Remaining NHL playoff teams provide new, and better, look

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne saved 94 percent of the shots he faced in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Photo by: Robert Claypool / Flickr


Looking back on my first round NHL predictions, I got five out of the eight series correct in terms of the teams advancing (the Predators, Coyotes, Blues, Rangers and Devils). Out of those predictions, I only hit one on the head (Blues in 5) while I was barely off on the other four except maybe the Rangers, who I had winning in five but needed seven games. I was completely wrong on the Kings/Canucks, Flyers/Penguins and Capitals/Bruins.

But now looking at the second round match-ups, I can honestly say that I am still pleased with the outcomes. Not necessarily because of the games that will be provided, but because looking at the remaining teams gives me great joy because it upsets the established order that has come to define professional hockey in recent years. There are no Red Wings, no Blackhawks, no Penguins, no Bruins and no Canucks. Instead, viewers will get a nice, heavy dose of what people are not used to seeing, for the most part.

This is mainly concerning the Western Conference, where the four teams left skating have a combined one — ONE! — win in the Stanley Cup finals, with that victory credited to the Kings. Two of the franchises — the Coyotes and Predators — were each on the brink of being sold to BlackBerry guru Jim Balsillie and moved to Canada before other shenanigans happened. The series between the two is now being dubbed the “Balsillie Bowl” and some are suggesting that after each win, fans of the two squads throw BlackBerries on the ice. This is Phoenix’s first trip to the second round since 1987, when the club was still the Winnipeg Jets while Nashville is there for the second consecutive year. The Blues haven’t tasted the second round since 2002 and were swept in their last playoff appearance prior to this year.

In the Eastern Conference, all four remaining teams have had their share of playoff success. The Rangers are an Original Six team and have won four Stanley Cups. The Devils have won three championships in their franchise history. The Flyers have two Stanley Cup seasons to their credit, and made the Finals in 2010, and while the Capitals haven’t gotten over that hump, they have generated early round success and seem to always be that one piece away from being a true contender.

While the East has a strong, rich pedigree in terms of NHL playoff lore, the West has turned the league on its side. None of the four locales are necessarily described as “hockey markets”, with Phoenix getting the brunt of the relocation talk and bashing. But yet, they’ve made the playoffs three straight seasons, proving everybody wrong in the process. Nashville has exponentially grown in terms of fan support and on-ice success. The Blues have a good market, but haven’t had quality on-ice performance to match recently. And the Kings are in Los Angeles, a market that is swarming with people and television money. They just needed the success in the standings to prove that they are viable, and they are.

Many pundits will discredit the second round of the playoffs, especially the Western Conference semi-finals, simply because of the expected low ratings that the Blackhawks, Red Wings and/or Bruins would not generate. But, maybe those teams just aren’t good enough and these analysts and critics don’t realize that the NHL is the one league where parity dominates in the post-season. If a team gets a few bounces, rides a hot goaltender and doesn’t quit, they can win on any given night. The phrase “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” comes to mind when talking about that idea and can not be overlooked.

So, when I sit down to watch the Coyotes and Predators square off in Game One of their series tonight from Glendale, Arizona (hometown shoutout!), I will not only be pulling for the Desert Dogs, but will also cherish the fact that the NHL can suck it.

And if you want quick predictions for the semi-finals, here they are: Blues in 7, Coyotes in 6, Rangers in 6, Flyers in 7.

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