SIDEBAR: With the puck set to drop on the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs tonight, Electronic Arts has released its own pick for the eventual champions. But unlike some more fair-weather fans who came around to the Montreal Canadiens or the Washington Capitals after overachieving regular seasons, EA is sticking by its preseason pick, the San Jose Sharks.
According to a simulation courtesy of NHL 08, the San Jose Sharks will beat the Montreal Canadiens in a seven-game series to end an NHL postseason marked by hard-fought series, but few significant upsets. Of the 15 postseason series, only one was a sweep (Colorado blanks Minnesota in their opening round matchup), and the field of 16 boiled down to the top two seeds in the East and the West surviving to face-off in the conference finals.
Wunderkind Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins made it to the Eastern Conference finals before being bested by the Canadiens and rookie goalie Carey Price. In the West, San Jose made it to the finals by besting the Detroit Red Wings in six games, and sealed the Cup win in its series against Montreal thanks to the work of projected playoff MVP Joe Thornton.
After finishing the regular season on an 18-2-2 tear, San Jose is red hot and a popular pick for the eventual Cup winner. But not all of EA's preseason picks are looking so rosy. The publisher's initial NHL 08 simulated season saw Washington dead last in the 30-team league at season's end, instead of third seed in the Eastern Conference with a full head of steam heading into the playoffs thanks to hard-nosed scoring sensation Alexander Ovechkin. The game also sold the Dallas Stars short, expecting them to be tied for last in the West, instead of playoff-bound as the fifth seed in the conference.
On the flip side, the NHL 08 predictions had the Tampa Bay Lightning racking up a tremendous 107 points in the regular season, fourth most in the league. In reality the 'Bolts managed a mere 71 points, tied for dead last with the Los Angeles Kings. All told, the game's preseason simulation accurately predicted 10 of the eventual 16 playoff teams.