Aardvark’s Daring NHL Playoff Predictions and Jinxes
Op-Ed Commentary and likely BAD advice
I’ve written a few dozen NHL playoff prediction and pool advice columns and short of trying to be cheeky, I have never contemplated a team I cheer for being one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup.
But that is the case this year as the Winnipeg Jets enter the second season as one of the top six favourites, along with the Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and, it still boggles my mind to say this, Vegas Golden Knights.
The opening games last night all went to hometown favourites; Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and Vegas. The other five series get underway this evening.
The Jets showed resiliency and focus in taking down the Wild 3-2 in regulation, while Sidney Crosby terrified Philadelphia Flyers fans once again by notching a hattie to lead the Pens to a 7-0 spanking of their Pennsylvania rivals. The upstart Golden Knights kept the script going by edging the LA Kings 1-0.
So things are going as they ‘should’ with those three series.
The other five series include: New Jersey Devils vs Tampa Bay; Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston; Columbus Blue Jackets vs Washington Capitals; Colorado Avalanche vs Nashville; and San Jose Sharks vs Anaheim Ducks.
As selecting players for playoff pools requires picking shooters who will go deep into the dance, allow me to completely ruin your chances at victory and smugness by offering my series predictions.
Both teams are dealing with key injuries and questions around health and both teams have quality talent capable of winning games single-handedly. This one is a toss up but I believe the Sharks are deeper and they can overcome the absence of injured Joe Thornton, whereas the Ducks will be hard pressed to replace Cam Fowler.
Sharks in six games.
Get ready for lots of saucy Carrie Underwood tweets and other country stars trying to hog limelight as the Predators begin another long trek toward the finals. The Preds are deep, healthy and damned good and the Avs are not healthy and squeaked into the playoffs. No starting goalie; loss of a top four blueliner and no chance for the Avs.
Predators in four games
Poor Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals are going with backup goalie Philipp Grubauer to start the series and that could serve as extra incentive to the playoff success starved Caps. That said, the Blue Jackets enter the playoffs on a high, have an all-world goalie playing up to snuff and are a deeper team than the Caps. Should be a hard fought series. Expect John Tortorella to turn purple at some point.
Blue Jackets in six games.
This is going to be a good series. Auston Matthews versus Patrice Bergeron. The Leafs enter the playoffs relatively healthy while the Bruins are missing a couple of key defenders. The Bruins have perhaps the top line in the NHL with Brad (I’ll eat your face with my rat teeth) Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak and the Leafs are one of the most balance offensive clubs around. Both teams have quality netminders. And Toronto has extra incentive considering the Bruins miraculous 2013 comeback win over the buds. Who to pick? Going with my gut.
Leafs in seven games
The Lightning was a terrific team over the first 82 games and the Devils were an upstart bunch originally pegged to be a lottery team, led by a resurgent Taylor Hall who finished sixth in scoring with 93 points (imagine him on a line with freaking Connor McDavid! Sorry Oilers fans. No. No I am not.). As much as I’d like to see the Devils knock the bolts off, I can’t see this series being close, though Tampa is dealing with some injuries (fact is, all teams are) that could impact its depth.
Tampa Bay in five games.
The Golden Knights piss me off. Like spoiled brats, Vegas was handed a nice shiny and competitive franchise thanks to revamped (and wildly softened) league entry standards. It used to be if a city wanted an NHL franchise, they had to pay top dollar and then place its head through a noose in order to be choked and throttled and then whipped for a few seasons of horrible expansion franchise suffering. Not any more. Fast, balanced and hungry to prove themselves, the Knights shut down LA last night and I think they will keep the puck rolling. Besides, they have a couple of former Kootenay ICE players in Brayden McNabb and Cody Eakins.
Vegas in six games.
The Penguins stomped the Flyers last night; totally exposed them. Crosby still looks like he is on a mission; Malkin and Kessel are still scorching. The Pens are still fast and deep. They also still look thin on the blueline and their starting goalie is coming off a concussion, so there could be cracks to exploit. The Flyers have some top end talent, including Claude Giroux enjoying a resurgent season as the second top scorer in the league behind McDavid with 102 points. That said, the Pens will continue to shut down the Flyers top line and smother the rest as they cruise to victory.
Pittsburgh in five games.
This will be the final piece to creating what should become a white hot rivalry between these two franchises. The Jets were the best home team in the league this year and the Wild were middling on the road. The Jets were seven games over .500 on the road while the Wild were also one of the top road teams. They gave the Jets a spirited go last night and will do so for the whole series. The Jets are just too deep, too fast, too offensively gifted and too bone-crushingly large for the Wild to contain, especially with Ryan Suter injured.
Winnipeg in five games.
That leaves the Jets, Sharks, Golden Knights and Predators emerging from the Western Conference and Penguins, Blue Jackets, Leafs and Lightning being the final four from the Eastern Conference.
It is difficult to assume the next round match-ups but I see the Jets and Penguins meeting in the final, with the Penguins being too much up the middle and… Crosby… his legend demands a threepeat. The experience will harden the Jets and they will win the cup next year.
Now that I’ve jinxed things… Go Jets Go!
And if you are wise you will not select your playoff pools based on my advice. I am almost always wrong.
– Ian Cobb is owner/editor of e-KNOW and he hopes he is right.