Team Choke vs. New Generation Avs
Obviously, the Sharks are under huge pressure to get to the Final after last year's playoff collapse in rd. 1 to Anaheim. The thing is San Jose tend to fumble over themselves in rd. 2 or 3. Not saying the Avs cannot pull an upset but looking at last year's mess the Sharks were beat by a team just two seasons removed from being crowned champions. But unlike '09 when they had to face the wiles of Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, the Avs no longer have Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg or Patrick Roy. So let's cut the Sharks some slack in rd. 1.
After that it's up to Evgeni Nabokov and Joe Thornton to prove they are da men!
San Jose takes it in 5 1/3 games
Toews Kaners vs. Barry Trotz-kyites
Nashville are a funny team. Consistently overachievers in the regular season, they have yet to win a playoff series in four tries. They should be due, but then again they still do not have enough offence on paper. You can make a case for Pekka Rinne being good enough to steal a series but before him it was Dan Ellis (who was sensational in the '08 first rd. six-game series vs. the eventual Cup champion Detroit Red Wings), Chris Mason and Tomas Vokoun (also fantastic the first playoff series the Preds played back in '04 again vs. Detroit). All were good enough to keep the Preds in series but without help on offence, this team goes nowhere.
Thanks to the Buffalo Sabres' breaking the curse of the losing Conference Finalists (and not only getting past rd. 1 but going deep two playoffs in a row in '06 and '07). we seem to be in a new era. That bodes well for Chicago in '10.
Blackhawks in 6 2/3 games.
Hollywood North vs. Hollywood
It all falls on Roberto Luongo's shoulders now. The Canucks have the offence . . . finally, so no excuses. Also, Luongo (flameouts in NHL playoff elimination games aside) has been terrific in rd. 1 matchups. Whether he can crank his game up after an Olympic run is the big question and the post-Olympic break showed otherwise. Throw in the fact this team looks defensively suspect whenever one of their big three defencemen gets injured (currently Willie Mitchell; previously Sami Salo or Mathias Ohlund).
With so many question marks with the Canucks D and in net, the Kings are primed for an upset. Sure Jonathan Quick has been nearly as average as Luongo post-Olympics. Maybe sitting in the crowd as Team USA's third goalie at Vancouver 2010 wore him out mentally.
Throw in the fact LA led by Dustin Brown hit a ton the Vancouver D is going to get worn down. Add in the other fact that the LA D not only has all-star youth in Drew Doughty but Stanley Cup rings in Rob Scuderi and Sean O'Donnell, and I'm leaning upset.
Then again Coach Yogi Bear could do a ballsy Cam Ward '06 move and put Andrew Raycroft if Luongo continues letting in softies. Hey, backups sometimes do wonderful things come playoff time.
El Lay in 9 1/2 games
Phoenix Reinsdorfers vs. Winged Wheelers
Has there ever been a series where the higher seed was not the favorite? In this case it's based on how hot the Red Wings have been since the break, but take that with a grain of salt. New Jersey going into one playoff year was on an 11-game winning streak in '06 going in, extended that to 15 by sweeping the Rangers them promptly lost in rd. 2 in five games to the Hurricanes. So, yeah, pencil the Wings in to get through this round unscathed but any further, you're on your own there.
What you should pin your money on is the overtime/shootout record of the Yotes. They won a league record 19 games in OT or the shootout. Playoff teams that top this bizarre stat have lost [almost] every time in rd. 1 as they no longer can rely on a quick 4-on-4 OT or the shootout to chalk up easy wins.
Here's your OT/SO leaders and how they did in season with real OT:
'06 Dallas Stars 15 OT/SO wins were upset in five games by Jose Theodore and the Avycats.
'07 Minnesota Wild 17 OT/SO wins lost in five games to the Ducks.
'08 New Jersey Devils 15 So/OT wins were upset in...you guessed it, 5 games by the Rangers.
Now I did cheat a little as in '07 the Canucks also had 17 OT/SO wins and managed to beat Dallas in about 9 games (yep, there were almost two full games of overtime in that low-scoring series) so let's just say the Yotes have a one in four chance of escaping rd. 1.
Old Wings in six.