Wednesday night starts the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and it’s time to make an early set of predictions for this one with a little break down of each one of these series and why the winner will win (MINUS the Anaheim/Nashville series, as I will break that down tomorrow)
This is such an interesting matchup to watch.
Looking At Washington: Washington is YET again the #1 seed, but there is ONE major change that they’ve made this year then in years past: DEFENSE. The Washington Capitals have found a real defense. Don’t know what I mean? Look at this stat: last season the Caps were 15th in the league in Goals Against with 221 during the regular season. This year? The Caps are 4th in the league in Goals Against with 191 during the regular season. Who are they behind? Only Nashville, Boston, and Vancouver. But there is ONE glaring problem in Washington: Goaltending. Who’s going to take the reins and try to lead Washington to the first Cup finals in over a decade? Neuvirth played the majority of the games for Washington and a better record, however Varlamov has better stats. My call? Neuvirth starts the series.
Looking At New York: New York squeaked into the playoffs on the last weekend of the playoffs in a bit of a role reversal from last season. The Rangers don’t really have too much of an identity on offense or defense as they sort of resemble a Nashville Predators team in that respect, however they have a world-class goaltender and possible Vezina finalist in Henrik Lundqvist. One of the best goaltenders in the league and leads the NHL in shutouts (11), King Henrik can make or break this series for the Rangers.
Martel’s Pick: Caps in 6. If Lundqvist can SOMEHOW win game 1, this prediction may be null and void, however I think Ovi and the Caps overpower New York in this one.
Looking At Philadelphia: The Flyers have been one of the top teams in the league the whole year and a lot of experts have picked them for returning to the Stanley Cup Finals. Coming off a devastating OT loss in game 6 of the Finals last year, Philly had something to prove this year, and that they’ve done. They’ve pretty much taken out every opponent they’ve come across this year, however due to a poor March and a nearly completely-winless April, the Flyer slipped to second place in the Eastern Conference. Can Sergei Bobrovsky be the Ron Hextall this Flyers team needs? We can only wait to see
Looking At Buffalo: The Sabres. Easily one of the sexy picks in the Eastern Conference. You look at this team and you don’t really have any big names pop out at you (even though they DO have #6 Weber on their team) except for one: Ryan Miller. An all-Olympic athlete who’s currently having a bit of a rough season (compared to normal), Miller is still the major wildcard here. If Miller gets hot, and hot early, there will be NO stopping him and the Sabres in the first couple of rounds.
Martel’s Pick: Sabres in 7. Like I said, if Miller gets hot, it’s over. And for this series? It’s time Miller gets hot. Sabres take it the distance and dispatch the Finals-favorite early
Looking At Boston: 2 names: Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara. Tim Thomas, who is the front-runner and the most likely winner of the Vezina trophy, plays like a man who is definitely not 36 years old. Thomas makes the most miraculous saves look simply easy and does it with style, and if you beat him to get to the back of the net? You better savor the moment, as he only averages that about twice a game. Now, Zdeno Chara: MONTREAL PUBLIC ENEMY #1. Oh, getting to see a 7-game series with Zdeno against the city of Montreal is a dream come true and it’s going to be a blast to watch
Looking At Montreal: The most historical team in the NHL and 50% of the hopes of the entire nation of Canada, Montreal boasts a fairly decent offense/defense, including the play of rookie P.K. Subban having one heck of a rookie season, and a possible-Vezina finalist in Carey Price. Carey Price was promoted to full-time #1 status when the Canadiens decided to take him over last year’s playoff hero Jaroslav Halak (who departed to STL). Did they make the right decision? Absolutely. With a whopping 72 games played this season, Price has been a complete work horse for the Habs and leads the NHL in wins with 38. But can he muster at least 4 more? That has yet to be seen.
Martel’s Pick: Bruins in 7. This is going to be ugly, bloody, and it’s going to drain EVERYTHING from both teams, but Boston is going to squeak out of this one as the victor…but will they have anything for any future rounds? That will be the real question
Looking At Pittsburgh: Crosby-less, Malkin-less, the Penguins still steamed down the stretch towards the finish line and actually gave the Flyers a run for the money for the division championship. Fleury has been brilliant in net and the supporting cast of the Penguins have taken this team back to right where they probably would have been if Crosby/Malkin were in. Wait…what was that? Yep, that’s right. The Penguins are EXACTLY where they would be even if they had Crosby and Malkin in, in my opinion. However, what would be different? They would have a better shot of winning the first round
Looking At Tampa Bay: Dominating by the strong play of Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier, and the Eastern Conference’s version of Teemu Selanne, Martin St. Louis, the Tampa Bay Lightning are probably the ONE team hasn’t really been talked about a bunch in a lot of previews out there. However, this team is SCARY with how good of a run they could have. If Roloson can channel his inner-2006 self and Tampa’s offense plays like they have the capabilities of, then this run-and-gun team is going to be extremely fun to watch this post-season
Martel’s Pick: Tampa in 6. No Crosby? No problem for Tampa Bay. Without #87 leading the way, Tampa will make quick work of Pittsburgh and get out of the first round
Looking At Vancouver: The odds on favorite to take home the cup this year and the other 50% of Canada’s hope for a return trip for Lord Stanley’s trophy, Vancouver is a dangerous dangerous team. They have TWO 40-goal scores and FIVE players with 50 or more points during the regular season. Although their defensive corp have been devastated through the season with injuries, their goaltending and offense have been superb and have led them to a President’s Trophy and only 19 regulation losses (10 of those on the road, a league best)
Looking At Blackhawks: Literally getting into the playoffs with about 10 seconds left in the entire NHL regular season, the Blackhawks season has been a story of ups and downs for the defending cup champs. Losing all of that talent associated with last year’s cup win, however, has been the main reason for the decline in the Hawks. While missing Niemi/Byfuglien/Ladd/Madden/Sopel/Versteeg/and more, Chicago has managed to sneak into the playoffs to see if they defend their title and stir up any trouble for a Vancouver team they have torn to pieces the past 2 seasons.
Martel’s Pick: Vancouver in 5. Canucks exorcise their 2 year old demons by dispatching the Hawks in the United Center. Chelsea Dagger? Finally silenced.
Looking At San Jose: A completely dominating team. San Jose is a complete package. They have four dangerous lines on offense, 3 dangerous lines on defense, and Stanley Cup winning goaltending, leading me to believe that this could be one of the few teams to challenge Vancouver for the Western Conference title this year. Being able to contain players like Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau is going to be tough for ANY team to do. The team that can contain San Jose and expose Antti Niemi is going to be the team to take the cup. If no one can do that, San Jose will win it finally
Looking At Los Angeles: Oh how 2 weeks can change the life of a team. With Kopitar and Williams going down near the end of the season, there is a black cloud looming over Staples Center in downtown LA. What can the Kings possibly do WITHOUT two of their best and brightest? Let’s not forget they still have great goaltending, AMAZING defense with Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty leading the way, and still are very potent with Simmonds, Smyth, Handzus, Brown, and trade-acquisition Dustin Penner on offense. Don’t count the Kings out entirely
Martel’s Pick: San Jose in 5. Too much for Los Angeles to handle. Without Kopitar and Williams, it’s going to hurt L.A. more seriously than people think. SJ is, unfortunately, going to steamroll LA, leaving Kings fans to wonder what would have happened if they would have been healthy
Looking At Detroit: This HAS to be the oldest team in the playoffs this year, but they have the most playoff experience by far. Boasting such talent as Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and nearly-annual Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit has the pieces EVERY year to get to and win the Stanley Cup. However, injuries have hit the Wings as of late and their losing chemistry at a very vital juncture of the season. A possible unspoken hero, Jimmy Howard is going to HAVE to lead this team if they want to go far…but will it be enough?
Looking At Phoenix: Who are the Phoenix Coyotes and how in the world have they survived in the desert so long? Phoenix has quietly stayed out of the national spotlight this year, in terms of their play, and has put together an almost EXACT replica of last years team. With the superb goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov leading the way and the unwaivering leadership of the last remaining Winnipeg-remnant, Shane Doan, the Coyotes have what it takes to suck the life out of the Red Wings just as they did last year…but can they capitalize this time?
Martel’s Pick: Coyotes in 6. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Detroit does not escape the first round this year. I want them to so Nashville has a chance to play them in a later round, but Phoenix has superior goaltending in my opinion and queitly may have a better on-ice product than the Wings do
Ducks/Preds preview Coming Tuesday, April 12th 2011!