QOTW answers: Which team will pull off the first-round upset?

April, 8, 2009

We asked our ESPN.com puckheads for the magic pick -- the first-round upset team of their choice. Let's take a look:

steeldog89: I love the Blue Jackets. Even thought they didnt win their past two games they played great. If you look at the nashville game from saturday night the predators were fighting for their lives and were down by 2 and came back and took the lead. The jackets responded by tying it back up to gain a point. if you look at the chicago game last night the jackets and the blackhawks showed up to play. The jackets once again got a point. I would love to see the a jackets/blackhawks final that would be a great series.

rjs162: For the west, I think the Blue Jackets could pull of an upset with the way Mason has played this season. He is going to be the key player for them. Wonder if Umberger can get on a roll like he did in Philly last season.

My take: I know from talking to a few coaches and GMs around the NHL, the Jackets are a team they point to as dangerous just for that reason: Mason. The Jackets, under coach Ken Hitchcock, also play a frustrating style, one that might force a more talented squad into uncharacteristic mistakes. If it's Calgary, especially, I can see an upset.

element1286: The problem I have with Columbus is experience. Their best players (Mason and Nash) have zero. And overall, they don't have many guys who have extensive playoff experience. In general I like to stay away from teams in which their best players have no playoff experience. This goes for Chicago as well.

My take: OK, forget what I said above! No, seriously, there is some validity in this post. Sometimes, the first time to the dance is a little overwhelming.

mlarosa13: If The B's finally win a first round series, does that qualify as an upset?

My take: Ouch! If it makes you feel better, I do believe the Bruins have a few rounds in them this year.

SirDusty12: If St. Louis can find a way to make the playoffs they can be a tough team to play. Anytime a team has nothing to lose, and the Blues have absolutely nothing to lose, they can be tough to play. (Can this be payback on the Sharks for the 8vs1 seed. The Sharks did it to the Blues why not the other way around).

wgrapper: As strange as it sounds, if the Blues make the playoffs they instantly become an odds-on favorite to knock off a top seed. They have as many points as the Red Wings since Jan. 3.

Kris_Rasley: Taking a look at the second half of the season, I think the St. Louis Blues will have a great shot at knocking off a higher seed. The chances will obviously be higher if they avoid the 7 slot and have to play the Red Wings. They seem to have the Blues number but the Note have played the San Jose Sharks really well this year.

My take: Kris Rasley, I feel just like you. On the one hand, the Blues' amazing second half suggests a possible playoff round victory, if not two. But the Wings, as you point out, have dominated the Blues. Still, the way St. Louis has played since mid-January, do or die every night, even Detroit could be vulnerable. The Blues' playoffs started three months ago. Meanwhile, many of you seem to want to play the Sharks because they're portrayed as a playoff underachiever. No doubt stealing Game 1 in San Jose would have a few Sharks players squeezing their sticks, among other things. But I just think this is the year the Sharks learn from playoffs past and pull it together. We'll see if I'm right.

macdeise33: The Penguins have been dominant over the past two months with never having a combined record below .500 in any sequence of ten games. They have beaten some of the best teams in the league and they are poised to go on a run in the playoffs. Even with a sixth seed, NJ would likely fall to the Pens.

My take: MacD, I agree with you. Three weeks ago, I thought the Devils would never lose again. But they've showed their vulnerability. The Pens are peaking at the right time, buoyed by some terrific trade-deadline pickups and the experience from their Cup finals run last season. It would probably be a six- or seven-gamer, but Pittsburgh would give New Jersey all it could handle, if they do indeed end up playing each other.

AHENRY2513: Ducks pull the upset! They have been unbelievable as of late, and are the hottest team in the league heading into the regular season's final week. Don't forget they won the Cup 2 years ago and still have the veteran leadership of Pronger, Niedermayer and co., not to mention the young talents of the top 3 point leaders on the team in Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan. While the goaltending may not be completely set, either Hiller or Giguere have the ability to win/lose the game for them. (Hopefully for them, win.) Watch our for these guys in the playoffs!

Heavyweights09: Ducks. They've been a disappointment all year until recently putting it together, so the seven seed is misleading. They probably have the third best talent in the conference and are tougher than Detroit. I wouldn't say that they were done after a round one upset either.

scmurrieta: It's gotta be the Anaheim Ducks! 9-3 over their last 12 and should've won back-to-back against San Jose but the zebra's had a rough night. They're finally starting to jell and are looking fired up for the first time in months. They're hungry, they're hot and nobody wants to play them in the first round.

My take: Again, another hot Western low seed that no one wants to face. Anyone see a pattern here? The beauty with the Ducks is they have been to the party, they know what it takes. Just watch Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer go to another level next week. The one interesting caveat in all this is that it's goalie Jonas Hiller who's likely to start the playoffs, not the veteran and Cup winner, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. We'll see if Hiller is ready for this. Sharks-Ducks would give us our first all-California NHL playoff series. Let's hope it happens!

mikec1389: the Rangers will be makin an upset of the bruins, naturally choke artists in the post season and once they start chasing avery around MSG it will be easy to bury the puck and Lundquist is gonna be ready.

My take: For the Rangers to have any possible chance against the Bruins, they need to find ways to score. New York is 29th in the NHL in offense, a seemingly shocking statistic for a team that might enter the playoffs. Both Boston and New York are stingy defensively, but there's a drastic gap in offensive production. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but the Rangers' offense would need a sudden turnaround after 80 games of very little production.

go_pens_go: the caps have given up more goals than any other team in the eastern conference that will make the playoffs...and in the playoffs, where defense and goaltending wins championships, they look to be in the most trouble. i think detroit is the same boat in the west. both are #2 seeds with high expectations that rely on scoring goals to win. the difference is, detroit scores more goals and has more experienced players and a better team concept that might actually win them a series. if you're looking for a high-seeded team that's going down in the first round...look no further than the caps.

My take: The Capitals can buckle down when they need to in terms of team defense, but one thing they can't do is control which Jose Theodore shows up. The goalie was sensational in 2002 and 2004 first-round upsets of Boston while still with the Canadiens and was pretty good last spring in a first-round win over Minnesota. So he's had some measure of success in the playoffs. But the Caps are eyeing a deeper run, and that's unknown territory for Theodore. The Caps may not have enough defensive acumen to win the Cup, but I think they can survive a first-round upset.

TheDain80: It's been pretty popular to dump on the Canadiens this year, especially here in Montreal. Gauging the responses so far, it seems people elsewhere are just as quick as Montrealers to hop back on the bandwagon. Can't blame them for it though, because the Habs look dangerous. As slow as Laraque looks, paired with better skaters like Metropolit and Stewart, they've been cycling effectively and laying bodies out. I can already picture Laraque with Thornton and Lucic in a double-headlock! That being said, I think the Habs have a better chance against Washington or, dare I say it, New Jersey in the first round. Ovechkin has yet to have a great game at the Bell Centre (though Semin has been a killer) and Montreal will be better off facing a skating team first rather than a bruising one.

My take: This was clearly written before reports surfaced that defensemen Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider would both be out long term. The Habs can't win without Markov, in particular, their very best player on the roster. They are 0-2 since he got hurt Saturday night and haven't scored on the power play.

Ih8Idiots: The parity of the Eastern Conference is often cited but I actually see most of the potential FIRST round upsets coming out of the West. Carolina is likely to play Philadelphia and could very well win that series but as a 4/5 match up I can hardly call that an upset. The Canadiens, Rangers and Panthers simply have too many flaws to pull an upset against a division leader. Tough to admit as a Caps fan but the Penguins (or Canes) do have the potential to upset either the Caps or Devils.

My take: This is an interesting observation because I think our friend is right -- the Habs, Rangers and Panthers probably aren't good enough to beat either Boston or Washington/New Jersey. But in the West, as we've underlined above, St. Louis, Anaheim and Columbus, in particular, are scaring people with their second-half play. But let's be clear -- the West is best. It just so happens a bunch of great teams are going to qualify in the West, while only a couple of teams I would consider on the same level will make it in the East. That's also the opinion of many people around the NHL. Now that I've said that, watch the Rangers win the Cup.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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