Eastern Conference

1. San Jose versus 8. Anaheim


1. San Jose Sharks

I won’t, be the one to disappoint you, anymore
I know, I’ve said all this and that you’ve heard it, all before
The trick is, getting you to think that all this, was your idea
And that this, was everything you’ve ever wanted, out of here
Love’s not a competition, but I’m winning

Love’s Not a Competition (But I’m Winning), Kaiser Chiefs

Regular Season Record: 53-18-11
Record v. Anaheim: 4-2-0

The Scoop:
San Jose cruised to the best record in the NHL with ho-hum enthusiasm, because simply they expected no less. Joe Thornton had 86pts. Yawn. Nobody will criticize him this year for not getting 130pts and winning the Art Ross if he brings it in the playoffs. That’s the real story in Silicon Valley: the season begins now.

Reason to Doubt:
This is the team that fizzles out in the playoffs, right?

Reason to Believe:
Every single person San Jose has taken on board since last year’s playoff exit wears jewelry: Stanley Cup rings. Rookie coach Todd McLellan won his last year when he was an assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit (you know that team that they finished above). Throw in veteran champions Rob Blake (2001), Dan Boyle (2004), Brad Lukowich (1999, 2004), Kent Huskins (2007), Travis Moen (2007), and Claude Lemieux (1986,1995,1996,2000) to the already-stocked pool of talent that the Sharks feature and you have to take them seriously.


8. Anaheim Ducks

The tide is high
I’ve never been so low
You got room to grow
You can never look up
You can’t ever look down
You get kicked around

But I built it with sand
And I built it with rock
I built it with all of the things that I’m not
And I watch from the hill as it burns to the ground
I can still see the smoke
From my train out of town
Everything I build is breaking down

Everything I Build, The Stills

Regular Season Record: 42-33-7
Record v. San Jose: 2-4-0

The Scoop:
Brian Burke bolted for Toronto leaving new GM Bob Murray the keys to the office. Anaheim was rebuilding, right? Or, are they making one last run with veterans Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger, Scott and Rob Niedermayer? I’m confused, and somehow I think the Ducks are, too. Probably about as confused as when they changed the name from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to the Anaheim Ducks, but then became “mighty” by winning the Stanley Cup. Hopefully San Jose will be confused to. I mean, why would you trade Huskins and Moen to the team you end up playing in the post-season?

Reason to Doubt:
J.S. Giguere, who won a Conn Smythe in a losing effort in 2003 and then was redeemed by a better team in front when Anaheim finally won the Cup in 2007, is no longer the undisputed number one keeper in Orange County.

Reason to Believe:
Ryan Getlaf (91pts) and Corey Perry (32 goals) were second-liners when Anaheim won the Cup in 2007 and have grown into frontline players. Bobby Ryan (57pts in 64 games) is a serious candidate for the Calder. They’ve added Ryan Whitney (he of Pittsburgh’s near-glorious run last season) to an already stacked blueline. Oh, and you can toss in the talent that continues to ooze out of veterans like Scott Niedermayer and Selanne.

San Jose appears a bit drowsy (disinterested?) as they limped into the playoffs with a 5-4-1 record in their last 10 games. Anaheim fought tooth-and-nail to get in, going 7-2-1 in the same stretch. All this being said, San Jose has one goal and it’s far beyond this series. When it comes to this Pacific battle, I can’t see how a Duck could ever beat a Shark four times out of seven. San Jose takes this one in 6.

2. Detroit versus 7. Columbus

2. Detroit Red Wings

I love this city tonight
I love this city always
It bares its teeth like a light
And spits me out after days
But we’re all gluttons for it
We know it’s wrong and it’s right
For every time it’s been hit
Take back the city tonight

Take Back The City, Snow Patrol

Regular Season Record: 51-21-10
Record v. Columbus: 3-2-1

The Scoop:
In the midst of the recession, with the imminent-demise of Detroit’s prominence in the auto sector, any bit of fantasy would do to alleviate the down spirits of the city. The Red Wings, the NHL’s model of consistency, are once again near the top of the class and have good reason to believe they’ve got the goods to repeat in winning the Stanley Cup back-to-back, a feat that hasn’t been done since 1998, when incidentally enough, they did it.

Reason to Doubt:
I know he’s got three Stanley Cup rings, and I know every year there are huge flags raised about his play, but once again, how can I not question Chris Osgood in net? 3.09 goals against average and .877 save percentage does not a championship make.

Reason to Believe:
Well, Osgood did win it for them last year. This team is virtually the same as last year, and they’ve added Marian Hossa, who was part of the Pittsburgh team they beat in the Finals. His 71pts is third in team scoring. Third. Henrik Zetterberg has 73pts. Pavel Datsyuk, unanimously known as the nicest and most gentlemanly player in the league, put up a nasty 97 pts. Tell me you aren’t scared.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets

Where does all the good luck lie?
Go one, three, five, seven and nine
Show me where those bright lodes glow
Go deeper in the mountain side

Which way if my luck deserts?
Dig deeper in that rock and dirt
Which way when the good luck dies?
Go over under, side by side

And I
I hear a knock on my door
Someone’s waiting outside
Waiting outside, what for?
My ride

-Luck in Odd Numbers, The Drones

Regular Season Record: 41-31-10
Record v. Detroit: 3-3-0

The Scoop:
CBJ, my adopted favourite team, makes the playoffs for the first time in its short franchise history, having come into the league in 2000. Their reward for finally making it into the promised land? How about a date with the defending champions?

Reason to Doubt:
This is their first time in the playoffs. Remember when Atlanta made their lone appearance in 2007, getting swept by the Rangers in four games? What’s more, they’re playing the defending Stanley Cup champions as their first test.

Reason to Believe:
Ken Hitchcock has coached the heck out of this bunch, moulding them into a team that is designed for playoff hockey. They play tight defense and score opportune goals. Steve Mason (33-20-7, 2.29GAA, .916SV%, 10 shutouts) will likely win the Calder and should at least warrant a nomination for the Vezina and Hart. Captain Rick Nash is a point per game player for the first time in his career. And just to add a touch of edge, Raffi Torres (yes, Raffi) is healthy, and the prototypical playoff-style performer, with 6 of his 12 goals game winners.

My heart says Jackets. My head says Wings. Give ‘em a good run, boys. Detroit in 6.

3. Vancouver versus 6. St. Louis

3. Vancouver Canucks

You’re like a storm tower if it had fire power
Everything you touch burns
Scorched earth
Water tower burned up to the ground
Zombies runnin’ all around
Eventually we hit the mall
And knock it down at nightfall

So turn the radio on
So turn the radio up
So turn the radio up loud and get down
Let your body move

Let your body sway
Listen to the music play
It’s magick

Magick, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

Regular Season Record: 45-27-10
Record v. St. Louis: 2-2-0

The Scoop:
Vancouver finally puts the pieces together and it’s clicked, gelled, and they’re heading into the playoffs in stride. Roberto Luongo missed a chunk of the season, but is widely regarded as one of, if not the, best and his stats (33-13-7, 2.34GAA, .920SV%, 9 shutouts) don’t lie. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, presumed third-liners in September have had breakout seasons and lead the offense up front.

Reason to Doubt:
St. Louis has been scary good in the second half of the season. They’re 8-1-1 in their last 10, for starters. Add in the fact that they split the season series with Vancouver and you know the Canucks are going to have their hands full.

Reason to Believe:
Beyond the firepower up front and The Man in Net, a big difference this year for the Canucks has been the unheralded work of their defense corps. The Nucks have five, yes five, legitimate top four defensemen. That’s a luxury that not a lot of teams have (if any). Oh, and they were all here last year, maybe that’s why nobody noticed. It could have been the fact that Vancouver’s starting six didn’t play a single game altogether last year due to a rash of injuries on the blueline. This year they are healthy and provide a terrific balance of scoring and shutdown support on every inch of the ice.

6. St. Louis Blues

(I will not apologize) I will not apologize
(I will not apologize) I will not apologize
This is for all of my peoples who understand and truly recognize
Some won’t get it for that I won’t
(I will not apologize) I will not apologize

I Will Not Apologize, The Roots

Regular Season Record: 41-31-10
Record v. Vancouver: 2-2-0

The Scoop:
The NHL’s hottest team in the second half of the season has no apologies for all the teams (Columbus, Anaheim, Minnesota, Nashville, Edmonton, Dallas, Phoenix) it jumped over to make it to sixth place in that amazing run. They’d probably apologize to Los Angeles and Colorado for just being that bad.

Reason to Doubt:
The Blues’ big name D man is none other than Carlo Colaiacovo. I’ve got nothing against his 30pts, but I’d be worried when (not if, when) he gets injured, leaving the St. Louis powerplay in the capable hands of…Barret Jackman?

Reason to Believe:
They want it. They really want it. How else can you explain this team playing so well in the latter part of the year, even when missing key cogs (Paul Kariya, Eric Brewer, Andy McDonald) due to injury? Maybe it has something to do with Andy Murray as coach. He’s pretty good. Let’s just put it this way: if the league reset the playoff seeding based on the final 41 games, St. Louis would be first in the NHL.

Both teams have been hot of late (Vancouver is 6-3-1 in their last 10) and have great support in net (Blues keeper Chris Mason is 27-21-7, 2.41GAA, .916SV%, 6 shutouts). Ultimately it will come down to depth and that is where the Canucks have the edge, up front, Daniel and Henrik Sedin each have 82pts to lead Vancouver, while their nearest rival on St. Louis, Brad Boyes has 72pts. On defense, St. Louis’ top six have combined for 99pts, dwarfed by Vancouver’s blueline’s 163pts. You have to wonder whether St. Louis’ drive down the stretch may have warn them tired. Regardless, being the cautious type, disregarding much of the statistics, I see Vancouver winning this in 7.

4. Chicago versus 5. Calgary

4. Chicago Blackhawks

You came to take us
All things go, all things go
To recreate us
All things grow, all things grow
We had our mindset
All things know, all things know
You had to find it
All things go, all things go

Chicago, Sufjan Stevens

Regular Season Record: 46-24-12
Record v. Calgary: 4-0-0

The Scoop:
They’re here! Chicago is looking to pull a Pittsburgh and make a run with a team of talented youngsters and the odd wily vet. And, seriously, how could I not choose “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens as their theme song?

Reason to Doubt:
They are young, and remember Pittsburgh had to lose to Ottawa in 2007 before they made their big run in 2008, leaving some to wonder how far they’ll go, especially against a Calgary team that could easily be called “grizzled” (just look at Todd Bertuzzi’s face).

Reason to Believe:
They’re three lines deep of explosive players. While they don’t have anyone in the upper echelon of the scoring race (Martin Havlat’s 77pts leads the Hawks) they can spread the goals around (as evidenced by the 10 players on the team with 40pts or more). And those guys that haven’t broke out yet, Patrick Kane (70pts) and Jonathan Toews (69pts) are just 20 years old. Plus, Kris Versteeg (53pts) has pretty much the coolest following in Chicago (“Versteeg once won a game of Connect 4 in three moves”).

5. Calgary Flames

I’m waiting for my moment to come
I’m waiting for the movie to begin
I’m waiting for a revelation
I’m waiting for someone to count me in

Cos now I only see my dreams, in everything I touch
Feel their cold hands on, everything that I love
Cold like some, magnificent skyline
Out of my reach, but always in my eyeline now

We’re tumbling down
We’re spiralling
Tied up to the ground
We’re spiralling

Spiralling, Keane

Regular Season Record: 46-30-6
Record v. Chicago: 0-3-1

The Scoop:
If I had gone with a Sufjan Stevens theme song for Calgary it would have been “Prairie Fire That Wanders About”. Calgary (4-6-0 in their last 10) didn’t make a convincing run into the playoffs and let Vancouver overtake them for the Northwest division title, despite a significant head start. It boggles the mind how a team with that much talent (Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Mike Cammalleri, Olli Jokinen, Dion Phaneuf, to name but a few) couldn’t establish themselves at the top with the Detroits and San Joses of the league.

Reason to Doubt:

Lacklustre performances down the stretch, a losing record against Chicago and conceded home ice.

Reason to Believe:
All those players I listed above still exist, and play for Calgary. Led by Jarome Iginla, who has 45pts in 48 career playoff games, the Flames should be taken seriously in any series they are in, especially one where they are considered the underdog, a title that suits them better than when they are seen as favourites.

Chicago’s inexperience (with the exception of veteran Stanley Cup winning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin) should get the better of their exuberance. The Flames are too good to be where they are. Calgary to squeak it out in 6 games.

Eastern Conference