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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND:Regular Season Wrap Up and a Savage Journey into the Heart of the NHL Playoffs

By: Mike Peck
04/16/2009 8:44 AM -

By Chad Huebner

The regular season comes to an exciting finish, but now the real fun begins: Two months of postseason action. One of the best times of the year in sports, the NHL playoffs remind me why I follow hockey (I certainly don’t do it for the fortune, chicks or fame. . . well, at least a little bit of notoriety, but that’s about it).

Before I get to that time-honored tradition of picking the first round winners (done a little differently this year, you’ll see), I get to look at how I did in terms of picking who finished where during the regular season and who were my playoff picks.

Let’s start with the “who finished where” part, as this is always a laugh riot. Out of the 30 teams, only eight of my picks finished where they did. No mean feat when one of them was Detroit, and I was spot on with some of the last place teams, such as Atlanta, New York Islanders and Los Angeles. I couldn’t have been more wrong than with the Northwest Division, where I had Minnesota and Edmonton finishing 1 and 2, and Calgary finishing dead last. “Signees Mike Cammalleri. . . and Rene Borque might really pan out. . .” is what I wrote in this year’s preview. Yeah, I guess they panned out after all.

When it comes to picking playoff teams, I was 8-for-8 in the East and 5-for-8 in the West. Minnesota and Edmonton fizzled down the stretch (both Lemaire of the Wild and MacTavish of the Oilers are gone as head coaches), while Dallas was never really in the thick of things, even when people thought they were. As for the Eastern side, Boston and Carolina did a lot better than what I thought (I had Boston as a fifth seed and Carolina barely making the playoffs), while my 1 and 2 seeds, Pittsburgh and Montreal, slid a bit compared to the year before.

Speaking of last year, once again, in order to qualify for the playoffs, you had to have 90 points or better. Actually, the 91 points Anaheim posted this season is the lowest for any playoff team since the 2005-06 season, the year after the lockout. That’s a .562 winning percentage, so even in the area of supposed parity, it still takes more than just breaking even during the regular season to qualify for the postseason.

But enough of that statistical jibber-jabber that only I, a member of the SIHR loves, and that you, dear reader, has to put up with every once in awhile (or not, I mean, admit it, all the numbers I throw at you, you could look up yourself on a multitude of websites, but please stay, I like your company) it’s on to my playoff picks. What I usually do is post the season series against the teams, and what was the result of the last playoff matchup between the teams (if applicable). Well, this year I’m just freestylin’; I’m throwing a bunch of sentences at you that talk about the teams, with me reaching a frantic conclusion by picking the winner of the series. Call it the “Hunter S. Thompson method of writing”. Ready? Well, buy the ticket and take the ride.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

8. Montreal Canadiens vs. 1. Boston Bruins

A year passes and here we are, face to face again. But not like silver spoons. More like a rusty fork (Montreal) and the fine china (Boston). Canadiens were good early on, then lost a bunch of games and their head coach, then managed to get their act together to sneak into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Bruins claw their way to the top, and beside a few bumps here and there, won in style. Big Z will pummel the Montreal forwards and “Not So Tiny” Tim will be spotless in goal. Is the Price right? Something for Canadien fans to agonize over during the long summer.

My Pick: Bruins in Five

7. New York Rangers vs. 2. Washington Capitals

Congrats, Rangers! All that hard work + New Fiery Head Coach = First Round Matchup with a Juggernaut. Hope you enjoy the short stay. Alex the Great leads the charge. Green sees red when New York tries to score. Is this the start of the D.C. Dynasty? Does Tortorella make tortellini? Can Theodore carry the Caps all the way to the finals? Yes way, Jose!

My Pick: Caps in Six

6. Carolina Hurricanes vs. 3. New Jersey Devils

Both 3-6 matchups very dangerous to pick. Canes have Cam Word, Devils have Marty. Canes on hot streak since Maurice (bwaaaa, bwaooooo!) came back, Devils have Marty. Canes pick up ’05-06 stalwart Erik Cole for the stretch run, Devils have. . . get the picture? But it’s been a long time since Jersey won it all (2003), can they get past the Pens and the Bruins? Series down to the wire, everybody snarling and jabbering like dogs fighting over a steak. It’s a serious series for serious people in serious times. Seriously.

My Pick: Devils in Seven

5. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 4. Pittsburgh Penguins

If I wasn’t a ‘Hawks fan, this would be the most interesting first round series to watch. One of 2 inter-state battles, but the most compelling. Hate to see such a sweet series wasted in the first round, but that’s Pittsburgh’s fault. Took a guy named Bylsma (don’t ask how it’s pronounced, Pens fans, just be thankful he saved your bacon) to bring the team together. Oh, and Kunitz and Guerin helped out as well. Biron or Nittymaki? Nittymaki or Biron? Is Parent still playing? Well, at least the Phillies won it all last year, don’t see the Pirates winning anything anytime soon, right? Right?! Had the Flyers won home-ice advantage I’d go with them, but. . .

My Pick: Pens in Seven

WESTERN CONFERENCE

8. Anaheim Ducks vs. 1. San Jose Sharks

First Cali series in 40 years. Nightmares of white skates, yikes! Beware the Ducks. A seller’s team at trading time and they still make the playoffs. Most dangerous eighth seed I’ve ever seen. Sharks strong in the regular season, can they do it in the postseason? Only once past the first round, not good for a Cup favorite. Maybe they should take out the orange in their unis: it’s bad luck, juju, whatever. Yuck. It’s this year’s version of the white skates. Nooooo! Not the white skates again! Those bastards! I feel so low now.

My Pick: Sharks in Six

7. Columbus Blue Jackets vs. 2. Detroit Red Wings

Congrats, Columbus, all your hard work gets you a first round exit in your first time in the playoffs. Wheeee! Jackets will go down with a fight, if that’s consolation. Defending champs need this series to toughen up. Everybody on their case for shoddy goaltending. Remember the 80s Oilers? They didn’t have the best goaltending either and gee, wonder how they did. Valuable lessons learned by Columbus, least of which is: next time nail down the sixth seed!

My Pick: Red Wings in Six (wish I was wrong)

6. St. Louis Blues vs. 3. Vancouver Canucks


St. Louis timetable sped up, huh? Would like to see a Columbus-St. Louis matchup for the Mason vs. Mason aspect, but not gonna happen. Still, it’s a nice thought. Canucks caught fire as well, can’t forget them. Luongo a go-go to the Finals? Crazier things have happened. Blues on track for another 20-year plus playoff run.

My Pick: Canucks in Six

5. Calgary Flames vs. 4. Chicago Blackhawks

‘Hawks in playoffs? ‘HAWKS IN PLAYOFFS?! Pinch me, I’m dreaming. No, wait! I like this dream. Can Jessica Alba be an Ice Girl in this one? Anyway, here’s exception to the rule that experience wins out over inexperience: youth beats all. Toews and Kane strut their stuff. ‘Bulin Wall remains solid against the Flames. Shades of 2004? Maybe, but ‘Hawks rise to success similar to Pens: meaning, they’ll lose this year, make it to the Finals next year. I’ve enjoyed the ride, and wish it’ll last a little longer. Oh, have hardly mentioned the Flames. Well, Jokinen gets a taste of postseason, finds it bittersweet. Keenan loses a few more hairs on top of his gleaming head. Can’t wait for his “warm welcome” at the UC after all these years.

My Pick: ‘Hawks in Six

Next Time: I do my running diary during the ‘Hawks first playoff game in seven years! Will it be a bunch of snappy one-liners or just gibberish? Depends on whether I’m stone-cold sober or buzzed a bit. Find out!

Remember; e-mail me at chadhuebner1972@yahoo.com for anything on your mind. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.



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