Coming off a horrendous season by my New York Islanders, I wasn’t exactly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs prediction mood. But, I saw a tweet for the NHL’s online contest. So I’m in. Feel free to critique or sling fire at these predictions. My picks are up in the header.
With the realignment this year, the playoff system is a little different. There are 4 quadrants set up, just like the NCAA tournament. Each quadrant has a division winner, and three other non division winners.
Colorado Avalanche vs Minnesota Wild
The Avs absolutely owned the Wild this season. Colorado finished 4-0-1 against Minnesota during the regular season, although the two teams have not played since January 30th. The last time the two teams faced off, the Avs also had leading scorer Matt Duchene. Duchene will miss this series with a knee injury that occurred last month. He he had 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) in 71 games.
The Wild also didn’t have goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who didn’t join the Wild until the first week of March. He played a huge role in helping Minnesota end its postseason drought. In 11 games, Bryzgalov went 7-0-3 with a 1.78 goals-against average and three shutouts.
I’ll probably say this about most of the Western Conference matchups, it’s going to come down to goaltending. Semyon Varlamov has stayed healthy for the Avs this season and has appeared to put his off the ice issues behind him. He SHOULD out play the cosmonaut, Ilya Bryzgalov. The only way I see the Wild winning this series is if they consistently get behind the mediocre defense of the Avs and rattle Varlamov. One other note, the Wild are 4-16 in their last 20 playoff games. YIKES. Avalanche in 6.
St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks
The Blues finished the regular season by going 3-7 in their final 10 games. When you don’t play well down the stretch, you deserve your fate. The Blues have made their bed, and will be rewarded by taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues and Blackhawks finished the regular season with 111 and 107 points respectively, but it hardly seems fair that one of these teams will be one and done.
According to NHL.com, these teams have met 10 times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but not since 2002. The Blackhawks have won seven times, though the Blues have won the two most recent series. St. Louis won the first three times the teams played in 2013-14; two were in shootouts. Chicago won the final two, including a 4-2 victory April 6.
Something has got to give in this series. The Blackhawks were the top scoring team in the NHL this season, and the Blues allowed the 3rd least amount of pucks to find the back of their net. Chicago’s top 6 forwards are scoring machines, it will be interesting to see if the Blues defense can slow them down. I honestly believe that the Blues defense against the Blackhawks forwards, is the matchup that will determine who wins this series. The Blackhawks have just too much firepower and will eventually break through. Blackhawks in 6.
Anaheim Ducks vs Dallas Stars
The Anaheim Duck got off to an incredible 36-8-5 start this season, but played pretty mediocre hockey the rest of the way. They were still able to grab to top overall spot in the Western Conference, but needed to turn it on at the end to do so. The Ducks will take on the Dallas Starts who are in the playoffs for the first time in six years. During the season Dallas won two of the three games they played. There were 20 goals in the three games, and each side had a 6-3 victory.
Both teams have a big time duo on their top line. For the Stars, Tyler Seguin (84),who was acquired in an off season trade, and Jamie Benn (79), have put up career highs in points in their first year together. MVP Candidate Ryan Getzlaf (87) and former MVP Corey Perry (82) are playing incredible hockey for the Ducks and will provide much of the scoring punch.
In order for the Duck to win this series, they have to forget about last year’s dismal performance against the Red Wings. They are the better team and need to show it. They have too much firepower to have to rely on Jonas Hiller or the suspected game 1 starter, rookie Frederik Andersen. For the Stars to win this series, they need to use their speed and youth to be relentless on the puck. The Ducks Olympic defenseman Cam Fowler, banged up his knee after the Olympics and needs to be tested. If the Stars can get in the zone and battle the D, they can win this series. But when it’s all said and done, I’m going to go with the deeper and more talented team. Ducks in 5.
San Jose Sharks vs Los Angeles Kings
The Sharks and Kings are familiar playoff foes. Last year they played an awesome seven game series in the conference semi-finals that took everything out of the Kings. After going seven with the Sharks, they were easily taken out in five games by the Blackhawks. I seriously doubt either team can make any sort of run if this series plays out like last year.
The Sharks have a serious group of scoring forwards that can really work the offensive zone. While both the Sharks and the Kings love to play puck possession, it’s the Sharks who actually put that puck in the net. The way the Kings play, it’s almost like they are playing keep away, instead of trying to score.
The series is going to be an all out war. Bodies will be flying EVERYWHERE. The team that can put the puck past the goalie will win this series. While Jonathan Quick is a top 5 goalie in the league, the Kings last of scoring concerns me. I like the presence of Doughty on the back line for the Kings and he will have to score a power play goal or two in this series. By shear flip of a coin, I’m going with the Kings in 6.
Welcome to the Eastern Conference Detroit Redwings. Your reward for making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for twenty three straight seasons is a date with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are the odds on favorite to make it to the finals out of the east this year. The Bruins are built for a playoff run better than any team in the game.
The Red Wings have been so beaten up this year, that it’s tough to imagine them being able to knock of the top seed in the East. Wings coach Mike Babcock has worked some serious magic with minor league call ups and rookies. I give him credit, but duct tape and superglue doesn’t hold against a team that is built with iron and stone.
For some crazy reason, I see this going seven games. Boston just has the knack of doing this to themselves, but ultimately prevailing. Tuuka Rask will be this year’s Conn Smythe winner as the Bruins win the cup and he will be the difference in this series. Boston in 7.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens
The Lightning and Canadiens possess two of the fastest teams in the NHL. In the eastern conference, teams aren’t exactly known for their run and gun style. But these two teams do that as well as anyone. The Lightning’s goal scoring dynamo Steven Stamkos is back from that horrific leg injury and has set up his lawn chair in the left face off dot looking for a one timer. In his absence, rookies Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson played crucial minutes including the penalty kill, en route to being probable Calder Trophy candidates. The trade of Stamkos’ former linemate Marty St. Louis, brought in the gritty and gutty Ryan Callahan to add experience to this team.
At the trade deadline, the Habs bent the New York Islanders over and stole top ten scorer Thomas Vanek. In an excerpt from nhl.com, “Vanek slid to the right wing of David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty to form what quickly became one of the hottest offensive lines in the NHL. In 14 full games together, the line combined for 18 goals and 23 assists, giving the Canadiens a truly elite top line for the first time in years.”
Back on the blue lines, Tampa and Montreal couldn’t be more different. The Bolts feature the hulking 6-6 Victor Hedman, who could be up for his first Norris Trophy nomination, and the Habs who feature Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban, two of the highest scoring blue liners in the game.
Where this series is going to be won is between the pipes. The Lightning literally found lighting in a bottle when they acquired Ben Bishop in the off season, but he has been ruled out for game 1, which means rookie Anders Lindback will be the net. 180 feet away will be Carey Price who has been one of the league’s best. His .927 save percentage was a career high to go along with his six shutouts. Price will be the difference in this series as it will be the Canadiens in 6.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets
Not much time will be spent here dissecting this matchup. The Penguins are the number two seed in the east and have bludgeoned the Blue Jackets in all five regular season meetings to the tune of 16-7. In those five meetings, Pittsburgh was 5 for 19 on the power play and the Blue Jackets were only 1 for 14. You just can’t give the Pens those types of opportunities.
You know who is on the Penguins. Crosby, Malkin, Letang (who just returned from a stroke. Yes, A STROKE), Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Jussi Jokinen. There isn’t enough room here to list the entire roster. For the Jackets to be in this series, they are going to need reigning Vezina Trophy Winner Sergi Bobrovsky to be the difference maker. Although the Blue Jackets put up a franchise record 226 goals this season, with Seven players scoring at least 16, “Bob” will have to have the series of his life to keep the Jackets in this one.
The Blue Jackets may steal a game a home, but this one has Penguins in 5 written all over it.
New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers
This is going to be a fantastic opening round series. Both teams do a lot of things well, especially against each other at home. The Flyers have won three in a row at home against the Rangers, and the Rangers have won eight in a row at home against the Flyers.
When the puck drops to start this series, it wouldn’t shock me if there is a line brawl. These two teams hate each other. This series is going to be an old school 1970’s style rock em’ sock em’ type of matchup. There will be games that are 1-0, but then look out for a 6-5 type of game. Bodies will be flying and so will pucks. The Rangers are known to be shot blocking masters in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Known to give up a soft goal at crucial times, the Rangers D-men and centers will have to plug the middle of the ice and get into shooting lanes to keep the likes of Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek.
Although game 7 is played at MSG, I’m going to go with the Flyers in 7. Even with the addition of Marty St. Louis, the Rangers just don’t score enough. It’s been a theme for nearly 10 years. Until GM Glen Sather gets it though his thick skull that aging veterans that used to be scorers, aren’t the answer, the Rangers are not going to win a cup. They are wasting “King” Henrik’s prime.