Detroit. I can't see Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin carrying the Wings to the Cup final, but I can see the rest of the roster getting them to the third round.
In the East: Boston. The Bruins are the No. 1 seed and a scary-efficient squad. But many of their best players haven't been through the post-season gauntlet yet. Pittsburgh’s superior talent – and that's saying something about the Pens – will win the day.
Although I believe Crosby will lead the playoffs in scoring (as does Dixon), Shirtless Joe Thornton is my pick for the Conn Smythe Trophy. I predict Big Joe will roll his eyes back for 25-plus points and lead a redemption-fueled Sharks Cup run. Thornton was also Jason Kay’s choice as playoff MVP and that of THN.com video producer Ted ‘Two Scoops’ Cooper. The three of us made THN's unabashed, Thornton-admiring art director Jamie Hodgson happy; it pained Hodgson to choose Tim Thomas, who swept the art department when designer Erika Vanderveer opted for the Boston netminder, too.
As for the out-of-nowhere player who will make a tangible difference to the fate of his team, I chose San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo, as did THN senior writer Ken Campbell. Hard to believe a former Rocket Richard Trophy-winner can come out of nowhere, but that’s what a return to something resembling his past form would be for Cheechoo.
The only other player to receive more than one vote was Carolina winger Chad LaRose. Boylen's name comes up here again, but this time his partner is cross-office colleague Dixon.
In the first round upset and Cinderella-team categories, I predicted the East’s No. 6 seed Carolina will down No. 3-seed New Jersey – as did six other THNers – and that St. Louis could win a round or two. Columbus garnered five Cinderella and two first round upset votes, while Campbell and Cooper predicted Montreal will down Boston over the next two weeks.
I also asked everyone for a wacky prediction; something off-the-wall that may happen if the right chips fall into the right places. I predicted San Jose's Claude Lemieux will take the NHL back-to-the-future with a hit-from-behind on Kris Draper, igniting a fierce rivalry with Detroit. Sam McCaig said they will drop the gloves for the first fight in “NHL Oldtimers history.”
Adam Proteau was the subject of two predictions revolving around his face-saving sojourn to Columbus next week. Boylen predicted Proteau will get booed off the Nationwide Arena ice; THN.com editor Edward Fraser predicted Proteau will be kidnapped by a Confederacy recreation group.
Kennedy and Costello predicted Olli Jokinen would be benched in Calgary; Costello saying it would be for the entire playoffs, extending Jokinen's NHL record for regular season games played without a post-season game played.
Cooper wackily predicted Montreal mascot Youppi! will become the first mascot ejected from an NHL game, keeping his streak alive after becoming the first to be tossed from a major league baseball game. Campbell said St. Louis and Vancouver will set a modern record for fewest goals in a series, prompting Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play man Bob Cole to bellow “Maybe nobody will win this game!” during the seventh overtime period of Game 6.
Hey, stranger things have happened.
THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
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