Monday, I cited seven games this week that would determine the final standings. I cited predictions from 10 days earlier being obsolete because of new trends around the league.
Friday, I posted new predictions for the final NHL standings only two weeks after my last ones. One of those predictions—the Washington Capitals finishing ahead of the Buffalo Sabres—was so precarious that a regulation road win by the latter over a great team and an overtime loss at home by the former against a non-playoff team has already changed my mind.
Buffalo has caught Washington and is only behind them in the tiebreak. They are hotter and have an easier schedule, so I now see them making up that one point. You might call it flip-flopping, but I call it reassessing the situation—more people should change their minds in the face of new evidence, especially when their original decision was so lacking in conviction.
With that one change now explained, here are my Stanley Cup playoff predictions:
- Pittsburgh over Buffalo in six: Ryan Miller is going to be worn down before the series, much less after facing the best attack in the world. Buffalo is hot, but Pittsburgh may be hotter—Miller can steal one and the Sabres are good enough to win another, but that is all.
- Boston over Ottawa in five: Ottawa may be the weakest team in the playoffs, “earning” a higher percentage of their points in overtime losses and shootout wins. Their goal differential is terrible. Boston knows what they are doing this time of year, and the only reason they lose one is division rivalry series favour the underdog.
- New Jersey over Florida in six: Florida will be the softest winner from the softest division in the playoffs, also relying on three-point games for their “success.” New Jersey benefits from them, too, but has better forwards and goaltending, and will give everything they have for one more shot for Martin Brodeur.
- New York over Philadelphia in seven: Ilya Bryzgalov has not had big-game success. Besides losing in the playoffs, he lost eight straight to the San Jose Sharks when his Phoenix Coyotes could have been division champions two years in a row had he gone merely .500. While he is playing better now, expecting him and his Flyers teammates to shake their playoff woes and beat a team as good in all phases as the Rangers is naive—they play well but fall short.
- Pittsburgh over New Jersey in six: The Atlantic Division rivalry gives the Devils a win and Martin Brodeur (as well as those playing for him) gets them another, but there is no phase of this game that gives New Jersey an advantage.
- New York over Boston in seven: The Bruins are not the same team as last season. Their goaltending is not as good and they are not as hungry as New York, who will also be better prepared (though more fatigued) from their first-round series.
- Pittsburgh over New York in six: The Penguins will have caught the Rangers because they are better when they are fully-staffed. They also have more playoff success to draw from and home ice, more than making up for the “division rival” advantage to the underdog.
- St. Louis over San Jose in six: St. Louis beat San Jose all four times this season, allowing just three goals. But this team has not been to the playoffs while the Sharks will be playing for their very jobs and are veterans of May hockey—too bad they will not get there this year, because that takes this from a sweep to a six-game series, tops.
- Vancouver over Dallas in five: Dallas has marginal playoff-team talent while Vancouver may have the most talented team in the world. The #PeskyStars as they are billing themselves will find a way to win one, but no more unless the Canucks are complacent—something they were in every series last season (1-5 with a two-game lead, 2-6 with a one-game lead later than Game 2).
- Los Angeles over Chicago in seven: Chicago played in a better division and finishes with a better record, but they are not a better team. After the trade for Jeff Carter, the Kings are a new team. They are stronger in net and are hungrier because they have not gotten past the first round in a decade.
- Nashville over Detroit in six: Detroit is a mess right now, and only they know how much they may be recovered (and rested) from their injuries. Nashville may well be the strongest team in the Western Conference as the playoffs approach.
- Nashville over St. Louis in six: Western Conference champions just do not get crowned without having been in the playoffs one of the two previous seasons. The Blues know they will be contenders for a long time, while Nashville may be going all-in for their one real chance this year.
- Vancouver over L.A. in six: As well as the Kings are playing, they are not as deep and may be no better on the blue line after trading away Jack Johnson. Adding Carter certainly did not close the gap at forward, and even their edge in net is questionable. Their desperation was to get out of the first round, not to win the Stanley Cup that Vancouver is running out of time to capture.
- Nashville over Vancouver in seven: The Preds need this, and they simply have more character than Vancouver (if you do not see character deficiencies in the Canucks, they are outlined at that link). They have been willing themselves to the playoffs every year with a tiny payroll, and will beats skill, especially when the skill is not a large margin.
Stanley Cup Final: Pittsburgh Penguins in six over Nashville Predators. Frankly, the Preds will be worn down enough to make taking two against a team that already knows how to win in June quite an accomplishment. Not only do they have to play 20 playoff games spread over three time zones to get there, but they spend hundreds more hours in the sky during the season. But more importantly, for all their improvements they are still not as talented as Pittsburgh—hunger can only carry a team so far.