Welcome to the fifth (!) annual SNN Predicts series of articles (sixth overall, if you count the 2004 version done on the forums, lost to the mists of time but notable for the fact that I went 0-4 in series involving the Flames), in which we act like we know what we’re talking about and make our (mostly) blindingly obvious predictions, with a shocking amount of success, considering some mainstream reporters usually wind up under .500 by the time the Stanley Cup is finally awarded somewhere around Canada Day. This is also at least my third year in a row copying and pasting the same intro, because I’m cool like that. Some surprise changes in the seeding in the last few days of the season, at least if you decide three days in advance to use SportsClubStats’ projections to pregame for this post. What the fuck, Ottawa? Really? Whatever. In other news, congrats to Phoenix for their best-ever playoff seed despite losing their #1 goalie for nothing over the summer (Don Maloney should win the Sam Pollock Memorial Award for GM of the Year That Isn’t Technically Named for Trader Sam but Really Should Be, because holy shit that dude can build a hockey team on the budget of your average indie flick), and congrats to Florida for breaking their playoff drought despite being pretty Goddamned terrible. Hooray for the Southleast Division and stuff.
Also note that I’ll probably be relying on fancystats way more this year, just because I’ve had less than zero time to watch teams play, for the most part. I’m grumpy about it, but I’m hoping I can make up for it in the later rounds. [Ed: And I think after citing the fancystats I’ve ignored them in at least half of the predictions. Oh well.]
Clarence Campbell Conference Quarterfinals
(1) Vancouver vs. (8) Los Angeles
Playoff History: The only recent playoff series went to the Canucks, but back in the days of the Smythe Division, Gretzky’s Kings had the upper hand.
|1982 DF||1991 DSF||1993 DF||2010 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Canucks went to Game 7 of the Finals before losing to the Bruins. LA, meanwhile, was ousted in the first round on an OT goal by the clutchest man in hockey…Joe Thornton? Really? Wait, lemme see that.
Season Series: Even at two, with one of LA’s wins coming in the coin-flip.
Doogie Says: This should be a much closer series than you’d really expect for a 1-8; a lot of the even strength fancystats are either a wash or favour LA, strangely enough (their Fenwick Close is 2% better than Vancouver, and since the deadline, it’s #1 with a bullet), while Vancouver owns far and away the better power play. Goaltending will be a factor as always, with all three of Quick, Schneider, and Luongo finishing with similar EV SV% numbers: any one of those three could steal a game and turn the series. (Quick and Luongo also both have histories of…inconsistent play in the postseason.) That being said, I think the deciding factor is going to be the fact that I still don’t trust the Kings to be able to put the puck in the ocean with any consistency, Carter be damned. Speaking of, looks like Carter will be back for Game 1 tonight, while Daniel Sedin will not; keep an eye on that to be a thing as this series goes long and becomes ever-tighter. Similarly, the depth players in this series could prove difference-makers in at least one or two games, and in that instance, I’d give the nod to Vancouver. Holding my nose, crossing my fingers, going with Canucks in seven. (Aside: Canucks fans can’t even agree on this one.)
Hoop Says: Kings in seven.
Matt Says: Kings in six. Unless something out of the ordinary happens, it’s a question of when Vancouver will choke. Let’s go with right off the bat.
Gerard Says: Kings in six. Why? Because fuck Vancouver. That’s why. [Ed: He’s consistent. This is at least the seventh consecutive series he’s picked against Vancouver going back to 2010, with a 2-4 record in those series. I’d check earlier, but those archives only exist on Gerard’s computer, and I’m not going to harrass him for it at this point.]
(2) St. Louis vs. (7) San Jose
Playoff History: More than I thought there’d be, to be honest. They met three times in the first half of last decade, with the Sharks somehow getting the upper hand in two of them. I mean, seriously, what the hell happened in 2000, St. Louis? You were 27 points and 72 goals better than them!
|2000 CQF||2001 CQF||2004 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: St. Louis haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, when they got bounced by the Canucks in four straight, and haven’t won a playoff series since 2002. The Sharks made the conference finals for the second consecutive year, this time losing to Vancouver in five.
Season Series: St. Louis spanked San Jose, taking all four games in regulation.
Doogie Says: St. Loo owns San Jose (and indeed, most of the NHL) by most metrics out there, traditional and fancystats. Standings points, goal differential, Fenwick Close/Tied, even strength save percentage, shot prevention (even strength and PK)… all of them are in the upper echelon, many of them in the top one to three. San Jose can, however, still boast at least a few more goals for (18 over 82 games), better shot creation (even strength and PP), and a better top end offence (Joe Thornton had 23 points more than David Backes and T.J. Oshie, the two teams’ respective scoring leaders). Yes, Brian Elliott – who set the modern NHL record for GAA (1.56) and SV% (.940) – is now out with an upper body injury, but Jaro Halak (1.97/.926, .938 EV SV% compared to Elliott’s .945) was no slouch, either. And even if the otherworldly goaltending from both ‘keepers regresses (or Jake Allen somehow winds up in net), the Blues are still a balls-out good team at controlling the play: they play a hard, physical game while minding their responsibilities in the way Hitchcock teams always have. They’re not a lock for the Stanley Cup or anything, but San Jose is aging, relying on their backup after their Stanley Cup champion goalie couldn’t get the job done, and less deep up front than they’ve been in the past. Also, as a reminder: the Blues dismantled the Sharks in the regular season. This, and Devils-Panthers, seem like the two no-brainers here, but then I’ve been wrong on stuff like this before (see: MTL-WAS/PIT, 2010). Blues in four.
Hoop Says: Blues in six.
Matt Says: Blues in four. Can San Jose go anywhere this post-season? What am I thinking? Let’s go with a repeat of the season series.
Gerard Says: Sharks in four. St. Louis swept the season series. Symmetry.
(3) Phoenix vs. (6) Chicago
Playoff History: Bupkis. The Jets and Hawks were in separate divisions for most of the ’80s, and were never decent at the same time in the ’90s or ’00s. In fact, they frequently missed the playoffs together during the interlockout period.
Previously On…Survivor: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Coyotes lost to the Red Wings in the first round, and Chicago played Vancouver last year. The difference being, Chicago was an OT giveaway by Chris Campoli away from overcoming an 0-3 deficit, but ultimately bowed out in seven in round one. This is also your annual reminder that the Jets/Coyotes franchise has not won a playoff series since 1987.
Season Series: The Coyotes took three of four, two of them in regulation.
Doogie Says: The problem with trying to use fancystats to call a playoff series is that they’re not, in my view, as cut and dried as is sometimes suggested, and this series is the A-1 example of this. Chicago has better possession numbers, but they’ve had Godawful goaltending (though granted, a bunch of that is on Ray Emery, who’s been AHL-quality), while Phoenix has had mediocre possession but excellent goaltending. So call that a wash. Special teams? Both have awful PK by shot metrics, Phoenix is also terrible on the PP, but Chicago is at least mediocre there. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. But then you look at the one-goal-game records, and Phoenix’s is wickedly low, suggesting that they may be undervalued a bit in the standings, while Chicago’s is pretty consistent with their 2+-goal-game record. And then I throw up my hands and say fuck it, I’m going with my gut here.
It goes something like this. Phoenix nearly beat Detroit in 2010 despite missing Shane Doan for half the series, and probably would’ve been a lot closer in 2011 if not for Bryz going all flaketastic over the parks in Vinny Peg and what-not. Chicago isn’t as deep as they were two years ago, nor as deep as any Detroit team in recent memory. The Hawks are loaded with injuries, most notably captain Toews, and while he may be back for Game 1, there’s no guarantee that a) it happens, and b) he’s 100%. Plus, the Phoenix organization and its fans really deserve at least one bit of success before they’re forced to pack it in, especially with smart stuff like that Vermette trade on their resume. So, for the second year in a row, I’m gonna stick my neck out here and pick the Coyotes in seven. Don’t let me down again here, guys.
Hoop Says: Blackhawks in six.
Matt Says: Blackhawks in five. Knowing that one team looked good in the middle and the other seemed better than they should be leaves one with a tough choice…
Gerard Says: Blackhawks in seven. Let’s be clear. Nobody will win this. It’s a matter of who loses. Who will fail harder? Chicago’s goaltending or Phoenix’s offense?
(4) Nashville vs. (5) Detroit
Playoff History: For some reason, I thought the Preds and Wings had played more than twice, but apparently not. Well, naturally, both series were reasonably recent, and both went in Detroit’s favour.
|2004 CQF||2008 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Preds won their first-ever playoff series against the woefully overmatched Ducks (everyone not named Matt saw that one coming a mile away) before losing to Vancouver in six the next round. Detroit beat Phoenix (again) before losing to San Jose (again) in seven in round two; like Chicago, however, they almost pulled off the 0-3 comeback.
Season Series: Tied at three. Both teams went 2-1 at home, all games were in regulation.
Doogie Says: If this matchup were happening a month ago, it’d be Preds in five and that’s the end of it. Detroit’s started to get healthy again, though, and that should make this a more interesting series. Still, there’s something I just don’t understand: what the ever-loving fuck is with the Wings’ road record? Seriously, their home-road delta is the sort of thing I’d expect from a crap team like Winnipeg or Edmonton, teams with a lot of guys who need matchup help in order to have success. Is it injuries? Age? Depth? Luck? My conversations with Wings fans and perusal of the numbers suggests that it’s a little bit of everything. Whatever the case, it’s something that I imagine most of the hockey world is leaning on in picking Nashville to win this thing. The full-season fancystats laugh at this horrendously, but then the Preds, more than any other team, have heavily remade their roster in the last two months, adding Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad, and prodigal son Alexander Radulov in a go-for-broke effort to bring a Stanley Cup to Music City. And you know, it may just be working: there’s been a definite uptick in their possession, and as Habs blogger Bruce Peter noted, they’ve been particularly good since Radulov arrived in particular. Small samples and all, but it’s promising. More to the point, I’ve been quietly pulling for the Predators for a while, and I’m probably going to be putting all my eggs in their basket for this playoff run. In the absence of any more compelling reason to do so, that may be my ultimate reason for calling it a homer series. Predators in seven.
Hoop Says: Predators in seven.
Matt Says: Predators in six. Safely agreeing with Gerard when he says who knows? Is the third time the charm for Nashville?
Gerard Says: Predators in six. Coinflip. Let’s be honest, nobody has any idea how this will go.
Prince of Wales Conference Quarterfinals
(1) NY Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa
Playoff History: In the modern era, none. However, because Ottawa made the critical mistake of claiming continuity with the original franchise back in ’92, I get to pull dumb shit like this:
* – Denotes two-game, total-goals series.
Suck on it, Sens fans. This is what your franchise’s early-period salesmanship hath wrought.
Previously On…Survivor: The Rangers bowed out to Washington in five. The Sens were Goddamned terrible last year, and also were the year before, but in 2010, they made the playoffs, anyway, and won the right to get punted by Pittsburgh in five.
Season Series: Surprisingly, Ottawa won it 3-1, all in regulation.
Doogie Says: As Gerard will note in just a couple of paragraphs here, at a certain point, you just gotta stop the puck. While Vezina favourite Henrik Lundqvist has regressed like a boss recently, he’s still one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL, and while Craig Anderson et al. have shown some capacity for getting hot, there’s no good reason to bet on them in a seven-game series. I’m not terribly familiar with the East this year, because Montreal decided they were going to miss the playoffs at Christmas, but I am interested to note that Jason Spezza finished fourth in the NHL in scoring; granted, he’s 25 points back of Evgeni Malkin, but he’s still at the top of that heap of point-per-game-ish players, which is kind of impressive. More impressive, though, is Erik Karlsson putting up 78 points, the highest total for a D since Nicklas Lidstrom put up 80 in the PP-fueled 2005-06 season. However, after those two, things drop off in a hurry, with only three players with more than 40 points on the year, which really doesn’t put them in a much better position than the Rangers, who have the same number of 40-point players, led by 40-goal man Marian Gaborik. Ottawa has the slight advantage by even-strength shot metrics (though I’m told if you toss the Rangers’ first ten games, they’re way better), but it’s worth noting that they’re a way higher-event team in both directions, which is probably not a good thing when dealing with a #1 seed that prides itself on defence and good goaltending; I think they’re going to get burned here trying to run and gun. They’ll make it interesting, but I’ll go with the Rangers in five.
Hoop Says: Rangers in six.
Matt Says: Rangers in six. Very interesting. Will this be a high scoring or low scoring series?
Gerard Says: Rangers in five. At some point, a team needs to stop pucks.
(2) Boston vs. (7) Washington
Playoff History: Nothing recent. Just a couple of series on the opposite ends of the ’90s.
|1990 CF||1998 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Bruins are the defending Stanley Cup champions. Washington disposed of the Rangers in round one, before being stunned by the Bolts in four straight.
Season Series: As with the Rangers and Sens, this one actually belongs to the underdog, again by a 3-1 count, with one of Washington’s three victories coming after sixty.
Doogie Says: Years from now, the 2011-12 Capitals will be a case study in when not to fire a coach. They had one of the best even-strength possession ratings in the NHL in late November when Bruce Boudreau was fired (53%), but just Godawful goaltending (a hair above .900). That’s not when you fire your coach: if anything, that’s when you call up the AHL guy to make a point to your two alleged NHL goalies to get their shit together. The goaltending eventually recovered, but the Caps’ even-strength play took a nosedive, and they finished the year dead in the middle of the NHL in both points and Fenwick Close, barely making the playoffs, as Dale Hunter uses such cutting-edge evaluation techniques as “plus-minus” to decide on his scratches. Sure, the Bruins have had their ups and downs, and having Nathan Horton become the new Marc Savard is really going to hurt them in later rounds, but when you consider that Washington has both NHL goalies hurt going into the playoffs, Nick Backstrom recently back from missing half a year with a concussion, and Mike Green wrapping up a lost season spent mostly on the IR, they’re straight-up boned here. Give it to the Bruins in five.
Hoop Says: Bruins in five.
Matt Says: Bruins in five. A team like Boston should be able to grind out enough goals to win.
Gerard Says: Bruins in five. At some point, a team needs to stop pucks.
(3) Florida vs. (6) New Jersey
Playoff History: I’d remark on how this isn’t recent and what-not, but considering this is also the last playoff series the Panthers played? Yeeeeah.
Previously On…Survivor: As previously noted, the Panthers haven’t made the playoffs since 2000, when the Devils disposed of them in four straight. Their last playoff game victory came on April 17, 1997, a 3-0 decision in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Rangers. Jersey, for their part, missed the playoffs last season, lost in the first round in 2010, and haven’t won a series since 2007.
Season Series: Even at two, with one of the Devils’ wins coming in the coin-flip.
Doogie Says: The Panthers have a few historical marks on their hands this year, none of them worthy of pride: most OT losses in NHL history, worst GD of a division champion in over 30 years (1979 CHI), first negative GD division champion in over 20 years (1989 DET), worst GD of any playoff team in 15 years (1997 MTL), worst fancystats of a playoff team in the fancystats era (2007 TBL). What I’m saying here is, Florida has no business having home ice: they should be closer to the draft lottery. The Devils, meanwhile, held their own in an incredibly tough division, despite Martin Brodeur no longer playing like Martin Brodeur (.908 SV%, second straight below-average year), and despite Travis Zajac missing most of the season due to injury. Part of that’s due to shootout wins, yes (NHL-leading 11), and that’ll bode poorly for them in later rounds, but I just look at the rosters and the stats, and I can’t see any way that Florida comes out on top, unless Scott Clemmensen is the new Dwayne Roloson or something. This is easily the least interesting matchup of round one, and seems the least likely to be a real series. Still, the Panthers did manage to wring two regulation wins out of Jersey, so maybe it won’t be a complete shitshow. Ah, what the hell: Devils in five.
Hoop Says: Devils in five.
Matt Says: Devils in six. No real idea here, but I’m going with New Jersey.
Gerard Says: Devils in four. Florida would have missed the playoffs if not for its lossless streak against the NW. They won 2 games, and the only one in regulation was the Canucks.
(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Philadelphia
Playoff History: Ah, here’s one we’re all familiar with. An old Patrick Division grudge match with multiple recent editions to stoke the fires.
|1989 DF||1997 CQF||2000 CSF||2008 CF||2009 CQF|
Previously On…Survivor: The Pens were upset in round one by the Lightning, hocking up a 3-1 lead to lose in seven. The Flyers overcame the Sabres in seven before going out meekly in four against the eventual champions from Boston. (It is also worth noting here that the Flyers, the team swept by the Bruins, are back, while Montreal and Tampa, who pushed the Bruins to seven, are out. Wacky.)
Season Series: The Flyers won it 4-2, and finally suffered their first defeat at the Consol Energy Center in the final game of the regular season.
Doogie Says: It should be the most obvious thing in the world. The Penguins are the best team in the NHL, full stop. They were dominant for most of the year with multiple good players, including that Crosby guy, out of action with various maladies. They should run through the East like a chainsaw on a rocket. And yet I’m not convinced that they’ll get past the first round, simply because the Flyers match up against them very well. I always seem to turn these games on in the final five minutes, with the decision already settled, so I can’t tell you what it is, but the fact that it took six tries for the Pens to beat the Flyers in their own damned building for the first time is telling. Is it really the ribs? Has that spell been broken? Which collection of cheap-shot artists and agitating pricks will drive the other off their game first? The season series suggests Philly has the upper hand in that kind of series, and I have no reason to think it’s not going to be that kind of series. Not that both these teams can’t also play a brilliantly skilled game, just that this is too intense of a rivalry not to expect a lot of shenanigans. It’s going to come down to the last game, possibly the very last shot, but give it to the Flyers in seven.
Hoop Says: Penguins in seven.
Matt Says: Flyers in six. So we can’t leave their top two without something to whine about all summer…
Gerard Says: Pittsburgh in six. If either teams gets out of this series without its top three players injured, it’ll be a miracle.