The first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs has ended and the second round is underway. I’m expected to pick which teams I believe will emerge as the winners from this round.
This is also a time when I’m supposed to review my previous selections to either brag about how many I got right or lament how many I got wrong. Except this year, I’m not doing that. As I stated back when I made my first-round selection, I don’t give a damn anymore about this silly game of NHL playoff predictions.
Yes, the tedious process of playing “pick ’em” in the Stanley Cup playoffs must continue for those of who cover the league for a living. All the prognostications, of course, will be swiftly forgotten by all but the psychotic few who hide behind internet anonymity to get their rocks off by taunting you over those you got wrong.
So, keeping in the spirit of just doing this for fun and not wasting time getting into regular series matchups, previous playoff histories, postseason performances, deep dives into team and player analytics or guessing how many games each series will go, here’s my picks for the second round. Send your complaints or taunts to anyone but me.
Dallas Stars vs St. Louis Blues. The Stars needed two extra games longer than necessary to dispatch the otherwise overmatched Minnesota Wild. The Blues nearly blew a 3-1 series lead before eliminating the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks with a narrow 3-2 win in Game 7.
In other words, this is a series between two clubs that had a serious case of first-round jitters. Inconsistent goaltending probably had a lot to do with that. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi for the Stars and Brian Elliott for the Blues had some good games and some poor ones.
The Stars and Blues jockeyed with each other for first overall in the Western Conference. While the Stars are a rising power and could get even better in this series if Tyler Seguin returns from injury, the Blues are the only team from the initial expansion of 1967 not to have a Stanley Cup title. That’s one long-ass drought, kids. So, I’d like to see the Blues win this one. Relax, Stars fans, your team can win it next year. Unless their goaltending keeps giving ’em fits.
San Jose Sharks vs Nashville Predators. The Sharks avenged their humiliating 2014 opening-round upset to the LA Kings by whupping them in five games. The Predators won their first-ever playoff game 7 by edging the Anaheim Ducks 2-1, burnishing the latter’s dubious reputation for choking on home ice in Game 7 scenarios.
Their ugly gold (“Pred Yellow”) jerseys aside, I like the Predators. I like how they’ve proven their doubters wrong by building up hockey’s popularity in their market and how they’ve given back to their community. I admire their fans, who’ve stuck by their club through thick and thin, especially when they’ve beenalmost constantly disappointed in the playoffs.
That said, I’m picking the Sharks. Because no club has borne a heavier burden of playoff underachiever over the past decade more than them. And as I’ve mentioned before, long-time Sharks stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau don’t want their career epitaphs to be “Played for a Postseason Choke Artist.” Maybe next year, Preds fans.
New York Islanders vs Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders needed three overtimes in six games to oust the Florida Panthers to win their first playoff series since 1993. The Lightning dusted off the fading Detroit Red Wings in five games.
I heard Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who’s recovering from blood-clot surgery, is skating again. Sadly, he won’t be available for this series, meaning we’re robbed of the joy of watching him and his old buddy John Tavares compete for supremacy. The Lightning will probably win this series. Even with Stamkos sidelined, they’re a deep, experienced team hungry for a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Heck, they might even get blueliner Anton Stralman (non-displaced fractured fibula) back before the series is over.
That being said, I want the Islanders to win this one. Yes, they finally won a playoff series for the first time in 23 years. Let’s put that in real time: My son was two years old back then. He’s now 25. I realize Isles fans are probably thrilled they finally put that embarrassing drought to an end, but I don’t think that’s enough to mollify the suffering of the last 23 years. No, that needs the soothing balm of at least a trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins. Seven long years after Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby last tangled in the playoffs, we’re finally getting the rematch everyone – or at least, NHL headquarters – truly wants. The clash of the league’s poster boys.
Last time around, Crosby and the Pens prevailed and marched to the Stanley Cup. Both clubs seem evenly matched in this one. The Caps dominated all season long while the Penguins caught fire after a mid-December coaching change and the addition of several promising young call-ups.
I could list a dozen reasons for each club why they could win or lose this series, but I’m pulling for the Capitals. As I explained in my first-round picks, I have several friends who are Capitals fans. Every year, I have to put up with their sobbing and wailing over how their club let them down in the playoffs. Dammit, I don’t want to go through another spring of tears!