2014 NHL Playoff Predictions

It’s a tradition. Even thought I don’t talk hockey that much these days, I still want to put my playoff predictions out there for all to see and laugh at. Annual warning: if you use these predictions to do any betting, you are an idiot. Note that I’m not. My track record is probably better than random chance, but not that much better (but it is well beyond the Panther’s power play results this season….)

A quick comment on the new playoff seeding the NHL is using this year: I like it. There’s a strong emphasis on in-division matchups which I really like.  To the NHL, I have to say ‘Well done’.

This year I’m really torn between what my head says and what my heart says. Because of this, in some cases I’m going to give both a “head” (what the objective me thinks) and a “heart” (what my gut and personal preferences are) say.

Eastern Conference

Detroit (WC 2) vs Boston (Atlantic 1): Give it to Detroit; they found a way to make the playoffs; earned their way in, but barely. I hate betting against them because they find ways to make it happen. But against Boston? Boston’s a powerhouse, and I really love how they play. I do think Detroit will go down fighting, and this is a series I plan on watching as much of as I can — but Boston will take this in 5.

Tampa Bay (Atlantic 3) vs Montreal (Atlantic 2):  I’ve been really impressed with the Lightning this year. I’d make them my favorite if it weren’t for Bishop’s injury, and we don’t know if he’ll be back for the playoffs or how healthy he’ll be. If Bishop is out to start the series or not 100%, then Montreal will take this in 5 or 6. If Bishop is okay, then I’ll pick Tampa in 5. Given I can’t have it both ways when I publish this, I’ll take Montreal in 6.

Columbus (WC 1) vs Pittsburgh (Metropolitan 1): It’s been a thrill watching Columbus this year, seeing this team pull itself together and improve. It’s playing a lot of good hockey and a fun team to watch. That said, they’re up against the Penguins. I don’t expect this to be a “happy to be in the playoffs” scenario for the Blue Jackets but I don’t see how they can beat the Pens. I just expect them to go down fighting and make it interesting, so I’ll pick Pittsburgh in 6.

Philadelphia (Metropolitan 3) vs NY Rangers (Metropolitan 2): this is the series that wins the “most likely to include mayhem” award. I expect it to be hard fought and physical and a lot of fun to watch. I don’t see any way this Flyers team can win out against this Rangers team (and especially Lundqvist) in a series. I’ll take the Rangers in 5.

East in Summary: Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh, NY Rangers

My choice coming out of the east: Boston Bruins.

Western Conference

Minnesota (WC 1) vs Colorado (Central 1): The Wild is an improving team but not this year. They got into the playoffs, but the Avs should take this one fairly easily. Colorado in 5. (and a side note: I agree with those choosing Patrick Roy for the Adams, he’s really been able to get the most of his teams and get them playing together well and consistently).

Chicago (Central 3) vs St. Louis Blues (Central 2):  The Blues have been a great team this year; a lot of credit has to go to John Davidson for putting the pieces together, but they really made it happen this year. That said, they exited the season with a sputter. Chicago on the other hand has been inconsistent at times and has some key injury questions. Even if the Hawks were fully healthy I’m not sure they’d beat the Blues, but if the Blues can get back to their game for the playoffs, you have to think the West is theirs to lose. I’ll take the Blues in 6.

Dallas (WC 2) vs Anaheim (Pacific 1): Dallas makes it back to the playoffs, and congrats to them. They’ve made a lot of progress. That said, Anaheim is a significantly better team and playing really good hockey, so the Ducks in 5.

Los Angeles (Pacific 3) vs. San Jose (Pacific 2): This is the series that put the Sharks out of the playoffs last year in game seven, where the big difference was home team advantage — the home team won every game. This year the Sharks have home advantage. both teams are playing well. Both teams are powerhouses. And this series ought to be a battlefield. Even if I didn’t live local to San Jose, this would be the series I tell everyone to watch. That said, I’m torn. I’ve watched almost every Sharks game this year, so I know the team very well and I like what I see. My heart says this team is the best of some really good Sharks teams over the last few years (and the veterans are running out of time and know it). My head says that the Kings are a really kick butt take no prisoners team that knows how to win and will do what it takes. This series is a tough call. My heart says San jose in 6. My head says Los Angeles in 7. I have to pick one, so I’ll take the Kings in 7, primarily because Niemi has been just inconsistent enough that I don’t know whether the ‘real’ one will show up for the playoffs. The other big wildcard here: Raffi Torres coming back, and how effective he’ll be. If he’s the real Raffi Torres and playing 15 minutes a night of chaos and havoc, that could well swing the series back to the Sharks. And having said all of that, even if Niemi falters, I have a lot of respect for the ability of Staylock to take up the cause — but he’s unproven in the playoffs. No matter what, this series is going to be a major hunk of fun. But: Kings in 6.

West in summary: Colorado, St. Louis, Anaheim, Los Angeles.

Coming out of the west: My heart says St. Louis, my head says Los Angeles. Again, I’m going with the Kings.

So my prediction for the Stanley Cup final: Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings, and boy, wouldn’t that be fun.

Dark horses would be the Blues, the Sharks, the Penguins and the Rangers. Any of those four could proce me wrong, I think. And any series with those teams in it will be worth watching.

Onward to the playoffs!

 

 

Posted in Sports - Hockey

Back from Yosemite

Back from a couple of quickly planned days in Yosemite. With the early closing of Badger Pass, I noticed that rooms were available from spring skiiers who canceled and so I scheduled myself in for two nights at the Lodge at the Falls.

The Lodge has just finished a $10m renovation and it was money well spent. My room was quite pleasant. I’ve commented in the past that staying at the Lodge sometimes felt like ending up in a 70′s Travelodge, but while the buildings are the same, the interiors have been significantly upgraded. Not spa-like or resort-type accommodations, but comfortable and very much in tune with the location; the facility knows who gets top billing here and didn’t try to do too much.  They’ve put a lot of energy into sustainability which I appreciate. Overall, I have to give the Lodge update top marks.

I do enjoy the restaurant at the Lodge; had an extremely nice piece of Salmon one night, a very nice steak the second. The wine list is solid but not adventurous but fits the food well. And I want to call out a thanks for their petite dessert options, which are smaller servings that let you finish the meal without a huge sugar overload. I hope more restaurants make the move away from 800 calorie sugar bombs…

Breakfast the first day was at the lodge cafeteria, which was, well, about what it’s always been. I’m sure their lack of a Michelin star is an oversight. No, seriously, the food there makes me wish there was a McDonald’s handy. Oh well.

The one thing to remember is that there’s basically no off season in Yosemite any more, and it’s expensive. Staying inside the park saves me a hunk of driving, but you’re paying more for the food and the room. For this trip, definitely worth it. There’s something about standing outside your room and watching yosemite falls do its thing…

I missed the winter storms by a few days; when I got there is was nice and sunny and warm, everything had melted. Yosemite Falls had picked up from a week prior but was starting to fade again; it’s going to be a weak waterfall spring. The light was, well, uninspiring. Which is to say the visit was like spending time with your girlfriend when she’s without makeup and dressed to help clean out the garage; not the greatest time for astounding photography but still quite a lot of fun to spend time with. I early on decided to just unplug and relax, so I came home with maybe half a dozen images, which may or may not be worth keeping. Instead I spent the time wandering the park and exploring (um, “scouting”), relaxing and just generally doing very little but enjoying the views.

Which was awesome to do. I think sometimes those of us who are part-time photographers forget that sometimes you need to just pull the plug and take a break. I know I put pressure on myself to come back with something useful and many times that means I come back as tired and stressed as when I left on the trip. It was pretty clear at the start of the trip I was unlikely to create something that improved my portfolio, so rather than fight that, I put the cameras down and just enjoyed being there.

Sitting needs to move higher on many of our todo lists. just thinking out loud.

Now that I’m back, a few days of puttering and projects and wandering around the area. Maybe some time out with the cameras, maybe not. It’s nice to be off the clock a bit….

 

 

 

Posted in About Chuq

Diving into Black and White

Back in high school when I was the sports editor and shooting primarily sports and yearbook and doing a chunk of the darkroom for the paper black and white was all I did, and Tri-X was my standard film. Unlike a lot of photographers who seem to miss film and spending hours in a dark, smelly, chemical-filled darkroom turning out one or two prints, I do not miss my film days whatsoever. I’m guessing most of the people who are remembering the good old days of film sent their film out to labs to be developed and never lived in a production lab for hours at a time across days in a row…  but I digress.

Despite not missing my days developing and printing black and white film fondly, I have felt for a while that I needed to get serious about black and white conversions as a way to continue to push my photography forward. This has been one of my “I know I have to put some time and effort into this — someday” projects has been to dig in and study monochrome conversions of digital images.

So this weekend I sat myself down at the monitor and started grabbing images out of my collection more or less at random and started doing conversions so I could see what came out. I do not remotely pretend to be an expert at this; I do not pretend to even be good at it. That’s the point, actually: I have to invest some hours in the process to learn how to do this well and do it consistently, and this is the starting line. I’m going to try to do a number of images every couple of weeks, and make black and white conversion of at least some images of new shoots a regular part of the project plan.

Here are the first images to come out of the chute. I’m curious what you think of them. Some of them I like, some of them I honestly don’t know what I think about them yet.

Bridalveil Falls  and Cathedral Rocks after a winter storm

Bridalveil falls, Yosemite. This one I knew I wanted a black and white version of, and I really like it. Like it enough I’m probably going to print this to paper and see how it turns out.

Snowy Egret, Palo Alto Baylands

This is my second favorite of the bunch. Again, I took a relatively “easy” subject, white birds, but there are some subtle tonalities that it took me a while to get the way I liked, especially around the beak and lores.  

Cranes and shorebirds flushed by Peregrine Falcon, Merced National Wildlife Refuge

A pure experiment (the color version is here). I felt it really needed a heavy tint to it to make the white flock of birds pop. I’m not at all sure this is good, but it sure is striking, and I think this would make a really interesting background for a cover of a book or something similar. I’m just not sure it’s good as a photo. It’s very definitely not like my normal work, which makes it really interesting to me.

Morro Bay Harbor Panorama

Here’s another one I really like (the color version is here) – I ramped up contrast to build drama, and this is all about pushing the eye so it sees Morro Rock and trying to make the rock a focal point of an image that it’s not really prominent in. The color version of this left me wishing I’d shot it with a polarizer; this version takes advantage of the fact that I didn’t to really bring the slough waters to prominence.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Not a huge shift in this image, since the scene had very muted colors in the original (you can see it here). Probably my least favorite of the group, but I felt it was a stretch given my current skills.

Sandhill Cranes 

And probably the least interesting of the bunch. I think the conversion is successful, but I think moving this image to monochrome took a lot of the life out of it. In the original (here it is) there’s some nice subtle coloring that gets lost in the conversion. I didn’t think this would make a great monochrome image, but that’s one reason why I decided to try it. I think  I was right.

One thing that might be obvious to a careful viewer is that all of the images are tinted at least slightly. That was true of a lot of my darkroom personal work back in the day, where I tended to use papers that brought in some tonal shift off pure monochrome. I find most “pure” monochrome conversions feel sterile to me and I much prefer to give them at least a hint of a tone. Honestly, I think that ties back to both my work printing for the school newspaper and yearbook and my dad’s work with the newspaper where so much of it ended up being the fake handshake artificial smile shaking hands talking heads thing that was so common in the local newspapers back when they actually existed. I’ll have to push myself to avoid the tints at some point, but right now, I much prefer the look with at least some of it in the image, and when I do use it, you’ll see I’m using coffee or sepias most o the time. I’m probably creating a bad habit i’ll have to break at some point, but what the heck. There are worse bad habits in the world…

 

Posted in Photography