Going into the first round—we at Bettman’s Nightmare all felt the same thing. Both #1 seeds seemed somehow fallable. The San Jose Sharks’s struggles in the playoffs are well-known, they’ve been called soft and their stars never seem to show up in April. The Presidents Cup Washington Capitals seemed somehow beatable as well, especially with lackluster goaltending and defense. Colorado is a young and exciting team capable of beating the Sharks and extending their choke series. The Canadiens don’t have much and are unsettled at goaltending—so the Caps should have been able to escape—or so we thought.
To Washington Capitals fans….HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA…I’m sorry, that was wrong, we are more professional than that here at Bettman’s Nightmare. Let me try that again—HA HA HA HA..Sorry, it’s just too funny. Remember after game 3, Norris Trophy Candidate Mike Green said “ When everyone plays like that -- they don't have much out there. Really, they don't." How does this guy get nominated for a Norris and Chara, Lidstrom, and Pronger do not? This is the most fundamental rule in sports—don’t discount your enemy. San Jose, meanwhile, despite the efforts of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau actually found a way to win. At this point, these three should be trading salaries with Many Malhotra, Joe Pavelski, and Ryan Clowe. You’re soft Thornton—Boston knew it way back in the day, but I doubted them. They were right. MAN UP!
We are going to mix some things up here on Bettman’s Nightmare—we are going to start our round two forecasts in the west—east coast bias be damned!
#1 San Jose Sharks (19.2 PP%, 86.7 PK%, 1.33 5:5) vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings (23.5 PP%, 81.8PK%, 1.36 5:5)
San Jose in the playoffs? Detroit in the playoffs? I’ll take Detroit. That was easy. Let’s move on. But wait, Detroit is playing rookie Jimmy Howard (4 W, 2.59GAA, and .919 Sv %) between the pipes. San Jose has found good goal scoring behind their top line of Joe Thornton (0G, 3A, .5 Pts/Game), Dany Heatley (0G, 4A, .Pts/Game), and Patrick Marleau (1G, 2A, .5Pts/Game) (read: duds—1 Goal between these three!), their defense has improved, and Evgeni Nabokov (4 W, 1.76GAA, and .926 Sv %) has been playing well. Dan Boyle (2G, 4A, 1Pts/Game) has been leading the way for a much-improved San Jose defense. Still—how can you bet against Detroit? Well, Detroit’s top line played well, Pavel Datsyuk (5G, 3A, 1.1 Pts/Game) and Henrik Zetterberg (6G, 5A, 1.6 Pts/Game), but they did not get the stereotypical Detroit scoring from third-liners like Kris Draper (0G, 0A, 0Pts/Game), Dan Cleary (0G, 0A, 0Pts/Game) and Darren Helm (1G, 0A, .2GPts/Game). Nicklas Lidstrom (3G, 3A, .8Pts/Game) has been adding much-
needed offense from the blueline. Each Spring, somebody comes out of the word work in Hockey
Town—this year that didn’t seem to happen. Even Tomas Holmstrom (2G, 2A, .6Pts/Game) struggled to crack Ilya Bryzgalov.
There are three questions to answer: will Detroit find its second-tier goal-scoring, will San Jose find its first-tier goal-scoring, and which rookie Detroit netminder will show up? When push comes to shove, Detroit will find its second-tier goal scoring—San Jose isn’t as good defensively as Phoenix. Thornton will continue to choke—because Detroit is better defensively than Colorado. Howard will give away one game, but keep Detroit in the other five. Red Wings in Six!
This matchup really excites me. Chicago is young and fast and very solidly defensively. Vancouver has got a pair of twins that I’ve heard are pretty good and a goaltender that likes to make highlight-reel saves. Chicago will go into this series as the likely favorites, after surviving a tooth-and-nail battle with the plucky Nashville Predators. Vancouver beat a very underrated and up-and-coming Los Angeles Kings team that took the Canucks to the brink and very nearly forced a pivotal game seven. For the Blackhawks, the big name forwards are all over a point a game Jonathan Toews (2G, 6A, 1.2 Pts/Game), Marian Hossa (1G, 6A, 1.1 Pts/Game), Patrick Sharp (3G, 4A, 1.1 Pts/Game), and Patrick Kane (4G, 3A, 1.1 Pts/Game). They are backed-up by a steady group of blueliners led by Brent Seabrook (0G, 4A, .7Pts/Game) and Duncan Keith (1G, 1A, .3Pts/Game). All of this offense is strongly supported by the stable
goalkeeping of Antti Niemi (4W, 2.15GAA, .921 Sv%). The Canucks, on the other hand are riding the hot hand of shoot-first Mikael Samuelsson (7G, 4A, 1.8 Pts/Game), who has been paired perfectly with the red-hot Sedin twins. Daniel Sedin leads the way (4G, 6A, 1.7 Pts/Game), while pass-first Henrik Sedin (1G, 7A, 1.2 Pts/Game) is in hog heaven, passing to Samuelsson and his twin brother. Ryan Kesler (1G, 5A, 1 Pts/Game) has been providing sufficientsecond-line scoring to support the top line. In the back, the Canucks have a team of steady blueliners led by Sami Salo (1G, 2A, .5Pts/Game) and Christian Ehrhoff (1G, 2A, .5Pts/Game). In net, Roberto Luongo (4W, 2.92GAA, .893 Sv%) has looked at times like the best goaltender in the league and somewhat average at other times.
There are several questions to answer: can the Canucks blueline give Luongo enough support to make him the bestgoaltender in the league again? Can Antti Niemi continue to find the hot hand? Can Ryan Kesler spearhead a second-line scoring arsenal that compares with the Sharp line in Chicago? Can Vancouver shore upthe penalty kill? Not likely, against Chicago’s attack! In short, Chicago has too much forward pressure and Luongo will steal a few games, but when push comes to shove—Chicago is going to score a lot of goals and win in six. Also, don’t expect Vancouver to dominate Chicago 5:5 as they did against Los Angeles.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins (25.0 PP%, 68.2 PK%, 1.33 5:5) vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens (20.0 PP%, 97.0 PK%,.76 5:5)
For Pittsburgh, the question coming out of the regular season was—could Crosby maintain his hot season, could Malkin find his game, and more importantly could Fleury find his game? Well, Sidney Crosby (5G, 9A, 2.3Pts/Game) maintained his hot hand, Evgeni Malkin found his game (4G, 4A, 1.3Pts/Game), and Marc-Andre Fleury (4W, 2.75GAA, .890 Sv%) has not. Pittsburgh’s playoff formula is very
consistent—ride your superstars and rent an old winger to pitch in some goals and leadership. Bill
Guerin (2G, 4A, 1Pts/Game) has played the role of the old goal scorer quite well. On the back end, Sergei Gonchar (0G, 6A, 1Pts/Game) continues to forget that he’s supposed to play defense. Jordan Staal (1G, 2A, .5Pts/Game) has stepped up his game and given the Pens a much-needed checking-line center. The story for the Canadiens going into the playoffs was—where would they find enough goaltending to go punch-for-punch with the Capitals? Well, as it turns out, the Capitals took a different approach—they took every punch the Caps had to offer and merely asked Jaroslav Halak (4W, 2.46GAA, .939 Sv%) to shrug them away. Halak found his game and I think he found Patrick Roy’s game too. Montreal’s defense quite simply shut down the Capitals, led by Hal Gill (0G, 1A, .2Pts/Game), Josh Gorges (0G, 1A, .2Pts/Game), and Jaroslav Spacek (0G, 2A, .3Pts/Game). All of these stay-at-home defensemen took the best of what the Capitals had to offer and left them without a good shot. Michael Cammalleri paced the way on offense (5G, 5A,1.4Pts/Game), while Tomas Plekanec added scoring as well (4G, 3A, 1Pts/Game).
The questions are: Can the Canadiens defense shut down the Penguins attack like they did the Capitals? Can Jaroslav Halak forget that he’s Jaroslav Halak and not Patrick Roy? Can Marc-Andre Fleury find his game? Where will the Canadiens extra goal scoring come from? Will the Pens be able to crack the Canadiens Penalty Kill? Will the Pens be able to figure out their own penalty kill? I like the Penguins to get more offense than the Capitals—the Capitals have become quite predictable. Jaroslav Halak will continue to play well—but not as well. Marc-Andre Fleury will play better, but still not great and the Canadiens will struggle to score. The Penguins will escape in 7 games. Until Fleury finds his game, the Canadiens will score well on the Powerplay.
#6 Boston Bruins (27.3 PP%, 100 PK%, .57 5:5) vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers (27.6 PP%, 87.5 PK%,2.00 5:5)
Boston was able to find enough goal-scoring and incredible goaltending to skate by the Buffalo Sabres, who continue to struggle to find goal-scorers. Tuukka Rask (4W, 2.18GAA, .927 Sv%) played admirably to carry the Bruins to a six-game series win. The Bruins spread their offense around amongst forwards Mark Recchi (3G, 2A .8Pts/Game), Miroslav Satan (2G, 3A, .8Pts/Game), Patrice Bergeron (2G, 3A, .8Pts/Game), David Krejci (3G, 2A, .8Pts/Game), Defensemen Dennis Wideman (1G, 3A, .7Pts/Game), and Zdeno Chara (2G, 1A, .5Pts/Game). For the Flyers, the team was paced by the stalwart play of Brian Boucher (4W, 1.59GAA, .940 Sv%). The playoff Boucher far outplayed the regular-season Boucher. The Flyers got goalscoring from Captain Mike Richards (2G, 6A, 1.6Pts/Game) and youngster Claude Giroux (4G, 2A, 1.2Pts/Game). The Flyers blueline was anchored admirably by Kimmo Timonen (0G, 3A, .6Pts/Game) and Chris Pronger (2G, 3A, 1Pts/Game). Unfortunately, the Flyers will be dealing with a heavy dose of enfermary visitors, including snipers Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne and penalty killer Ian Laperriere.
The questions are: will Boston be able to find goal scoring to go punch-for-punch with Philadelphia? Will Rask maintainhis hot hand? Which Boucher will show up? How will Philadelphia deal with the loss of stars like Carter and Gagne? Both teams have outstanding special teams, but how will the Bruins offset the Flyers significant 5:5 advantage? Boston will struggle to get shots against the shut-down blueliners tha
t Philadelphia puts on the ice. Rask will face a lot more rubber against the Flyers forecheck than Buffalo was able to create. Boucher should continue to show up, and Giroux, van Riemsdyk, Richards, Carcillo, and the rest of the forwards should be able to pick up the offensive slack for the Flyers. Philadelphia wins in five games. Boston’s 5:5 disadvantage is too significant to overcome.