2011 playoff picks (and some notes on the season)

As is my tradition, I am now going to embarrass myself by picking the playoff winners in the first round and my choices for Stanley Cup finalists and winners. Please do not use this info for betting, unless you like losing money. For what it’s worth, last year I picked 6-2 in the first round, but I’m normally closer to .500. and 3-1 in the second round, and then sort of faded to black. My choice for the finals were San Jose and Washington, so you can tell I didn’t keep up that torrid pace.

This year the playoffs look to be some really good hockey. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

In the West —

Vancouver/Chicago — Chicago snuck in to the playoffs after losing so many players from their Cup run. good for them, but it wn’t last long. Vancouver is a great team, and Chicago won’t beat them. Canucks in 5.

San jose/Los Angeles — Growing up in hockey a kings fan, I can’t think of a series I’m looking forward to more than Sharks/Kings. And Lombardi gets to face his old team in the playoffs. And it’s a california rivalry series. And.. And… And LA is a pretty darn good team. I don’t believe they can beat the Sharks, adn I don’t believe the Sharks will beat themselves, but I don’t think it’ll be remotely easy, and it’ll be a lot of fun. Sharks in 6.

Detroit/Phoenix — Detroit isn’t the team they have been and their goaltending is suspect to me. That means they’re merely scary as hell. Phoenix is a well-coached, hard playing team, but they won’t take the Red Wings. But the Red Wings need to be careful they don’t get injuries or bad bounces, or there could be a surprise here. Wings in 6.

Anaheim/Nashville: all three california teams in the playoffs.  But in this one, I like Nashville, as good as Anaheim is. I’ll take the Predators in 6.

My pick coming out of the West — San jose. Because it’s what I do. And because I think this year, this team looks like it’s solved the things that have gotten in the way in past years (like growing up and learning to not let down) but having said that, I also won’t be surprised to be wrong. Vancouver is scary, but if the Sharks are going to advance, it’s going to be through LA, through Detroit, and through Vancouver. That’s a tall order (if things go as I expect, 2nd round is Vancouver/Nashville and San jose/Detroit. And THOSE will be fun, too). Vancouver has an easier path, but not easy. So I can easily see San jose being worn down along the way, but Vancouver is going to come out of series with Chicago and Nashville tired and bruised, too. So in some ways, it’s a three way toss-up; I won’t be surprised at all if the western challenger in the finals is any of the top three seeds.

But I’ll pick San Jose, because i must.

East:

Washington/Rangers — I definitely like the Capitals again this year, and the Rangers got in, but not by much. and deserved to get in, but they won’t win. Caps in 5.

Philly/Buffalo — ditto Buffalo. Flyers in 5.

Boston/Montreal — series to watch in the first round. Two teams with a history, most of it full of bad blood and anger. and now a playoff series or go home. I expect this to go seven, be tough, tight, physical and the biggest question is whether the winner will have enough to challenge in the second round, or be beaten up, exhausted and sent home. I’ll take Montreal in 7, and too tired to win whoever they play in the next round. But it’ll be historic hockey.

Pittsburgh/Tampa — lots of questions in Pittsburgh, starting with “Will he play?” If he does, all bets are off. but the way it looks now, I have to root for Tampa, and I think they’ll take this one in six.

My pick in the east? Washington. If they stay healthy and carry on the way they’ve played, I don’t see a team in the east stopping them. Philly is a dark horse, and I can’t see anyone else taking them out, barring injuries or a breakdown. the caps can beat themselves, nobody else in the east can.

And before I go…

As I noted earlier, we decided to sit out the playoffs and not renew our seats next year — take a step back, not spend so much time in the arena, and so we’ll be watching this playoffs from the couch on the big ass HP 50″ plasma in the media room. We’ve talked a lot about whether this was the right decision, and we both agree it was. I’ve talked to a number of our friends who’ve been going to the arena mostly since the start, and it’s surprising how many have been thinking down this same path, or have in the last couple of years. We’ve already talked a bit baout buying some games from folks in our section, and another couple we know from the cow palace days also are looking to back off, and we may just grab a chunk of their seats.

Just to reiterate — not mad at the sharks, it’s not about money, it’s not about the team, it’s not about anything, other than when you commit to 35 games a year like we have for 20 years, you end up spending all of your time in town and going to hockey games. Which we don’t regret a bit — but we both feel we want more flexibility to do other things, and I want the ability to go out and do more photography on weekends and do some traveling, where it seems it’s a real chore to coordinate that around games right now. If the sharks win it all this year, awesome. I’ll probably regret not being in the building when they win (but not much). I’ll definitely be watching and cheering. But I won’t miss the half dozen barker games a year, the not-competitive teams, the trapping teams. And we can always buy more games than we planned, or we can use this as an excuse to get back into going to other arenas like we used to, and get back up to Vancouver, or mayber finally get to Kelowna or do the edmonton/red deer/calgary trip. we’ll see.

Knowing that we were running down to the last few games in those seats, I’ve been kind of drinking it in, seeing it with fresh eyes; you tend to get in a routine being at so many games a year, maybe taking it all a bit for granted.

I remember a good number of years ago, back when the sharks really sucked (it may have been the Al Sims era in fact. shudder) when we were at one of those games you try to forget, and griping about how bad the team was playing that night. And two rows behind us were a couple of guys who’d painted their faces and were just having a ball, loud and just being crazy (in a good way). And so I got talking to them about why they were cheering such utter crap, and their response has stayed with me all these years — this was one of their two games in the arena that year and for them, the quality of the hockey was almost irrelevant. THEY WERE THERE.

I’ve tried to remember them ever since, and just back off and enjoy it for what it is; hard to do some nights, and hard to do when you spend your time tearing games apart and analyzing them and nit-picking everything to death. that’s one reason I backed way off on hockey blogging, because I think there’s something about being that tied into the games and trying to be analytical that turns you jaundiced and cynical after a while, and I simply didn’t want to go there (don’t believe me? Name me a beat writer or columnist out there who’s been covering hockey for any period of time that isn’t primarily negative and many times sounding rather bored with it all. Other than Elliott Friedman at CBC, it’s a ratehr short list; I find the vast majority of Canadian writers and many of the broadcasters absolutely intolerable, because they take is so damn seriously and negatively all the time. Although there will always be a place in my heart for Tom Benjamin at Canucks Corner, who has turned negativity into an art form, and I love him for it).

My seatmate the last couple of seasons is relatively new to hockey (Hi, doug!) but knows more than he thinks, and it’s been a lot of fun talking games through with him; he also has a strong sports background on the business side, and so we’ve had fun chewing on aspects of that as well. That’s been good for me, because it has helped me see games through his eyes as well, which has helped me keep that perspective on the games.

I have to admit I’ve had a ball this season, both watching hockey in general and in the arena watching the Sharks. It’s hard to remember today that in December and into January people were questioning this team, and even having the “should we trade Marleau” chat when he was in his enigmatic phase (again). And you look today, and watch them the last 20 games, and you need to remember that a season is a marathon, and nobody wins a marathon in mile 6 (but you certainly can lose one there). The best factor for the Sharks is that they finish seasons strong, and I’ll take a team that plays well in April over one that’s red hot in November any day. Of course, in November, April is a long way away so it’s hard to be sanguine…

If Doug Wilson doesn’t win executive of the year, I’ll be pissed. He doesn’t make blockbuster deals, but he makes deals that others don’t see that help the team. Don’t underestimate what bringing in Mayers and Wellwood and White did for this team.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m off to the couch to watch eight weeks of really kick ass hockey. Is the game perfect? No, waht is? can it be improved? sure. Am I going to worry about that? Not now, right now I’m going to enjoy it for what it is, and we can nit-pick how to improve instant replay some other time,  okay?

And if you can’t step back and just enjoy this game for all the things that it is — maybe you need to step back… And speaking as someone who has, you may find the view better than the one you have right now.

On to the playoffs! may the best team win.