The Stanley Cup playoffs are unlike anything in sports. The speed and the passion on the ice thrills fans for weeks as each team vies for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Most sports say there is great parity in their league, but the NHL proves it. The underdog in each round can topple any favorite and win the whole thing. Just look at the Kings from a few years ago, who scrapped into the playoffs as the 8 seed on the final day and they went on to dominate the playoffs en route to their first Stanley Cup victory. This year, there are plenty of underdogs looking to steal the show from the favorites.
So, who is it going to be? Well, let’s take a look!
Canadiens vs. Senators
Carey Price is undeniably the Vezina winner and a strong Hart candidate. He is the what makes the Habs a dangerous playoff team, as he provides a calmness in net. The Senators are a very young team with an incredibly hot goalie in Andrew Hammond, who is 20-1-2 this season. On paper, the Canadiens have more talent and experience, but they also have the expectations that the Senators do not. The Habs went to the Eastern Conference finals last season and their fans and the Montreal media will be expecting another deep run. So perhaps the team who is just happy to be here and not know what they are doing or care is exactly what the Habs do not need to see. And the uncertainty of the return of Max Pacioretty is also concerning, as the Senators put the puck in the net at a much higher rate than the Canadiens, who score the least of any team in the playoffs to begin with. This series will be tight and aggressive. I think experience will win out.
Canadiens in 7
Lightning vs. Red Wings
The Red Wings slogged to the finish line and their inclusion into the playoffs should come with a sigh of relief. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still World Class players, but for them to stand a chance against the Lightning, who were the highest scoring team in the regular season, they are going to need help from players like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. However, I still don’t see that being enough, as the struggler group of goalies on the Wings’ roster does not seem up to par with the ability of Ben Bishop, who I am sure is excited to get this chance, as he was injured this time last year. The Wings will fight, but I do not think it will be enough.
Lightning in 6
Rangers vs. Penguins
In a bit of role reversal, the Rangers have all the expectations heading into the playoffs that the Penguins usually do, which will be interesting to see play out. The Rangers went 3-0-1 against the Penguins this season and seem to have their number. They went down 3-1 in the Eastern Semi-finals last year, but rallied back to win the series behind some incredible goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. That run ended in tough fashion for the Blueshirts, but have rebounded this season, winning the President’s Trophy comfortably. Here are the Rangers by month since December 8th:
The rest of December: 9-1-0, 34 GF/16 GA
January: 8-4-0, 32 GF/23 GA
February: 10-2-2, 53 GF/40 GA
March: 10-4-1, 39 GF/ 27 GA
April: 5-1-0, 21 GF/ 13 GA
Totals: 42-12-3, 179 GF/ 119 GA, +60, 3.14 GPG, 2.08 GAPG
That is an incredible run. They boast a deep team with an elite scorer, the best defense group in the league and arguably the league’s best goalie (I say best. Let Carey Price have a few more elite years to claim the title). Although Crosby and Malkin are the most talented duo in the NHL, the Pens are stricken with injuries and lack the sort of depth to match the Rangers. The Rangers have the speed and depth to cause lots of problems for the Pens. Their only hope is that Fleury continues his stellar season, but we are all aware of his recent postseason struggles, like this and this.
Rangers in 5
Capitals vs. Islanders
The Islanders, like the Red Wings and Penguins, struggled to end the season. They started the season with a bang and took everyone by surprise, but their lack of depth and defense caught up with them and Halak, who was great for the first half of the season, proved why he is a risky player in the second half. However, the Capitals rounded into form as the season progressed under new coach Barry Trotz, who instilled a defensive mentality to a team that has always lacked that aspect. He has even made Ovechkin a better two-way forward, which is dangerous for any team to play the Caps moving forward. And let’s not forget about the play of Braden Holtby, who had a spectacular season finishing second in the league in wins with 41 and started a league high 72 games. The Capitals will prove to be too much for an overachieving Islanders team.
Capitals in 5
Blues vs. Wild
Is there a better story in the NHL than Devan Dubnyk? Okay, well maybe the aforementioned Hammond, but the rise of the Wild and the play of Dubnyk has been something to behold. This team has catapulted up the standings behind the net minder and he has turned this team into a Stanley Cup contender. However, they are running into a great team Blues team, who are in the top 5 in both goals against and goals per game. Vladimir Tarasenko has had a break-out season for the Blues with 37 goals and 36 assists. He can be the difference maker for this team. If the Blues have a weakness, it would be with their goaltending. Brian Elliot is solid, but can he lead this team to a Cup victory? I’m not sure about that, but I believe they will move past the Wild.
Blues in 7
Predators vs. Blackhawks
The Predators stormed out of the gates and held the NHL’s best record for most of the first half of the season. They slipped up a bit in the middle of the season, as they lost star goaltender Pekka Rinne for some time. They are a great 5 on 5 team, but they need the likes of Mike Ribeiro and rookie Filip Forsberg to fix that woeful power play, which ranked 25th in the league in the regular season. The Blackhawks are a perennial Cup favorite every season with the dynamic duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Toews is the game’s best two-way forward and they may get the injured Kane back sooner than imagined (Game 1!?). However, Nashville boasts the league’s second best home record and have home ice in this series. It will be a fun series and most likely a long one, and I feel like an idiot for picking against the Blackhawks, who always seem to be in the thick of it, but I like the make-up of this Preds team.
Predators in 7
Ducks vs. Jets
The Ducks finished with the most points in the Western Conference and handily won their division. They are led by Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who are two formidable offensive players. Surprisingly, they have the 28th ranked power play, worst among playoff teams, and only the 15th ranked penalty kill. Not great. They finished outside the top-ten in goals per game and 20th in goals allowed – only the Islanders surrendered more goals amongst the playoff squads – and were 17th (17th!!) in goal differential. The Kings, who missed the playoffs, actually had a better differential. As you can see, I am building my case for the Jets, who are fast and physical. They may not have the top end talent of the Ducks, but Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler had nice years and Ondrej Pavelec finished the season strong. It won’t be easy, but I think the Jets have what it takes to win this series.
Jets in 7
Canucks vs. Flames
When Flames captain Mark Giordano went down at the end of February, that was supposed to be the end of the their chances of making the playoffs. Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, and likely Calder winner Johnny Gaudreau had other ideas. The Flames defied critics and found themselves in the postseason, beating out the defending champion Kings for the final playoff spot. They are up against the Canucks, a team synonymous with the Sedin twins for years and they have not disappointed, as usual. And when goalie Ryan Miller went down with an injury, Eddie Lack stepped in and secured a playoff spot for this team and Lack is actually getting the call in game one. Go figure. These are two evenly matched teams, but I like the momentum the Flames are carrying into the playoffs.
Flames in 6
Now, I will quickly give you my predictions on the rest of the playoffs, with brief commentary.
Canadiens vs. Lightning
The Lightning went 5-0-0 against the Habs in the regular season, who swept the Lightning in the first round last year without starting goalie Ben Bishop. Bishop will be the difference.
Lightning in 7
Rangers vs. Capitals
The Capitals and Rangers have had some tough playoff series over the years. The Rangers play Ovechkin better than any team in the league.
Rangers in 6
Blues vs. Predators
The Blues have the most complete team in the West, but their lack of a number one goalie will bite them in this series as Pekka Rinne will steal the show.
Predators in 7
Jets vs. Flames
An all Canadian matchup! These are two great skating teams. The Jets and their physicality will get them through to the Western Conference finals. Check back with me about this one if Mark Giordano is healthy though . . .
Jets in 6
Eastern Conference Finals
Rangers vs. Lightning
Ben Bishop has been the Rangers’ kryptonite over the last few seasons as he has stated that he loves playing against Henrik Lundqvist. These are two of the deepest and fastest teams in the league. I’ll take the experience.
Rangers in 6
Western Conference Finals
Predators vs. Jets
The cinderella run by Winnipeg will fall just short and Nashville will move into their first ever Stanley Cup final.
Predators in 6
Stanley Cup Finals
Rangers vs. Predators