Stanley Cup 2017, IV: Gold & Silver


Here we are again: on the one hand, we’ve got a team well established as a winner, with 4 Cups to its name and a handful of proven international superstars on their side.  On the other, we’ve got a team that’s never been here before, has a roster (mostly) full of near-nobodies, and plays in a city the average person doesn’t associate with hockey.  This is how it’s been each year for kind of a while now.

Recently we’ve had Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey in Finals against San Jose, Tampa, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles respectively.  Going back to the Canucks/Bruins series, only the Blackhawks/Bruins series doesn’t really fit this mold.  True the Lightning and Kings each have at least a Cup, but how many regular folks know that (or care for that matter?)

It would have been horrendous for ratings and league popularity to have the Ottawa Senators find a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.  It’s also what I wanted most, with Nashville clinching first.  A Final with two Cup virgins, each from small markets, each franchise born in the 90s, and each with a defensive superstar I’d love to see hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.  Alas, it was not to be, and in their stead, we’ve got Goliath.  At least there’s a clear underdog here to root for, and root for them I shall.

Penguins vs Senators:  This was entirely expected.  In fact, along with the following series, I predicted this one on the nose.  The Penguins, beaten and bruised, haemorrhaging players all playoffs long, managed to use their intangibles and their star power to narrowly win the war of attrition that is fighting the Ottawa Senators and their stifling system.  It was a rollercoaster of a series, with Ottawa and Pittsburgh exchanging wins before a complete and utterly devastating blowout put the Sens on the brink.  In true pesky Sens fashion, they suffocated their way to a Game Six comeback win, and, surprisingly, turned a boring first period of Game Seven into an all-time legendary game, answering the Pens goals with quick responses all the way to a marathon double-overtime finish.

I picked the Penguins to win, but my heart was screaming for the Senators.  Weird, I know.  I don’t hate this Senators team.  Both Buffalo and Ottawa are so far removed from 2006-07 that it doesn’t feel relevant anymore.  I like Erik Karlsson.  More than anything else, I wanted a new team to win, and I discovered that I’d be happy for the Senators if they pulled it off.  Now, much of that is satisfaction from an indirect blow to the Leafs, but hey, I like to have fun.  On the other hand, it’s probably best the Senators didn’t win.  The NHL is a copycat league, and boy, I don’t want to see this kind of hockey become the norm.  Not again.

Playoff Series
2017-05-13; OTT 2, PIT 1 OT
2017-05-15; OTT 0, PIT 1
2017-05-17; PIT 1, OTT 5
2017-05-19; PIT 3, OTT 2
2017-05-21; OTT 0, PIT 7
2017-05-23; PIT 1, OTT 2
2017-05-25; OTT 2, PIT 3 2OT
PIT defeats OTT: 4-3
Prediction: Penguins in 7 ✓✓

Ducks vs Predators:  We’re in a new era.  For a couple years around the lockout, the Anaheim Ducks more often than not faced the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs.  Half of the time, they’d advance.  Now, they seem to run into the Nashville Predators every other year, but they never win.  In three meetings, the Preds have owned the Ducks 12 wins to 7.  That’s not to say this one was lopsided.  In fact, the team that scored first went on to lose 4 of 6 games.  This was an evenly matched, blow and parry type of series, with the counter being strong enough to overpower the initial attacker.  This was a feisty battle, which is expected with these Ducks, having usurped the role of the NHL’s bullies from a combination of Vancouver, Boston, and Philly.  The Predators were somewhat lucky to escape from this series with minimal injuries, though those they did suffer could be crippling; they’re missing their top 2 centers.

For Nashville though, it was their insane depth that carried them through Anaheim.  With an all-time great defensive line, albeit with Anaheim’s in 2nd right behind them, a host of young wingers (hello, Milwaukee Admirals) and the continued absolutely stellar play of Pekka Rinne, they simply outmatched the Ducks.  Any other team, perhaps, and the Stanley Cup is the Ducks to win.  With a shaky goaltending performance from Jonathan Bernier and the young John Gibson out with injury, it’s hard to imagine the Ducks having an answer to four lines of onslaught from the Preds, but weaker netminding has won Cups.  The Ducks, somehow, seem to have a wide open Stanley Cup window, despite an aging core and old-school coach.  They’re filled to the brim with young talent that, in a few years, might just give Southern California another Cup.

Playoff Series
2017-05-12; NSH 3, ANA 2 OT
2017-05-14; NSH 3, ANA 5
2017-05-16; ANA 1, NSH 2
2017-05-18; ANA 3, NSH 2 OT
2017-05-20; NSH 3, ANA 1
2017-05-22; ANA 3, NSH 6
NSH defeats ANA: 4-2
Prediction: Predators in 6 ✓✓

A newbie and a repeat appearance.  This should be good, no matter what happens.

Advanced stats herein are taken from March 1st through the end of the third round, with the rankings being among the two teams remaining.


C4. Nashville Predators vs M2. Pittsburgh Penguins:  This will be fun.  As I alluded to above, this is a real David vs. Goliath story.  The Pittsburgh Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions looking to become the first team to repeat since 1998.  They’re also making their third return trip to the Final in their history, which is weird — the Penguins only seem to make the Final in pairs of seasons.  The Nashville Predators are the first lowest-ranked seed to make the Stanley Cup Final, and are making the franchise’s first appearance as well, having previously never even played for a Conference Championship.

The thing about hockey is, though, that this is far more even of a match-up than it appears when comparing each franchise and their histories up to and including this past regular season.  The Predators have steamrolled their way to this point, losing just four games; the Penguins made easy work of their nearby interstate rivals, while getting into seven game slugfests with their next two opponents.  Looking at how banged up each team is, their deficiencies balance out:  Nashville has no center depth, while the Penguins are in shambles on the back end.  They’ve also deployed both of their goaltenders to decent results, as Matt Murray returned from a long injury from round one.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Pekka Rinne has held fort for three rounds — we haven’t seen a sniff of Juuse Saros.  The Predators wingers are a deep collection of NHL vets and nobody rookies, whereas the Penguins are looking at promoted depth at this point.  To look at positions of strength, you see the Nashville blue line being dominant and as previously mentioned, in a class of its own.  In Pittsburgh, you’ve got the all-star one-two punch of Crosby and Malkin.  The Preds had done a great job of shutting down others’ offensive talents — Kane, Tarasenko, Getzlaf — but, I said the same of the Sharks last year.  The Penguins were just too quick to counter.  If Pekka Rinne stands on his head, the Penguins are toast.  If Crosby and Malkin play like, well, like they have been, then the Predators have a tough road ahead.  I like the Predators and I’m rooting for them.  The city deserves a Cup.  P.K. Subban deserves a Cup.  I want to see Mike Fisher (or proxy captain) hand it off to Pekka Rinne in full goalie gear.  I want a Cup champion wearing a color other than black or red.  I want a new team to win a Cup.  It’s about time.

That said, Penguins in six.  Yeah, they’re going to repeat.  I picked against them last year because of what my heart said; I won’t make that mistake again.

Power Play%
NSH: 13.7%
PIT: 26.8%

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 82.4%
PIT: 81.7%

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 52.10%
PIT: 46.71%

NSH: 102.27
PIT: 101.54

Notable Injuries
NSH: Kevin Fiala, Ryan Johansen, Mike Fisher
PIT: Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist

Season Series
2016-10-22; PIT 1, NSH 5
2017-01-31; NSH 2, PIT 4
NSH: 1-1-0
PIT: 1-1-0

Nothin’ but gold, baby.  In about two weeks, we’ll see a team decked out in gold lift the ultimate silver prize, the Stanley Cup.  And, shortly after that, the NHL will welcome another gold team to the party — the Vegas Golden Knights.  This seems less than unintentional, now that I put it all out there…

Final Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  1 — NSH, OTT
Cup Champions since 2006:  1 — PIT (’09, ’16)
Longer (or, only) Cup drought:  NSH — 17 seasons

Just like last year, our final two teams’ logos are facing each other in battle, though I think they look far more intense this time.  Here’s hoping for a different result than before.


Stanley Cup 2017, III: Unlucky Sevens


Boy, I really am mediocre at predicting things, eh?  1-3 in the last round is worse than a coin flip.  Maybe I’ll go back to doing that next year.

For the first time this year, a series went to seven.  Two, in fact, and these games were played on the same night.  And, well, neither went the way I wanted.  Both were inconsistent in their narratives, which is annoying.   The Capitals, as is tradition, lost to the Penguins in the second round.  The Ducks, on the other hand, didn’t lose in Game 7 at home for the fifth straight year.  I’m really unhappy with the Capitals, but I’ll get into that below.  And what is this strange feeling: I’m sad the Oilers lost?  What?  The team that lucked its way into the best player in the world — the player who was supposed to end up on my hometown team?  The Oilers that I watched stifle my local Sharks to death in their own rink?  Why do I feel bad for them?  I shouldn’t!  Stop messing with my feelings!

Yeah, I need to change something about how I approach the playoffs.  Next year I’m either going full apathetic randomness, with a coin flip bracket, or full rooting interest, where I pick the teams I want to win only.  Rooting for a team I don’t care for and then feeling sad when they lose is making me uneasy.  Luckily, I still have a team to root for this round — and I think most of the remaining independent fans are with me on this one.

RIP Bracket 2017.  Gone too soon.  I picked relatively conservatively and I was punished.  And that’s the way it should be.  What’s bad for the bracket is good for the league.  Mostly.

So what happened?

Senators vs Rangers:  People have some funny ideas about the Senators.  Like they’re boring and slow and sit back on a lead.  *looks around accusingly*

I admit it.  I picked the wrong team here, again.  And of course, just when I feel like I was wrong not to have faith in the Rangers, they do this.  Whatever.  I really enjoyed this series.  Far more than I should have, especially considering I don’t really like either of these teams.  The Sabres played both in 2007 and there’s still some lizard-brain dislike at play here.  But yeah, holy cow this series.  Not once, but twice the Senators overcame a late deficit to win in OT/2OT, including a spectacular three-goal rally in Game 2, which I will affectionately call “The Pageau Show.”  JGP pulls off his playoff magic once again, captain Erik Karlsson is somehow a beast with a broken foot, and before you know it, the Rangers are done.  Did I mention there were a couple massive brawls in the middle of the series?  I love a good feisty playoff series — some matchups this year should have been powder-kegs (*cough*Jackets/Pens*cough*) yet the ones that were seemed most unlikely.  Who knew these two hated each other so much?  I sure didn’t expect this kind of animosity.

Poor Henrik Lundqvist.  I don’t know how many more times I can watch a montage of him being sad at the end of a Rangers’ playoff run.  Maybe he’ll win a Cup somewhere else.  I feel like New York’s window is slamming shut.  Then again, I feel like that’s said every year.

Playoff Series
2017-04-27; NYR 1, OTT 2
2017-04-29; NYR 5, OTT 6 2OT
2017-05-02; OTT 1, NYR 4
2017-05-04; OTT 1, NYR 4
2017-05-06; NYR 4, OTT 5 OT
2017-05-09; OTT 4, NYR 2
OTT defeats NYR: 4-2
Prediction: Rangers in 6 ☓✓

Capitals vs Penguins:  Yep.  That was supposed to happen.  Of course the Penguins went out to a 2-0 series lead.  Of course they pushed the Caps to the brink after four, leading to a flurry of “here we go again” tweets and hot takes.  And, of course, the Capitals rallied just far enough to give DC some hope before they crapped it all away in Game 7.  Look, Capitals, I’m sorry to say I believed in you.  Why do you have to disappoint me, a loyal fan for three weeks, in this way?  Is this what it feels like to be a Capitals fan all the time??  I’m so sorry.  Here’s the thing: your team is rotten.  It’s clearly the best regular season team two seasons running, but you can’t do it in the playoffs, especially against Pittsburgh.  They’re your kryptonite, and if you couldn’t be them this year, when they’re beat up, tired after a long season last year, and you’re even better than before, there’s no hope.  Sorry, but the Capitals are over.  Pittsburgh, go win another Stanley Cup, since it’s clearly your destiny.  Nothing can stop them, it seems.  Except, perhaps, one team…

Playoff Series
2017-04-27; PIT 3, WSH 2
2017-04-29; PIT 6, WSH 2
2017-05-01; WSH 3, PIT 2 OT
2017-05-03; WSH 2, PIT 3
2017-05-06; PIT 2, WSH 4
2017-05-08; WSH 5, PIT 2
2017-05-10; PIT 2, WSH 0
PIT defeats WSH: 4-3
Prediction: Capitals in 7 ☓✓

Blues vs. Predators:  I actually don’t have a lot to say about this series.  The Preds looked incredible.  They overwhelmed the Blues with their incredible depth and stunning goaltending.  Jake Allen, the keeper that carried the Blues past the Wild, didn’t do quite as well, but he wasn’t bad.  I think a two series run for the Blues is about right, maybe even above local expectations.  I had them in the Final, but I’m a dumb-dumb.  Many saw the Predators being this team early on, even before the season.  I’m trusting their gut now; I’m solidly on the Preds bandwagon from here until the end.  Hopefully I don’t have to root for the Ducks, Penguins, or Senators at any point in the next five weeks.  Welcome to the Conference Final, Nashville.  I hope you make the most of your stay.  Your fans deserve it — holy cow is your home crowd terrific.  And you know what?  Those gold helmets are growing on me.  Don’t ever change Nashville.  You’re doing you and it’s working wonderfully.

Playoff Series
2017-04-26; NSH 4, STL 3
2017-04-28; NSH 2, STL 3
2017-04-30; STL 1, NSH 3
2017-05-02; STL 1, NSH 2
2017-05-05; NSH 1, STL 2
2017-05-07; STL 1, NSH 3
NSH defeats STL: 4-2
Prediction: Predators in 7 ✓☓

Ducks vs. Oilers:  Anaheim completes the sweep through Alberta, dispatching the resurgent Death Valley in 11 games total.  They’ve also, as mentioned, exorcised the demon of Game 7, albeit barely.  I’m unreasonably upset at the Oilers misfortune here.  They lost two games in which there was a questionable unchallenged non-call, both in overtime, and the second after a third period three-goal meltdown with three minutes to go.  Granted, the Ducks had their own meltdown in Game 6, but the Oilers were unable to capitalize on that momentum and closeout the series.  I guess the kids just needed to be shown how to win, or something.  I was very impressed with Edmonton throughout these playoffs.  They’ve got a very bright future.  I mean, obviously.  McDavid’s gonna win a Cup or two or five before he gets traded to Toronto.

Playoff Series
2017-04-26; EDM 5, ANA 3
2017-04-28; EDM 2, ANA 1
2017-04-30; ANA 6, EDM 3
2017-05-03; ANA 4, EDM 3 OT
2017-05-05; EDM 3, ANA 4 2OT
2017-05-07; ANA 1, EDM 7
2017-05-10; EDM 1, ANA 2
ANA defeats EDM: 4-3
Prediction: Oilers in 6 ☓☓

I’m glad we’ve got another 75% turnover in the final four.  If this happens every year, we’ll  get a new team a Cup eventually.

Advanced stats herein are taken from March 1st through the end of the second round, with the rankings being among the four teams remaining.


M2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs A2. Ottawa Senators:  This is not ideal.  I’m already sick of the Penguins and, while it doesn’t burn with the fiery passion of a handful of quasars anymore, it would not take a lot to rekindle my dislike of the Ottawa Senators.  These two are meeting for the fourth time since the Great Lockout — Ottawa took the series in 2007, which was Sidney Crosby’s first playoff series, while the Pens took the next three, most recently in 2013.  In some ways, these teams are the inverse of each other.  The Senators are carried on the back of their star defenseman and their top heavy offense, while the Pens have relied heavily on depth scoring and miraculous goaltending.  The Penguins have offensive stars, obviously, and the Senators grounded, solid goaltending as well.  Given the injuries to Pittsburgh, one would have expected them to fold earlier, yet here they are.  It just kind of feels like they’re supposed to win.  On the other hand, there are few who gave the Senators a chance, even in the first round (myself included), yet here they are too.  They keep chugging along, finding ways to pull out wins, especially in OT where they’re 5-1.  It pains me to say it, but I want the Senators to win this series.  I can’t hate Erik Karlsson.  I just can’t.  My brain, however, can’t see these Penguins collapsing.  Not after crushing the hopes of the Capitals.  These guys just know how to win and, well, they’re just better than Ottawa.  Penguins in seven.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the “pesky” Senators make it a series.  I didn’t give them enough credit before and I hope they don’t burn me for giving them a long series now.

Power Play%
PIT: 25.8%, 1st
OTT: 15.7%, 3rd

Penalty Kill%
PIT: 78.7%, 2nd
OTT: 78.1%, 3rd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
PIT: 47.00%, 4th
OTT: 50.31%, 3rd

PIT: 101.61, 3rd
OTT: 100.53, 4th

Notable Injuries
PIT: Kris Letang, Trevor Daley
OTT: Erik Karlsson, Mark Borowiecki

Season Series
2016-12-05; OTT 5, PIT 8
2017-01-12; PIT 1, OTT 4
2017-03-23; PIT 1. OTT 2 S/O
PIT: 1-1-1
OTT: 2-1-0


P1. Anaheim Ducks vs C4. Nashville Predators:  I am excited for this.  The wildcard Nashville Predators stunned the Pacific division champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round last year.  The Preds were one win away from where they are now, while the Ducks suffered another Game 7 at home collapse.  That narrative is dead, yet the initial condition remains.  For the 12th time in the last 14 seasons, California is represented in the Western Conference Final.  Shame it’s the Ducks, though.  For the first time, Nashville is here.  They’ve been getting closer ever since 2011, and this time it only took them 10 games to do it.  I would argue the Predators are a better team than they were last year — this seems to be common wisdom among insiders — yet I’m feeling like the Ducks aren’t, despite the deeper run.  They swept the Flames, albeit closely, and looked downright awful against the Oilers at times.  Meanwhile, Nashville has been consistently good, losing only close games to an overperforming Blues team.  Last round I mentioned that the Ducks should expect a correction to their luck.  I’m still waiting.  It must be close.  Right?  My gut says the Predators are the better team.  They won last year and they’ll do it again.  Predators in six.  Nashville to the Cup Final.  While it’s still possible to see a repeat of the 2007 Final, I’m expecting the opposite.

Power Play%
ANA: 16.1%, 2nd
NSH: 15.0%, 4th

Penalty Kill%
ANA: 77.9%, 4th
NSH: 80.8%, 1st

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA: 51.83%, 1st
NSH: 51.75%, 2nd

ANA: 103.15, 1st
NSH: 102.75, 2nd

Notable Injuries
ANA: Kevin Bieksa, Patrick Eaves
NSH: Kevin Fiala

Season Series
2016-10-26; NSH 1, ANA 6
2016-11-12; ANA 0, NSH 5
2017-03-07; NSH 3, ANA 4 S/O
ANA: 2-1-0
NSH: 1-1-1

As I mentioned above, this is a different final four, to be sure.  Nashville’s here for the first time.  Ottawa hasn’t been here since 2007.  The Ducks are back after a year hiatus, and of course the Penguins are returning.  I’m still waiting for a Cup champion who’s not black or red (Nashville, you’re my only hope), however each of the final four teams does wear some variant of gold/yellow.

Final Four Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  2 — NSH, OTT, WSH
Cup Champions since 2006:  2 — ANA (’07), PIT (’09, ’16)
Longest Cup drought:  OTT — 23 seasons
Returning teams (to the third round):  1 — PIT
Fresh blood (in the third round):  3 — ANA, NSH, OTT

I thought it would be fun to add some brooms to the swept teams.  Sorry guys 😛

Stanley Cup 2017, II: Hand Shoes and Horse Grenades


This first round was kind of weird.  Like I said in the first post, there were teams like Edmonton and Toronto involved for the first time in a few years.  There were great teams like Minnesota and Columbus, both of whom set franchise record win streaks in the middle of the regular season, both losing with a whimper in five games.  The semi-dynasty Blackhawks: swept.  The 2016 Western Conference Champions: out in six to a team previously without a single playoff appearance in the last decade.  The Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals: pushed hard by a young upstart Toronto team.

But the weird part is, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.  I thought the Wild were overrated.  I knew the Sharks were toast.  My faith in the Jackets wasn’t strong.  A lot of people were already previously on the Preds’ bandwagon.  Delusional Leafs fans and pessimistic Caps fans aside, there were a few who knew Toronto was, in fact, that good.  I don’t know, it all leaves me with this weird feeling inside.  Maybe I should go with my gut more often.

Still looking alright, at least in comparison to the rest of my family in our league.  I feel nervous about St. Louis: see more below.

Canadiens vs Rangers: Well okay.  The New York Rangers pulled off what their cross-town rivals did last year: defeat the Atlantic division champion in round one, then move on to play for the playoff championship of a division they’re not even in.  I didn’t really watch this series too much, since there were often other games on at the same time, and I don’t have a lot to say first-hand.  What happened to Carey Price?  Were the Rangers just that much better?  Was my lack of faith in the Rangers’ misplaced?  I don’t know.  I’m going to have to take a far closer look at New York going into the next round.  No comment on how the P.K. Subban trade is playing out.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; NYR 2, MTL 0
2017-04-14; NYR 3, MTL 4 OT
2017-04-16; MTL 3, NYR 1
2017-04-18; MTL 1, NYR 2
2017-04-20; NYR 3, MTL 2 OT
2017-04-22; MTL 1, NYR 3
NYR defeats MTL: 4-2
Prediction: Canadiens in 5 ☓☓

Senators vs. Bruins:  There are a few things that happened that I didn’t see coming: the complete decimation of the Bruins’ blue line, though that did in fact begin before the series started, and the complete, utter domination of Erik Karlsson.  What I would give to have a defenseman star like that on my team’s blue line… It was a very close series in a first round completely full of them, hence the subtitle of this post.  Four games in OT, one of them in double OT.  A few bounces here and there and the Bruins are headed to Broadway.  Boston had a lot of youngsters up in the mix, which bodes well for their future, even as their stars of yore continue to age.  The Sens just keep chugging along though, despite not being all that exciting.  Clarke MacArthur is a great story, as is Craig Anderson.  I’d be happy to see their success continue.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; BOS 2, OTT 1
2017-04-15; BOS 3, OTT 4 OT
2017-04-17; OTT 4, BOS 3 OT
2017-04-19; OTT 1, BOS 0
2017-04-21; BOS 3, OTT 2 2OT
2017-04-23; OTT 3, BOS 2 OT
OTT defeats BOS: 4-2
Prediction: Bruins in 6

Capitals vs. Maple Leafs:  My goodness!  Did anyone see this coming?  The Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals were supposed to smite the Leafs in a walk.  And yet, the Leafs fought back, taking a quick lead in Game One to set the tone for what ended up being the closest series in what must be years.  Coyotes/Hawks in 2012 comes close, but that one featured a 4-0 blowout in addition to five OT games, whereas these were all one goal games with 4 OTs and a 2OT.  Insanity.  I’m exceptionally jealous of the young Leafs and all of their talent — three of their top 5 scorers in the regular season were rookies — and if they can take this defeat and learn from it, look out NHL.  The future in Toronto is extremely bright.  Meanwhile, as the Leafs took a brief series lead after Three, panic bells rung out in Washington.  Obviously this team has a history of choking, and when faced with this kind of “here we go again” feeling, they often collapse, despite their overwhelming talent.  Well, so far so good.  Thank goodness for the clutch-ness of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, eh?  The Caps live to fight another day.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; TOR 2, WSH 3 OT
2017-04-15; TOR 4, WSH 3 2OT
2017-04-17; WSH 3, TOR 4 OT
2017-04-19; WSH 5, TOR 4
2017-04-21; TOR 1, WSH 2 OT
2017-04-23; WSH 2, TOR 1 OT
WSH defeats TOR: 4-2
Prediction: Capitals in 7 ✓☓

Penguins vs. Blue Jackets:  Well, this was a letdown.  I picked the Penguins to win … and then Matt Murray went down in the opening warmups and I thought, well, maybe the Blue Jackets have a chance of stealing the series from an already banged up Pens squad.  But no, that’s not how this works.  The steady defense and goaltending of Columbus turned porous, letting in 3 goals or more every game.  Evgeni Malkin switched into beast mode — the kind that led him to a Conn Smythe win — and the Jackets were toast.  At least they won a game in their own building, which has a terrific atmosphere in the playoffs, but even that was nearly a blown lead.  Maybe next year Columbus, but for all I know, you’ll be a basement dweller again because this team makes no sense.  Pittsburgh?  I have no love for returning champions, so I hope this is the only success you see this year.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; CBJ 1, PIT 3
2017-04-14; CBJ 1, PIT 4
2017-04-16; PIT 5, CBJ 4 OT
2017-04-18; PIT 4, CBJ 5
2017-04-20; CBJ 2, PIT 5
PIT defeats CBJ: 4-1
Prediction: Penguins in 7 ✓☓

Blackhawks vs. Predators:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Good grief, this was a fun series to watch.  Even though I picked Chicago to win, I don’t regret anything.  The “freakin’ Chicago Blackhawks” were held to a total of three goals this series, shut down by the superior defense of the Nashville Predators and their brick wall of a goalie, Pekka Rinne.  Meanwhile, the Preds top line of Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Johansen has been an absolute killer, putting up 15 points in a four game sweep.  This team is scary good, like many expected them to be even as long ago as the offseason.  I’ve got St. Louis in the Cup Final on my bracket, but with this Preds team in the picture, I may regret that.  Meanwhile, Chicago, what the hell?  What uninspired, lackluster, mediocre nonsense was this?  No goals on home ice?  Coughing up a 2-goal lead in Game Three?  This isn’t the Hawks that won 3 in 6.  Maybe next year, you won’t even make the playoffs and spare yourselves another first round exit.  I keep saying it, but I really hope this is the year the team finally falls back to toiling on the edge of the playoff bubble or even dropping out entirely  Then, maybe the NHL and NBC can stop talking about them like they’re God’s gift to hockey.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; NSH 1, CHI 0
2017-04-15; NSH 5, CHI 0
2017-04-17; CHI 2, NSH 3 OT
2017-04-20; CHI 1, NSH 4
NSH defeats CHI: 4-0
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5 ☓☓

Wild vs. Blues:  Meanwhile, across/on the Mississippi, we had this scrappy series, hopefully the first of many between these clubs.  Minnesota was the favorite, for some reason, and I, in no uncertain terms, picked against them.  I had no faith in the Wild; somehow they exceeded that lack of faith and lost even sooner than I predicted.  What happened?  Jake Allen happened.  The Wild didn’t play badly.  In fact, I’d say they were the better team in most of their losses.  They just couldn’t beat the exceptionally hot goaltending of the Blues.  It was a very low scoring series overall, as Devan Dubnyk held his own on the other end, for the most part.  A pair of long OT games could have flipped the series to Minnesota, but they didn’t.  I put most of my prediction stock in the hotness of these two heading into the playoffs, and looking at what went down, it certainly played out as a continuation of that.  What’s next for Minnesota?  Is Boudreau’s honeymoon over?  Will they achieve greater, less unsustainable success next year?  Are they finally shedding those awful red uniforms for the greens they wear in the playoffs?  We’ll find out soon enough.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; STL 2, MIN 1 OT
2017-04-14; STL 2, MIN 1
2017-04-16; MIN 1, STL 3
2017-04-19; MIN 2, STL 0
2017-04-22; STL 4, MIN 3 OT
STL defeats MIN: 4-1
Prediction: Blues in 6 ✓☓

Ducks vs. Flames:  Yeah, so, the Flames can’t win in Anaheim.  ’nuff said.

But seriously, this series was far closer than the final count would lead one to believe.  Each game was decided by one goal, save for a late empty-netter in Game Four.  Two of the late game-winning goals, including the OT winner, were fluky bounces.  This was a very even series.  Even flipping four coins, you’re going to get a sweep one way or the other in 1/16 of the results.  This one just happened to favor the Ducks.  These two aren’t really the most convenient or obvious rivalry, but this was probably the most brutal, feisty, and fun-to-watch series from that standpoint.  It helps that both teams are chock full of agitators (Kesler & Tkachuk, to name just two) and had not only recent playoff history, but a controversial regular season series as well.  Calgary: your future is bright.  Don’t do anything stupid this off-season as a response to the sweep.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; CGY 2, ANA 3
2017-04-15; CGY 2, ANA 3
2017-04-17; ANA 5, CGY 4 OT
2017-04-19; ANA 3, CGY 1
ANA defeats CGY: 4-0
Prediction: Ducks in 6 ✓☓

Oilers vs. Sharks:  Welp.  I picked the Oilers to win.  I had no doubt before the series began, and had no doubt after they tied Game Five.  In the middle was a total cluster.  The Sharks improbably won Game One, coming back from a 0-2 deficit to win in OT.  Then Cam Talbot shut down San Jose for two games.  Then San Jose dismantled Edmonton at home in what was the most entertaining (for me) game of the playoffs so far.  After the Sharks coughed up their lead in Game Five, I knew it was over, even before OT started.  I bought a ticket to Game Six before this happened, and I was optimistically expecting the Sharks to have a chance to close-out the series at home.  Instead, I entered the building knowing the Sharks were getting eliminated that night.  It was a slog of a game where the Oilers scored on two breakaways a minute apart in the second.  It got good late in the third after a Sharks goal, but a McDavid empty-netter with 0.3 seconds to go sealed the deal for Edmonton.  It was certainly a new experience getting to see the handshakes live — they’re far more anti-climactic than they appear on TV.  San Jose has an uncertain future.  I hope they retain their greybeards for a few more shots at a Cup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they walk.  That would certainly be the end of an era — and I can say that I was at their last game as a Shark.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; SJS 3, EDM 2 OT
2017-04-15; SJS 0, EDM 2
2017-04-17; EDM 1, SJS 0
2017-04-19; EDM 0, SJS 7
2017-04-21; SJS 3, EDM 4 OT
2017-04-23; EDM 3, SJS 1
EDM defeats SJS: 4-2
Prediction: Oilers in 5 ✓☓

Not a bad first round.  I’m only really disappointed in Columbus.  Also the Battle of Alberta that we missed out on twice.  It featured the most OT in the first round, ever, as well as a pair of sweeps after an entire postseason without any.  My real rooting interest is gone, so I’m going to have to pick a bandwagon from one of the eight teams remaining to hop onto…

Advanced stats herein are taken from March 1st through the end of the first round, with the rankings being among the eight teams remaining.


A2. Ottawa Senators vs M4. New York Rangers:  And, like last year, the New York team from the wrong division will meet the 2nd seed in the Atlantic.  These two have, surprisingly, met once in the playoffs, and not too long ago, when the 1-seeded New York Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators in 7 games in 2012.  I don’t remember that series at all, hence the surprise.  And now I’m left with assessing two teams I’ve barely paid any attention to at all this year…

On the goaltending front, they’re pretty even.  Lundqvist looks good, but he’s on the down-slope of his career; Anderson has been solid, playing well enough to steal a few games from Boston.  Up front, the Rangers have speed and decent depth, whereas the Senators are more heavy up top, but they’ve had more production from unexpected places — Derick Brassard is leading the team in scoring.  Did you know that?  I didn’t.  The key, I believe, to this series is going to be defense.  Guy Boucher is the guy who infamously deployed the 1-3-1 system in Tampa, and the Senators are again the kind of team who can get a lead and sit on it as the game slowly expires.  Add in a superstar defenseman like Erik Karlsson, who has been outstanding this postseason, and New York suddenly looks like they might be in trouble.  Then again, Montréal had a very similar set of skills and that didn’t quite work for them.   I had neither of these teams advancing in my bracket so it really doesn’t matter who I pick.  I’m leaning toward New York, and I think it will be in six.  That means, for the first time in the current playoff format, a team will win a division it’s not even in.

Power Play%
OTT: 17.9%, 6th
NYR: 21.9%, 4th

Penalty Kill%
OTT: 73.6%, 8th
NYR: 78.9%, 5th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
OTT: 50.20%, 5th
NYR: 48.28%, 8th

OTT: 101.11, 6th
NYR: 100.85, 7th

Notable Injuries
OTT: Mark Borowiecki
NYR: none

Season Series
2016-11-27; OTT 2, NYR 0
2016-12-27; OTT 3, NYR 4
2017-04-08; NYR 1, OTT 3
OTT: 2-1-0
NYR: 1-2-0


M1. Washington Capitals vs M2. Pittsburgh Penguins:  For the second year in a row, we’ve got Caps-Pens in the second round.  What more can be said that hasn’t been said already?  The Caps are the perennial playoff disappointment.  The Pens are one the league’s darling franchises, and now they’re the defending champs.  Conventional wisdom this year says that if the Capitals are to win the Cup, they have to go through Pittsburgh to do it.  They’ve yet to beat them in a playoff series in the Ovechkin/Crosby era; hell, they’ve yet to win a second round series either.  I decided the Caps were my Cup pick, probably foolishly, yet I’ve found no reason to unstick myself from it.  I had this matchup in my prediction and went with Washington.  The Pens are banged up; they may still be without their star rookie goaltender.  The Caps are not, yet took what felt like an eternity to beat the kids in Toronto.  Maybe they’re more driven next round.  Maybe they’re somehow not that good.  I don’t know.  I’m still in an “anyone but Pittsburgh” place, so Washington it is.  Capitals in seven.  I don’t want to pick another six game series.  Five would be a surprise either way.  Four is right out!

By the way, this is the last straw.  If this Washington Capitals core doesn’t win this series, I am done picking them to win anything.  Period.

Power Play%
WSH: 26.5%, 2nd
PIT: 29.6%, 1st

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 81.1%, 3rd
PIT: 78.8%, 6th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 54.14%, 1st
PIT: 48.71%, 7th

WSH:  98.86, 8th
PIT: 101.59, 5th

Notable Injuries
WSH: Karl Alzner
PIT: Matt Murray, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, Carl Hagelin

Season Series
2016-10-13; WSH 2, PIT 3 S/O
2016-11-16; PIT 1, WSH 7
2017-01-11; PIT 2, WSH 5
2017-01-16; WSH 7, PIT 8 OT
ANA: 2-1-2
EDM: 3-2-0

C3. St. Louis Blues vs C4. Nashville Predators:  This will be fun.  In fact, I am planning to make this my most-watched series of the second round.  Both teams are red hot, dispatching their previous challengers in five or fewer.  Their goaltending has been unbelievable.  Nashville has the advantage on top offensive and defensive talent, while St. Louis is more evenly spread across their lines.  The Preds are so fun to watch, while the Blues are boring and steady, but also my Western Conference Champion.  Neither team has met in the playoffs before, so we might be seeing the beginning of another great rivalry, especially given their relative geographic proximity.  Here’s the deal: I have to pick against my bracket and go with my gut and my heart.  I want the Predators to win this series, almost more than any other team left standing.  Given the last few weeks’ results, I think they can.  Predators in seven.  The Blues will give them a fair fight, but Nashville’s just better in nearly every way.  Sure their special teams are worse, but those numbers are so low, I’d expect improvement.  That’s how this works, right?

Power Play%
STL: 16.2%, 7th
NSH: 12.7%, 8th

Penalty Kill%
STL: 86.7%, 1st
NSH: 77.6%, 7th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
STL: 48.82%, 6th
NSH: 51.85%, 2nd

STL: 104.16, 2nd
NSH: 103.12, 3rd

Notable Injuries
STL: Robby Fabbri
NSH: Colin Wilson, Craig Smith

Season Series
2016-11-10; STL 1, NSH 3
2016-11-19; NSH 1, STL 3
2016-12-13; STL 3, NSH 6
2016-12-30; NSH 4, STL 0
2017-04-02; NSH 1, STL 4
STL: 2-3-0
NSH: 3-2-1

P1. Anaheim Ducks vs P2. Edmonton Oilers:  This is interesting.  In 2006, the Mighty Ducks defeated the Calgary Flames in the first round.  Then the Edmonton Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks in the second, as the Ducks advanced against Colorado.  These two then met in the Conference Finals, and obviously this is all happening a round earlier this year.  The longer this 2006 repeat goes in the Pacific, the more convinced I am that the Oilers will advance again.  You could say that the under-performing Sharks gave Edmonton more of a challenge than they should have, but you could say the same about Calgary, despite the sweep.  Somehow, both Anaheim and Edmonton look simultaneously powerful and weak, with Anaheim getting the gut advantage.  However, I don’t think this series is as lopsided as these two franchises’ histories suggest.  Thankfully, I predicted this matchup correctly on my bracket, so I will retain my initial pick.  Edmonton will advance in six against the Ducks.  The power of McDavid will carry the Oilers far.  For whatever reason, I just can’t see the Ducks going any further.

Power Play%
ANA: 18.6%, 5th
EDM: 24.0%, 3rd

Penalty Kill%
ANA: 79.5%, 4th
EDM: 83.6%, 2nd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA: 51.04%, 3rd
EDM: 50.50%, 4th

ANA: 104.72, 1st
EDM: 101.72, 3rd

Notable Injuries
ANA: Cam Fowler
EDM: None

Season Series
2016-11-15; EDM 1, ANA 4
2016-12-03; ANA 2, EDM 3 OT
2017-01-25; EDM 4, ANA 0
2017-03-22; EDM 3, ANA 4
2017-04-01; ANA 2, EDM 3 OT
ANA: 2-1-2
EDM: 3-2-0

It’s a bit more even this year — the number of teams we’ve seen again in the second round recently versus those who are new to winning a series.  I like that Nashville and St. Louis are becoming regulars here.  In the east, we’re down to only one team left that I would root for, and somehow that’s Washington?  Four Cup virgins left and we’re guaranteed to lose one.  If three can make it to the Final Four, I’ll be very happy.

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  4 — CBJ, MIN, NSH, OTT, SJS, STL, WSH
Cup Champions since 2006:  2 — ANA (’07), BOS (’11), CHI (’10, ’13, ’15), PIT (’09, ’16)
Longest Cup drought:  STL — 48 seasons
Returning teams (to the second round):  4 — NSH, PIT, STL, WSH
Fresh blood (in the second round):  4 — ANA, EDM, NYR, OTT

I’m just along for the ride.  Entertain me!