Monday, April 9, 2012

The Real Season Starts Wednesday

It is that time of year again. Hockey Playoffs.

(Just watch this if you don’t want to read anything about hockey. )

I have been bothering Jeff all year about hockey and now is the time when everyone joins in and start watching it with me. This past season I have watched more hockey than I ever have before in my life and here are the major storylines for those of you that haven’t been watching (which is everyone I know)…

1. St. Louis Blues- The Blues have been the team of the year so far. There were so little expectations on this team coming into the year and then fired their coach 13 games into the season. Certainly no one expected much after that but the Blues hired Ken Hitchcock to turn everything around. Hitchcock has come in and done what he does best and build the team around defense. The Blues have two legit goalies in Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak (who still haunts my dreams from 2 years ago when he was in Montreal.) Those two, along with their defensive style of play led the league with 2.02 goals per game. The Blues not only made the playoffs but they won the deepest division in hockey in besting the Preds, Wings and Hawks to a Central division title. Now we get to see what this team is made of in the postseason. As Hitchcok said last week, he wants to see how his guys respond when the "wow" factor of playoff hockey hits them in the face.

2. Legit divisions/horrendous divisions- Both the Atlantic Division in the East and the already mentioned Central in the West were loaded with top teams. Each division got four teams in and all of those teams were in the top 5 for points in each Conference. The problem is, with the current playoff structure, at least two of these teams will be bounced in the first round. (More on that later)

The horrendous divisions include both the Southeast in the East and the Pacific in the West. All you need to know about these divisions is that the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes each won these respective divisions for the first time ever. The freaking Panthers fergodaskes. (Rats on the ice!) Top teams like the Caps and Sharks limped into the playoffs and now face stiffer competition because of it.

3. Concussions- I am not even going to talk about Crosby because he seems to be the only one covered. A lot of stars were and still are dealing with an ongoing issue that the league refuses to take a stanceon. Stars like Backstrom, Sedin (one of them, I can't tell them apart) Pronger, and Toews all have been out significant time with concussions. After having to deal with this myself with Crosby the past year I have learned one thing about concussions and that is no one knows anything about concussions. Every little thing I have read or seen just makes it even more confusing. I am going to stop now because it hurts my brain but it is clearly an issue and not just within hockey. (I am looking at you football.)

4, Geno- I know some people will say Stamkos had a better year since he scored 60 goals but Malkin not only had 12 more points than Stammer but he did it 10 months removed from tearing his ACL. Geno dominated from Christmas on and carried the Pens back up near the top of the E Conference. The most compelling stat for Malkin and his MVP resume is the factthat his linemates, Neal and Kunitz, both had career years playing alongside him. Neal went from having only 2 goals in a half season with the Pens to 40 goals playing with Geno. Clearly he makes all of those around him better. Plus he had unreal goals like this, this, this, this, this and this. O and this one.

5. Potential lockout- I hate to be a Debbie D but after all the talk about NFL and NBA lockouts last year, the NHL is now the next league to have to worry about this. The CBA will be up at the end of this season and we all know Bettman could fuck this up. The NHL has made some great strides and is headed in the right direction but we all know that this could all hit the fan this summer. For the next two months we don't need to talk about it. I am sorry I brought it up. Onto the playoffs

Now the fun stuff. Playoff hockey baby. 2 month of standing on a ledge (if you are lucky enough to last that long)

Here are the top series
1. Pens/Flyers- So much HATE
2. Wings/Preds- This will be an interesting matchup of the old guard and the up and coming team. Big thing here is can the Wings win on the road
3. Caps/Bruins- Do the Bruins and Tim Thomas have enough in the tank to win two in a row?
4. Blues/Sharks- Will the Sharks just die already?
5. Canucks/Kings- This will be a fun series plus I will get to chant "Luuuooonnnngggggoooo" to myself in my apartment at 11 pm at night. I am looking forward to it.
6. Panthers/Devils- I am kidding. If you watch this series then you need to change your life

Picking hockey series is beyond stupid but Jeff and I are going to do it anyway. I have watched more hockey this year than I ever have and I still have no idea what to expect. Instead of watching shows like Mad Men or the Walking Dead, I have spent my Sunday's watching Flames/Stars games. (I live a sad lonely life.) Here are our picks anyway

EAST

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottowa Senators

Jeff: The Senators have a bunch of players who can put it in the net but Lundquist and the Rangers' power play defense should keep them an arm's length away. Plus, Rangers/Pens must happen at some point. Otherwise, this is all your fault, Bettman. Rangers in 5.

Mike: The Rangers lucked out by drawing the Sens and not a dangerous Caps team. I have seen a few folks pick the Sens to make this a series but they don't have the depth the hang with the Rangers. Plus, as Jeff points out, the Pens and Rangers must play down the road to make this season complete. Rangers in 6

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals

Jeff: The returning Cup champs start their title defense against a team I don't understand. Actually, I don't even think the Caps know what to expect. The offensive talent on the Bruins should carry them but Caps rookie goalminder Braden Holtby, who is 4-1-1 in 6 of their last 10 games, is the wildcard here. If he stands on his head and Ovie goes off, they could really frustrate Boston. Bruins in 7.

Mike: The Caps were all over the place all year and now may actually have done something good for themselves by lowering expectations. If they lose the Bruins it won't be considered a disaster that it had been when they lost in the past. Still, this series comes down to goal tending. The Caps are starting a rookie in Braden Holtby and the Bruins have Timmy Thomas. If Thomas plays like he did last year then forget about it. I don't think he will though one because he is old and last year's run took a lot out of him.Second, Thomas hates going to DC, the dude hates government. Caps in 6.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

Jeff: Mike has sent me this video almost every single day for the past 2 months. Plus, it's the Panthers. Don't let the seeding throw you off: it'd be a upset the other way around if the Devils can't shut down Florida hockey. Devils in 6.

Mike: Come on Jeff, you have to put this video in there too. It isn’t complete without them both. I really have nothing else to say about this series. Other than I hope the Devils lose but they won’t. Devils in 6

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

Jeff: This is the time of year where you may want to unfollow Mike's Twitter. The Pens have the players, not to mention finally their health back, to win it all but the thing that concerns me most for them is the road to get there, starting with the Flyers. It's going to be a slugfest. Pittsburgh should skate but will Hartnell and the Flyers leave them wounded? Best case is getting out of this round early but they won't. Pens in 7

Mike: No one really follows me on Twitter except random girls who say they are looking for dates that clearly aren't real. (I am not falling for it. Again Anyway) I will try to remain as objective as possible here but every time I think about the Flyers I just start shaking with how much I hate them. The thing is the Flyers are a bad matchup for the Pens. The Pens have struggled with them all year and until Saturday the Flyers were unbeaten at the new CEC center in Pittsburgh. Plus, I know Jagr or Talbot will rip my heart out at least one time. Still, the Pens are now healthy and when they are humming they have more depth and talent than any team in the league. Key here, as always, is goalies. If MAF is on then the Pens win, if not, things will get tricky. God help me. Pens in 7

WEST

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings

Jeff: Another year, another 1 seed for the Canucks. The story for Vancouver has, and will always be as long as Luongo is in net at least, goaltending. The Sedin brothers will weird their way to victory but until this team, this city has confidence in Luongo's ability, they won't get as far as their talent should. It's the Kings though. Canucks in 5.

Mike: The West is just loaded. Period. The Kings are a real solid team but their only hope is if Jonathan Quick carries them (I am going to call this "Halaking") or if Luongo implodes. I think the Canucks will be able to out skill them and Luongo will save his emotional breakdown for later in the playoffs. Canucks in 6

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks

Jeff: Man, the Blues let their overall #1 seed slip away, losing 4 of their last 5 and 8 of their last 11. They're such a young team; I wonder if they'll have the experience and hunger to go far, or past the 1st round at all. They haven't received much attention or credit all year until Brian Elliott dangerously flirted with breaking the shutout streak. They're also 4-0 against the Sharks. So naturally I'm picking Sharks in 6.

Mike: On paper this should be a great series. The Sharks have as much talent as anyone in the league but they haven't shown it at all this year. The big thing with the Blues is can they handle the big stage. If they can handle the pressure then this one will be real quick and everyone can go to Papi’s. Blues in 5

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks

Jeff: Another weird 3/6 thanks to some disproportionate divisions. They should just have an East Atlantic vs. West Central playoffs. Should be a rare defensive matchup but that's largely due to some terrible power plays by both teams. There is no reason to watch this unless you are from Chicago. Hawks in 7.

Mike: I can't figure out the Hawks. I have watched like 20-25 games this year for them and they are all over the map. One game they look like the dominant team that won it 2 years ago and the other they can't do anything. The key to this series, stop me if you have heard this before, will be goal tending. Mike Smith of the Coyotes is expected to be the guy that carries them over the hump and wins them this series. I want to say they will but I will still go with a more talented team like the Hawks. Plus the Hawks and Canucks have to play each other, it is a rule. Hawks in 7

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings

Jeff: Anybody who reads this blog probably knows more about the Wings than I do. My Detroit sports Twitter feed does tell me that after their mid-season home winning streak, the Wings finished their season in pretty uninspiring fashion, losing 12 of their last 18 since the start of March. The key will be staying away from stupid penalties and Nashville's power play line. That and Jimmy Howard eating pucks. Wings in 6.

Mike: How much will home ice matter? The Preds got the home ice advantage and the Wings have been terrible on the road all year. If the Wings can steal one of the first two then they may be able to turn the series in their favor. Still, I feel a changing of the guard moment with the Preds as loaded as they ever have been. Don’t worry Detroit sports fans the Tigers are legit and you have the Lions too. (Did I just type that?) Preds in 7.

If you actually read everything above this I grant you another video present. Good luck to everyone, I hope your heart can take it. I hope mine can too.