The pressure to live up to a bracket is significantly lessened when you fill it out randomly just to see what the universe has to offer. Granted, when you try to predict things anyway, you’re not entirely off the hook. This year has been the crapshootiest year since I’ve started prognosticating here and, well, it’s gone pretty crappily. But I don’t care. I have fun every year regardless of what happens. What did happen? What I saw was this:
Canadiens vs. Sénateurs: This one started off the way we all thought it would; with a controversial play, a fiesty series of brawls, and media overload. I can’t say how many banal and repetitive quotes I’d seen on Twitter from coaches, players, reporters, managers, basically everyone had two cents to give regarding The Slash. But no suspension, no debilitating injury, and really, not too much drama after that. The Canadiens propped themselves into position for a sweep, chasing the Hamburglar and lining up for the killing blow. Then Ottawa found their life. They stormed back in four, crushed the Habs in five and it started to look like we should believe again. And then, the only team not to be shutout in the regular season couldn’t solve Carey Price and that was it. I wish it went to seven. I need more All-Canadian series in my life. It’s too bad there are only two left standing now.
Lightning vs. Red Wings: The Yzerman Cup, not so close as we thought it might be, went the distance. Game 7s are the best, and for a time this one seemed an awful lot like the last one the Lightning were in — a heartbreaking loss to Boston in 2011. This year, fortune favored the Lightning. It was a back and forth series, extremely hot and cold, where the high-powered lightning offense was shut down, explosive, shut out, rallying, shut down, comeback kids, and finally, subpar but good enough, versus a Red Wings team that was the same way, though offset a game. And thank goodness at least one of my Cup Finalists is moving on. I’ll stick by that pick, absolutely. Here’s another first round exit for Detroit. Their playoff streak is alive, but it’s been awhile since they’ve had success. Think Mike Babcock moves on? That’s the prevailing rumors surrounding this aftermath. Here’s hoping he shows up in Buffalo!
Rangers vs. Penguins: That went only a bit longer than I’d thought it would, and the only game where I thought the Rangers completely dominated was the one they lost. I don’t really know what to make of this series. The Penguins are clearly no longer the Penguins they once were not six years ago. The Rangers, well, they might just be warming up here. Still, only beating this Pittsburgh team by one goal, two in overtime, has me thinking otherwise. It really wasn’t as lopsided as the series tally shows. With respect to the outcome, I’m more excited to see what becomes of the Penguins in the offseason. I hope they blow it up again, just because. As for the Rangers? See below, I suppose.
Capitals vs. Islanders: That’s all she wrote for the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Islanders won their last game there, but couldn’t muster enough firepower to beat the Capitals in seven in their home. In fact, they produced the least amount of shots on goal in a Game 7 ever. As I predicted, this series was about as close as it can get, apart from every game going to overtime. The Islanders were on, then the Capitals flipped their switch, and back and forth it went. Unfortunately for me, this was probably the dullest first round series. Game 1 felt like a regular season game, and after that these two took a backseat to everyone else. Oh well. Maybe next year you’ll have my full attention, Islanders. Because I really don’t care all that much about Washington.
Blues vs. Wild: Oy. My Cup pick is out in six. That’s worse than last year! What is it with the Blues anyway? They’ve retaken the playoff choking mantle from the Sharks, themselves choking away the playoffs. St. Louis is a deadly team on paper, probably the deepest in the playoffs. That back-end is solid, they’ve got incredible talent and grit up top, and the goaltending is good enough, I guess. Against Minnesota though, and the improbable Devan Dubnyk domination, their offense was impotent, their defense holey, and goaltending decidedly below average. There were flashes of brilliance, those that won them Games Two and Four, but it wasn’t enough. Minnesota is looking better than ever, almost juggernaut-like. They’re my team from here on out, the last one standing of the few dim hopes I’d started with.
Predators vs. Blackhawks: or, the tale of the missing Shea Weber. The Predators were a few unlucky bounces away from dispatching the Hawks in five. The loss of Shea Weber hurt, badly. Pekke Rinne, while a deserving Vezina candidate, let in a handful of soft goals throughout the series. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, received a few legendary performances from Scott Darling, and some incredibly weak ones from Corey Crawford (cough Game 2 cough). This Chicago team doesn’t scare me like it should, but this Predators team didn’t either. Perhaps this first year back will help get their roster in the playoff mindset for next year, assuming they continue their run. The Predators have a bright future. Yet, I’m still waiting for the Hawks’ to dim.
Ducks vs. Jets: The trendy underdog is gone. Swept away. The mighty Ducks made easy work of the Jets, winning the first three games despite carrying a deficit into the third period each time. And then the Jets folded completely in Game 4. Was it pressure from the raucous crowd in the MTS Centre? Was it injuries? Maybe the Ducks are just that good. Perhaps I shouldn’t have underestimated them. Ryan Kesler seems to be back in 2011 beast-mode, which should terrify the Flames, but I’ll get to that series. How did you like the playoffs, Winnipeg? Fun? Your arena experience was incredible, if deafening. It just sucks that, like your predecessors in Atlanta, you didn’t win a single playoff game. And here I thought you were starting to disassociate yourself from that past. Oh well, maybe next year? (checks Central Division standings) Oh, right. Well… good luck!
Canucks vs. Flames: The other All-Canadian series. This one was, somehow, the more physical, dirty, downright hostile series of the Great White North. After a sort-of cool Game 1, won in the last minute by Calgary, all hell broke loose at the conclusion of Game 2. It’s a unique sight in sports, seeing nothing but sticks, gloves, helmets, and other random armor strewn across one corner of the playing surface, while the players’ benches are vacant and the penalty boxes overflowing. There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned line brawl. Glad to see the Canucks and Flames still feel that way about each other even after a long period of on-and-off mediocrity for both. So the Canucks spent their season quietly winning games, enough to finish second in the Pacific. Here they quietly played average hockey, falling to the high-energy rookie star-power of the Flames who continue to beat the numbers and defy modern analytics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re certainly a fun team to watch, and one I’ll be rooting for along with Minnesota, but there must be an end to this road, yes?
This year felt like I simultaneously watched all of the games, yet watched none of them. Weird times. Not sure what to blame for that. It definitely to me seemed to not quite live up to last year’s awesomeness, however going forward there are still several perhaps more interesting storylines to follow this year. Just a reminder, the Kings, Bruins, and Penguins are not playing. Let’s get the remaining fresh blood to the Conference Finals!
A1. Montréal Canadiens vs. A2. Tampa Bay Lightning: Well, well, well, another rematch. The Lightning will be looking to avenge their first-round sweep at the hands of Montréal last year. The Canadiens will be looking to continue their eastern dominance and punch a ticket to the Conference Final for a second straight year. Carey Price continues to be stellar; Ben Bishop’s been pretty good too. In fact, both earned shutouts in their series deciding games. Here’s the difference maker: offense. Tampa Bay had a bit of a scare in the last round, coming 20 minutes and a goal from elimination. Montréal had a bit of a rally on their hands before they did just enough to defeat the Senators, but I’m still not super thrilled with their front end. Dale Weise as their hero? I’ll take Tyler Johnson in this fight. A healthy Stamkos would help, as would a healthy Pacioretty. The similarities are remarkable. It’s just that I cannot continue to sleep on this Tampa Bay offense. Carey Price, get ready to eat some rubber. Lightning in seven.
2014-10-13; MON 1, TBL 7
2015-01-06; TBL 4, MON 2
2015-03-10; TBL 1, MON 0 OT
2015-03-16; MON 2, TBL 4
2015-03-30; TBL 5, MON 3
MON: 0-4-1 — TBL: 5-0-0
M1. New York Rangers vs. M2. Washington Capitals: Again. Yawn. This isn’t the Islanders versus the Rangers. That would have been incredible. Instead, we get the fifth meeting of the Capitals and Rangers since 2009. It’s barely even a rivalry. Granted, they’ve only been in the same division for two years now, but look down below for a real burgeoning divisional war. Somehow, and this seems to happen more often than not, I predicted the Metropolitan Division first-round perfectly. It’s the division I watch least, and therefore apparently know the best? I don’t know. Maybe my apathy keeps me objective? The Rangers are clearly the better team here, having won the Presidents’ Trophy and dispatched the Penguins swiftly. The Capitals have just gone through a grind with the Isles, having just two days off before getting back into it with this series. Normally, I’d pick the more rested team, in this case also the higher seeded team, however I think there’s something special about this Capitals team, especially now that they might have shaken off their past Game 7 demons. My bracket here is intact, and I’ll keep it that way. Capitals in six. That’s not especially tight. An upset, to be sure.
2014-12-23; WSH 2, NYR 4
2015-03-11; NYR 3, WSH 1
2015-03-29; WSH 5, NYR 2
2015-04-11; NYR 4, WSH 2
NYR: 3-1-0 — WSH: 1-3-0
C3. Chicago Blackhawks vs. C5. Minnesota Wild: A second-round rematch from last year! These new full-blown rivalries among the Central Division might be my new favorites since realignment. Thank goodness we got Minnesota out of the Northwest, eh? Minnesota more or less curb-stomped the Blues, while Chicago squeaked by Nashville in marathon overtimes and hot-and-cold goaltending streaks. Last year it was the Hawks wiping the floor with Minnesota. But, that was before the emergence of Devan Dubnyk, Veznia Trophy nominee. The Wild are rolling, and the Hawks, I really want them to be fading but they seem more to be coasting along. I think they’re unprepared for what awaits them in the State of Hockey. Wild in six. Let’s go ex-Sabres! The Hawks dynasty will fall, hopefully sooner the more I will it to. You know, the last time the Blackhawks met an opponent for the third time in three years after beating them in the first two meetings, it was 2011. The team that got #threevenge? The Stanley Cup finalist Vancouver Canucks. Let’s repeat some history, Minnesota. Chicago doesn’t know what awaits them.
2014-12-16; MIN 3, CHI 5
2015-01-08; CHI 4, MIN 2
2015-01-11; MIN 1, CHI 4
2015-02-03; CHI 0, MIN 3
2015-04-07; MIN 2, CHI 1
CHI: 3-2-0 — MIN: 2-3-0
P1. Anaheim Ducks vs P3. Calgary Flames: This is perhaps the series I’ve come around to the most, especially after picking both teams incorrectly. A Jets/Canucks Pacific Division final would be fun, though I’m thinking this would be more so for its paradox. The Flames are a curious team, continuing a streak of hot play against the advanced stats, lighting up the west with their stellar rookies and above-average goaltending even while their best player looks on from the sidelines with a season-ending injury. The Ducks, meanwhile, were the trendy pick to lose to Winnipeg and they showed everyone they’re not to be underrated. Bruce Boudreau, meanwhile, still hasn’t made it to the Conference Final as an NHL coach and there will be people out there who expect him to continue to fail at the Division level. I am not one of those people. The Jets were a good team and the Ducks cruised to a sweeping victory, looking better with every game. They’re on a roll now. Calgary is also on a roll too, though. They play inexplicable hockey and many too will be expecting their hotness to cool here. Now what’s really interesting is what happens in the third period of these games: both teams have become renowned for comebacks. How frequently can teams trade late-game leads? Will the universe implode? Is it comebacks all the way down? Who knows. That’s what makes it fun! I screwed myself last round with both of these teams, so here I’m going with clear-cut better team: Ducks in six. If I’m wrong, we’ll all be treated to a Flames miracle run. How exciting!
2014-11-18; ANA 3, CGY 4 S/O
2014-11-25; CGY 2, ANA 3
2015-01-21; CGY 3, ANA 6
2015-02-20; ANA 6, CGY 3
2015-03-11; ANA 3, CGY 6
ANA: 3-1-1 — CGY: 2-3-0
This will be even more fun. I’m particularly pulling for the Lightning and the Wild here. You know what, let’s make that the Capitals and Flames too. Underdogs all around! 50% Cup virgins, an entirely correct East bracket to stand next to an already blown West. Let’s do it.
No changes here, just an update. Enjoy!