The first time I ever tried to predict the Frozen Four, I got every game correct. I said Ferris State would beat Union in a close game and they did. I even got the score correct, 3-1.
I also said Boston College would defeat Minnesota and they did. It ended up being more of a blowout than I thought, although based on the Eagles’ track record in the tournament, it doesn’t surprise me.
Finally, I said that even though Ferris State would play well, the Eagles would be just flat-out better, and they were, beating the Bulldogs 4-1 in the final last Saturday.
Now that I’m done patting myself on the back, I’m going to try to do something a lot more difficult: Predict the first round of the NHL playoffs. This will probably end up being a drastically different conclusion than my college hockey predictions.
Speaking of which … how about this impressive run that Boston College is on? Seriously, it’s gotten to the point where we should just give the Eagles the national title every other year. Scoff if you will at that, but BC has won the national championship in 2008, 2010, and now, 2012.
Almost all of this is because of their incredible head coach, Jerry York. York came to the Eagles before the 1994-95 season after achieving success at both Clarkson and Bowling Green. He gave the Falcons their only national championship back in 1984.
Just four years on the job at BC, York brought the Eagles to the national title game and got them their second national title in 2001. Since then, they’ve won three more, and many people think that York is now the greatest college hockey coach of all time. While that is up for debate, York is the winningest active coach in college hockey (913) and will become the all-time leader at some point next season. The Eagles also have the best NCAA postseason winning percentage (.790) since 1998.
Will BC’s success last for the rest of the decade? It’s hard to say. However, as long as York is at the helm, no one will ever count out the Eagles.
Now to switch gears to the NHL, this year’s playoffs could be really interesting. Some teams are primed for upsets, while other teams look like they are on the fast track to the Stanley Cup.
Let’s look at the Western Conference first. The top-seeded Vancouver Canucks face off against the Los Angeles Kings and unlike last year, the Canucks could easily fall in the opening round. Hey, they already lost Game 1 Wednesday!
The Kings have a great goaltender in Jonathan Quick (great name for a goalie, by the way), two great scorers in Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, as well as a deadly sniper in Jeff Carter. If all of those players can play at the top of the game, Los Angeles could upset the defending Western Conference champs.
Vancouver brings a lot of weapons to the series including the Sedin brothers (Henrik and Daniel), Ryan Kesler and Maxim Lapierre. They also have one of the best goalies in the business in Roberto Luongo to counter Quick so this should be a tight series.
In the end, I just have a feeling about this. Vancouver is notorious for not getting the job done when they should (ahem, last year’s Stanley Cup Finals), and I think that trend will continue. Kings in seven.
The next series is St. Louis vs. San Jose. The premise is eerily similar to the 1999-2000 season, when the Blues won the President’s Trophy before falling in the first round to the Sharks.
Will that happen again? I don’t think so. The ‘99-00 Blues didn’t seem ready for the Sharks and this year’s team handled San Jose easily, sweeping the season series. St. Louis has a great goaltending tandem in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot as well as a balanced scoring attack which includes David Backes, David Perron and T.J. Oshie.
The Sharks still have a solid team with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture as well as a capable goaltender in Antti Niemi. After watching them in person, I think this is St. Louis’ year. Blues in seven.
Chicago plays Phoenix in the next series and this is a tough series to call. The Blackhawks have very shaky goaltenders; the Coyotes have a strong one in Mike Smith. Chicago has an amazing offense led by Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane; Phoenix can’t really say the same.
I think Chicago’s offense helps the Blackhawks upset the Coyotes although Smith might help Phoenix steal a couple games. Blackhawks in six.
The last Western matchup is Nashville vs. Detroit. The Red Wings are that aging team that just won’t go away while the Predators are gradually turning Music City into a hockey town. Detroit returns several of its great old-timers — Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg — while Nashville counters with a great goalie in Pekka Rinne, scorer David Legwand and defenseman Shea Weber.
It’s really hard to pick against the Red Wings, but I think the Preds take this one. I like Jimmy Howard a lot, but Rinne should be outduel him and I don’t think Detroit can keep up with a younger Nashville squad. Predators in six.
We move on to the East now. First up is New York vs. Ottawa. This looks like a mismatch to me. While the Kings have the ability to upset the Canucks, I don’t see the Senators beating the top-seeded Rangers even though they did win the season series.
New York has more weapons (Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan) and a much better goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. Ottawa has enjoyed career-reviving seasons from Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, but it won’t be enough. Rangers in five.
Next up is Boston vs. Washington. The Bruins could be ripe for an upset: Tim Thomas hasn’t been as solid in net as he was last year and their offense has been more streaky than consistent this year. The Capitals bring a lot of stars to the ice led by Alexander Ovechkin, but it’s a well-known fact that he didn’t play at his typical level this year.
This will end up being a very even series and although Boston could get knocked off early it’s still too soon — especially since Washington goes into the series not knowing who its starting goalie will be. Bruins in six.
The third Eastern series is New Jersey vs. Florida. The Panthers are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2000 and the Devils are starting to look like the Stanley Cup teams of old.
My heart is pulling for Florida because it’s nice to see them finally put together a decent team, but my head is going with New Jersey. The Devils just have flat-out better players — Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac — as well as a legendary goalie in Martin Brodeur. Panthers goalie Jose Theodore could steal a win or maybe two, but New Jersey moves on. Devils in five.
Finally we come to the last playoff series, arguably the most difficult to predict, in Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh. The battle of Pennsylvania is really too close to call. Both teams have the ability to win the Stanley Cup. The Penguins having the superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while the Flyers have crafty veterans like Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Daniel Briere.
What it comes down to in this series is who can get the best scoring chances and win the mental game. Philly has been known to get into Pittsburgh’s heads and that could be very important. This series will definitely go seven and I think that mental edge will help Philadelphia move on. Flyers in seven.