15. Los Angeles Kings
14. New York Rangers
13. Philadelphia Flyers
12. Minnesota Wild
11. Florida Panthers
10. Chicago Blackhawks
9. Anaheim Ducks
8. New York Islanders
7. Washington Capitals
6. Dallas Stars
5. Nashville Predators
4. St. Louis Blues
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. San Jose Sharks
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The NHL playoffs are upon us, and thus I’ve officially gone an entire season while watching mayyyyybe the equivalent of one full Maple Leafs game. The best part about an openly rebuilding team is that I can happily just step away from hockey until the Leafs start playing well, so now I have all sorts of free time! I’ve been learning how to speak Spanish! Ola! The Leafs did win ’their’ version of the Stanley Cup in finishing with the league’s worst record, and thus the best chance at winning the draft lottery. Here’s the thing — if the Leafs actually win the top pick and the rights to Auston Matthews, and if there’s any truth to the rumour that the Coyotes will pay an arm and a leg to get the local boy, the Leafs should swap the pick. Depending on how crazy the Coyotes get with their Matthews love, how good would Oliver Edman-Larsson look in the blue and white next year, eh?
Anyway, onto the NHL’s actual good teams.
* Panthers over Islanders in six
Florida becoming a division-winning power is a bit of a head-scratcher for me, and there’s a
very real chance that the clock hits midnight and New York just rolls them this series. But my alternate take is that 20 years ago, the Panthers rode the inexplicable momentum from an inexplicable mascot (the locker room rat) to the finals. This season, the Panthers have ridden the inexplicable momentum from an inexplicable mascot (Kevin Spacey) to the division title. I’m sure Spacey finds it all quite amusing and flattering until someone lets him know what Panthers fans were last worked up over plastic rats.
* Red Wings over Lightning in seven
This is an upset pick from me and it’s frankly an overreaction, since even without Stamkos, Tampa Bay probably has enough to knock off the Wings. But why not, since the Leafs are wallowing in their own crapulence, I might as well have a soft spot for the *other* local team I could easily have chosen as my favourites back in sixth grade. Why oh why didn’t I decide to support the Red Wings? Sighhhhhhh
* Penguins over Rangers in seven
Marquee matchup here, with the red-hot Penguins against the Lundqvist-powered Rangers. Pittsburgh has just been playing too well lately so I have to pick them, and admittedly, I also just think it would make a lot of Toronto heads explode if Phil Kessel somehow ended up winning a Stanley Cup. That would be hilarious. Kessel’s day with the Cup should just be him filling it with hot dogs and stuffing his face in front of every single hockey pundit in town.
* Capitals over Flyers in five
If you also kinda zoned out on this year’s NHL season, you may have missed out on the Capitals suddenly rising up and destroying everybody. They had 120 points, for pete’s sake! That was the most points by any team since the 121 points posted by the 2009-10…uh, Washington Capitals, who proceeded to lose in the first round. So basically, it’s far too early to assume that Washington will suddenly shake off its franchise history-long tradition of postseason flops. They should have enough, at least, to get past the happy-to-be-here Flyers. #FamousLastWords
* Ducks over Predators in six
What a weird season for Anaheim. They started off 1-7-2, then basically just flipped a switch and started destroying everyone, finishing as Pacific Division champs. I guess if you think an NHL season is an ouroboros, we’ll be in for the Ducks playing like garbage in their final month and getting themselves swept, but *Moe voice* I kinda doubt it. It’s also fitting that we get a Ducks/Predators matchup just as one of the most famous Mighty Ducks (Elden “Fulton Reed” Henson) is facing off against the legal predators of Hell’s Kitchen in the Daredevil TV series. That was maybe my most laboured joke ever, wow.
* Kings over Sharks in six
Going by the annual Blackhawks-or-Kings chart, it’s Los Angeles’ turn to win the Stanley Cup again, so it’s hard to pick against them in the first round. ESPECIALLY when they’re playing the playoff pincushions known as the San Jose Sharks.
* Dallas over Minnesota in five
Another classic battle between the new and old Minnesota teams. North Stars rumble! Whither Brian Bellows and Jon Casey during all of this? Can they make cameo appearances? Will they jump Jamie Benn in an alley, NWO-style? Fun fact: I had Dallas missing the playoffs entirely in my preseason picks, which saw me choose only 12 of the 16 playoff teams correctly. Had Dallas, Nashville, Florida and Philadelphia all missing, and Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Columbus all making. Yikes.
* Blackhawks over Blues in six
Much like the L.A./San Jose matchup, here’s another case of an ongoing dynasty getting to warm up for the playoff run by handing a snakebitten team yet another early postseason exit. You’ll notice that these Western Conference predictions are a lot more concise than my Eastern predictions, mostly because I’m bored since it’ll obviously just end up Kings/Blackhawks in the West finals again.
* Panthers over Red Wings in se7en, as Spacey presents Pavel Datsyuk’s NHL career in a box
* Penguins over Capitals in seven, as the NHL finally gets an Ovechkin vs. Crosby series for the ages. HERE’s where the Caps choke it up.
* Kings over Ducks in seven, Anaheim makes them work for it
* Blackhawks over Stars in six, as Chicago is now nice and warmed up for the main event
* Penguins over Panthers in six
* Kings over Blackhawks in seven
* Kings over Penguins in six
I realize my preseason pick was Tampa Bay beating Anaheim in the Cup finals, but forget it, I’m caving. The power of the Kings/Blackhawks pendulum is too much to ignore. Kessel’s critics use the loss as another sign of his low work ethic, as obviously it takes a high-character group like the, um, Kings to win a…..ok, this theory needs work.