My 21-year-old son growled as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Game 4 of the Montreal-Pittsburgh NHL qualifying-round series.
“I waited for four months, and the Penguins are gone in four games,” he said (sort of said?).
I reminded him that I thought the best-of-5 qualifying round was a bit of a crapshoot because the teams were about as even as they could possibly be after four months of inactivity. All 24 teams were basically at full health. No team had any real momentum. Any team could quickly be tossed aside by simple rust.
That same 21-year-old replied, “They lost to the (ahem) Canadiens, who absolutely sucked during the regular season.”
Ah, fandom. And youth.
With that, my picks for the NHL Round of 16 playoffs:
Vegas vs Chicago: Remember when the Golden Knights were struggling, sitting in a precarious 7th place in the Western Conference? A coaching change has revitalized this team, which should handle Chicago with relative ease, but with no Las Vegas flare, unfortunately. Vegas in 6.
Colorado vs Arizona: Colorado lived up to the hype during the regular season and kept the motor running in the qualifying round. Arizona has the grit to make this the most interesting series in the west, but not enough talent to win it. Colorado in 7.
Dallas vs Calgary: The first team to 2 in each game wins? Goals should be at a premium, with Dallas’ anemic offense and stingy defense on display. Calgary took advantage of key Winnipeg injuries to win in the qualifying round. The Flames face tougher odds, but win. Calgary in 7.
St. Louis vs Vancouver: The Blues lost all three round-robin games scoring only 6 goals, and 4 came in one game. It was mere rust, right? St. Louis won’t go from being the west’s best team in the regular season to out this quickly, right? The champs aren’t dead yet. St. Louis in 6.
Philadelphia vs Montreal: Imagine your reaction if I’d had told you when the NHL regular season began in October that these two teams would be the 1 vs 8 playoff match up? Well, here we are. Montreal will not beat both Pennsylvania teams this summer. Philadelphia in 5.
Tampa Bay vs Columbus: The Lightning won’t be at full strength at the start of this series. And the longer Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are watching and not playing, the less likely Tampa Bay holds off Columbus. John Tortorella is ready to pounce. Columbus in 6.
Washington vs New York Islanders: What if New York head coach Barry Trotz pushes all the right buttons against his former team? What if Washington, a team known for “struggling,” shall we say, in the post-season does just that? Nah. Washington in 7.
Boston vs Carolina: The Bruins were the NHL’s best team in the regular season, and they then laid an egg in the round robin, losing all three. Boston had better find its game quickly because Carolina comes into this series looking really good. Carolina in 7.
So, put it all together and, if I’m right, the conference semifinal matchups will be Vegas vs Calgary and Colorado vs St. Louis in the west, and Philadelphia vs Columbus and Washington vs Carolina in the east.
I won’t ask my son for his opinion of these predictions. He’s still, shall we say, a bit upset.