A quick check on where we stand in the Stanley Cup playoffs:
As I quickly review my previous thoughts on which way the NHL’s second round would go, I must admit that I got it pretty badly wrong on the Dallas Stars. I think that’s a safe statement, considering that workers are still cleaning the bug-splatted Stars off the ice at the American Airlines Center.
The Stars go splat.
On the other hand, I’m feeling damn good about my “dark horse” picks, the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.
As noted in the previous post, marking the Washington Capitals as the East favorites was a pro forma pick; obviously, if I picked their opponents in the round as the dark horse, I had to have an inkling that the latter would get past the former.
Did they ever. With Game 7s sprouting up all over the place in these playoffs, it was indicative that the Pens brushed aside the Caps in a mere six games–and after their win in Game 4 to go up 3-1, there was very little reason to believe that Washington would do any more than hold serve on their home ice before bowing out at Consol Energy Center. Which is exactly the way it worked out, of course.
By the same thinking, perhaps the Tampa Bay Lightning should be favored in the Eastern Conference Final. After all, they dumped the New York Islanders by a 4-1 tally. And the ‘Ning are certainly a dangerous team; last year’s conference champs have been impressive even without Steven Stamkos, and if they get him back for this series at some point–a possibility, according to some reports–maybe they’ll wind up storming the Penguins the way they did the Islanders.
Perhaps. But there is a reason that Sidney Crosby was at one time the undisputed face of the NHL; it’s worth remembering, too, that he already has his name on the Stanley Cup, and he’s not the only one so engraved on Pittsburgh’s roster.
I still like Pittsburgh, the dark horse pick that wasn’t really so dark horse after all.
The same may be true in the Western Conference, but everything is a little shakier there.
Both the Sharks and the St. Louis Blues have a history of playoff flameouts, so it’s tempting to assume that one team or the other is just going to choke this upcoming series away. But at the same time, both of these teams have done some demon-slaying already in these playoffs, so I suspect bad history is unlikely to play any part in the proceedings.
Both teams were taken to Game 7 by their most recent opponents, and both were very impressive in laying the hammer down to advance. In the Blues’ case, they did it on road ice, against the top-scoring Stars, and made Dallas look bad in the process.
The Sharks weren’t quite so devastating; San Jose just applied consistent, vigorous pressure to the tiring Nashville Predators, and stayed a step ahead of them throughout last night’s game. Also, the Sharks did their deed at home, where theoretically they had an easier task than the Blues faced on the road.
Here’s the thing, though: throughout the year, the Sharks were a better road than home team. They beat the Blues twice in St. Louis, and lost once in San Jose–perfectly fitting their season m.o. The Sharks didn’t get a road win against Nashville, but it’s hard to believe that they won’t pull one off against the Blues, so home ice advantage probably won’t play so heavily here.
Ultimately, I suspect the Sharks are going to pull it off and finally reach the Stanley Cup Final because, as a Bay Area resident and hockey fan, I’ve seen all the Sharks’ playoff collapses before–and this edition of the team just looks and feels different. The Predators series seems to confirm that; past San Jose teams would have taken that 2-0 lead, and then folded up after frittering it away by losing games 3 and 4. But this year’s team took those punches and then came back slugging. Plus, they could easily have won Game 6; San Jose seemed to have it won several times before the Preds finally pulled it off. Ditto the marathon in Game 4. As close as a Game 7 may have made that series seem, San Jose really looked to have a substantial advantage over Nashville for most of the series.
Thus, it looks from here like Pittsburgh vs. San Jose in the Stanley Cup Final. Your mileage, of course, may vary considerably.
And beyond that? Check back here in a couple of weeks.