It is disappointing that the Islanders failed to make the playoffs again this season. From a “realistic” perspective, I didn’t think they would actually be able to grab the 7 or 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, yet I also expected them to finish over the .500 mark with 85 or so points.
When all is said and done, they ended the current campaign with a 34-37-11 record for 79 points. This was a 6 point improvement over last season, but, to me, this was not anything I would consider a “great improvement”. The hockey Gods were surely good to the Isles, as there was plenty of opportunity with stalling and sputtering teams ahead of them for the orange and blue to possibly sneak into the last slot. However, it just didn’t happen with an assortment of squandered points and lost chances down the stretch.
The Islanders will be picking 4th overall in the draft this June. Whether this is good news or not is a matter of opinion of the fan. As I have said all along, I had little interest in draft position, and wanted to see overall improvements. Unfortunately, to me, it was a case of a little too late. The secondary scoring plainly emerged about three months after it was truly needed, and the very disturbing habit of blowing third period leads and giving up early game goals haunted the Islanders from start to finish of the season.
So, once again, I am left to observe the playoff proceedings without the Islanders as part of the party. I think the playoff match ups are going to be quite entertaining and even exciting. I will present some of my thoughts here about each match up.• In the Eastern Conference, to me, the Pittsburgh verses Philadelphia meeting will be the most interesting and entertaining. The recent brawl in their second to last encounter will certainly add some potential combustion to the games, as there is a lot of grit and sand paper between the teams. Additionally, it will be interesting to see if Sidney Crosby recaptures his full form and if the Flyers will avoid hitting him.
• Although the Rangers won the East, they lost 3 out of their 4 regular season meetings to the Ottawa Senators. Of course, the playoffs are a “new season” and what happened between October and April 7 won’t matter much. Still, the Senators have a potent offense and a good defense. The Rangers have had issues with scoring at times, and whether or not Henrik Lundqvist will continue his regular season from remains to be seen.
• Florida verses New Jersey is completely a mystery to me. This could, within itself, be a very exciting set of games, but, then again, it could be the “dullest” of the Eastern Conference. The Devils ended the season winning 6 in a row, while the Panthers sort of stumbled to the finish line, capturing the first place spot in the South-East division on the last day of the season with a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes.
• I think the Bruins and Capitals series could either end up being a very tight one or a disaster for the Capitals. If the Caps can get their act together with Nicklas Backstrom back in the lineup, they could give Boston a good run. However, the goaltending for Washington is the major question mark as far as I am concerned. Boston has some good firepower, and Tim Thomas always seems to rise to the occasion in big games in net. The Bruins might just be too much for Ovechkin and company to handle.
In the Western Conference, things are just as potentially surprising and entertaining. It is going to be a war in some cases to see who emerges to get to the next round.
• I think that Nashville could very much upset Detroit in their series. As experienced as the Redwings are, Pekka Rinne can really be a wall in net, and the defense of the Predators is solid with Shea Weber and Ryab Suter.. Additionally, I think Nashville had something like 11 guys with 10 or more goals for a very balanced four lines of scoring potential. Detroit, of course, is Detroit, but I don’t think Nashville will go out easily.
• The VanCouver Canucks verses Los Angeles Kings meeting has the potential to be quite unpredictable. Jonathan Quick had a fantastic year in net for a Kings team that has had difficulties scoring, while Roberto Luongo has not always been consistent for the Canucks. Additionally, the Sedin twins did not put up the kind of numbers we have seen in the past, and Daniel may not be back to play, at least, the first couple of games. So, will Vancouver’s depth and experience be enough to get them by a pretty solid Los Angeles group?
• For San Jose and Saint Louis, it might come down to experience. The problem, I think, is that Antti Niemi has not been “good” in goal for the Sharks at times, while the Blues have two premier goaltenders in Halak and Elliot. Also, with a healthy, Andy MacDonald, Saint Louis has some solid scoring punch with T.J. Oshi, David Perron, and David Backes included. The Sharks have not had consistent scoring during parts of the season, so this could be a bad situation for them if Joe Thornton and company cannot find the twine.
• Last, but not least, after winning their division, the Phoenix Coyotes get to face the Chicago Blackhawks. I think that the Hawks have a lot of questions ahead of them as far as goaltending goes and if Jonathan Toews will return from his concussion in effective form. Mike Smith has been a real factor for the Coyotes between the pipes, and he’s good enough to steal a 7 game series. It will come down to which Chicago team takes the ice, the experienced, former cup winners or the inconsistent, shaky goaltender led squad. Also, can Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, and Keith Yandle provide enough scoring for Phoenix?
So, not that they mean much, but here are my predictions for the eight series match ups for round 1.
• Ottawa Senators verses New York Rangers, Ottawa in 6.
• Washington Capitals verses Boston Bruins, Boston in 6.
• New Jersey Devils verses Florida Panthers, Florida in 7.
• Pittsburgh Penguins verses Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh in 7.
• Los Angeles Kings verses Vancouver Canucks, Vancouver in 6.
• San Jose Sharks verses Saint Louis Blues, Saint Louis in 6.
• Chicago Blackhawks verses Phoenix Coyotes, Phoenix in 7.
• Nashville Predators verses Detroit Redwings, Nashville in 7.
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