The NHL playoffs are finally here! After 82 grueling regular season games, the second season begins tonight. Here are my first round playoff predictions!
Canadiens vs Rangers
Fond memories of this series for me. 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. Carey Price being slammed by Chris Kreider. The Rangers actually winning in Montreal. And winning game six 1-0 on an incredible blocker save by the King. Ultimately, it was the series that sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final. The first time I saw that happen. Now, Lundqvist’s window is closing to win a title and he leads a team that has a great mix of youth and experience. Montreal has played really well down the stretch under new coach Claude Julien, but the Rangers are fully healthy for the first time all season. I’ll take the Blueshirts.
Rangers in 6
Senators vs Bruins
Erik Karlsson is a fantastic talent and the Senators play a different style than years past. Under Guy Boucher, they are a little more defensive, as seen by the fact that Karlsson led the league in blocked shots. The Bruins fired their coach midseason and hired Bruce Cassidy, who turned their season around. They are a solid team, who still plays physical and Tukka Rask has found his form again. I like the experience of the Bruins.
Bruins in 7
Capitals vs Maple Leafs
The Caps won the President’s Trophy for the second year running, which is no small feat. They are a super experience playoff team, if you take only making it to the second round as experience. It is incredible that Alexander Ovechkin has not made it past the second round of the playoffs in his career. CAREER! He is just not a winner. Crazy talented, but not a winner. However, the Caps are taking on the extremely young Maple Leafs team, with rookies Auston Matthews, Michael Nylander, and Mitch Marner leading the way. Unfortunately, this team is still at least a year away from contending for anything. The Caps should run through this series.
Capitals in 5
Penguins vs Blue Jackets
How about the emergence of the Blue Jackets? I guess the hot start to end the season last year really carried over. They are a gritty Torts team that can actually put the puck in the net. Unfortunately, they are running into the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round. Tough draw. Though Letang is out, like usual, the Penguins still have great speed and depth and if Matt Murray can hold his own in the playoffs again, the Pens will be a tough out. This series will be fun and physical, but give me the experience in this one.
Penguins in 6
Blackhawks vs Predators
For years, the Preds have had to suffer early exits at the hands of the Blackhawks. I don’t see that being any different this season. Though they acquire P.K. Subban in the offseason and have a great top line, they do not have the depth to match the Blackhawks. And let’s be honest here, who can pick against Kane and Toews? Those dudes thrive in the playoffs.
Blackhawks in 6
Wild vs Blues
The Blues were sellers at the deadline with Shattenkirk, but then turned around their season. Jake Allen got hot and the Blues, who were a fringe playoff team, turned into a solid playoff team and got to avoid the Blackhawks. Their reward are the Wild. On paper, the Wild have the advantage. Dubnyk is stellar in net. The Wild score a bunch and limit their opponents. Strong special teams. Recipe for winning. Their one con in this: Bruce Boudreau. He has proven time and time again that the playoff stage is too much for him. Just wait until Dubnyk has one poor game and he turns to their back-up. However, I do seem them getting past the Blues.
Wild in 5
Ducks vs Flames
The Ducks looked lost through most of the season, as did the Flames. Both teams found their footing though and come into the playoffs hot. This should be a fun matchup. It could come down to goaltending. John Gibson missed significant time this season, but has played outstanding. On the other end, Brian Elliot struggled mightily to start the season, but ending up playing great down the stretch and showed the people of Calgary why they acquired him in the offseason. The Flames have a lot of good, young talent, but the Ducks seems to be clicking at the right time and have the size to push around a smaller team.
Ducks in 7
Oilers vs Sharks
These two teams finished the season heading in opposite directions. The Oilers stormed to the #2 seed, where the Sharks almost fell to the wild card spot. The Sharks saw themselves in the Stanley Cup Final last year, but I don’t see that repeating. The Oilers are very young, led by the top point getter in the league Conner McDavid, but I just like how this team plays with such reckless abandon. Oftentimes I side with experience in a close series, but this is not one of those times.
Oilers in 6