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Morning Skate: Crystal Ball Gazing

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.


From: Dan Pennucci (@dpennucci)
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Monday, April 29
Subject: Crystal Ball Gazing

Two things struck me as odd on Saturday night:

1. I was actively cheering for Columbus to thwart the unstoppable Nashville Predators. Loved seeing the energy and desperation they played with in the third period to notch the comeback victory. Unfortunately their playoff chances then rested in the hands of the NHL's second worst team: Colorado.

2. Once the Jackets game ended, it was over to the Avs vs. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Niklas Backstrom, also known as the Minnesota Wild. As one would expect, the Wild triumphed in Denver, withstanding a late mini onslaught from the Avs (only because the Avs are not capable of a full onslaught despite great seasons from Matt Duchene and Pierre Parenteau). The Wild's reward is a date with Chicago after drawing the ire of fans everywhere for bouncing Columbus.

Sadly, my Jackets-Isles Stanley Cup Final will not be, this season at least. So long, #Lumbus.

What I found odd is that I was intrigued by the Avs, Wild, Preds and Sport Coats on the season's final day. True the East had some interesting games, but heading into tonight's finale, just three of the seeds are decided, to be ironed out after the Boston-Ottawa tilt.

That game will have a somber tone with it being a make-up from the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. A win from Boston gets them the division while Montreal, the Islanders, Ottawa and presumptive Cup winner Toronto wait to make travel arrangements.

Since the West is set in stone, let's begin there. I'll give my take, you give me yours; we'll see who is right and who is dead.

1. Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8. Minnesota Wild:

The cynic in me says Chicago in 4. The Blackhawks are flying toward the playoffs and it's time for your boy Jonathan Toews to further cement his legacy. Hawks have three great lines the deepest blue line in the playoffs; Corey Crawford will get to shut down an enigmatic Wild offense. My concerns are if Niklas Backstrom gets hot, but I'm not too worried. The captain line needs to produce and hopefully, for Minny's sake, Parise will show up more than he did in the Final last year.

Prognostication: Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane will be too much, Hawks in 5

2. Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks vs. 7. Detroit Red Wings:

Twenty two straight seasons in the playoffs for Detroit. Impressive. However, no Lidstrom, no Rafalski and everyone's a little older. Detroit will be the trendy underdog pick, but I can't see them hanging with the physical play of Anaheim. Teddy Flash can still bring it and that top line can wear down Detroit's slow defense. Have to wonder who will get first crack in goal for Anaheim. Pavel Datsyuk will have to be at his Datsyukian best to carry the Wings.

Prognostication: Quack quack quack, Anaheim in 5.

3. Vancouver Canucks vs. 6. San Jose Sharks:

San Jose has been as streaky as their team's scoring this season. The constant: likely Vezina nominee Antii Niemi. Down the middle, Jumbo Joe, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture can match up with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy. I like Vancouver's blue line better but the twins haven't shown the fortitude needed in the postseason to deliver. Plus, after one bad game from either Roberto Luongo or Corey Schneider and the goalie circus will be running three rings again.

Prognostication: Couture carries Sharks as they bounce around Canucks. Niemi denies the Orcas. Sharks in 6.

4. St. Louis Blues vs. 5. Los Angeles Kings

The Blues sneak up to the 4 spot and get home ice thanks to the standout play of Brian Elliott. (Weren't we collectively bashing him a month ago?). The Kings' Cup defense starts with a foe that likes to play as physical as they do. I'll love seeing David Backes line up against Anze Koptiar and Mike Richards, Alex Pietrangelo attempt to slow down Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter (if Carter feels like playing). Los Angeles has the edge offensively but the Blues have players like Backes and Chris Stewart that are hard to handle. Conversely, the Blues D is deep enough to handle LA. Color me baffled. This series is going to be bloody and bruising. Do you give the edge to Sutter or Hitch?

Prognostication: Kings in 7: Jonathan Quick will shut down the Blues in a low-scoring, high-checking battle. Dustin Brown, Slava Voynov to carry LA.

We'll tackle the East tomorrow. I welcome your challenges on my infallible Western Conference picks.

Best time of the year to be a hockey fan, get excited folks.

-DAN-

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Wednesday, May 1
Subject: Obvious Agreements

Yah, parity brings out strange allegiances and interests, don't they? What a belly blow to Columbus, a team that did everything it had to do and still got hosed.

So, we're actually pretty close on Western series winners.

1. Chicago vs. 8. Minnesota

Agreed -- Hawks in five. And that was my thinking before Niklas Backstrom was injured in warm-ups. The Wild are lovely, but over their heads. The Hawks will adapt and play whatever style any other team wants ... and still beat them at their own game. I'd actually say this should be a corn broom sweep, but the romantic in me really REALLY wants Josh Harding to win a game and do it at home. Multiple Sclerosis sucks -- a friend of mine has it and it's remarkable that Harding can play through it.

2. Anaheim vs. 7. Detroit

Agreed -- Ducks in five. The mighty quackers are just too much for a winged wheel with little to no depth. I love Pavel Datsyuk. And Henrik Zetterberg is pretty awesome, too. But what hope do you have if your coach tells the world Danny DeKeyser -- he of less than a dozen regular season games after an NCAA season -- is the reason you made the postseason. He's good, but that means they were horrific on D before that. Ryan Getzlaf had a Hart-like season. Francois Beauchemin had a Norris-worthy season. I actually see a Hawks-Ducks conference final.

3. Vancouver vs. 6. San Jose

Disagree -- Orcas in six. San Jose is soft -- they just don't have enough resilience to bounce back. Antti Niemi had a Vezina-worthy season, but the Canucks have enough in the tank to win one series. Ultimately, the goalie controversy will kill them, but Roberto Luongo has something to prove -- not only for the non-trade, but also for Saturday night's B.S. Why was he left to rot in the net against the Oil? Did you know he was out of his equipment, showered, in his suit and on foot to his car in 13 minutes after that game? That's mach speed -- he was clearly peeved. So he'll use the series to stick the knob of his stick right up Alain Vignault's ...

4. St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

Agreed -- Kings in seven. But admittedly, Tuesday's dominating performance from the Blues has given me pause. They took it to the Kings and pounded them. Still, I'll take Jonathan Quick over Brian Elliot any day. It's a saw-off as you said, but I still think the Kings come through. They won't go much further, though -- human bodies can only take so much and this series is going to maim.

There you have it. So what say you about the East?

Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Wednesday, May 1
Subject: Go East, Young Man

Well, after tonight, I'm saying Penguins in 2...our buddy John Torperzer said via Twitter that he wouldn't be surprised to see Crosby back on the ice in Games 3 or 4 to get his timing back.

Hell of an opening night with the two overtime games. I'm liking the Canucks "This is What We Live For Slogan" better than the Wild's "Fight To The End" mantra...one has a slightly more positive connotation than the other, but Vancouver's isn't projecting dominance.

I can't imagine what Josh Harding is going through, thankfully no one close to me has been affected by MS, but I've heard stories from those who have, heartbreaking.

Glad to you see are learning to agree with me.

Eastern Conference: Sens-Bruins Final:

Overall, the East just doesn't seem too deep, a few lesser teams. Also, the fancy stats definitely do not favor some of the bottom squads.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins v. 8, New York Islanders: Pens in four. Well, the Islanders make a nice story and I'm going to pretend like I didn't see the Isles get mauled by Pittsburgh tonight. Wow, some bad bounces for the Islanders and the Penguins proving to be too much. I can't see the Isles losing another game like this. John Tavares needs to bounce back and Frans Nielsen is a key for the Isles. That said, I can't see the Fishermen's defense keeping up with the utter firepower on Pittsburgh.

2. Montreal Canadiens v. 7. Ottawa Senators: Senators in six. The Habs limped into the playoffs and Carey Price went from being a Vezina nominee heading into April to an afterthought in May. Montreal has a solid corps of forwards and the electric P.K. Subban, but I'm liking Ottawa. Sens got the gift of Erik Karlsson, who notched four points in three games and Craig Anderson can singlehandedly steal the series. Ottawa generates a ton of shots and they play their defensive system better than Montreal does theirs. I see Montreal struggling at times.

3, Washington Capitals v. New York Rangers: Caps in five: My pick depends largely on whether Marc Staal returns from his gruesome eye injury, but I also see this Washington team as a monstrously difficult animal to handle than last year while the Rangers appear largely the same. I don't expect to see a repeat of last year's suffocating, block-a-shot-at-all-costs series. Adam Oates has the Caps playing excellent hockey and if they can scores goals and get the play from Braden Holtby that we saw to close out the regular season, I can't see Washington losing. The Rangers can be tough, but they'll need to win Thursday. I worry about them consistently scoring, but not too much, as them losing wouldn't be a bad thing.

4. Boston Bruins v. Toronto Maple Leafs: Bruins in five: Honestly, this was my pick even before Boston blitzed the Leafs on Wednesday. When entirely healthy, Boston is an unbelievably difficult team to play against and the Leafs have been one of the luckier teams all season. James Reimer can't do it all, but let's not forget that it's all Phil Kessel's fault if the Buds lose. Boston is too much down the middle, too much Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask looked good. This is a Bruins team with a lot of pieces from the 2011 Cup-winning squad and they're just nasty.

Your move.

-DAN-

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Wednesday, May 1
Subject: Go Sens Go?

Hmmm ... I'm learning something for sure.

But Boston -- Ottawa? Is there something weird in the water down there? There must be because solvent sniffing starts to decline after Grade 7.

1. Pittsburgh vs. 8. NY Islanders

Agreed on the winner (Pens), but four games is it. I love the John Tavares story, but the Isles' true lack of depth does them in. He's learning what playoff hockey is all about. The Isles will seriously compete in two years. Right now, the Pens are utterly dominant. The only worry I have with them is related to injuries -- they are very deep, but losing James Neal (again) and Jussi Jokinen is tough. And when will Crosby return?

2. Montreal vs. 7. Ottawa

Ditto. I like Ottawa, but it'll take seven. The Sens struggle to score, but Craig Anderson is brilliant. He'd be in the Hart discussion if he'd played the full season. There are a lot of things to like about the Habs, but there's also an inconsistency that makes me queasy. Like Carey Price -- there's a brilliance and then there's the other. Yikes. I am curious to see if Brendan Gallagher channels his best Brad Marchand. And the longer they go, the more likely Jason Spezza comes back. Too bad he doesn't heal like Erik Karlsson.

3. Washington vs. NY Rangers

Agreed. John Tortorella is done. The Rangers' D is good, but it's great with Marc Staal. They desperately need him and he might not make it back this round. And no, they're not the same team they were last year. Adam Oates has the Caps clicking. The last time they looked this good they almost knocked off the Pens in the semis in 2009. They might have won it all had they beaten the Pens in Game 7. I have them in the Eastern final. Alexander Ovechkin is fabulous when he's bought in. And he is.

4. Boston vs. 5. Toronto

Agreed. I thought I'd go six, but after tonight, I just can't. Toronto's gap control was awful, their D looked lost and their coach blew their forward lines. Boston isn't perfect, but they know how to win. They'll be obliterated by the Pens next round any way.

Pens-Caps in the East final, my friend. No Bruins. And certainly no Sens. You'd think you lived in Ottawa or something.

Eagle out.

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