Stanley Cup Playoffs: 2nd round predictions

Alright, so I went 6-2 with my first round predictions this year. Not bad, but not great. I should have known better than to actually think the Blues would get out of the first round. Their annual disappearing act in round one is something everyone should witness. My other hiccup came via the Calgary-Vancouver series. I had Vancouver in seven. Give credit to the Flames for playing as well as they did in what was the first career playoff series for a lot of their players.

The second round features some really intruiging matchups. Hopefully they live up to expectations. Due to time constraints on my end between now and the first games Thursday night, this is going to be a quick post.

144 vs. 161

New York is coming off a fairly easy first round win over Pittsburgh while the Caps needed seven games to oust the Islanders. For me, the forward depth of these two teams is comparable with New York probably having the slight edge. It’s the defensive depth that separates one team from the other here.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

si34dm1f9jex9eoexq9l1svqk vs. TampaBayLightning_LOGO

Montreal began playing with fire against the Senators in round one after going up 3-0 in the series. It took a home loss in Game 5 to wake them back up and shut out the Sens in Game 6 to advance. As for Tampa Bay, they’ll be coming into this series fresh off of a Game 7 win at home over Detroit. They possess major speed and a guy named Steven Stamkos. The Habs have Carey Price, though. Expect a back and fourth series here with home ice ultimately being the deciding factor.

-Montreal wins series, 4-3.

ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO vs. jesus-clip-art-2

Not many people saw a sweep coming from the Ducks against Winnipeg. If it wasn’t for their ability to mount multiple third period comebacks, that series would have gone the distance. While Anaheim did play well, their habit of trailing heading into the third is not a good one. Calgary, on the other hand, played a hell of a series against Vancouver. Despite their season-long poor possession numbers, they found a way into the playoffs as well as into the second round. They’ll need all four lines and Jonas Hiller to be great in this one.

-Anaheim wins series, 4-2.

56 vs. Minnesota-Wild-Wallpaper-

I already posted my preview of this series, so here’s a recap. This is the third straight year these two have met in the playoffs, with the Blackhawks winning the first two series. The Hawks didn’t play great in their victory over Nashville, but got clutch performances from their star players. Corey Crawford, as well as the same star players on this team, will need to play great this series. For Minnesota, they’re feeling pretty good about themselves right now after knocking out the Blues. Devan Dubnyk has to perform at a Vezina-type level, and the bottom two lines for Minnesota need to contribute for them to advance. In the end, Chicago just has too many weapons.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

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Atlantic Division preview

Last season, the Atlantic Division was home to the President’s Trophy-winning team as well as the team with the fewest points in the NHL. In other words, there was quite a gap between the top and bottom of this division in terms of talent. This year, things should be slightly more even.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

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Boston: The Bruins will enter this season after winning last year’s President’s Trophy as the team to finish the regular season with the most points (117). Despite being the best team in the regular season, Boston couldn’t make it past the second round of the playoffs where they lost in seven games to a determined Montreal team. This year, I’m thinking the Bruins will take a step backwards. They were so good during the regular season last year that it will be extremely difficult to put the same numbers this year. Offensively, the Bruins were the highest scoring team in the East last season even though they didn’t have any real superstar scorers on their roster. Most of that roster will be back again this year, minus Jarome Iginla. I think the Bruins will still have one of the better offenses in the league this year, but they won’t duplicate last year’s numbers. As for their defense, the Bruins will once again be one of the deepest defensive team in the league. Led by Zdeno Chara, Boston’s defensive unit is composed of a number of solid, hard-nosed defensemen like Dennis Seidenberg (who will be returning from a season-ending injury from last year), Johnny Boychuck, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid. When you take into account that Boston has one of the best groups of defensive forwards in the league, led by Selke Trophy-winner Patrice Bergeron, it becomes clear that these guys will be tough to score on. That’s not even to mention the fact that they’ll have the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner starting in goal. While the Bruins won’t have the same numbers as last year, I still think they have the best shot at winning this division.

NHL-Nashville-Predators-Logo-Wallpaper

Buffalo: Last season ended as another last place finish for the Sabres. They finished the year with the lowest point total in the NHL (52), and didn’t really seem to make any strides towards getting better. This offseason, Buffalo signed Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson to try and add some offense to the lineup. Moulson played 44 games with the Sabres last season before being dealt to the Wild at the trade deadline, and his presence back in the Buffalo lineup will be noticed. The Sabres will also have Chris Stewart for the whole season this year. While he’s not an offensive juggernaut or anything remotely close to one, he is a big, physical forward who isn’t afraid to play in the corners or in front of the net on offense. Defensivley, the Sabres signed Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros this summer. These two are not all stars by any means, but they are an upgrade from what the Sabres were working with last season. It will be interesting to see if Tyler Myers finally takes his game to the next level this season after putting together multiple disappointing seasons since his rookie campaign. The defensive unit as a whole for Buffalo is not great by any means. In goal, they will have Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. Neither one of them is a true number one goalie in the NHL, so the combination of them plus a weak defense should lead to another long season for the Sabres.

DRW Logo

Detroit: Well I messed up pretty bad on my prediction for the Red Wings last season. In my season preview, I had this team finishing near the top of the conference, only to see them grab the last wild card spot. This year, I think it’ll be a similar outcome. The Wings have a number of good, young players on their roster who should only be getting better this year. Gustav Nyquist finished last year’s regular season on an absolute tear, and the Red Wings will be looking for him to produce again this year. Whether or not he can regain his form from the end of last year or not should be interesting to keep an eye on. Still, the two offensive leaders of this team are Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. If these guys don’t shoulder the majority of the load for Detroit, the Red Wings will have problems. On defense, we’ll be looking at much of the same names that we saw last year. Niklas Kronwall will be Detroit’s number one d-man again this year, which is not necessarily a good thing. While the Wings have a number of quality players on their back end, they lack the high-end talent in their top two that the good teams all have. As for the goaltending situation, Jimmy Howard has be better this year than he was last season. Without good goaltending, no team in the league has a legitimate shot at winning anything. We’ve seen Howard play at elite levels before, so hopefully for the Wings he can get back to doing so. Whether or not Detroit makes the playoffs again may lie on the shoulders of Howard.

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Florida: You want to talk about a team with a lot of young and potential talent, let’s talk about the Panthers. This team is stacked with youngsters that they’ve either brought up through their system or acquired from other teams. Players such as Brandon Pirri, Aleksander Barkov (this year’s number one pick), Nick Bjugstad, Jimmy Hayes, and Jonathan Huberdeau are all young guys with a lot of potential upside to their game. Then you’ve got guys like Tomas Fleischmann, Dave Bolland (Florida greatly overpaid for him), Tomas Kopecky, and Scottie Upshall who are all proven veterans with good play-making and scoring abilities. If the young forwards on this team can improve their own individual games this season, good things could happen in Sunrise this year. Defensively, Brian Campbell is still Florida’s top defenseman, but the Panthers did add Willie Mitchell who will provide a lot of experience and leadership along their blueline. Still, Florida is one of the weaker defensive teams in the East which will inevitably hurt them again. However, now that they’ll have Roberto Luongo in goal from day one of the regular season, their defense can afford to make a mistake here and there without getting scored on. Luongo should single-handedly lead the Panthers to a few more wins than they had last season. All in all, this is still not a playoff team.

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Montreal: These guys are coming into this season after putting together a rather successful playoff run this past spring. After finishing the regular season with 100 points, the Canadiens took their game to another level in the playoffs and managed to defeat the Bruins in seven games to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, where they eventually were eliminated by the Rangers. This offseason, they lost Thomas Vanek to Minnesota and Brian Gionta to Buffalo. Both losses will hurt the Canadiens as they really did nothing to replace either player. They also traded Danny Briere to the Avalanche in exchange for P.A. Parenteau; a move that I don’t believe will help or hurt Montreal. The biggest news for the Canadiens this offseason was their agreement with P.K. Subban on a big contract extension. No upgrades were made to their defense, and no changes were needed with their goalies. So essentially, Montreal should be similar to what they were last year, only without Vanek and Gionta, which will no doubt lead to less offensive production. Depending on the play of Carey Price in goal this year, I do believe Montreal should make the postseason again, but I wouldn’t bet much money on it. 

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Ottawa: The major news out of Ottawa this summer was the departure of Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars via a trade. Spezza made it clear that he wanted out, and the Senators granted his wish. In return, Ottawa received one NHLer in Alex Chiasson. Aside from his addition, the Sens also acquired David Legwand through free agency. On the offensive side of things, the Senators do have some scoring ability in players such as Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Clarke MaCarthur, and Kyle Turris. After them however, there’s not much left to the forward group on this team. Defensively, they’re even weaker. Erik Karlsson is obviously a great offensive-defenseman, but he’s really not that great defensively. After him, they’ve got Chris Phillips, Marc Methot, Jared Cowen, etc. Bottom line: nothing great on the back end. This was a big problem for Ottawa last season, and it looks like it will be again this year. Craig Anderson will have his hands full in net, as will Robin Lehner who may overtake Anderson as the number one goalie by season’s end. I’m expecting another playoff miss for the Senators.

TampaBayLightning_LOGO

Tampa Bay: Now here’s a team that people should take note of immediately. After finishing second in this division last year with 101 points, the Lightning improved their roster this offseason by signing Brian Boyle (center), Brendan Morrow (wing), Jason Garrison (defense), and Anton Stralman (defense). They’ll have a healthy Steven Stamkos to begin the season after he missed much of last year due to injury. The fact that this team still managed to earn over 100 points last year while Stamkos only played in 37 games is pretty impressive to me. That’s a big testamate to the rest of their forwards. They did trade Nate Thompson to Anaheim this summer, which will hurt, but it’s not a loss that can’t be overcome. On defense, the Lighting really added quality depth by signing Garrison and Stralman. Stralman had a fantastic postseason with the Rangers this past spring, which led to him receiving a nice contract from Tampa Bay. Defense was a big reason for this team’s first round exit to the Canadiens last year, and I think they did a nice job of improving in that area this summer. In goal, Ben Bishop had a crazy good season last year by going 37-14-7 while posting a .924 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average. If he hadn’t gotten hurt at the end of the regular season last year, who know where this team may have gone in the playoffs. I’m expecting another big year from Bishop this season. If that happens, there’s no way these guys don’t make the playoffs again. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if they win the division assuming everyone stays relatively healthy.

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Toronto: There’s really no other way to describe Toronto’s season last year than “disappointing.” Most people thought they’d be back in the postseason last year after a successful 2012-13 season, but they choked down the stretch and landed on the outside looking in. This offseason saw the Leafs acquire forwards David Booth, Matt Fratin, and Mike Santorelli. None of those three will make a huge difference to this team on their own, but the three combined add some depth to this Toronto lineup. The forward group that the Maple Leafs have is not bad by any means, but they could really use another good goal scorer other than Kessel and Van Riemsdyk. The defensive group in Toronto is not bad either. Dion Phaneuf, who many thought would be traded this summer, is the anchor on the Leafs’ back end. He is joined by Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, Roman Polak, Morgan Reilly, and Stephane Robidas, who when healthy can be a difference maker. The goalie tandem in Toronto of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer did not live up to expectations last year, and they’ll have to be better this season if the Leafs want a chance at the playoffs. I honestly think the offense and defense are, for the most part, in place for the Leafs to make the postseason, but they can’t afford their top players or goalies to under-perform.

PREDICTED STANDINGS:

1. Boston 2. Tampa Bay 3. Toronto 4. Montreal 5. Detroit 6. Ottawa 7. Florida 8. Buffalo

(Toronto is my “big prediction” for this division. I think both Florida and Buffalo will improve this year as well.)

PREDICTED EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF TEAMS:

1. Boston 2. Pittsburgh 3. Tampa Bay 4. NYR 5. Columbus 6. Toronto 7. New Jersey 8. Montreal

(I have much more faith in my Western Conference playoff prediction than I do in this one. I feel like there are no obvious playoff teams in the East outside of Boston, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay.)

Eastern Conference Final prediction

So, how many people predicted THIS matchup for the ECF? I don’t think many people saw an Eastern Conference Final series that did not include either Boston and/or Pittsburgh. I did predict prior to the second round that the Rangers would upset the Penguins, and I also said the Bruins would eliminate the Canadiens in seven games, but that I had very little confidence in picking Boston. So I almost got it right….almost.

Let’s get to it.

si34dm1f9jex9eoexq9l1svqk vs. 144

An “all Original Six” series is never a bad thing, and I don’t anticipate this one to be any different. The Rangers come into this series with a ton of confidence and momentum after storming back from a 3-1 series deficit to knock out Crosby and Malkin (I must admit that I was quite happy with that outcome). Henrik Lundqvist has continued to do what he does best, and that is keep the puck out of his net as well as anyone in the game. He ranks second this postseason in GAA and Save %. Only Corey Crawford has better numbers in those categories. Offensively, the Rangers are by far the worst team at scoring goals of any of the four teams remaining in the playoffs. They are averaging just 2.43 goals per game. While Rick Nash is still searching for his first goal of the playoffs, that’s not to say the rest of the Ranger forwards have been much better. The highest point total this postseason of any Ranger is 9 by Brad Richards. To compare, the Kings have four players with at least 11. New York absolutely has to step it up offensively if they want to advance, especially considering the fact that they’ll be going up against Carey Price. However, to neutralize their weak offense, the Rangers have the lowest GAA average in these playoffs. The phrase goes something like “defense wins championships,” so hopefully for New York’s sake that phrase will prove to be true. I think the keys for New York in this series will be slowing down PK Subban, who leads Montreal in points, and getting production from their third and fourth lines.

Montreal also comes into this series riding a huge wave of momentum after eliminating the President’s Trophy-winning Bruins in seven games. A surprising number of people actually picked the Canadiens to win that series, and sure enough here we are. How did the Habs do it? Well, they got some great goaltending from Carey Price throughout those seven games, their forechecking was relentless, their determination was through the roof, and they simply played with confidence. Those four things combine to make a great recipe for success (maybe something the Penguins might want to try in the future). PK Subban took his game to a totally new level against Boston and was undoubtedly Montreal’s MVP of that series. I doubt he’ll be able to play that same way this entire series against New York, so guys like Markov and Emelin are going to have to pick up their games even more. In goal, Carey Price has been stellar with 2.15 GAA and a .926 save %. Want an interesting and telling stat? Over the last six games that Price has started against New York, he has recorded FIVE shutouts and allowed just one goal total. Take a second to try and comprehend that… On offense, the Canadiens lead the playoffs by averaging 3.27 goals per game. Similar to the Rangers, their leading scorer, Subban, has 12 points in the playoffs, but he is the only guy in double digits. The next closest point total to Subban is 9, shared by Eller and Gallagher. The Canadiens cannot rely on PK Subban to carry their offense anymore. They need their top forwards (Vanek, Pacioretty) to take the lead on the offensive side. If they can get more offense from their top lines, as well as their bottom two lines, they’ll be in good shape. The key is just finding a way to get pucks past Lundqvist.

I think this should be a great series. A lot of people think that the passing of Martin St. Louis’ mother helped propel the Rangers to their comeback over Pittsburgh. Whether or not that is true, they are playing great hockey right now, but so is Montreal. It takes a hell of an effort to beat the President’s Trophy winner in a seven-game series, but the Habs did it. Both teams have incredible home-ice advantages, so winning on the road in this series will be huge. Much like the matchups in the second round, the outcome of this one is tough to determine.

-Montreal wins series, 4-2.

I’ll be back with my Blackhawks-Kings prediction sometime before the first puck-drop of that series.

NHL Conference Semifinals predictions

That was a pretty excellent first round if you ask me. Tons of overtimes, three Game 7’s, what more could you ask for? As it turns out, I correctly predicted the winner in six of the eight first round series. My only hiccups were the Wild beating the Avalanche, and the Kings beating the Sharks. Although San Jose really should have won that series… You’re up 3-0 in the series and you lose four straight? There’s a reason this was only the fourth time that’s ever happened in NHL history: because it’s hard to do.

On to the predictions.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO vs. 940-couture-logan

This has all the makings of a very intense, very physical, and very heated second round series. Southern California is well represented here, with these two teams separated by just over 30 miles. The Kings come into the second round as winners of their last four games, all while facing elimination. They were just the fourth team in NHL history to come back and win a series after falling down 3-0 after the first three games. This is a team with incredible confidence and resiliency right now, and I would not want to be their next opponent. In the first round against the Sharks, LA looked rather horrible through the first three games as they allowed 16 goals against during that span. It’s actually hard to allow that many goals in just three games, but they found a way to do it. Jonathan Quick did not look like his usual self, and neither did the rest of the Kings players. From Game 4 on, however, they became a different team. In the final four games against San Jose (all victories), Quick and the Kings only gave up 5 goals. That as well is hard to do. Yet, they did it. The Kings were one of the top defensive teams all season long, and they proved this again in their four wins over the Sharks. Jonathan Quick seems to have rounded back into form, the offense has picked up its pace, and the defense is back to its elite level of play. LA is a complete and physical team right now, and one that I would want no part of.

As for the Ducks, they had a tougher time handling the Stars than I think most people expected. After winning the first two games of the series at home, Anaheim went on to lose the next two in Dallas. From there, the Ducks won the next two games and the series, but it wasn’t without some struggle. Goalie Frederik Andersen allowed 3.40 goals per game against the Stars, which was good for third worst of any goalie in the first round. No goalie that advanced had a worse GAA. This has to be worrisome for the Ducks, but you can’t put all of the blame on Andersen. As a team, the Ducks were not good defensively against the Stars. Stephane Robidas suffered his second broken leg of the season early in the series with Dallas, and his loss on the blue line did nothing but hurt the Ducks the remainder of that series. Robidas is obviously out for the remainder of the postseason, so Anaheim will have to find a way to be successful in their own end without him. One thing that the Ducks do have going for them in their offense. They finished the first round averaging 3.33 goals per game, which was good for fourth place in the opening round. Ryan Getzlaf ended the series with 3 goals and 4 assists, while Corey Perry finished with 2 goals and 5 assists. Against LA, the Ducks will need their top guys to continue being their top guys. That doesn’t mean that they won’t need production from their depth players, because they definitely will.

This is sure to be a fun series to watch and a competitive one. Given the way both teams ended the first round, I’ve got to give the edge to the Kings in this series even though the Ducks had their number during the regular season. LA is an experienced team with exceptional goaltending and defense, and in the playoffs, it’s those two things that win championships.

-Los Angeles wins series, 4-2.

56 vs. Minnesota-Wild-Wallpaper-

This will be a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals series as the Blackhawks and Wild both pulled off an “upset” to advance to the second round. While I personally wouldn’t consider the Hawks’ victory to be an upset, the Wild eliminating the Avalanche was definitely an upset. Who outside the state of Minnesota saw that one coming? The Wild lost the first two games in Denver, but bounced back on home ice to even the series at 2 games apiece heading into Game 5. Colorado defended home ice in the fifth game, and the Wild did the same in Game 6. Then came Game 7, and what a game it was. What the Wild showed me throughout the first round is that they do NOT give up on any game. Regardless of the situation, they are going to continue coming at you with all they’ve got until the whistle blows. Darcy Kuemper definitely did his part in helping the Wild advance, as he posted a 2.03 GAA before leaving Game 7 in the third period due to injury. It would appear he will be good to go for Game 1 in Chicago, but his condition is something to keep an eye on. Offensively, the Wild actually hung in there with the Avs. Minnesota’s biggest problem during the regular season was their inability to score at times, but they were able to put that past them in Round 1. Zach Parise ended the first round tied for the league lead in points with 10 (3G, 7A), while the next closest Wild player to him finished with 6 points. Defensively as a team, the Wild were not great against Colorado, and they will really need to be better in that area if they want any chance to beat Chicago.

The Blackhawks are coming into the second round with a ton of momentum and confidence after their victory over the Blues. St. Louis took each of the first two games of the series (both in overtime and on home ice), but that was all they’d get. The Blackhawks went on to win four straight games to finish off the Blues in 6, making this the second year in a row that the defending champions have gone down 0-2 in Round 1 to the Blues only to win next the four games and advance. The Blackhawks finished the first round ranked third in GA/G, and fifth in G/G. As the series against St. Louis progressed, you could see Chicago gaining more and more confidence and begin playing with that same mentality and attitude that won them the Cup just a year ago. After allowing St. Louis to really dictate how both of the first two games were played (and even most of the third), the Blackhawks were able to get back to playing their game and controlled the puck for much of the last four games of the series. Corey Crawford was phenomenal for most of the series, and he single-handedly won the Hawks Game 3 by shutting out the Blues. Crawford should have been the Conn Smythe winner last season, and the Hawks will need him to keep playing this way from here on out. Duncan Keith played what may have been his best game ever in Game 6, and his domination on the Hawks’ back end has been, and will continue to be huge moving forward. Offensively, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews led the charge in Round 1 for Chicago as usual. The big thing for the Hawks will be getting more production from their third and fourth lines.

I think the Wild may have burned up all their energy taking out the Avs in the first round, and if they didn’t, I still don’t think they’ll have enough left to beat Chicago. The Blackhawks are as experienced a team as you’ll find in the playoffs, and they know how to win playoff games. With the Hawks really coming into their own over their last four games, I don’t see them being stopped at the moment.

-Chicago wins series, 4-1.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston_Bruins_logo vs. si34dm1f9jex9eoexq9l1svqk

I love this matchup. Montreal won the season series over Boston 3-1, and seems to give the Bruins more trouble than any team in the East. After sweeping the Lightning in the first round, the Canadiens will enter this series with plenty of rest under their belts and a ton of momentum on their side. Danny Briere was back to playing like his usual playoff-self against Tampa, and the Canadiens are going to need him to keep it up against Boston. Carey Price, who led Canada to the Olympic gold medal this past winter, was good in net during the four games against the Lightning, but there is room for improvement. To me, he is the key to this series for the Canadiens. If Price plays really well, like he is more than capable of doing, I think Montreal will give Boston a good run for their money. Other than Price, the Montreal defense will need to be stellar. They allowed 2.50 goals per game against the Lightning, and if they can do that against Boston, they’ll have a good shot at winning. On offense, the Canadiens finished the first round averaging 4 goals per game, which will not continue. The Bruins are as good a team as you will find defensively, so the Canadiens will have to really use their speed to their advantage to try and catch Boston off guard. Forechecking will play a huge role in this matchup.

The Bruins come into the second round after winning four straight over Detroit. The Wings took Game 1 in Boston, but that was it. Boston’s defense strangled the Red Wings in Round 1 and looked like the best defense in the league. Tuuka Rask enters the second round with the lowest GAA of any goalie, and the Bruins as a team enter the second round with the lowest GA/G average (1.20). I don’t see Boston putting up those same defensive numbers against the Canadiens, but it’s possible for them to do something similar. That’s just how good they are on defense, both their defensemen and forwards. Aside from their defensive ability to completely shut an opponent down, Boston can also be the most physical team in the league. They generate a ton of momentum from their physical play, which will probably be taken to a new level against their hated rivals from Montreal. While the Bruins didn’t do a whole lot on offense against Detroit, the potential is still there for them to be one of the league’s most potent offenses.

I know I didn’t have too much to say about Boston, but that’s just a testament to how good they are. Having said that, I believe that if there’s one team in the East who could eliminate the Bruins, it’s Montreal. The Bell Centre in Montreal is one of the toughest buildings to play in for opponents, and the Canadiens have really had the Bruins’ number this whole season. Still, however, I cannot pick against Boston without feeling like an idiot if they were to end up winning. So, I’ll say the Bruins win this series, but not with a whole lot of confidence.

-Boston wins series, 4-3.

174 vs. 144

Both of these teams enter the second round coming off of a physically taxing first round series. For Pittsburgh, they were roughed up and pushed to their limit by the Blue Jackets, while the Rangers are coming into this series fresh off a Game 7 victory over their hated rivals from Philadelphia. The Rangers ranked 12th in goals per game in the first round, and second in GA/G. Their offense was never their strong point this season, and it would appear nothing has changed now that the postseason is underway. Henrik Lundqvist allowed the Flyers just a meager 2.11 goals per game in the first round, and he’ll need to continue being himself against a very lethal Penguins offense and powerplay. Defensively, the Rangers are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are going to have their hands full going against the Crosby and Malkin lines, respectively. For the Rangers to win this series, they’ll need their depth players to be better than those of the Penguins. Brad Richards needs to elevate his game and provide some much needed offense for New York.

The Penguins did not look good against Columbus in the first round. You could tell they were bothered/distracted by the Jackets’ physicality, and they also lacked confidence at times, which is never good. A big reason for their lack of confidence was yet again due to the sub-par performance by their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury, as well all know by now, has a history of choking in the playoffs. He might have a good round or two, but at some point he always seems to lose it and cost his team. When you are a team playing in front of a shaky goaltender, like Pittsburgh, you are put under that much more stress to play mistake-free hockey. Trying to play mistake-free hockey is a bad idea and never ends well. For the Penguins to have any further success this postseason, Fleury needs to improve his game and show his teammates that he can be trusted in net. Aside from him, Sidney Crosby needs to get going as well. He was held scoreless by the Blue Jackets in round one, and you get the feeling that Pittsburgh can’t go much longer without their captain producing. As of right now, the top two guys in points on the Penguins are Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen, both with 8 points, and both defensemen. You cannot rely on your d-men to carry your team offensively, so the Penguins will need Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, etc. to be a lot better from beginning to end against New York.

I think this series could go the distance. It’ll all eventually come down to goaltending, in which case I’ve got to give the advantage to New York. Marc-Andre Fleury has not been good in any recent postseasons, and he wasn’t good again in Round 1. Even though the Rangers’ offense has the potential to come up dry every now and then, the play of Fleury, or lack thereof, is what could keep them in this series. As long as Lundqvist himself is good, I like the Rangers to pull off the upset.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

 

NHL Eastern Conference playoff predictions

Who would have thought that the Eastern Conference playoff teams would not consist of the Philadelphia Flyers? I didn’t predict that, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, it is nice to see some new faces in the playoffs this year, like the Islanders and Maple Leafs. And how about the Senators? After all the adversity that this team has faced this season, it is pretty remarkable that they’re in the postseason again. So having said that, let’s get to the predictions.

1-8 Matchup:

2518158277_cf0b185de3 vs. 138

Season series: Penguins 4-1-0 against Islanders.

Well it’s no surprise to see Pittsburgh as the number 1 seed in the East, but it is a surprise to see the Islanders as the number 8 seed. I am confident in saying that I don’t believe many people projected the Islanders to be a playoff team this year. John Tavares, on the other hand, had different thoughts about his team and willed them to the postseason. Him and Matt Moulson recorded 47 and 44 points respectively this year, and they are going to need to continue to produce against the Penguins. Evgeni Nabakov had a major bounce back season this year by going 23-11-7, and his playoff experience is huge for the Islanders. Not many guys on that team have ever played in the postseason before, so it’s nice for them to have a goalie with experience. He’s going to need to be great for the Islanders to advance.

The Penguins have shown all year long that they are a force in the Eastern Conference, and they are going to be the toughest out in the East. They went out and really upgraded their team at the trade deadline by acquiring Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, and both of those guys have fit pretty well into the lineup since. The biggest concern for Pittsburgh right now is the health of Sidney Crosby. He recently started practicing again after sitting out for a month with a broken jaw, but it is unclear as to when he may return to game action. Although I feel that the Penguins should still take down the Islanders without much of a problem even without Crosby, I wouldn’t ink them in as the Eastern Conference champs like many people are. Marc Andre Fleury worries me about the Penguins chances with his sub-par play in recent postseasons.

-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-1.

2-7 Matchup:

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Season series: Senators 2-1-1 against Canadiens.

After a couple years of missing the playoffs, Montreal is back as the number 2 seed in the East after barely edging out the Bruins for the division championship. Ottawa, meanwhile, is back in the playoffs yet again even after all the injuries they suffered this season. Daniel Alfredsson (their captain) missed the entire season, and Jason Spezza (their best goal scorer) played in just 5 games. Neither will play in the postseason. Erik Karlsson only played in 17 games because of a severed achilles, but made a remarkable return to the lineup for the last game of the regular season. His presence in the lineup will be HUGE for the Senators in the playoffs. Craig Anderson had his best season as a goalie, posting 1.69 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage. He should be a Vezina finalist, and rightfully so. Ottawa will need Anderson to continue his strong play into the postseason. If he does, this is a team that could do some damage.

Montreal had a great start to the season, but saw their play slip a little in April (a 7-7-0 record). They had 5 players record at least 30 points this year, including 2 defensemen. One of which, P.K. Subban, should be a Norris Trophy finalist. But to me, the biggest story-line surrounding this team will be the play of Carey Price. He went 21-13-4 this season with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Over the last month or so, however, Price has really started to fade. Fans in Montreal have become extremely critical of Price, and I am sure that if he slips up early in this series that Peter Budaj will take over in net. To me, the Canadiens go as Carey Price goes.

-Ottawa wins series, 4-2.

3-6 Matchup:

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Season series: Rangers 2-0-1 against Capitals.

Thanks to the unbelievable play of Alex Ovechkin down the home stretch of the season, the Capitals find themselves as division champions and the 3 seed in the East. The Rangers, however, cannot be happy with their 6th place finish in the conference. This was a team that almost everyone had winning the conference and advancing to the Finals prior to the season after their acquisition of Rick Nash. Unexpectedly, the Rangers just couldn’t get things rolling until April where they went 10-3-1. At the trade deadline, they parted ways with Marian Gaborik and received Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard, and John Moore in return. This was apparently the spark that the Rangers needed to get going, because they have been a much better team since. Henrik Lundqvist is still one of the top goalies in hockey, and he has the ability to single-handedly win a series for New York. If he plays well and Derek Stepan keeps up his torrid pace, this team will get by the first round.

-New York wins series, 4-3.

4-5 Matchup:

Boston-Bruins-Logo vs. Toronto-Maple-Leafs-Logo

 

Season series: Boston 3-1-0 against Maple Leafs.

Talk about a classic rivalry series… I think I speak on behalf of most NHL fans when I say that I am excited to watch these two teams go at it. Finally, the Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs, and their fans are going to be going nuts at the Air Canada Centre for Game 3. After all that talk of Toronto possibly trading for either Roberto Luongo or Mikka Kiprusoff, their goaltending really hasn’t been bad. James Reimer went 19-8-5 this year with a 2.46 GAA and a .924 save percentage. He doesn’t have playoff experience, which could hurt, but the Leafs have to have some confidence in this guy after the season he had. Phil Kessel, who led the Leafs with 52 points, will get a chance to eliminate his former team, and the Maple Leafs are going to need him to give everything he’s got.

After a great start to the season, Boston was eventually caught and overrun by the Canadiens in the division. But don’t let that fool you. The Bruins are still one of the best teams in hockey, and one of the toughest teams to play against. Tuukka Rask was one of the better goalies in hockey this season with a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage. His play, plus the team defense of the Bruins resulted in Boston finishing third in the league in GA/G. Teams with a good GA/G always tend to fare well in the postseason. The addition of Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline could pay off now more than it has up to this point in the season, as Jagr is a very experienced postseason player and knows how to win big games. Also, the Bruins are just 2 years removed from winning the Cup and know what it takes to get back there. Don’t let their finish in the conference fool you. This is a dangerous team.

-Boston wins series, 4-1.

Look for my second round predictions for both conferences once the first round ends.

Thanks for reading.