With the only snow left to melt this spring that is hidden from the sunshine, it is obviously time for the playoffs to start in the National Hockey League.
Yes that was written with a certain amount of sarcasm. I am one of those who believes the NHL would be more compelling with a 70-game regular season which would effectively shorten it by a month, which would be far better for the playoffs. That said as a realist I get the money involved with 12 regular season games, so it is not changing.
This year I am actually engaged by the playoffs with three Canadian teams in the mix, although the first round of action appears to be rather humdrum in terms of match-ups. I look at five series having an easy favourite, one series likely a given but I have an itch it might be the upset, and two series I’d suggest are more 50/50 if you are a wagering sort.
So a quick run through of the non-Canadian series, the ones I’ll score watch and nothing more.
Columbus went all in at the trade deadline knowing some big names were flying the coop after the season through free agency. The Jackets made some big trades giving up some of its future for a run in the playoffs. It made sense for their fans since Columbus has never won a playoff series. They draw Tampa Bay this time, the best team through the regular season by a considerable margin, which is bad news in Columbus whose moves will be for naught as they get thunderstruck by the Lightning.
I’ve been a Toronto fan since I was old enough to realize it was more fun to have a different favourite team than my dad who was a Montreal fan. At the time there was only one other Canadian team, and my national pride was obviously starting to bloom, so I became a Leaf fan.
I want the Leafs to do well, but defensively they have been woeful for a month, and they don’t play Boston well at the best of times. Sadly the Bruins roll.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals get the plucky Carolina Hurricanes, which is a win for the Caps.
Pittsburgh should roll over the upstart New York Islanders, but the Isles have Barry Trost behind the bench and a renewed dedication to defence that has me thinking this is the dark horse upset series.
Out west Calgary will take care of Colorado and unless Pekka Rinne has a complete meltdown Nashville will dispose if Dallas handily.
And that leaves the two series I waffle on.
Las Vegas should take care of San Jose, in-part because the Sharks are perennial underachievers, and in-part because Marc Andre Fleury is arguably the best playoff goalie among the final 16. But one day the Sharks will surprise, and this series could be the start of that.
Then there are the Winnipeg Jets, a team I also follow closely – I really want a Flames-Jets western final. Winnipeg has been about as Jekyll and Hyde as a team can get down the stretch, with a propensity to blow leads in the third. That does not elicit confidence.
St. Louis is up against the Jets and they have been smoking hot since December. Their offence does not go very deep, and their netminder has no playoff credentials, which should tip things in favour of Winnipeg, but a Blues win will not shock at all, as hard as that is to write as a Jets fan.
Of course as a prognosticator I do understand that going public with my picks invariably will lead to many picks being wrong, but just maybe this is the year I go eight-for-eight out of the gate.