They call it the second season for a reason – because everything that happened in the previous 82 games is forgotten. Every team steps into Game 1 of the playoffs with an even record and zeros on the score sheet. It’s a clean slate and every team has the opportunity to create a Cinderella story. With the first round of the playoffs set to begin tonight, here are five bold predictions for the 2010-11 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
5.) Sidney Crosby will make a triumphant return in the first round
Crosby hasn’t played a game in the NHL since the beginning of January thanks to concussion symptoms. However, Crosby has been skating for weeks and has participated in non-contact drills with the team. The Penguins are remaining tight-lipped about the situation stating that there is no definitive timeframe for Crosby to return, as is usually the case with concussion symptoms. Is the team withholding information or are they really unsure of a return date for the young superstar? If Crosby sits out of the first round, Tampa has the edge with their offensive firepower, but if Crosby finds his way back into the lineup, the tides could turn for the Penguins.
The Washington Capitals have a lot to prove this season. After swaggering into the postseason as the perennial favorite to win the Cup last April, the Caps were ousted in a first-round upset by the Montreal Canadiens. This year, the Capitals responded by polishing themselves into a tighter-checking, more defensively sound unit that allowed an average of 2.33 goals per game – 4th best in the NHL and 2nd best in the East behind Boston. Superstar winger Alexander Ovechkin had a down season in terms of offensive numbers, but Ovi plays a high-octane style of hockey geared toward playoff success. The team will need to grind out a few victories and stay upbeat when they face adversity, but isn’t that what the playoffs are all about?
3.) The Red Wings become invincible at home
Normally when the playoffs near, hockey pundits begin to dismiss the Red Wings because of their advanced ages or the fact that they employ too many European skaters. This year, however, critics are focusing on the fact that the Wings can’t close the deal at home. In fact, after a 10-1-2 start at home this season, the Wings went 11-13-4 at their own barn after Dec. 1. No team in the NHL, however, has seemingly been better at ‘flipping the switch’ come playoff time. The Wings know when it’s time to get serious and they know how to win. The players know they need to be better overall, but they also realize they need to be better at home. Expect them to flip that switch and make Joe Louis Arena a place that teams are afraid to play in.
2.) Half of the first round matchups will be upsets
Parity is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Look at how close the Western Conference standings were heading into the postseason. Almost every team was within a few points of each other and the standings were flip-flopping daily. That’s because the salary cap has created a much more competitive league where every team has a chance to win. Look for some serious upsets to occur this year.
1.) One of those upsets will be the Vancouver Canucks
Winning the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team during the regular season doesn’t always translate into postseason success. Since the trophy was officially introduced in 1985-86, only seven President’s Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, since the lockout, three of the past five President’s Trophy winners were ousted in the first round of the playoffs with only one team, the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, going on to win the Stanley Cup, let alone even play in the Stanley Cup Finals. The stats are certainly stacked against the Vancouver Canucks to make it out of the first round, let alone win the Stanley Cup. They may have one of the most dynamic one-two punches in the NHL in the magical Sedin twins, but Roberto Luongo is yet to prove himself in the postseason and injuries have hampered the Canucks all year. The Chicago Blackhawks have been playing playoff hockey for weeks now as they tried to secure a postseason berth and their first target could be the mighty Canucks.