So, I was reading my buddy Tim Panaccio on CSNPhilly.com yesterday (it's a good site... maybe I say that because I write for them weekly too!!!) and he predicted the Flyers and Penguins will still meet in the first round of the playoffs.
He has the Flyers finishing fourth and Pittsburgh fifth. It would be a whale of a series if that were to occur, but I don't think it'll happen.
I also checked out Eklund's wacky predictions on Hockey Buzz, and he has the Flyers falling to 6th to play Washington in the first round.
So, I decided to do a little research into the schedule and try to figure out who would finish where, and you know what I came up with? The standings won't be any different than they are right now.
So, it would be 1. Boston vs. 8. Montreal, 2. New Jersey vs. 7. New York Rangers, 3. Washington vs. 6. Pittsburgh, and 4. Philadelphia vs. 5. Carolina.
I'll explain why in a minute, but aside from the Flyers-Hurricanes, the NHL could market the heck out of those other three series and see some of their best television numbers in years.
Boston-Montreal is a storied rivalry; the Devils-Rangers would consume the New York market, and Pittsburgh vs. Washington would be the national series to spotlight, regardless of who plays in the West simply because of the Crosby/Malkin vs. Ovechkin factor.
As to why I think these standings will hold up, let's look at the schedules.
Boston is a team that is ripe for the playoff picking, but I think they have a relatively easy schedule over their final nine games and should come away with 13 points - enough to hold off the hard charging Devils and Capitals.
Six of those nine games are against current non-playoff teams, and of the other three, two are at home against the Rangers and Montreal. Their toughest game remaining is a trip here to Philly Sunday.
New Jersey has a slightly tougher schedule, with five of their remaining nine games against current playoff teams, but they get four of them out of the way early. After a trip to Chicago, a home game against Carolina and a trip to the Garden and the Igloo, they have four straight against non-playoff types before finishing the season at home against the 'Canes. Carolina might need that one to lock up No. 5 and the Devs should already have No. 2 taken care of. New Jersey has to go just 6-2-1 to eliminate the Caps by themselves. A loss here and there opens the door for Washington to pass them, but they'd have to be perfect. They won't be.
Washington has a relatively breezy schedule, but they've struggled recently against bad teams - losing to the Leafs twice and Atlanta in the last few weeks. Every remaining game is against a team not in the playoffs, but they're sure to lose focus and drop one or two along the way, securing No. 2 for the Devils.
How anyone can think the Flyers will drop from No.4 considering they've played fewer games than anyone else in the conference, have a few weak sisters remaining on the schedule, and are playing darn good hockey right now is beyond me. Seven of the final 10 games are against current non-playoff teams, and frankly their a better team than both the Rangers and Bruins who make up those other three contests. I know people think I'm crazy with the Boston thing, but really, the Bruins don't impress me that much. Good team, yes, best in the Conference? Far from it.
Carolina at No. 5 is the hardest call to make, but they're playing like the Caps did at the end of last season, and are going to be really tough to beat. Besides, they're excellent at home and four of their final six are at RBC Center, including a showdown with Pittsburgh that could decide who plays the Flyers. They are also going to get a rare bit of rest just before the end of the season hear, having to play only one game in the next seven days. A win in New Jersey Saturday locks it up in my mind, but even a loss there and I still thing the 'Canes sneak ahead of Pittsburgh. I like them to beat the Pens in Carolina April 4.
Pittsburgh is still red-hot, despite losing to the Flyers. They bounced back with an impressive shutout win over Calgary that I didn't see coming. Still, after a pair of home games against the Rangers and Devils, Pittsburgh has four of their final five games on the road, including that game in Carolina and a couple against desperate teams like Florida and Montreal battling for the final playoff spot. There are enough trap doors for the Pens to stumble once or twice and not be able to catch Carolina. Still, this is a dangerous team in the playoffs.
The Rangers are an absolute enigma. They really don't have great talent offensively or defensively. But they have a great goalie, and that can get you far. However, they're going to have to run the gauntlet of sorts, just to earn a playoff spot as after tonight's game in Atlanta, their last seven games are all against playoff-bound opposition. They'll get bloodied along the way, but I'm betting on Lundqvist stealing a couple to get them into the postseason.
If there was ever a team so undeserving of a playoff bid, it's the Montreal Canadiens, who collapsed under the pressure of their 100th season and high expectations following last season's No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs. They had been horrible, dropping seven of nine before beating Atlanta Tuesday. However, of those seven losses, five came against Toronto, Buffalo, Atlanta, the New York Islanders and Ottawa. Yuck. I was ready to consider them dead and buried until Florida went ice cold and they too can't win a game now. Montreal is ahead of the Panthers and has a game in hand. The schedule is in their favor on paper too with five more games against sub-.500 teams, but these are the choking Canadiens after all, and this is the one prediction I'm most shaky about.
As for the Panthers, they've probably blown one too many opportunities to get into the playoffs by now, and although they still have a shot if they can get hot, the schedule is working against them. Six of their final eight games are against teams either in a comfortable playoff spot or fighting like mad to get in. They can't afford any more hiccups, but now I think they'll fall a point or two short.
And as for Ottawa... I know Eklund not only has them getting in, but finishing seventh, but I don't see it. A perfect storm would have to happen which means Ottawa keeps winning -- especially against six of their final nine games in which the play teams ahead of them - and hope fro some major help from some teams - like Montreal, the Rangers, Florida and Buffalo - to continue to collapse. I think it's highly unlikely.
That's it for now. Let me know what you think.