And then there were three. Yes, we finally had another elimination in our Hockey Survivor Pool last week as Eugenius was sent packing after the Phoenix Coyotes squeaked out a 3-2 victory over his Nashville Predators. Selections get even more dicey this week, so I have scoured over the streaking trends in the NHL during the past month to help shed some light on the “less obvious” favorable matchups this weekend.
Boston Bruins at Edmonton Oilers (Sunday, 8:00 Eastern)
The Bruins-Oilers matchup will mark the first meeting between top two 2010 draft picks Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. While Hall has had the better rookie season, it’s Seguin who will likely get the first taste of playoff hockey at the NHL level, as his Bruins have been the far superior team. With a measly 46 points, Hall’s Oilers are the NHL’s basement dwellers and appear to be just a few months away from yet another lottery pick. While the Oilers could be a perennial contender a few years from now, they are presently no more than a team to beat up on.
Prediction: Bruins win 4-1
Detroit Red Wings at Buffalo Sabres (Saturday, 7:00)
Winners of five of their past six, the Detroit Red Wings appear poised to capture their ninth Central Division title in 10 seasons. Following some abysmal play around the midway point of the season, Red Wings’ goaltender Jimmy Howard has rediscovered his game. Detroit’s offense has also received a substantial boost since Pavel Datsyuk returned from a broken hand eight games ago.
The mediocre Buffalo Sabres have lost three of their last four, and have struggled to find consistency all season long. Superstar netminder Ryan Miller has allowed 13 goals in his past four starts en route to an 0-3-1 record.
Prediction: Red Wings win 4-2
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Saturday, 7:00 Eastern)
Under normal circumstances, there is no way I would take the Toronto Maple Leafs over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately for the Penguins, these are anything but normal circumstances. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and several other regulars on the shelf with injuries, the Penguins are mired in a slump, having won just twice in their past nine.
Conversely, the Maple Leafs are red hot with a 7-2-2 record in February. Rookie goaltender James “Optimus Reim” Reimer has been stifling between the pipes, and is making it so that the Leafs don’t have to do much scoring to win games. This is great news for the Leafs, because they’re zero for 10 on the powerplay since Tomas Kaberle’s departure.
Prediction: Maple Leafs win 3-1