Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 2 Predictions

The pattern from the past six years continued - four upsets one year, two the next, and then repeating the cycle - with four upsets again in the first round. And, as happened in 2006 and 2010, each team advancing to the second round has a different seed. And really, it should not be that surprising: in the past seven years, there has only been one year in which at least one 5-seed has not advanced (2009) and only one year in which at least one 6-seed has not advanced (2011). Including this year, four 8-seeds have advanced - close to one-third of all 1-8 series - with two of those also winning in the second round. Only three of last year's first-round winners repeated that feat this year, and none of last year's Conference Finalists got past the first round. This year's first round featured a lot of penalties, suspensions, and overtimes, proving that the field is tighter than ever. I'm going to use that explanation to cover over my botching of my Round 1 predictions. Here are my commentaries on each series.

(1) New York vs. (8) Ottawa - Right team, wrong number of games. The Senators pushed the Rangers to the limit, and they almost helped complete the unthinkable: both #1 seeds being upset in the first round. It took the Rangers one game longer than I thought it would, but it made them look vulnerable.

(2) Boston vs. (7) Washington - Wrong team, right number of games. The law of averages finally caught up with the Bruins after three Game 7 wins last year. This was the first playoff series in which all 7 games were decided by one goal, so Boston has nothing to be ashamed about. Except losing.

(3) Florida vs. (6) New Jersey - Right team, wrong number of games. I underestimated the Panthers; it turns out they had more life than many had expected. It took until OT in Game 7 to decide, but the Devils did take the series as I predicted. It'll be interesting to see what happens in Round 2, though.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Philadelphia - Wrong team, wrong number of games. In almost any alternative seeding arrangement, these two would have been facing off in the Conference Final. This was the most entertaining and the most controversial series in the first round, and judging by the Flyers' dominance in Game 6, they're glad it ended when it did.

Western Conference:
(1) Vancouver vs. (8) Los Angeles - Wrong team, wrong number of games. This series was proof that you need to trust your gut when picking. Everything in me said that the Kings would upset, but I still couldn't rationalize picking against the Canucks. Well, there's always next year.

(2) St. Louis vs. (7) San Jose - Wrong team, wrong number of games. The Sharks do not need to be seeded highly to crumple in the playoffs. I know the Blues are a talented, hard-playing team, but the Sharks have every reason to be ashamed after getting swept after their initial Game 1 OT win.

(3) Phoenix vs. (6) Chicago - Wrong team, right number of games. This was the first series in sixty years in which each of the first five games went to OT. Chicago just could not get past Mike Smith's goaltending, and they missed a couple of lucky bounces. C'est la vie.

(4) Nashville vs. (5) Detroit - Right team, right number of games. The only series I got completely right! Both teams played as expected, and Nashville is looking even more nasty now.

So, in all, not a great record: 3-5, with only one of those being a wrong Game 7 pick. I picked two upsets that didn't happen and missed three that did, even though my gut was urging me otherwise in two of those situations. Let's see if I've learned any lessons for Round 2.

Eastern Conference:
(1) New York vs. (7) Washington - In some ways, this is both the best and the worst possible match-up for both teams. New York barely survived Ottawa, but Washington has a rookie goalie and a lot of holes. On the other hand, they also have that chip on their shoulder and no expectations this year, so they could do what Tampa did to them last year and dominate a second-round series. Washington could also face a Rangers team that has something to prove now, and they are up against the best goalie in the NHL. I think that momentum could go either way, but goalies can win a series; Lundqvist can, and I think Holtby may have already had his victory. Rangers in 6.

(5) Philadelphia vs. (6) New Jersey - The Devils are a flawed team in many ways, but the Flyers have one possible catastrophe waiting to happen: Bryzgalov. The Flyers are a deeper team than the Devils, and Bryz should outplay Brodeur, though you never know when those old goalies have one last magical run in them. When I think about this series, though, it comes down to one factor: the Flyers look scary; the Devils don't. Flyers in 6.

My eventual pick for the Finals (New York) is still alive, so I don't need to revise my later round picks. I'll stick with New York going to the Finals over Philly.

Western Conference:
(2) Blues vs. (8) Kings - These two teams are very similar: young teams that didn't expect to be where they were going into the playoffs that both defeated established contenders (last year's Conference Finalists) in the first round with killer goaltending, strong defense, and a young forward corps. There's really no reason to pick one team or the other here, since any argument for one team can be made for the other. So the argument I'm sticking with is two-fold: two of the three times an 8th-seeded team has advanced in the past six years, they've also won their second-round match-up; the Kings also have had two years of first-round exits to increase their desire to win, whereas the Blues barely expected to make the playoffs. I'm going to take the Kings in 6.

(3) Phoenix vs. (4) Nashville - This is Nashville's year to break through. I think Smith will steal a game or two for the Coyotes, but I see Nashville winning this series in 7 games. Maybe Phoenix can pull a reverse-Nordiques and win the Cup next year in Quebec, though.

My Finals pick (Nashville) is still alive, so I'll stick with them over the Kings in the Conference Finals.

There you have it: my second round picks.

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