By Greg Hudson
The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been some of the most hard-fought series’ in recent memory, and three of the eight first-round matchups head to a 7th game, to be played Wednesday night. Let’s take a look at each matchup and predict a winner.
These two teams are the epitome of the multi-sport, across-the-board rivalry between New York and Philly. Both teams and both sets of fans absolutely despise the other side, and this carries into baseball, football, and if men’s beach volleyball had teams there, you know their fans would hate the other team too.
But this series has been full of more than cheap shots and power plays. It’s been a series of two good teams hungry for a chance at Cup glory, and just as in the regular season, the Rangers and Flyers have traded wins, the Rangers winning games one, three, and five, and the Flyers taking games two, four, and six.
The difference-maker in this series has been the replacement of Ray Emery with Steve Mason in the Philly goal after game three. Since then the Flyers have won two of three games, having lost two of the first three games.
But both of those wins came on home ice, and game seven is at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers’ faithful will be full of noise and energy. Added to this, the Rangers have been here before, since their last two playoff series victories have been in game seven.
Prediction: Rangers win it 3-1 or 4-2.
Few would have predicted that a team with such low goal-scoring would last six games against the juggernaut Avalanche, but make no mistake: the Wild have more than held their own.
For me, as a neutral, this series has been the most fun to watch because the
games have been so close. Four of the six games played have been decided by a single goal, with three of those games ending in overtime.
The fact that the Avalanche have been pushed so hard by Minnesota seems to have rattled a few in the Colorado ranks, most notably their stalwart goaltender Semyon Varlomov, who has given up 3 or more goals in three of 6 games.
Meanwhile, the Wild came into this series taking nothing for granted, but also entirely unafraid of playing a team with better players. They’ve matched Colorado step for step in most major categories, and their composure has gotten them to an unlikely game seven. Composure in Denver tonight might well get them to the second round against Chicago.
Prediction: Wild win it, 4-3 in OT
I’ll admit it. I went to bed after the first period in game two of this series having watched the Kings thorough outplay the Sharks en route to a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes, a brilliant response to their 6-3 thumping by San Jose the night before.
When I woke up and turned on Sports Center the next morning and saw the Kings didn’t score again and that the final score was 7-2 San Jose, I said to myself “That’s it, they’re finished.”
But the fact that they weren’t finished has been overshadowed by the fact that they are now the favorites to win it. The Sharks eased to a 2-0 lead in the series and then pushed the Kings to the brink of elimination with a 4-3 overtime win in game three, but that third loss seems to have sparked the Kings into life.
The L.A. boys have won the last three games, each by three goals: a 6-3 reversal of their game one defeat, a 3-0 shutout that has re-affirmed the Kings’ faith in stopper Jonathon Quick, who at times looked like an amateur in net in the first two games of the series, and a 4-1 game six win to send the series back up the coast to San Jose for game seven.
The pressure is now back on the Sharks, who looked to have this one in the bag and are desperately searching for answers in the hopes of keeping the Kings from becoming just the fifth team in the history of American sports to rally from 3-0 down to win a best-of-seven series.
Prediction: Kings take it 5-2.