My calls for the last round were pretty good, actually, all things considered. I tapped the Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Blues, Ducks and Capitals; my only misses came from Edmonton — but the ageing Sharks had injuries across the board, so I give myself a pass on that one — and Nashville — a sweep, seriously? Nobody predicted that.
Record so far: 6-2.
Pekka Rinne played out of his mind for that first round. I mean, did you see this? PK Subban’s energy has to be rousing that locker room just as much as the sea of mustard at Bridgestone Arena, and Peter Laviolette behind the bench has the Preds playing as well as I’ve ever seen them play. Still, the boys from St Loo are just too deep, and it’s Vladimir Tarasenko’s year, methinks. Blues in six.
The addition of Connor McDavid has instilled an actual work ethic in the Edmonton dressing room. For a few years now, they’ve been fun to watch, but half of that was in anticipation of the inevitable self-inflicted immolation. I thought it had happened again when the San Jose Sharks scored a touchdown in Game Four of the first round, but the Oilers impressed with two straight wins directly afterward. All of this points to a Western Conference powerhouse for years to come. However, this year their goaltending is going to let them down. Anaheim can feel the window closing on that core of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and Cam Fowler. I hate to give those shitty webfooted jerseys another round, but I’ve got to call Ducks in six. I’ll be thrilled if the Oil can prove me wrong.
Erik Karlsson is my second favourite NHL defenceman (after Drew Doughty, natch), and Craig Anderson’s personal situation makes the Sens an easy emotional choice. Hell, they’ve even got Alex Burrows gutting out shift after shift to pull on my heart strings. Karlsson is rumoured to be playing on a wonky foot, however, and Burrows is done as far as slaying dragons is concerned. Across the ice is a squad just one year removed from a Stanley Cup loss to the LA Kings; Henrik Lundqvist has all but said that his window is about shut, and Alain Vigneault knows how to get teams deep in this tournament. Rangers in six.
Aha, the pièce de résistance. Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin. So far in their careers, Sid the Kid has owned Ovi8; sure, the big Russian has won more Rocket Richard trophies for scoring the most goals in a single season, but Sid has two Olympic gold medals, a couple of Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, and too many other awards to count. Just last year, the Penguins followed Crosby’s lead to one of the strongest second half / playoff combinations we’ve seen in recent memory. This year, Sid was dominant, winning his second career Richard trophy and finishing second in league scoring. The Pens are as deep as the day is long, and are a serious threat to repeat as Cup champions. All of this aside (not to mention Malkin’s 11 first-round points against the Blue Jackets), this is Ovechkin’s year. Brayden Holtby is just plain better than Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, and the Caps have TJ Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nicklas Backstrom… and you never, ever bet against Justin Williams in the playoffs. Caps in the most entertaining seven-game series we’ve seen since the ’94 Canucks-Rangers final.