Just about everybody chattering away on the television this past weekend said pretty much the same thing about the 2010 NHL playoffs - it is wide open, anything can happen, never closer etc. etc.
Sounds good in theory, but when it comes right down to it, where are all these playoff dark horses hiding?
I'm sitting here, trying to find one scenario in which a lower-seeded team will be able to oust a higher-seed - and of course, the one that everybody in the prognostication game is going to focus on is Detroit over Phoenix. Why not? It's a five seed over a four seed, so technically it becomes an upset if it happens, but given the Red Wings' playoff history vis a vis the Coyotes and the way they've been playing lately, few have the gumption to pick Phoenix to win the series. I did - but only because of an object lesson I learned last year, when I had tentatively picked Anaheim to knock off San Jose in the opening round and then chickened out just before I hit the send button. I reviewed that item a few minutes and figure in hindsight, I must have confused a lot of readers - praising Anaheim, dissing San Jose's chances and then ... what? The pick was Sharks in seven? So this time I'll crawl out on that one Western Conference limb and see what happens.
Over in the East, where I almost always have a better record of success for reasons that I can't exactly fathom - although not over-thinking matters is probably the best advice at this time of year - I'm looking at both Boston and Philadelphia and wondering if either has a chance against Buffalo and New Jersey respectively. Maybe. The Flyers have been up and down all season and are down to their third-string goalie, the little-loved Brian Boucher. The one thing you can say in Boucher's defence is that his history is one of running extremely hot and then extremely cold. It's why no one trusts him to hold down the No. 1 job - and also why it's hard to imagine him winning four playoff rounds in Philadelphia. He just isn't consistent enough - or hasn't been. But Boucher holds the NHL's all-time consecutive minutes shutout streak - that was back in 2003-04 when he five games without giving up a goal, a span of 332 minutes and one second - and on the final Sunday of the season, didn't buckle in the playoff-clinching shootout win over the New York Rangers.
Yes, Boucher is up against the New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur, one of the all-time greats, who has had another excellent season, leading the NHL in wins with 45. Still, Brodeur's playoff numbers over the past three seasons leave something to be desired - 9-14 overall - only one series victory in that span. If the goaltending in the Devils-Flyers' series turns out be to a wash, maybe Philadelphia - for all of its consistencies and struggles - might be the one series to produce an upset. After all, a No. 7 takes out a No. 2 every couple of years and I just can't see it happening over in the West, where Nashville would have to knock off Chicago, a team that I'm thinking will go to the final this year.