By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) It’s customary to make predictions at the start of hockey season and again at the start of the playoffs. Most of the predictions are fairly useless because “experts” really don’t know as much as they think they do and they take their picks way too seriously. As someone whose job has involved making predictions on a regular basis – NFL games and draft picks – we venture off into our hockey wonderland. While we cast our eyes towards the Blackhawks, we predict every first-round series and why they are likely to go that way.
Chicago Blackhawks (6) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (3) – The Coyotes won the Pacific Division – something that no team appeared to want for the majority of the season – but the Hawks have little to worry about. Hawks fans will make a lot more noise at Jobing Arena down in suburban Glendale, Ariz., then Coyotes fans will. As usual, the Coyotes franchise is rumored to be on the move and this could be the team’s last gasp in the desert. The Blackhawks can take comfort in the Coyotes’ history. They have never won a playoff series while playing in Phoenix and they are not about to start now. Hawks’ uniforms have Coyotes’ togs beaten by miles. Chicago over Phoenix in six games.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8) – It’s beautiful to follow the Canucks in the playoffs. You know that there is no way they are going to win the Stanley Cup, so that means that they will get their hearts broken sooner or later. We’ll say a little bit later. While Roberto Luongo will do what he does best in the second round – giving up soft goals – he’s got enough to squeak by the Kings in Round One. The Sedin Sisters will find a way to score on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Can’t wait to see arrogant head coach Alain Vigneault get his comeuppance once again. It will happen in second round. Vancouver over Los Angeles in seven games.
St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7) – Blues were one of the best stories in the regular season, but do they have enough scoring to survive in the playoffs? Probably not, but Sharks are one of the great choke teams of this generation as Joe Thornton has a knack for disappearing when his team needs him most. By the way, Antti Niemi no longer says “no.” He regularly says, “come on in” to opposing shooters. St. Louis over San Jose in 6 games.
Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5) – Predators continue to get better and better while Red Wings get older. However, Wings’ experience serves them well because they know how to bounce back because they are so strong mentally. Predators still have some work to do in that area. Give Preds edge with Pekka Rinne in net and Shea Weber’s booming shot from the point. Partial to Carrie Underwood cheering for Preds. She loves the giant face of husband Mike Fisher, who is a snarling hustler on the ice. Nashville over Detroit in 7 games.
New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8) – Rangers had their best regular season since they won the Stanley Cup in 1994, and they have designs on hoisting the Cup. King Henrik Lunqvist may be the best goalie in the game and the Rangers are tough to score against. The problem is they don’t have enough scoring of their own and emotional head coach John Tortorella will be left crying in his beer. Not in this round, but soon enough. Senators just happy to be there. New York over Ottawa in 5 games
Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7) – Bruins have the all-around strength with goalie Tim Thomas, gargantuan defenseman Zdeno Chara and superb center Patrice Bergeron to make a good run at defending last year’s Stanley Cup championship. They looked unbeatable in November and December but were barely a .500 team afterwards. They should roll past underachieving Caps, who did just enough to make the playoffs in the last week of the season. Boston over Washington in 5 games.
Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6) – Dale Tallon brings the Panthers to the playoffs. Say what you want to about his ability to handle the salary cap, but he led Florida to the first division championship in its history. Everyone is picking New Jersey – 16-of-17 NHL.com experts – so we’ll go in the opposite direction. Florida over New Jersey in 7 games.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5) – This will be a memorable series. It’s too bad that these teams are meeting in the first round and not in the Eastern Finals. They hate each other and will go at each other for 7 games. As good as Philadelphia is with Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds scoring clutch goals, you have to question Ilya “Moonman” Bryzgalov. He’s just too up and down. Penguins have likely MVP Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, James Neal and red-hot Pascal Dupuis. Marc-Andre Fleury has a Stanley Cup under his belt. Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in 7 games.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.