Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The NHL Playoffs Should be Interesting

The NHL playoffs are going to be mighty interesting, especially if the Sabres streak their way in.  Last season parity ruled as the 6th, 7th, and 8th seeds all won their opening round matchups, and the 7th and 8th seeds met in the conference finals.  In the Eastern Conference, it truly is anyone's game.

In spite of their terrible play at times this season, the possibility is still open for them to sneak into a deep playoff run because no one in the east is really that good.  Going from the top to the bottom...

Philadelphia has a good lead on first place in the conference (4 pts with two games in hand), but they're relying on the services of largely unproven goaltender Sergei Bobrovski.  He could pull an Antii Niemi come playoff time and turn stud, or he could pull a Tuukka Rask and cost his team a series.

Tampa Bay is next in line, but as the Sabres proved last night, their defense, goaltending, and mental strength are all suspect.  With the way they lost their composure after Drew Stafford's controvertial goal, one has to question their ability to make a deep playoff run.

Boston is next, and may be among the stronger teams in the conference, but with Savard out, their offensive capabilities are hampered.  Besides, isn't everyone just waiting for Tim Thomas to shit the bed?

Pittsburgh is in fourth, but they've lost Malkin (and potentially Crosby) for the year.  They have a solid lead on ninth place (14 points), but they could tank hard, especially if Staal gets injured again or Fleury doesn't play well.

Washington has been terrible for stretches this season and it's hard to figure out just what is going on.  Ovechkin has only been good, Semin has been hurt and streaky, and the defense is somewhat suspect.  Plus they're notorious for underachieving in the playoffs.

Montreal is missing Markov and Gorges for the year and can't seem to stay completely healthy for more than a few games at a time.  I'm a little surprised they've got such a good hold on the 6th position, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sabres catch them for it.  In the playoffs, the absence of Gorges and Markov on defense will be doubly apparent.

New York has been brutal for stretches and one has to wonder what Dubinsky will be like when he returns.  Does anyone think they have the offensive output to win a playoff series if Lundqvist's GAA goes above 1.00?

Carolina has managed to step ahead of Atlanta, but they suffer from lapses on defense as well.  Will Skinner be able to carry his Calder nominee season into the postseason, or will he disappear like so many rookies before hom.

Atlanta is on the outside looking in for the first time in a while.  Honestly, I thought they'd get there sooner.  The team just flat out suffers from a lack of talent and they're getting to the point in the season where they can't make up for it with a superior effort every night.  Not to mention they're allowing the most goals in the east by a sizable amount, and that's with Ondrej Pavelec playing well.

Buffalo is in tenth, and roaring.  They have one of the easier schedules down the home stretch, which bodes well for them getting into the playoffs, but doesn't say anything about how they might perform.  The most likely opponents are Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Boston who they are 4-5-1 against this season.  (And how poetic would it be to bounce Boston as a 6 seed?)

I know people will say that regular season games don't matter and that the standings show that the better teams will beat the weaker teams in a seven game series, but I don't buy it for a minute.  There is no team in the eastern conference playoff picture that is significantly better than any other, and no team that doesn't have at least one major flaw.  Like last season, I think this year, anything can happen.

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