Before I make my predictions for each round, here are 10 general predictions for the NHL playoffs.
#10: There will be at least four goaltending controversies in the first round
There are at least six teams in the playoffs that have had some sort of goalie controversy this year (Washington, Ottawa, Boston, Montreal, Chicago and Detroit). Either the #1 goalie didn’t do his job, he got injured or a combination of the two.
With so many teams having problems in net, it stands to reason that a few of them won’t have good playoffs. That’s going to lead to fans and the media calling for the backup when their team goes down two games to none. Especially since five of those teams listed above are going into the playoffs with goalies hardly any playoff experience.
Some years you only see one or two problems in nets, but most years there aren’t any. Even when teams get swept, they stay with their #1 goalie. But that’s no longer the case. So expect to see at least four teams experience some sort of controversy there.
This also leads us to the next item on the list.
#9: Jaroslav Halak will be brutal in his first two playoff games, and will be replaced by Carey Price for Game 3 of the first round.
Yes, I know all the statistics. Halak has a better save percentage and a better goals against average. But Halak is a streaky goalie. He goes on huge winning streaks against poor teams, which inflates his numbers. For example, last October he went on a four-game winning streak, defeating the Rangers, Thrashers and the Islanders twice. He won six of seven in December/January, beating the Islanders, Thrashers, Hurricanes, Leafs and the Panthers twice, but losing to the Sens. And in March, he went on a six game winning streak, winning against the Kings, Ducks, Lightning, Oilers, Bruins and Rangers.
Notice any patterns? During those streaks, he played against some of the worst teams in the league. Add up those streaks, and he won 16 games. And of those 16 wins, only two were against playoff teams.
In total, of Halak’s 26 wins on the season, only nine came against playoff teams. But his 13 losses, eight came against playoff teams. When it came to playing the tough teams, the Canadiens leaned on Price. Price has played all four games against the Capitals, played three of four games against the Penguins, and played the team’s lone games against Detroit, Chicago and San Jose.
So the Habs will more than likely be playing a powerhouse team in the first round. And Halak can’t hack it against them. He’ll suffer in the first couple of games, and Price will be back in the net for when the series shifts to Montreal.
#8. The team that wins the Stanley Cup will not have a goon on their team.
Only one team from the last four Stanley Cup winners have had a good (George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks in 2006). I’m not saying they don’t play a role, but that role diminishes a lot come playoff time.
And if their role diminishes, that means their effectiveness takes a big hit as well.
So any team that has a goon (Buffalo, Ottawa, Philly, L.A.) won’t be successful come playoff time.
#7. Daniel Carcillo will do something stupid to allow the other team to take control at the wrong time
This guy could be the most talented goon since Bob Probert. He can use his hands for scoring and punching.
But he’s also a loose cannon, and does some stupid stuff on the ice, and at the wrong time.
Last year, the Flyers were dominating a playoff game against the Penguins until Carcillo decided to fight. Carcillo won the fight easily, but it fired up the Pens, who came back to win the game and the series.
He’s been suspended a few times, and has been kicked out of games. There are times when he grabs a penalty at the wrong moment.
Look for that to happen at least once this series.
6. Marian Hossa will once again lose in the finals
First off, if the Blackhawks get to the finals, it will be a great success for Hossa. It’s not as if Hossa disappeared in the playoffs. Two years ago with Pittsburgh, he had 12 goals and 26 points in 20 games as the Pens lost in the finals. Last year, he had six goals and 15 points in 22 games as the Red Wings lost in the finals.
Now he’s on another team that can go far. And they will. The Blackhawks needed to lose last year in the playoffs to get a bit more of an edge, similar to the Penguins a few years back.
Look for the Blackhawks to get to the finals, but they’re not quite ready to win it all yet, leaving Hossa to lose in the finals for the third year in the row.
5. The Sens will lose an important game by taking a too many men on the ice penalty.
I don’t know what it is, but the Sens have taken a lot of too many men on the ice penalties this season, more than normal it seems.
I don’t know if it’s because of the more-aggressive style the team plays under coach Cory Clouston, but there have been plenty of games where they’ve gotten caught.
I can see it happening a couple times in the playoffs as well, and one of them will cost the Sens a game when the other team scores on the powerplay.
4. Roberto Luongo will have a game where he lets in at least seven goals.
Last year, Luongo got smoked against the Blackhawks in a playoff game, allowing seven goals in the deciding game. A few weeks ago, he let in eight against the Kings.
Even in the Olympics, he never looked that solid. He’s struggled some nights, and when he doesn’t perform, the team generally loses.
Not to mention the fact he may be suffering from some sort of Olympic fatigue. Throw in the 14-game road trip the Canucks played around the Olympic break, and it could mean one very tired goalie.
3. An underdog team will make it to the finals.
This is because of the aforementioned Olympic break.
In 2006, Edmonton and Carolina faced off in the finals. In 2002, it was Carolina and Detroit. In 1998, it was Washington and Detroit (back when Washington wasn’t that good). Not sure if it’s because the good teams have more players at the Olympics, or if it’s just a coincidence.
Look for that to continue. Every Olympic year has seen an underdog Eastern conference team make to the finals. This year, I choose Montreal to be that team.
2. No player will get more than 30 points.
Since the underdogs will be winning most of the series, they’ll have to do it with defence against high-powered offence such as Chicago, Washington and San Jose.
It will come down to teams with their offence spread out over four lines, good powerplays and timely goals.
1. Alexander Ovechkin will be the subject of a suspension controversy.
I’ve wrote about him before. He’s the dirtiest player in the game. And the longer he plays in the postseason, the greater the chances he will run someone from behind or go knee-on-knee with someone.
When that happens, the league won’t want to suspend him. But since he’s already been suspended twice this past season, they may not have any choice. But if they do, look for it to be a one-game suspension, and it won’t be for a game seven.
Quick first-round predictions
Washington Capitals vs Montreal Canadiens: Canadiens in 6
New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers: Philly in 6
Buffalo Sabres vs Boston Bruins: Sabres in 7
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators: Penguins in four
San Jose Sharks vs Colorado Avalanche: Sharks in six
Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators: Blackhawks in five
Vancouver Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings: Kings in six
Phoenix Coyotes vs Detroit Red Wings: Wings in seven