Given my desultory results from the NCAA Basketball Championship Pools (My best ACTUAL finish was a tie for 72nd out of 90,000+ in the WOMEN'S bracket), you can take my predictions for the Stanley Cup playoffs with a grain of salt, aspirin or a shot of your favourite liquor. Warnings made, here we go.
I see two first-round upsides in the East quarter-finals. I think Carolina is better man for man than New Jersey right now (who knew Erik Cole and Paul Maurice were so vital to the Hurricanes?) and right now Cam Ward is in the ball park with Martin Brodeur, who might be having the downturn that happens after the initial adrenaline rush from coming back from a long-term injury. Ward's won it all before, so we aren't comparing apples to jeeps when talking Brodeur vs. Ward. The other upset I see is the Rangers over Washington, simply because I don't think Jose Theodore can do it in the crunch, whereas I'm pretty sure Henrik Lundqvist can. That cagey old Ranger squad is built for the playoffs and methinks Sean Avery vs. Alexander Ovechkin has some entertainment value. If nothing else, we'll see more than a few Capitals in the penalty box for trying to ram their fists and stick down the pest's throat.
Naturally, I would be picking a fully healthy Montreal Canadiens to upset the Big Bad Bruins of Boston, but Les Habs aren't healthy. Schneider's hurting (making Yannick Weber THE sleeper draft pick in pools) and Markov's out for the series. Even without them, I think pride, Alexei Kovalev and a good Carey Price makes Boston sweat big-time. Boston in seven.
Pittsburgh is on a roll (to the Cup) and will beat Philly.
In the semis then, Boston takes on Carolina. Hmmmm. Good series. Boston wins in seven and then has nothing left for the Penguins, who roll the Rangers in five. Pittsburgh wins the East in another five-game series.
Out west, the only thing resembling a first-round upset occurs when Calgary dispatches Chicago in a nasty seven-game series. The Flames then go on to lose to San Jose, while the second-round upset shows Vancouver ousting Detroit, who has more injuries than most people realize, to key players. Besides, Luongo vs. Osgood is not a good matchup for the defending champions.
The West final will be a doozy and it comes down to the fact that San Jose can't beat Luongo when it counts. Mats Sundin gets his reward for putting Toronto behind him and finally makes a Stanley Cup final. Good for him, and for the Sedins and especially for Luongo, who will be Canada's starting goalie at the 2010 Olympics.
As mentioned previously, Pittsburgh wins the Cup this time around, simply because Vancouver can't contain Crosby AND Malkin. Marc-Andre Fleury plays well enough in his second straight Cup final to off-set Luongo's brilliance and the Penguins hoist the cup after game six, which I THINK will be in Pittsburgh. But I could be wrong.
Or I could be wrong about the whole thing. You've been warned.