By Mike Ivcic and Alex Rajaniemi
Welcome to the first of our weekly column “Double Overtime,” where Alex Rajaniemi and I will tackle all things hockey-related every Tuesday throughout the course of the 2013-14 NHL season. It all begins tonight with three games, including the featured U.S. matchup of the defending champions Chicago Blackhawks raising their newest Stanley Cup banner against the visiting Washington Capitals on NBCSN. For those of you in Canada, you’ll get a doubleheader on CBC starting with Toronto at Montreal, followed by Edmonton hosting Winnipeg. No matter where you live, though, it will be a wonderful night for all of you who, like Alex and I, are fans of the coolest, fastest, and most exciting game on the planet.
For this column – the latest feature in the Ultimate Capper’s ever-expanding coverage that’s already seen the addition of a second weekly NFL column and expanded college football analysis – we’ll divide this into three “periods,” where we’ll focus on three of the hottest topics, issues, and games from the week that was and the week that will be in the hockey world. We’ll also include an “overtime” segment, featuring a factoid, stat, or interesting trivia piece that will just make you sound smarter. And, because there are two of us that will be co-writing the column, we’re calling it “Double Overtime.” I know what you’re thinking, and yes – I came up with that all by myself. Those of you that regularly read “The Tenth Inning,” “Six Plus One,” “Fourth and Long,” or my weekly NFL picks, this will come as absolutely no surprise. Thankfully, though, Alex will be writing half of the content, so perhaps there will be some intelligence coming to this column in some form.
Also, one final note – don’t forget that the playoff format is different this year, where the second place team in each division is guaranteed to play the third place team in the same division, regardless of point totals. The division winners will play the two wild card teams, with the divisional matchups remaining intact if the two wild cards are from different divisions. If the wild cards are from the same division, the lower-seeded wild card will cross over to play the other division winner from the same conference. From that point on, the playoffs will remain within the division for the first two rounds, leading into the conference finals and then the Stanley Cup. Got all that? Good – that puts you a step ahead of us!
And with that, warm-ups are over. This week: our playoff picks, round by round. We’ll lay out the first three rounds in the opening period, Alex will take the second with his Stanley Cup pick, and I’ll finish up with my analysis in the third. The first period is here – time to drop the puck!
Round 1 – Pittsburgh over NY Islanders, NY Rangers over Washington, Toronto over Boston, Detroit over Montreal, Chicago over Edmonton, Minnesota over St. Louis, Vancouver over Anaheim, San Jose over Los Angeles
Round 2 – NY Rangers over Pittsburgh, Detroit over Toronto, Chicago over Minnesota, Vancouver over San Jose
Round 3 – NY Rangers over Detroit, Chicago over Vancouver
Round 1 – Pittsburgh over Washington, NY Rangers over NY Islanders, Detroit over Montreal, Boston over Ottawa, Chicago over Colorado, Minnesota over St. Louis, Los Angeles over Edmonton, San Jose over Vancouver
Round 2 – Pittsburgh over NY Rangers, Detroit over Boston, Chicago over Minnesota, Los Angeles over San Jose
Round 3 – Pittsburgh over Detroit, Chicago over Los Angeles
Alex’s Cup Pick
Chicago will win the Stanley Cup as the first back-to-back champions since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings. This dynasty in the making has all the correct pieces in place; they have young scoring stars who are committed to the franchise (and the franchise back to them), a solid and proven young goaltender, and the best overall defensive corps in the NHL. Defense wins championships and scoring wins games. I believe the President’s Trophy curse will not be in effect this season as the Blackhawks will prove that they are superior in every facet, going wire-to-wire and overcoming all of the lofty expectations placed on them this season. The bold? Conn Symthe recipient as Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP: Patrick Sharp.
Chicago 4, Detroit 3
Mike’s Cup Pick
I understand what I just predicted – teams change head coaches and both make the conference finals, but I really do think that John Tortorella’s iron fist is what Vancouver really needs to get back to the upper echelon of the NHL’s elite. On the other side, I think the Rangers will benefit even more from Alain Vigneault’s loose, free-flowing style of offense – granted, not everyone can be blessed with the Sedin twins, but I have very little doubt that Rick Nash will have a big year, and the NY defensemen are supremely-talented offensive players that will welcome to opportunity to expand their role in the attacking zone. They’ll have the opportunity to do that, though, because Henrik Lundqvist is that good in net. This Rangers team will look a lot like the 2011 Canucks team that lost in seven games to Boston in the Cup finals, and I think they’re the type of team built for a long postseason run this year, more so than Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Washington (not good enough defensively) or Toronto, Boston, and Montreal (not good enough offensively). The Rangers may very well be the most complete team in the East – remember, they were the top overall seed the last time we played a full 82-game season.
Having written all of that – they’re not beating Chicago. No one is, unless the Blackhawks decide to beat themselves. Unlike their 2010 offseason when the ‘Hawks lost a lot of their Cup-winning pieces, this team comes back virtually intact. Eight of the top nine forwards, all six regular defensemen, and the starting goaltender return, and there are a lot of “kids” aged 20-22 that will be competing to fill the final roster spots and keep the veterans hungry. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both spoke about how they handed this offseason differently than their last Cup celebration – more mature, disciplined, and workmanlike in their approach. There are plenty of teams that could beat Chicago and win the Stanley Cup, but I just don’t see how I can pick that in the offseason.
Chicago 4, New York 2
A little three-pack of stats to start your season:
Stat 1 – The last team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions â the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, who followed up their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997 with a sweep of the Washington Capitals in 1998. That 1998 Cup win by Detroit is also the last time the Stanley Cup was won in a sweep.
Stat 2 – The Blackhawks have only appeared in back-to-back Stanley Cup finals one time – 1961 and 1962. They won the Cup in ’61, but lost to Toronto in ’62.
Stat 3 – Speaking of the Maple Leafs, they are the owners of the longest Cup drought in the NHL, having gone 46 years since beating Montreal to win it all in 1967. They are the only Original Six team that has not won a Stanley Cup in the expansion era, as 1967 was the last year of the NHL at six teams before they added a second division and expanded to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season.