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Archive for the ‘playoff picks’ Category

2015 NBA Playoff Picks – First Round

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It’s spring and this is something of an annual tradition around here! Picks and series thoughts after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

NHL Playoff Second Round Picks

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Given how insane and unpredictable the first round was, I feel pretty confident in my picks. I nailed one of the series – Blues over Sharks in five – and picked the right team in a few others: the Rangers, Devils and Coyotes all moved on. And I’ll admit, I was completely, 100 per cent wrong in my Canucks-in-four pick. Although did anyone see the Kings just obliterating the team with the NHL’s best record?

What’s interesting to me is how close the first round was. 16 games went into overtime, with three of those going to a second OT. Altogether, 32 games were decided by one goal! I don’t remember there ever being a first round this exciting, this close and this much fun to watch. And yes, I’m including 1993, the best NHL postseason ever. It sets a high bar for the second round. Picks follow the jump.
Eastern Conference
(1) New York Rangers v. (7) Washington Capitols
Both of these teams are coming off of gruelling series, with the Caps coming off one where all seven games were decided by one goal. The Caps are playing way better than I thought they were capable of and rookie goalie Braden Holtby has both played the most minutes (449) and faced the most shots (248) of any goalie thus far in the playoffs. Sometimes rookie goalies really catch on in the playoffs: see Cam Ward, Felix Potvin or, most legendarily of all, Ken Dryden. Another stat to look at: how little the Rangers are scoring. They made it through the seven-game series with a goal differential of +1 and scored the fewest of the four teams left in the East. If they’re having trouble scoring before facing the playoffs hottest goalie, what happens when they do? Capitols in six.

Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, warming up before
game six of the Philly/Pittsburgh series

(5) Philadelphia Flyers v. (6) New Jersey Devils 
If the Rangers can’t score, the Flyers sure can: their 30 goals is the most any team has thus far in the playoffs. And don’t look now, but Claude Giroux leads the league in goals and assists. But there’s troubling signs: they also allow a lot of goals (26), by far the most among active playoff teams. And they take a lot of penalties, too: three of the 10 most penalized players thus far are Flyers. And they allowed nine power play goals in their six game series, too. How are the Devils? They scored five power play goals and 18 total, most of any team not in the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia shootout. Now, the Penguins offense is much better than the Devils, but Marty Brodeur has played better than Marc-Andre Fleury and I don’t trust either of Philadelphia’s goalies. Devils in five.

Western Conference
(2) St. Louis Blues v. (8) Los Angeles Kings
This could be a low-scoring series. Both of these teams are coming into this series with hot goalies: Jonathan Quick has a 1.59 GAA and a .953 save percentage, while Brian Elliot has a GAA of 1.37 and a .949 save percentage (not to mention Jaroslav Halak’s 1.73 and .935 stats). And together, each team allowed just eight goals – although the Blues played one game less. On the other hand, the Blues can score. Andy McDonald has eight points through five games and the playoffs best shooting percentage (and 3.2 goals created). The Kings are a nice story and they beat up on a good, if flawed, Canucks team but I don’t see two upsets in a row. Blues in six.

They’re having a fun time, but remember how lucky
 the Coyotes are this postseason!

(3) Phoenix Coyotes v. (4) Nashville Predators
Not exactly a traditional series, eh? The Coyotes got here the tough way, after beating Chicago in a series where five of six went to overtime. And while it’s nice to get the bounces in the extra frame, it’s hard to look past how the games got there: Phoenix coughed up late leads in four games. Yes, Mike Smith has looked good (1.81 GAA, .950 save percentage) and has better stats than Pikka Rinne, but he’s not the problem. The problem lies with Phoenix’s defence, with it feeling like every game was mostly spent in front of Smith, especially in crunch time. The Coyotes feel especially flawed and especially lucky; after manhandling Detroit, Nashville just feels good, man (also they have some stellar crowds). Nashville in five.

Written by M.

April 27, 2012 at 6:55 pm

What went wrong – 2010 NHL playoff recap and picks (Western Confe

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If you haven’t read it yet, part one of my recaps and picks (all on the Eastern Conference) is over here. This piece will cover the Western Conference, recapping the first round and making some predictions for the second.

What went wrong – NHL playoff picks and first round recaps (Eastern Conference)

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With the second round of the NHL playoffs kicking off tonight, this seems like a pretty good time to make my picks for the second round.

But before I do, I’m going to take minute or two and go over my first round picks and why I was right or wrong, at least for the Eastern Conference (I’ll have my Western recap and picks up in the next little while).

What I predicted: Washington over Montreal

What actually happened: Montreal won in seven

Well, if I can be so bold, this was a massive upset. Going by point differential, the second biggest upset in playoffs ever. It’s certainly the biggest upset since Edmonton beat the Red Wings in 2006.

So, what happened? I took the Capitals because I bought into their hype. I still would, if the series were being played again starting tomorrow. By almost every stretch I can think of, the Capitals were the better team:

  • The Capitals had 54 wins and 121 points on the season; Montreal had 39 wins and 88 points.
  • The Capitals scored 318 goals to Montreal’s 217. Their goal differential was 85, Montreal’s was -6.
  • Washington’s SRS – a measure of strength and quality of wins –  was 0.90, Montreal’s was -0.14.
  • The Capitals had three players with 30 goals or more and four with 70+ points. Montreal didn’t have a single player who scored 30 goals and nobody with more then 70 points.

It wasn’t really hard to say to think that the Capitals were the better team. So, again, what happened?

Goaltending happened, especially for Montreal.

In the regular season, the Habs GAA was 2.57 and their Save percentage was .919. In the first round – against one of the best scoring teams in the NHL, no less – their GAA was 2.78, but their save percentage jumped to .931.

Jaroslav Halak made nearly 220 saves in the first round, far more then the number of shots both goalies for the Caps faced. He was more then impressive, he was stunning.

There was no better example of this then game six, when the Habs needed a win on home ice to force a game seven. He turned away over 50 shots in a 4-1 victory, stunning the Capitals. In a must-win game, Alexander Ovechkin was stopped eight times, Alexander Semin seven times, Joe Corvo ten times.

And remember, home ice was not friendly to the Habs in the playoffs. Games three and four, both played in Montreal, were blowout losses, 5-1 and 6-3, respectively.

Of course, it wasn’t just Halak who won the series. Washington did their part, too. Both goals in game seven for Montreal came off of bad defensive breaks for the Capitals. The first, a Montreal power play goal, came on a Marc-Andre Bergeron one-timer right after the puck was passed through Washington’s defenders – in a space right through three players.

The second was even weirder, coming from a long Montreal dump into the Capitals end and took a weird bounce from two players and ended up right on Domonic Moore’s stick, who scored stick-side and made it a 2-0 game. Again, this came off a defensive lapse on Washington – with three people in their own end, nobody was keeping a body on Moore; when the puck landed on his stick, he had a clear path to the net. It wasn’t Washington floating, but was something they should have avoided.

Those two goals were a microcosm of what went wrong for the Caps, especially in the later games: they spent so much time putting pressure on the offensive end, they were easily caught unguarded on breaks to the net on when shorthanded. It was an ugly, frustrating way for it to end for the President Trophy winners and it was one I certainly didn’t see coming.

What I predicted: New Jersey over Philadelphia

What happened: Philly won in five games

Another upset, although not one quite as staggering. The Devils had won 48 games, had 101 points and a SRS of 0.31; the Flyers only got into the playoffs on the last day of the season (thanks to a NY loss) and had 41 wins, 88 points and a SRS of 0.08, making them decidedly average.

So what happened this time? The first instinct is to say something along the lines of, “Oh Marty Brodeur is too old” or that he played too many minutes. Maybe if I were a lazier writer, I’d say the Flyers wanted it more or some other old warhorse cliche.

But honestly? I think was a fairly evenly matched series.

In the regular season, the Devils lost four games to the Flyers, three of them by just a goal. They only won once, a 4-1 victory in December. Same for the Flyers – only once did they beat the Devils by two or more goals.

So really, for two teams so far removed in the standings, you couldn’t have asked for a closer regular season series. It was a trend that repeated itself in the postseason. Two games were decided by a goal, and another was pretty close – two late goals by the Devils, including an empty netter, shoved it in their favor.

Still, in the final two games, the Devils were stymied by the Flyers and only scored once, losing 4-1 and 3-0. For a team that eight times in the first three games, it represents at least a dropoff and at worse, a major collapse. How much of this actually lies with their goaltending?

Well, it certainly played a big role: Brodeur’s GAA exploded from 2.24 in the regular season to 3.01 in the first round. His save percentage fell from .916 to .881. In both cases, they’re the worst in his career as a starting goaltender. But if Brodeur played such a role in the collapse, why did backup Yann Denis not play a single second in net?

I’d argue it was the Devils scoring that played as big a role in the collapse.

While the Devils were not a high-scoring team – with just 222 goals scored this season, they’re below the league average – in the last two games, they had a hell of a time scoring.

In the regular season, Zach Parise scored 38 goals for the Devils. Travis Zajac scored 25 in 82 games. Combined, they scored just two goals in the first round. Indeed, the only Devil who scored with regularity was Ilya Kovalchuk, who had been brought on board in February. In five games, he scored two goals – one of only two Devils to score more then once. Only six players for New Jersey had two or more points.

For contrast, the Flyers had six players with two or more goals.

Credit has to be given to Flyers goalie Brian Boucher. One of the three goalies that got regular starts with the Flyers, he shined in the postseason. His GAA went from 2.76 to 1.59 in the first round; his save percentage went from .899 to .940. He even posted a shutout in the first round, something he only did once in the regular season. I certainly didn’t see him playing this well.

What I said: Boston over Buffalo

What happened: Boston won in six games

Here’s one I got right. At the start of the playoffs, I thought the Bruins were an underrated team and I didn’t like Buffalo a whole lot. Sure the Sabres had won their division, but head to head with Boston?

They had won four of their six meetings, one in overtime and another in a shootout. In a vaccum, that makes them the better team.

What I didn’t see was just how intense their matches would be. The Bruins racked up over 100 penalty minutes, with Chara alone getting 25. The Sabres had 112, with winger Patrick Kaleta getting 22. For contrast, the Devils had 88 penalty minutes, the Sharks 44. This was a rough series.

Plus, it was a close one, too: all but one of the games were close affairs and one – game four – went into a second overtime. That was a pretty good game.

For one thing, goaltending for both sides – Ryan Miller for Buffalo, Tuukka Rask for the Bruins – stayed about the same in the series.

Scoring was weird, too. Boston had their scoring more spread around – six players had four or more points, to Buffalo’s two – but the Sabres had the only blowout win in the series, a 4-1 victory in game five.

Thusly, back to game four, the second OT. I think it was that too many men penalty, the one where the Bruins scored on the ensuing power play, that really tipped this series. Before it, it was anybody’s series; Boston led 2-1, but all three games were close. The next game was a big win for the Sabres, but they lost another close one in game six. This is where a cliche comes in handy since I’m not sure why Boston won without resorting to one like “they wanted it more.” Three of their wins were by a goal; the one where they won by two was punctuated by an empty net goal.

The one thing I’ll take away from this series is that they could pull out big wins when they had to, just like the Canadiens did against Washington.

What I said: Pittsburgh over Ottawa

What happened: Pittsburgh won in six

My prediction here may have been a bit biased, since I can’t stand the Senators and I kind of have a soft spot for Crosby. But I also liked the offensive presence of

Still, it was another good, close series. Two went to overtime, including a three-OT game, and a couple other that were close.

But it was the one that wasn’t close that defined the series for me. Game four, a 7-4 win for the Penguins on the road. In a wild second period, there were eight goals scored. After 40 minutes, it was a 6-3 lead for the Penguins and I felt they were clearly in control of the series. Why?

Be exploding like that in a must-win road game, they showed that they can be maybe the best pure scoring team in the Eastern Conference. It was an outburst of offense that no other team, including two teams that finished higher then them in the standings, were able to accomplish. The Penguins may not be the best defensive team in the playoffs, but they can sure score like nobody else.

And after winning game four, the Penguins took a big 3-1 series lead. Ottawa had to fight tooth and nail to win game five. In game six, they were playing with an amazing amount of will – they were hitting hard and often, throwing themselves into hard checks along the boards. They wanted that win and were pushing themselves as hard as any team I’ve seen. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t have it in them; a game seven between the two teams would have been electric.

 Anyway, that’s enough recap. Here’s my Eastern Conference picks:

– I like the Bruins over the Flyers. The Bruins have solid goaltending in Rask and while their season series is 2-2, the Bruins have won the last two meetings. It’ll be a rough, series, though.

– I like Pittsburgh over Montreal, but with reservations. As shown against the Capitals, the Canadiens are on a roll and can shut down high scoring teams. But the Penguins have won three of the four games between the two this season. Given that, and how the Penguins have had a few days to rest after their series, I like them.

North of the 400’s BCS Bowl Selection Special

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Although the BCS matchups haven’t been announced yet, though it’s pretty easy to determine who will play who – most of the bowl games are pre-determined. The hard part is determining who the at-large bids will be.

For me, that’s also the fun part – choosing who’ll play who, what matchups make the most sense both to football fans and to the BCS itself, from TV ratings and general interest standpoints. What two teams would be the most fun to watch? What two teams would draw the most causal fans? And, most importantly, what two teams deserve to play for the National Championship?

But for my sake and yours, I’m only going to predict the major bowls: The Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and BCS Bowls. Sorry, International Bowl. Read the rest of this entry »

I love being wrong – NBA Second Round picks

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Honestly, I found the first round of the NBA Playoffs kind of underwhelming. Perhaps it’s in context of an excellent series between the Bulls and the Celtics and one that I didn’t see – but looked good on SportsCentre – between Orlando and Philadelphia.

But really, sweeps aren’t all that fun to watch unless you’ve got a stake in the sweeping team. I enjoyed watching Cleveland take apart Detroit for this reason, but I was never surprised or felt tension from those games. It felt like I was watching ESPN Classic; I had a vague recollection of what’s going to happen and I watched to see how it happened but I always knew what was going to happen.

I knew that Cleveland was going to win that series and that it was never going to be in doubt. I knew the Lakers were going to win their series. Same for Dallas. I had a pretty good idea that Orlando was going to win, too.

But every year I “know” who’s going to win. And every year I’m wrong, which is what I love about the postseason. I love being surprised. And that didn’t happen this year.

Will it pick up in the second round? Perhaps. The east will be drained, as two teams went to seven games, while the west should be nice and rested: only Houston played a sixth game and all teams had a few days rest.

Western Picks

(1) Lakers vs (5) Houston

The Lakers have looked great so far and should keep it up. Like last year, they’re a multipointed team; stop Kobe and you’ve left Gasol and Oden open. And while the Rockets have finally broken the first-round barrier, I think it’ll stop here.

The Blazers were a good team, but they were young and inexperienced in the postseason – and they still gave the Rockets a run for their money. That says a lot about the Rockets to me, so I think the Lakers will be more then able to handle them.

Lakers in five.

(2) Denver vs (6) Dallas

I didn’t get much of a chance to watch either of these two series, but what little I saw of Denver showed me how physical that series against New Orleans was. It was brutal, with bodies flying all over the place. Sure, the Nuggets eventually exploded and won by 58 points, but I was surprised by how well they responded to that aggression.

Dallas, though, almost got a pass in the first round. They beat a crippled San Antonio, a team missing one of its three most important players and relied on Anthony Mason to make clutch shots. Let’s just say I don’t remember him making too many of those in Toronto.

So I’m wary on the Mavs. I feel they haven’t really been tested yet and I don’t know what they’re capable of. On paper I think they have the talent to beat Denver, but on the court I’m not so sure. I’m going to go out on a limb and take them to win in a longish series.

Mavs in six.

Eastern conference

(2) Boston vs (3) Orlando

Both of these teams barely escaped the first round. Boston narrowly made it past the Bulls in a great series that showed how much the C’s need Garnett on the court. Orlando, it seemed, actually was pretty good even without some of its starters – but a couple baskets go the other way and maybe Philly upsets them. It was that close.

While I feel like Boston will be drained from playing such a grueling series, I also think they’re a lot better then Orlando. The Magic have a great chance to steal a win or two early on, and if they do, they’ll have a great shot at winning a long series. But if they can’t, I think Boston will be able to prevail.

Boston in six.

(1) Cleveland at (??)

I’m writing this during the first half of game seven between Miami and Atlanta. I don’t know who’s going to win, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that whomever does is going to lose to Cleveland, maybe even in a sweep. The Cavs looked that good against Detroit.

Cleveland in four.

Written by M.

May 3, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I love being wrong – NBA Second Round picks

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Honestly, I found the first round of the NBA Playoffs kind of underwhelming. Perhaps it’s in context of an excellent series between the Bulls and the Celtics and one that I didn’t see – but looked good on SportsCentre – between Orlando and Philadelphia.

But really, sweeps aren’t all that fun to watch unless you’ve got a stake in the sweeping team. I enjoyed watching Cleveland take apart Detroit for this reason, but I was never surprised or felt tension from those games. It felt like I was watching ESPN Classic; I had a vague recollection of what’s going to happen and I watched to see how it happened but I always knew what was going to happen.

I knew that Cleveland was going to win that series and that it was never going to be in doubt. I knew the Lakers were going to win their series. Same for Dallas. I had a pretty good idea that Orlando was going to win, too.

But every year I “know” who’s going to win. And every year I’m wrong, which is what I love about the postseason. I love being surprised. And that didn’t happen this year.

Will it pick up in the second round? Perhaps. The east will be drained, as two teams went to seven games, while the west should be nice and rested: only Houston played a sixth game and all teams had a few days rest.

Western Picks

(1) Lakers vs (5) Houston

The Lakers have looked great so far and should keep it up. Like last year, they’re a multipointed team; stop Kobe and you’ve left Gasol and Oden open. And while the Rockets have finally broken the first-round barrier, I think it’ll stop here.

The Blazers were a good team, but they were young and inexperienced in the postseason – and they still gave the Rockets a run for their money. That says a lot about the Rockets to me, so I think the Lakers will be more then able to handle them.

Lakers in five.

(2) Denver vs (6) Dallas

I didn’t get much of a chance to watch either of these two series, but what little I saw of Denver showed me how physical that series against New Orleans was. It was brutal, with bodies flying all over the place. Sure, the Nuggets eventually exploded and won by 58 points, but I was surprised by how well they responded to that aggression.

Dallas, though, almost got a pass in the first round. They beat a crippled San Antonio, a team missing one of its three most important players and relied on Anthony Mason to make clutch shots. Let’s just say I don’t remember him making too many of those in Toronto.

So I’m wary on the Mavs. I feel they haven’t really been tested yet and I don’t know what they’re capable of. On paper I think they have the talent to beat Denver, but on the court I’m not so sure. I’m going to go out on a limb and take them to win in a longish series.

Mavs in six.

Eastern conference

(2) Boston vs (3) Orlando

Both of these teams barely escaped the first round. Boston narrowly made it past the Bulls in a great series that showed how much the C’s need Garnett on the court. Orlando, it seemed, actually was pretty good even without some of its starters – but a couple baskets go the other way and maybe Philly upsets them. It was that close.

While I feel like Boston will be drained from playing such a grueling series, I also think they’re a lot better then Orlando. The Magic have a great chance to steal a win or two early on, and if they do, they’ll have a great shot at winning a long series. But if they can’t, I think Boston will be able to prevail.

Boston in six.

(1) Cleveland at (??)

I’m writing this during the first half of game seven between Miami and Atlanta. I don’t know who’s going to win, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that whomever does is going to lose to Cleveland, maybe even in a sweep. The Cavs looked that good against Detroit.

Cleveland in four.

Written by M.

May 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm