Now that we have all sixteen teams set for the two-month journey in order to determine the next Stanley Cup champion, I will join the expanding list of so-called "experts" in providing my predictions.
But first I digress.....
I was at Madison Square Garden on Friday and down in Philly on Sunday as the Rangers and Flyers battled for the final one of those 16 playoff berths. And I know that both teams are extremely flawed, and would not have even qualified if they played in the Western Conference as opposed to the East, but what great theater those two rivals provided.
MSG was electric on Friday as the Rangers kept their season alive with a 4-3 victory that was chock-full of plot twists and momentum swings and huge plays both ways.
Not to be outdone, the Wachovia Center was even louder and more raucous than The Garden for Sunday's contest, with the home team even dusting off a video of Kate Smith circa the mid-'70's singing "God Bless America". Simply great stuff!
Then Henrik Lundqvist plays one of the truely great games in goal for the visitors and nearly steals a playoff spot for his completely-outplayed team of Rangers. But the Flyers finally break through early in the third period to tie the game 1-1, and win it in the shootout with Brian Boucher somehow besting an exhausted Lundqvist ("I was dead tired...didn't have a good feeling heading into the shootout") for a 2-1 Flyers win.
Philly secures a playoff spot, one point better than the Rangers, who head for an early summer vacation.
Great theater. Whoever put that NHL schedule together and had Rangers and Flyers home-and-home to close out the season, well, give 'em a raise, or at least a Molson!
OK, prediction time. Well, wait, a second, before I get to that let's revisit how my pre-season predictions went (not so great):
In the East I had had six of the eight teams correct, though I opted for Carolina and the Rangers over Buffalo and Ottawa. Plus I had Philly as a lock, not to mention my Stanley Cup representative from the East (Yikes!).
Out West, I only nailed five of eight, though am proud to say I got LA right when many people did not think they would make it. Calgary, Anaheim, and St. Louis were my misses as Nashville, Colorado, and Phoenix made me look bad. For what it's worth, I had Vancouver heading to The Finals. That's got a better shot of happening than the Flyers, at least!
So now here we go:
(1) Caps over (8) Canadiens in five games
(2) Devils over (7) Flyers in seven games
(3) Sabres over (6) Bruins in six games
(4) Penguins over (5) Senators in four games
(1) Sharks over (8) Avalanche in five games
(2) Blackhawks over (7) Predators in five games
(3) Canucks over (6) Kings in six games
(5) Red Wings over (4) Coyotes in five games