New Jersey Devils (called 4th, finished 11th)
Here's the weird thing about the Devils: they only scored 112 goals, tied for second-last in the league, but they also only let in 129, better than any other non-playoff team except Columbus. In a normal year I'd call that good old-fashioned New Jersey hockey and expect Brodeur and Hedberg to step up their games down the stretch to drive the team back up into contention. This is another reason to like The Shortening: stall-and-defend tactics don't work. Every team in the playoffs is there because they went after the puck on a regular basis, except maybe a couple of guys near the bottom of the seeding. We'll get to that.
Tampa Bay Lightning (called 6th, finished 14th)
Good news, guys! Next year you won't have to worry about losing to Washington over and over again. Thanks to realignment, you can lose to Detroit over and over instead! No, but seriously, with the two top-scoring players in the league (Marty St. Brodeur in particular reminds me of Alfredsson's '07 campaign) and some actual goaltending in Ben Bishop (you're welcome!) these guys shouldn't miss the playoffs again next year. I'm not even sure how they missed them this year. They were fantastic out of the gate, and then they just fizzled. Too many one-goal losses. See ya next year, Bolts.
Philadelphia Flyers (called 7th, finished 10th)
Oh, there's the disappointing deflation from trading all their stars away two years ago. It just took longer than I thought it would, that's all. I also like how Ilya Bryzgalov completed his transition from "media darling" to "standoffish clubhouse distraction." Can you imagine if they still made the playoffs in spite of it all? Every road game there'd be a fan with a "No Napping!" sign behind the goal.
Florida Panthers (called 8th, finished dead last)
If it's any consolation, fans will actually come to watch you play in Quebec City. Also of note: the nickname "Jose Three-Or-More" fully applies this year (his GAA was 3.29).
Phoenix Coyotes (called 2nd, finished 10th)
Same as above only with "Seattle". But come on, what were you expecting? Your top three scorers were Doan, Vrbata, and Keith Yandle. Try to draft somebody useful this year, alright?
Nashville Predators (called 5th, finished 14th)
Last year: "We're signing Shea Weber to a massive deal because we're here to play!" This year: "what do you mean we're not getting any playoff revenue??" Next year: "How come we keep losing to the Jets?!" Eeesh. I still say it should've been the Preds who got shuffled east, nut I'm not a hotshot league geography planner guy. (There's probably an actual name for that job, but I'm too lazy to look it up.)
Edmonton Oilers (called 8th, finished 12th)
No playoffs? No problem! They didn't finish close enough to the bottom for a reasonable shot at another #1 draft pick, so now they can take someone they want, like a defenseman, and work at improving their standing for next year. Sooner or later at least one of these kids has to become the franchise star they're supposed to be, right? Can we get Wayne Gretzky to appear in a swirl of storm clouds and order them to rediscover their place in the Circle of Life? Hell, at this point the Oilers would probably settle for Jari Kurri in a Tim Hortons cup.
As always, picks made in the MEVO preview carry up to here, and then these picks carry ahead to subsequent rounds if they come true, even if Anze Kopitar breaks his wrist while he's taking the series-winning shot.
Pittsburgh (1) def. NY Islanders (8) in five
It is my firm belief that any commentator who hasn't already said their piece on Crosby vs. Tavares for the Hart trophy (I'm on John's side, incidentally) is going to use this series as their decision-maker. "But you're not supposed to look at the playoffs for regular-season awards!" Yeah, but you're also supposed to look at the Western conference. "Ah, that's a valid point, you handsome armchair sports blogger, you." Why thank you, hypothetical voice of the counterpoint!
Ottawa (7) def. Montreal (2) in six
Remember last year when the Sens got up 3-2 on the Rangers, but then couldn't keep the pressure up, let them back into the series, and lost it in seven? Good learning moment. Don't expect us to let off once we've got 'em under our feet this year.
Washington (3) def. NY Rangers (6) in seven
This one comes down to a single matchup: Ovechkin against Lundqvist. Number 8 didn't look too good starting the year, did he? Some folks were surprised, but I thought I'd seen it coming. But then he got back up to speed, and that did surprise me. Surprises for everybody! Unlike Lundqvist, who is a steadfast presence in the crease, never nods off during team meetings, and gives safe and reasonable quotes to the media. BORING. Knock 'em out, Caps.
Boston (4) def. Toronto (5) in seven
Seven bloody, mutilated, ass-kicking games. I think this one comes down to home ice advantage: Original Six matchup, two rowdy crowds, both searching for catharsis but for different reasons. If either of these teams wins away, it'll be the hardest road win of the season for anybody.
Chicago (1) def. Minnesota (8) in four
Here's the complete list of teams that beat Chicago in regulation this year: the Ducks (twice), the Avalanche, the Oilers, the Kings, the Canucks, and the Blues (in the last game of the season where they started their third-string goalie). They also never lost in an overtime period -- any team that took a point away from them did so in the shootout. You wanna tell me the Wild stand any chance against this juggernaut?
Detroit (7) def. Anaheim (2) in six
Speaking of the Ducks, they must be shaking their heads. It had to be the Red Wings again, didn't it. These assholes just will Not. Go. Away. 22 years in a row. Not to mention last time these guys met there was one of the biggest idiot ref moments ever. I don't think it's gonna be as big a war as the Boston-Toronto series, but still: buckle up.
San Jose (6) def. Vancouver (3) in six
And then there's these guys. No matter who wins this series, they won't get the credit: it'll be because the losers had too many distractions, couldn't find their scoring touch, goaltending couldn't hack it, etc., etc. The losers will be The Biggest Chokers even if it goes all the way to seven, and then the winners will be The Second Biggest Chokers after they lose in the second round to...
Los Angeles (5) def. St. Louis (4) in five
True story: I couldn't think of a single Blues player outside of Brian Elliott. Word on the street is Ken Hitchcock has worn out his welcome yet again, so management should have every excuse to fire him after they get knocked out.
Ottawa (7) def. Pittsburgh (1) in six
I think Pittsburgh only gets away with as much running-around as they do because they never have to play the same team more than twice in a row, at most. Let's see you escape justice when you're playing us every other night for a week, jackasses!
Washington (3) def. Boston (4) in seven
Not entirely unlikely -- the Caps took two of three from the Bruins during the season, and Boston will undoubtedly be hurting from a tough series with the Leafs, while the Caps are used to this whole seven-game thing, yknow? Go the distance and all that.
Detroit (7) def. Chicago (1) in five
It's the dreaded call-up pick! This is why I never put money on the playoffs. Okay, let's try to rationalize this. Jimmy Howard might shift into sixth gear and block everything. Pavel Datsyuk could secretly be Robocop. Maybe Patrick Kane tries to take a cab to the Joe Louis and gets arrested. Johnathan Toews isn't even that good! He has more assists than goals. What a loser, ha ha ha. *discreetly slides the scoring tables away before anyone can get a better look at them*
Los Angeles (5) def. San Jose (6) in four
Another call-up pick. Joe Thornton is plus-6 this season, which is as good as the Sharks' top six defensemen combined, so that Selke nomination could still be on the table. Their top scorers are all centers, too. Is that weird? That seems really weird.
Ottawa (7) def. Washington (3) in six
Call-up pick. I can see it happening: Craig Anderson just has to outplay Braden Holtby. Woah, I think that's one of the most mismatched sentences ever written. That's right up there with "Zack Greinke just has to outpitch Ricky Romero." "Lionel Messi just has to outshoot David Beckham." These would be great on Twitter. #sportsmismatchsentences
Los Angeles (5) def. Detroit (7) in five
#calluppick! Cal Luppick would be a great name for... well, anybody really. He could be a professional pottery craftsman and he'd still have the best name out there. Cal Luppick, the world's finest horse polo player. Cal Luppick just has to outride Facundo Pieres.
Stanley Cup Final
Ottawa (7) def. Los Angeles (5) in four
Usually my call-up picks don't work this well. But usually, the teams I've picked to meet in later rounds are clearly outclassed by their opening opponents, thus destroying my entire roadmap before the first puck even drops. Fortunately, this year is extra-special, because LOCKOUT SHORTENED SEASON ZERO LOGIC ANYONE CAN WIN HOME ICE IS MEANINGLESS. So hey, massive homerism ahoy! I'll make up for it next year by having us lose in the first round to Buffalo.