As we enter Day 3 of the playoffs I was thinking about completing out my annual bracket on NHL.com. While filling out the Western Conference side I always face this conundrum with Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks. Would I like to pick San Jose or St, Louis to beat them in an opening round series? Of course, but as the greatest World Champion ever, Ric Flair once said “To be the man, you have to beat the man!"
Both series should be seven games between the Kings/Sharks, and Blues/Blackhawks, and honestly, any of these four teams could represent the west in the Stanley Cup Final. Last season in the playoffs the Sharks threw away a 3-0 lead over the Kings, which has to be playing a huge mind screw with the Sharks heads. Is losing a close series the next building step in moving on? It seemed so while I was growing up with the Detroit Pistons trying to overcome the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers and then again when the Chicago Bulls were trying to get by the Pistons finally to begin an historical run of titles.
Every pre-season I make my Cup Final picks with some friends and this year it was L.A. Kings over the Washington Capitals. That would be after the Kings beating Chicago in the Conference Final in a long, physically demanding, extremely close series going seven games. Los Angeles has hoisted the Cup two of the past four years and knows what it takes to go all the way, as do the defending champion Blackhawks who have won Lord Stanley's prize three of the previous sis seasons. Winning back-to-back would mark the first team do so in 20 years, matching the great run by the Detroit Red Wings.
San Jose is playing very good hockey and after taking the first match last night from the Kings in the best game of the evening, they should be poised for victory. St. Louis also took the opener from the defending champions in shut-out fashion, winning 2-0. All four playoff teams are loaded with All-Star caliber players that often represent their home countries in the Olympics and World Championship.
For years, I picked San Jose in the pre-season when they first got Joe Thornton in a blockbuster trade from the Boston Bruins. The team seemed to be the gal always late for her own wedding, laying a huge egg each year. Now the Sharks are loaded again with top end talent on their top two lines with Brent Burns converted to defense. Scoring should not be an issue in this series. The Sharks won the season series 3-1 over the Kings, but I still cannot pick them to beat the Kings because to be the man, you have to beat the man.
Same can be said for the St. Louis Blues, who are both one of the most talented, and best coached teams in the NHL. The Blues very well could beat the Blackhawks especially if the Hawks legs' aren’t under them after playing so many meaningful games in June over the past six seasons. The Blues won the season series with Chicago 3-2 and I consider both teams equally talented. The goal sifferential for those five games was just one. The Blues have the hottest goalie in the NHL with Brian Elliott, and a hot goalie can carry you to the finals as we’ve seen numerous times. In 2002-03 The Mighty Duck of Anaheim in their Disney phase lost the Cup Final to the New Jersey Devils, but rode the back of Jean-Sebastian Giquere.
Is it time for the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues to finally overcome the huge obstacles that have blocked the path for years? This may be the year, but until they "beat the man, they cannot be the man!" I’d love to see new faces in the finals, and the Western Conference is a murderer’s row of great teams who would destroy all but one team from the East. This makes me glad that the Red Wings are now in the softer Eastern Conference because the West is all battleships while the Eastern Conference seems to be crab boats.
So my friends, throw away your razors, enjoy the spring weather and relax this weekend to enjoy the greatest game on Earth!