Thursday 28 Jul 2016

NHL Round 1 Playoffs
Bob Stark

There's a real danger in trying to stay king of the mountain. You stop taking risks, you stop being as creative, because you're trying to maintain a position. Apart from anything else that really takes the fun out of it.

Sissy Spacek

Every year, predicting the NHL Play-offs seems to get more stressful. I realize that part of that is trying not to embarrass oneself in the public realm. As well, given that last year, for the first round, I had a remarkable 8-0 record, which drew me to Spacek quote.

Should I worry about resting on, or more so, repeating and retaining such lofty king of the mountain heights, play it safe and employ my normal analytical method, i.e. by going into deep analysis in assessing each series?

Well, any more 'deep analysis' at my age is not only stressful but might lead to a bearded man's psych couch and even further deep analysis. "So Mr. Stark it appears zat you are stuck at zee anal stage of development and vee need to loosen zee crap trap."

No way San Jose!

If sentenced to the couch, it'll be with the television remote in one hand and my favourite adult beverage in the other. To heck with being right, this year I'm going 'Goofy.' That by the way is one of the names I gave to one my annual hockey pool entries, wherein I pick the Stanley Cup Finals to be between the Sharks in the West and the Rangers in the East.

I can almost hear a pin drop, "You what?"

Well, risking being 'king of the mountain' one day and a dead Guppy at the bottom of the aquarium tomorrow, let's get to it!

DETROIT vs BOSTON

It's hard not to pick the Bruins. Most pundits have not only picked them to win this series, but the whole shooting match. They have few if any weaknesses. Unless there's a surprise out there, there is usually in the play-offs, who can knock 'em out? One note of caution however for Bruins fans: the Bruins are notoriously slow play-off starters. Look at last year when the Leafs had they all but dead and gone. In 2011, when they won the Cup, they had three seven game series, winning 1-0 against TB in the Eastern Conference Final, before winning the last two games in the Cup Finals against the Canucks, sigh, and double sigh. Detroit has come together of late and are getting healthy. Babcock is a magician. Alas, Howard has been erratic. He has to out-duel Rask. Send in the kids. Kill 'em with speed. Keep hold of the puck. Alfie! Alfie! Detroit in 7.

MONTREAL vs TAMPA BAY

Ben Bishop wouldn’t start in the first game or the second. Lindmark is decent, but the advantage goes to Price although his play-off record is not great. The Habs learned from last year's total collapse against the "Bug-eyed Fat Walrus" and the Sens. Arguably the better team lost that series, due to Montreal’s inability to focus on the game. I think that Habs will win if they can get to TB in first two games and get a split. I think coach Therrien knows that if he can't get out of the first round the Montreal public and press will be calling for his head. TB was one of my dark horses at season's start. This is a very good team. This is a definite coin-toss series. Maybe the Habs have a few more guys than Tampa with play-off experience, and the addition of Vanek may be the prized pick-up in the league. If he's invisible, it's over. If he's on his game and Habs check Stamkos - better than I've seen most teams, you'll be seeing Sour Puss Therrien behind the Habs bench in Round 2. It's Vanek or Vanquished in my opinion. This is the last Canadian team standing. It's one of those years Canada. TB in 6.

COLUMBUS vs PITTSBURGH

Pittsburgh is under a lot of pressure. Arguably, they've drawn the weakest of the play-off teams in the East. On paper the Pens dominate. STK held the fort while many players went down through-out the year. Fleury has been very good this year between the pipes, where he must stay! After two disastrous years, no one player wants to redeem himself as much; not invited to the Olympics may be a huge motivating force. For Columbus, "Bobo" is the key. We've seen goalies take series by themselves. The rest of the Jackets are a good group of hard working lunch pail guys who may be fairly well built for the play-offs. Isn't there a song called, 'Columbus Stockade'? It has to be their anthem. Put the Pens behind bars and holds, take 'em to the corners for a little water boarding. Be ridiculous Clobber! Never mind the Blue Jackets sweater. Get out the white jacket. Put me in the looney-bin stockade! One of my nicknames is 'Bobo". Shoot that gun! Columbus in 7.

PHILADELPHIA vs NEW YORK RANGERS

Sometimes you have to stop thinking with your heart and start listening to your heart. I would love to see coach AV get to the Second Round. He took his time getting to know the team he had. King Henrik was awful in nets at the start of the year. It looked like a long year for AV while Torts, who replaced him, change positions with him, in Vancouver and the Canucks, were ripping it up. Then something happened on the way to the Calgary locker room and at the Heritage Classic and Torts lost the team. Anyways, I digress. My blood pressure rises! Flyers are another of those built for the dance teams...and have a nice mix of 'youts' and vets. Claude Giroux is out to show he's one heck of a leader. One thing you should know however is that Flyers goalie, Mason, dazed by one another Flyer player, on Saturday night, and may not be able to start the series. Ray Emery is a good back up and may be chomping at the bit but if Hank in the Tank is on his game, for the Rangers, it won't matter who is in nets at the Philly end of the rink. AV's challenge, to himself, will be to atone for in the city that never sweeps. Rangers in 7.

MINNESOTA vs COLORADO

I think many people are over-looking the Minnesota Wild. I think Patreek has been marvelous in his debut year behind the bench in Colorado, and his young team is fast and the goaltending under 'Varly' has been world class. The defence however is the Avs weak link. As one pundit said, these are "Not exactly household names." For the Wild, good experienced forwards and Suter on defence; he averages 29 minutes a game; maybe not Chara but close. In nets, they now have 'Breezy' whom some suggest got them to the dance. Minnie has used 7 different net-minders over the year, due to injuries t their top three guys!. Breezy came to fill the gap; it'll be Rooskie vs Rooskie in nets! Breezy is a bit like Fleury when it comes to the play-offs, the reason he is no longer in Philly! 'Wild' is an appropriate team name for him! I suspect the Avs will just keep rolling but I'd say more like six, even seven games will be required for them to win. Well, here's my caveat to even winning. If one believes the injury list, at least for Game 1, the Wild will have a chance to steal one. This one could become more interesting as the series moves along. This is a tough one for me to call. I like the Avs, but I do cheer for the Minnesota Twins in baseball and the Vikings in football... and have never disliked the Wild, except for the uniforms. Do you remember the Oilers in the 1980s? Do you remember the Islanders of the same era? How about that old saw that first ya gotta learn how to lose? Patreek has quite the first year record as a player and coach and all those rings. There has to be an upset in the West; there always is, well almost. For the sheer fun of it all, let’s call it Minnesota in 7.

CHICAGO vs ST. LOUIS

In St. Louis, they're hurting, somewhere between a little bit to a whole lot. It's all on Ryan Miller, the gamble the Blues made at trade deadline day. Always, and still, getting no respect Crawford has been lights out for Chicago of late. Hard to pick on defence, I can't think of two other teams in the West or even one that can match either team, although Sharks and Kings are good too on the back-end. The general comments from some pundits are that Blues coach, Ken Hitchcock, can sometimes be his own worst enemy when things go south, which they have been for the last ten games. The pundits seem split, but most pick either one of these teams to go all the way. The pressure is too much for the Blues. I like Chicago here for all kinds of reasons, one being the fact that I love Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks were my childhood team. The Blues best win a couple in St. Louis or this baby will be over in four. Hawks swoop and win in 4. (Nobody ever picks sweeps!)

DALLAS vs ANAHEIM

Another interesting battle will be between Ducks and Stars. It's Getzlaf and Perry versus Seguin and Benn. Hiller may not be ready to start the series for Duckies. Lehtonen will be.Stars weren't that good on the road. And we all know how good Ducks are at home. Ya can't lose two in Anaheim. I don't think there's a pressure disadvantage unless you consider the President Trophy winner curse. Koivu and Selanne's swan songs re the Cup. Good secondary scoring however may be a chore for both teams. It’s hard to see Dallas as an upset team. I will be cheering for the Lindy dance team but I'm afraid this one will be Ducks in 4. (Nobody picks two sweeps!)

L.A. vs SAN JOSE

Say it ain't so Jose! Thee worse possible first round opponent for the Sharks - on every level, except perhaps goal scoring. Kings have the lowest Goals For stat of the play-off teams. Alas, they also allowed the least goals against...and Quick missed a lot of the season. As the other old saw goes, defence wins championships. Neimi won 39 games in goal for the Sharks, but has recently floundered, floundered badly. Don't be surprised if the Sharks go to Stalock. The Cup is a long way away for any winner of this series. The reward for winning is likely a very well rested Duck squad (see above.) I have no major issues with either of these teams though Dustin Brown does play on the edge. The Kings showed a couple of years ago that it doesn't matter where they play but Sharks need to win those first two on home-ice to make me a believer. Many years and so many disappointments, it is now or never one would think, especially for the coach, after seven years now, and Mr. Wilson, the GM. Whomever owns this team sure has been patient! My heart is with San Jose. That carries the day in this case. Go Cubs Go! Sharks in 7.

"Hello? Operator? I'd like to place a long distance call to Sissy Spacek please."

Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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