Out of my 1.3 readers, I believe that 0.007 of you follow hockey. Rejoice, rejoice, verily thou shalt rejoice, this post is for you! For the rest of you knuckleheads, I'll have another lazy man birthday post up tomorrow for someone artistically near and dear to me. But for now, lace up those skates and check someone into the fucking boards!
As usual, I highly recommend not using these predictions as the basis for any wager involving cash, goods or services, even more so since I get to watch far less hockey than I'd like, thanks to the bizarre sporting tastes of my fellow Americans. At least my cable company has the fucking NHL Network. Finally. And I'll always have the Blue Jackets, though let me know when they do something about that pop-gun offense. Future Vezina trophy winner Pascal Leclaire will be a future Vezina trophy winner somewhere else if they don't. Though to be fair, Rick Nash was a +3 this season and Nikolai Zherdev showed signs of life. Anyway, the picks.
Montreal vs. Boston: One figured the young talent that the Habs have been accumulating (Chris Higgins, the Kostitsyns, Tomas Plekanec, Mark Streit) would blossom at some point, but to a man, almost all did this season, and when you add in another youngster, goalie Carey Price, playing out of his head (Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy, anyone?) and the resurgence of greybeard Alexei Kovalev who had his best season in over a decade, plus already solid special teams, well, you have the East's number one seed. En plus, they completely owned the Bruins this year. No reason that should stop now. Canadiens in five.
Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa: My preseason pick for Stanley Cup champ isn't looking so hot. In my defense, how the hell was I to know that they'd waste a 15-2-0 start, both Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher would get put on, er, ice so close to playoff time and that Ray Emery would be joining Dominik Hasek and Terry Sawchuk in the We Are Looney Goalies club? Marc-Andre Fleury won't have to be Tom Barasso after all. The Senators are a fucking mess. Penguins in six.
Washington vs. Philadelphia: Forget matchups, who outside of Philadelphia is rooting for the Flyers? Alexander Ovechkin is one bad dude and sure, Philly is probably a bit deeper team after years of good drafting and smart signings and trades, but come on, Ovechkin! With an assist from rookie center Nicklas Backstrom! Capitals in seven.
New Jersey vs. N.Y. Rangers: Some things never change: every year the Devils lose pieces, Martin Brodeur is in net and the Devils make the playoffs. The supposedly high-flying Ranger offense never materialized (23rd in goals) but with young netminder Henrik Lundqvist doing his best Brodeur imitation (6th in 2.23 GAA, right after that other guy), that wasn't the death knell it could have been. But, far be it from me to not choose a team with such a diabolical nickname. Devils in six.
Detroit vs. Nashville: Kudos to the Predators for making the playoffs despite their offseason fire sale. How that town ever ended up with a hockey franchise, I'll never know. [Randal, a hint: it starts with M and rhymes with funny]. Unquestionably the most lopsided matchup of the first round, Hockeytown better remember such past first-round flameouts to inferior-on-paper opponents (Los Angeles in 2001, Anaheim in 2003, Edmonton in 2006). They will. Red Wings in five.
San Jose vs. Calgary: The Sharks are a very deep team, Evgeni Nabokov is playing wonderfully (46 wins and a 2.14 GAA) and the Flames are about as inconsistent as it gets. And with Mikka Kiprusoff suddenly human, unless he returns to his 2004 Stanley Cup form, this will be a short series. Jarome Iginla can't do it by himself. Sharks in six.
Minnesota vs. Colorado: The Wild have great special teams and are about as non-exciting a hockey team as there is. Now, I don't mean they're bloody boring like the Devils of the mid-90s, just not a whizbang fireworks display. Hey, is Marian Gaborik hurt yet? For Colorado, old man Joe Sakic is back and Jose Theodore has not sucked of late but they're just a bit more beat up than Minnesota. Thus, Wild in seven.
Anaheim vs. Dallas: Who knew there was scoring in Texas? [insert own dude ranch joke here]. Sure, it looks like Marty Turco finally has an offense to back him up (thanks Mike Ribeiro, for having your best season ever the year after I trade you from my fantasy team, asshole) but when the going gets tough, Anaheim has angry young man Chris Pronger ready to step on you (and get suspended). The Stars not having Sergei Zubov around won't help either. Ducks in seven.