Playoff Hockey isn’t so much of a sport as it is a state of mind. It’s tense. It’s nerve wracking. It loosens the sphincters of even the most severely constipated. If we’re being honest, if your team is playing a Playoff Hockey game it’s a very unpleasant experience. But the highs of winning are almost unmatched. Every emotion you could possibly feel is ratcheted up to eleven during overtime. With the exception of playoff baseball, it’s probably prime Stress Eating Season. The NHL Playoffs bring a lot of things to the table, and all of them add up to one of the most thrilling experiences in sports. First round starts tonight, so might as well give some rapid fire takes about each series.
Before we begin, though, I have to add an important disclaimer: I’m not a Hockey Guy. It’s just not in my DNA. You’re either born a Hockey Guy or you aren’t. I never played growing up (unless you count a student-faculty game in high school where I was like a faster Jerome Iginla). Every few years I’ll try and force myself to become a Hockey Guy and it inevitably fails. That’s not to say I don’t like hockey. I actually like it a lot when I watch it and I love going to games. It’s just never been my priority. One of the ways I build my relationship with a sport and further my knowledge is by doing things like tweeting and playing video games and the like. Hell, that’s how I turned myself into a Soccer Bloke. But hockey is, to put it mildly, unforgiving to newcomers. It’s not like I draw a ton of activity whenever I fire some tweets off, but I wouldn’t even think about tweeting a hockey take if I wasn’t 100% sure it was the consensus opinion. Online Hockey Guys are absolutely brutal to outsiders. They’d sniff out my basketball fandom a mile away and instantly label me as a soft-as-toilet-paper idiot who will never know anything about hockey and I should kill myself for thinking I might. I’m not funny enough (i.e., I’m too white) to endear myself to them and have them treat me like a human being. Online Hockey Guys are the guys who spend their entire lives calling Sidney Crosby a pussy online but then if someone like me said it they’d jump down my throat and say I can’t appreciate his superior skill level. They’re the guys who bash basketball for anything and everything while failing to see that their Napoleon Complex and standoffish, holier-than-thou attitude towards anyone who doesn’t watch every second of every game drive any casual fan unfortunate enough to try to enjoy a nice Playoff Hockey game straight back to basketball, furthering the NBA’s stranglehold on the popular conscience. They’re the guys whose favorite search term on PornHub is “postgame handshake line.” They’re annoying, is what I’m getting at. So, I must respectfully ask all hardcore Online Hockey Guys to stop reading this now. It’s about time you feel what it’s like to be excluded from something you’re trying to like. This is a thinking man’s Playoff Hockey preview. This is an in-depth, measured, factually accurate preview coming from someone who’s fandom falls somewhere between casual and diehard. This is coming from a true sports savant with a penchant for nailing predictions. This is the Brian’s Den Playoff Hockey Preview.
Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
I’ve made my thoughts on the Capitals playoff hopes clear. I’m rooting very hard against them. But they are going to win this series. That being said, there’s hope in Toronto. It feels weird to say, but it’s true. Their rookie class is crazy good. Auston Matthews is ridiculous in front of goal and has a ridiculously annoying way of spelling his first name. He combined with Mitch Marner and William Nylander to form one of the highest scoring rookie trios in NHL history. They could finally fulfill the NHL’s biggest, longest-running pipe dreams: the Stanley Cup coming to Toronto because the Maple Leafs won it, not just because that’s where the Hall of Fame is. Knowing Toronto’s luck, all three will suffer career ending injuries in this series.
Prediction: Caps in 5
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s one of the rare takes I’m usually hesitant to offer, but I’ve always secretly liked Sidney Crosby. Guy’s just really, really good. People act like he’s a giant coward, as if guys like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were mixing it up every night like an Irishman on a bender. So he doesn’t fight a lot. So what? He’s the best player in the last 20 years whether you like it or not. That being said, I’m definitely rooting for Columbus here, and I think they’ve got a good shot to not only win this series but go on a deep run. As They will tell you, goaltending wins championships, and the Blue Jackets had the best tender in the league this year in Sergei Bobrovsky, who lead the NHL in goals against average and save percentage. They’ve been ice cold (get it? Because hockey is played on ice) lately, but here’s one analyst not afraid to stay on the BJ Bandwagon.
Prediction: Jackets in 6
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers
Every year I love to revel in the Canadiens inevitable playoff disappointment. They’ve become Caps Lite. “But it’s different this year!” They say about the Habs. “Now, instead of a great goalie, fast and skilled forwards, a handful of cheap shot artists, and soft players they’ve got a great goalie, fast and skilled forwards, a handful of cheap shot artists, and tough players.” And it’s true. They’re a stingy and fast team going against a lousy defense. They’ve got the better coach. In a classic jersey matchup, they even win there. So, yeah, they’re probably going to win this series. But they’re out next round. Book it.
Prediction: Canadiens in 5
Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins
Listen, I’m a pretty unabashed homer. I’m a Bruins fan. I’d spend hours trying to drum up an argument for why the Bruins would beat just about anybody. But the Senators had a negative scoring differential. As in, they gave up more goals than they scored. I don’t give a shit how gritty a team is, if I could join a team and become the most dangerous goal scorer that’s a very, very bad sign.
Prediction: Bruins in 4
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
These guys are still around? In my mind, the Blackhawks get the same respect as the Giants (mostly baseball but would have applied to football before the Boat Boyz came to town) in that I expect them to win every playoff game. The old standbys are still here playing well, but now they’re adding some young guys like Artemi Panarin to the mix. This team just never dies until their body is cremated and the ashes are stuffed into a can of giardiniera. This is a tough Nashville team, though. Well rounded with dynamic players at every position. But I just have a tough time saying the Blackhawks are about to lose in the first round.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
Maybe it’s because of the somewhat fluky nature of the NHL playoffs, but it seems like hockey really lends itself to the “teams that perform well enough to get every expert picking them as The Next Team only to fail repeatedly” archetype of Choking Teams. If the Capitals didn’t exist, both these teams would be able to steak their claim to the NHL’s leader in that category. The Blues looked like they were about to break out of that last year, but then they lost to the Sharks, and being the team the Sharks didn’t choke against is like being the team that lost to the Cubs in the World Series. I don’t think I can take them seriously anymore. And the Wild wouldn’t know what the second round looked like if it walked up to them and slapped them in the face. This series may go to game 7, where it would go to endless overtimes because both of them are scared of success. Still, the Wild aren’t playing the Blackhawks, so they might actually be able to win a series.
Prediction: Wild in 7
Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames
I feel like we’ve all kind of forgotten how goofy it is that there’s a professional hockey team in Anaheim, a professional sports team based on a Disney movie, a professional sports team named the Ducks, a player who’s in-game villainy is so over-the-top it would be rejected by every sports movie ever written, and that all of those things apply to one team. The Ducks make the Las Vegas Golden Knights seem like a well thought out, fully developed franchise concept. Maybe I’d like the Ducks more if they kept the original green and purple design, not the weird robo-duck motifs they use now. Meanwhile, there’s something I love about Calgary. I love when people pronounce it Cal-GARY, I love that they play in the Saddledome, I love that the city flag has a cowboy hat on it, and I love that Alberta is pretty much just one big Canadian Western movie set. I’m a big Flames guy. If they wear their red and white jerseys and bring Bret Hart to every home game, it’s over.
Prediction: Flames in 7
Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks
Connor McDavid is lead the league in points and is going to win MVP (sorry not sorry for not using the trophies’ fancy names). He’s 20 years old. Is that good? I think it is. Because they’ve been absolute ass the last decade I think people think the Oilers are the classic One Year Away playoff team, but they’ve got a shot of doing some real damage this season. This is a fast, explosive team, and once my guy Milan Lucic starts taking ill-timed penalties they’ll have the whole game working. As for the Sharks, they had a bit of an out-of-body experience last year when they finally made the Stanley Cup Finals. Since the lockout, they’ve dedicated themselves to blowing 3-0 leads, losing series in the most devastating ways imaginable, and generally letting their fans down (just kidding, they don’t have any fans). They’ve packed a lot of heartbreak into a short amount of time, which is never a good thing. Plus, as I’ve stated before, anyone who’s entire persona is based around their beard annoys me greatly, and the Sharks have like 20 of those guys. Needless to say I’m not a fan. Plus, they’re dealing with injuries to their top guys. They’re out.
Prediction: Oilers in 5
It goes without saying, but I should probably be treated like a bona fide hockey expert now. After all, giving the number of games in each series is a surefire sign of expertise. I might be close to becoming an Online Hockey Guy now, too, which would be an odd twist. Unfortunately writing this might disqualify me from every writing about basketball again, because everyone knows you aren’t allowed to like both. In fact, now that I’m a hockey expert, I might not be allowed to like any other sport at all. At least, that’s what the Online Hockey Guys tell me. Luckily for you, I’m not afraid to break with tradition, so I’ll risk arguing the Hockey Gods by choosing to enjoy both the NHL and NBA. Don’t ever say I’m not revolutionary.