My favourite job on this blog is predicting things, and although I’ve had fun going through the brackets of nuclear bomb threats, resolutions of the Fermi paradox and the like, sometimes we have to turn our attention to matters of a little more consequence. It’s the 2015 NHL Playoffs. Who could predict this?
(1) New York Rangers / (8) Pittsburgh The Penguins weren’t able to hold off the Ottawa Senators after taking a 3-0 lead with the playoffs on the line. That doesn’t bode well for them in pressure situations. Alain Vigneault, the Presidents Trophy Winningest coach of the last little while has done it all with his star netminder injured, and while leading a supremely unlikeable team in the Rangers. “Alain Vigneault leads unlikeable President’s trophy winners to Stanley Cup Finals” is a script I’ve heard before. Then again, so is “Alain Vigneault leads unlikeable President’s trophy winners to devastating first round defeat”. But to the Penguins? A team whose depth mirrors a cardboard cutout of a Twilight sequel? I don’t think so. Rangers in 5.
(2) Montreal / (7) Ottawa The Sens are a fantastic story, have exciting rookies, seem to have Montreal’s number in head to head matchups. They have the underdog goaltending phenom to beat all underdog goaltending phenoms, their GM is battling cancer and they’ve put it all on the line for him. The amazing turnaround with new coaching has Ottawa believing they can do anything. And, frequently, it seems that they can. Montreal has Carey Price. Habs in 6.
Flortheast Grudgematch: Tampa Bay / Detroit Tampa Bay scores a bunch of goals. Goals are good. They back up those goals with being a good team possession-wise in every situation, and having decent goaltending. If anything is giving me pause in predicting a sweep, it is that Tampa Bay employs people with names like Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov. This makes me think the Lightning might be stuck in some Gogol short story. But then again, what if it’s a Gogol story with a happy ending? What if Ben Bishop’s nose turns out to be an amazing defensive prospect, for example? Stats-heads will not like me saying this, but I think you can’t discount that possibility. T-Bay in 5.
The Metro Still Sucks Grudgematch: New York Islanders / Washington There is something that is not letting me pick the Islanders. Is it their inexperience? Their disappointing second half to the season? The dislike for John Tavares’ face? The desire to tenderly look their GM in the eyes and whisper “You know nothing, Garth Snow”? Whatever it is, I’m picking Ovechkin, the best non-goalie in the NHL, and the rest of the gang. Caps in 4.
(1) Anaheim / (8) Winnipeg Once again Anaheim wins the west while underwhelming the fancystats-minded. I’m not gonna put on a Don Cherry suit and scream how Corsi’s broken, but perhaps there is something good about Anaheim that this particular stat undercounts? Or is it that the Ducks have just been lucky for several years in a row? I think the former is more likely. The Ducks are a strong team. The Jets on the other hand are a good possession team with a question mark in goal. That question mark is: do they continue playing Ondrej Pavelec, who has been surprisingly great for the last month? I think the answer to that is yes. And yet, there is no reason to think Ondrej Pavelec has suddenly turned into a good goalie in a month after being an obviously bad one for several years. So, contrary to what analyzing the mascots will tell you – which is how I usually make my picks – I think the ducks will heroically soar into the jet engines and emerge mostly unscathed Ducks in 7.
(2) St. Louis / (7) Minnesota Stop me, oh oh oh, stop me: Once seeming nigh unbeatable, St. Louis is fading a bit down the stretch, turning in mediocre possession numbers. Their goaltending situation is also somewhat murky. Minnesota, meanwhile, has been a strong team all year that got done in early by terrible goaltending. Now that their goaltending is provided by the correctly-head-positioned Devan Dubnyk, who, ironically, had to leave Phoenix to rise from the ashes, well, they’re a strong team with good goaltending. Maybe I got this whole hockey thing figured wrong here, but I think that is a recipe for success. Minny in 5.
Conference III Grudgematch: Nashville / Chicago Pekka Rinne is very good. Corey Crawford is not as good. Patrick Kane is injured. Filip Forsberg is not as injured (i.e., not injured at all). The Preds seem to be seriously fading – maybe they are getting fatigued. Nevertheless, I believe in Pekka Rinne. And if not him, Carter Hutton. Preds in 6.
Californian (other parts of the division being irrelevant) Grudgematch: Vancouver / Calgary I named these conferences last year, and it turns out my naming skills are not very good. It should also probably make you suspicious of my prediction skills in gene… hey, look over there! On paper, Vancouver is the better team. Here’s a selection of teams that are better than Calgary on paper though: Certainly at least 25 teams, and potentially all the teams except the Buffalo Sabres. Calgary plays a low-event game, not shooting much, nor getting shot at. Even though they are bad, that kind of game equalizes the chances between the good and bad teams. I think the Canucks could beat them, but not if they play Ryan Miller, who is clearly not yet recovered from injury. Since the Canucks staff seem to operate on the “if we pay you lots of money you must be good” theory (cf. Sbisa), I have no faith that Ryan Miller will not play. Ryan Miller will probably play. If he does, I think Flames will win. But since picking against the Canucks is lame, I have decided they will play Eddie Lack, and that means Canucks in 7.