Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals predictions

FINALLY we have a final four in the NHL. Chicago and Anaheim have been patiently waiting for the Rangers-Capitals series to end, and now it finally has. Quite a comeback by New York against a very good Washington team.

On to the predictions.

144 vs. TampaBayLightning_LOGO

With the Rangers coming off a seven game series and Tampa Bay coming off a grueling six gamer, it’s safe to assume each team is probably dealing with some undisclosed injuries. And, it goes without saying each team could use some rest. All that aside, however, this should be a good series. New York is playing some excellent team defense this postseason while also receiving more great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. Against a fast team like Tampa, the Rangers are going to need that defense and goaltending to continue while also trying to clog the neutral zone.

As for the Lightning, it will be interesting to see if their overall inexperience in late playoff series will become a factor. Only two players (Stamkos and Hedman) remain from the 2011 team that lost in seven games to the Bruins in the ECF. One of the guys I just mentioned, a certain number 91, picked up a huge goal in Game 6 against Montreal. If he is beginning to heat up, that will be huge for the Lightning. I don’t see them beating New York without Stamkos being effective. The same goes for their goalie, Ben Bishop.

All in all, I’m expecting a lengthy series here. In the end, however, I think the Rangers are the deeper team with more big game experience.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO vs. 56

Unlike the two teams in the other Conference Final series, the Blackhawks and Ducks come into this one as the two most rested teams remaining. The Ducks have played just nine games this postseason, while the Hawks have played ten. The last time the Blackhawks played was May 7th, and there might not be a team who needed the time off more than them. Their top four defensemen have had to log big minutes through the first two rounds, and they will play even more now that Michal Rozsival is done for the year. They will need more solid defense and continued stellar goaltending in this matchup. Also, their stars need to continue being just that, while also getting production from all four lines like they did in the first two rounds.

The Ducks have two of the game’s best players in Perry and Getzlaf, and if they aren’t producing against Chicago, Anaheim will be in trouble. They have four good lines, but they haven’t gotten the production from them that they would have liked so far. The Ducks lucked out by getting the easiest schedule through the first two rounds, and I am anxious to see how they respond to an elite team like the Hawks. Their defense will be heavily tested, as will Frederik Andersen. Like Perry and Getzlaf, unless Andersen is very good, the Ducks could be in trouble.

Depth, team defense, and late playoff experience will decide this series. As I said in the series preview post regarding these two teams, Chicago has the edge in all three of those categories.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

NHL playoff format needs to change

139990-330-0Last season was the first year of the current NHL playoff format. Under this format, the top three teams from each division make the playoffs, as well as two Wild Card teams per conference. The purpose of this was to build more rivalries in the NHL, because under this structure the first round consists of more divisional matchups than ever before. Here’s how it works for those who don’t know or forgot:

-Division winner plays a wild card team (best division winner plays worst WC team)

-The second and third place finishers in each division play each other in the first round

This guarantees at least four divisional first round series throughout the NHL each year. By having teams from the same division meet in the playoffs, the hope from the NHL is that more rivalries are developed, thus increasing the interest and passion by the fans.

Here is the problem:

Teams such as the Rangers and Penguins, Blackhawks and Blues, and Lightning and Red Wings are all slated to play each other in the first round if the playoffs started today. It doesn’t seem right that major Stanley Cup contenders should have to face another Stanley Cup contender in the first round. This format automatically eliminates some of the best teams in the league right off the bat. Don’t you want these types of matchups in the second and third rounds?

If the playoffs started today, Vancouver (80 pts) and Calgary (77 pts) would be playing each other in round one, meaning one of those teams would advance to the second round while a team like Chicago (84 pts) or St. Louis (87 pts) is sent packing. That doesn’t seem right.

Under the previous playoff format, the number one team in each conference played the number eight team, two played seven, three played six, and so on. That makes a whole lot more sense than this.

I understand that the NHL wants to create more rivalries and cut down on travel costs with this new playoff structure, but they are punishing some of the best teams in the league at the same time by sending them home too early from the playoffs. Until this gets fixed, there are going to be great teams eliminated in the first round every season.

NHL jersey rankings

With the 2013-14 NHL season slated to begin in less than two months, I thought I’d rank all the NHL jerseys from best to worst. Here we go…

1. Chicago Blackhawks

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The reds are often regarded as the best jersey in sports, and the indianhead logo is also considered one of the best in all of sports. These jerseys speak for themselves. I only wish that they’d bring back their alternates from 2010.

2. Boston Bruins

the_toughest_athletes_ever_patrice_bergeron milan_lucic

Their logo has hardly changed over time, and their jerseys are one of the most classic in sports. Tough to not like these.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

phaneuf 1297394144628_ORIGINAL

Again, this logo has rarely been changed, and the jerseys are simple, yet great. True classics.

4. New York Rangers

Ryan+Callahan+New+Jersey+Devils+v+New+York+BGFNdmdcU9Rl daniel_girardi_2012_03_01

The diagonal lettering on the front of their jerseys has been the Rangers’ signature look forever. I love the stripes going across the front and back sides of the shoulders on their away jerseys. Their third jerseys are one of the best in the NHL.

5. Edmonton Oilers

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I was quite happy when they finally dropped their navy blue look and went back to their classic colors from the Gretzky days.

6. Detroit Red Wings

Nashville Predators v Detroit Red Wings wings_celebration

This has to be one of the more recognizable logos in sports. The winged wheel has not really changed at all over time, nor have the jerseys themselves. The arched lettering/font used on the nameplates is truly unique.

7. Vancouver Canucks

NHL: OCT 05 Blue Jackets at Canucks 168287247_slide

Much like the Oilers, the Canucks made a good move in ditching their navy blue look. The green and blue on these jerseys go together really well.

8. Montreal Canadiens

NHL: New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens Brian+Gionta+Montreal+Canadiens+v+Detroit+puYNrWAiaa1x

The Canadiens’ logo has been pretty consistent throughout time, but their jerseys have changed a bit more frequently. Still, a real classic look.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins

evgeni-malkin Sidney-Crosby1

Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of their logo, but the jersey as a whole looks good. I’d be in favor of bringing back their old yellow and black look form the Mario Lemieux era.

10. Buffalo Sabres

tyler-myers-4_3 167290124_slide

A couple years ago Buffalo decided to use their original logo and colors again. That was the best decision they have made in a long time, because the jerseys they had before these were horrendous.

11. Los Angeles Kings

DustinBrownDirtyHits Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown

I might actually like their whites better than the blacks. The logo isn’t very creative, but the overall look of these jerseys isn’t bad by any means.

12. Minnesota Wild

ryan-suter_002-x-large zach-parise

They wore their green alternates at home in the playoffs this past spring, which make up for their pretty weak away jerseys. The home red unis are pretty nice in my opinion. If they could figure out a way to make their whites more interesting, I’d have the Wild higher on my list.

13. Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin is seen in Washington image

In yet another instance of a team bringing back their classic look, the Capitals’ current uniforms are the best they’ve had.

14. St. Louis Blues

image  Alex+Pietrangelo+St+Louis+Blues+v+Philadelphia+DrZB4wPwAKOl

These jerseys haven’t changed much over the past decade. The two shades of blue, black, and yellow/gold all go well together. Their alternates are some of the best third jerseys in hockey. 

15. New Jersey Devils

TravisZajacNJ adam-henrique

The Devils’ jerseys are rather simple and unchanged in a long time. I see no reason for them to change their look anytime soon.

16. New York Islanders

john-tavares New York Islanders v Buffalo Sabres

Again, just another example of a team bringing back its classic colors. Even though I have the Islanders in the bottom half of my rankings, these jerseys are much better than what they were wearing just a few years ago.

17. Colorado Avalanche

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I don’t like the white/blue trim that cuts down the jersey from the shoulders to the waist. I hate when the “C” or “A” patches are placed over trimming. The logo is a bit weak as well.

18. Winnipeg Jets

167568021_slide Evander+Kane+Winnipeg+Jets+v+New+Jersey+Devils+xHI7k-vJ7cwl

I’m not saying that these jerseys are bad by putting them at number 18. The reason they are this low is because they could have been better. When the Jets came back to Winnipeg 2 years ago, they could have modernized their original look instead of creating a whole new logo.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets

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I’ve seen enough of this look since the Jackets came into existence just over a decade ago. I really don’t like the red pants/white sweater look.

20. Phoenix Coyotes

Doan2 167684033_slide

The Coyotes have tried multiple times to make their uniforms/logo look better, and this is probably the best look they’ve had. Still, there’s not much to it.

21. Carolina Hurricanes

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The Hurricanes will be wearing a new uniform set this year, as you can see in the pictures. These new jerseys just look too bland for me. I liked their unis from the past few years better.

22. Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven-Stamkos  163178783_slide

Tampa Bay decided to switch up their jerseys heading into the 2011-12 season, and that slightly strengthened their appearance. They’re still nowhere near the best in the league.

23. Calgary Flames

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Here’s another case of me liking their road uniforms better than their home uniforms. I think the Flames should just make their alternates their permanent home uniform.

24. Ottawa Senators

New York Rangers v Ottawa Senators - Game Three 7270372

The logo isn’t bad, but the rest of the jersey is pretty weak. It’s time they switch up their look in Ottawa.

25. Florida Panthers

espnchicago_g_campbell_mb_600 877px-Stephen_Weiss_2012-03-09

A pretty typical Florida uniform set. Really bright colors that don’t look very well on a sports jersey.

26. Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Story

I’m going to assume I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t like the Flyers’ uniforms. The different-colored nameplates just look bad, and the stripe going down the sleeves doesn’t look good.

27. Nashville Predators

usp-nhl_-columbus-blue-jackets-at-nashville-predat-4_3 Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn

My first instinct when I saw their home jerseys for the first time was, “Are they serious?” I don’t know why anyone would ever consider making their jerseys yellow like Nashville did. Their whites aren’t bad, however.

28. San Jose Sharks

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These are the new jerseys that San Jose will be wearing this year. They’re awful. They look like practice jerseys. Why they decided to ditch their previous look confuses me. Even with those (and the new ones), I don’t understand why their primary logo needs to be present on the jerseys in 3 different spots: the chest and both shoulders. Couldn’t they develop a secondary logo by now?

29. Dallas Stars

940-dallas-stars-new-logo dallas-stars-new-logo-jerseys-28

This is the third new set of uniforms that we’ll be seeing this season, and I have to ask, what was Dallas thinking? These look like they belong in the AHL or some junior league.

30. Anaheim Ducks

Ryan-Getzlaf-Getty Xd7r_XiVVK-l

Easily the worst jerseys in hockey. I’ve hated these since day one. Their third jersey should become their new home jersey, and they should design a white one based off of that look.

NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals Predicitons

vs. 

These two teams met last year in the Quarterfinals, with the Capitals being the number 1 seed, and the Rangers number 8. The Capitals would win that series without much of a problem, 4-1. This year, it is not going to be quite so easy. The Rangers are the number 1 seed in the East, and they held the top spot in the conference for much of the season. The Capitals meanwhile, barely made it into the playoffs. Having said that, both of these teams played well enough in the first round to advance to the Conference Semifinals, with each team winning in a Game 7.

New York just made it through the first round against Ottawa. I don’t think anyone thought that series would end up going to a seventh game, but it did, and it has a lot of people questioning the Rangers ability to make it to the Cup, let alone win it. Marian Gaborik was nearly non-existent in the first round, which has many Rangers fans worried, and rightfully so. He is going to have to show up for the second round, because the Rangers need his scoring. With Gaborik only registering 1 goal in the first round against Ottawa, it became clear that the Rangers heavily rely on him to carry their offense. They outscored the Senators in that series by just one goal, 14-13. If it wasn’t for the incredible goaltending by Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers may not have survived that series. Against Washington, New York needs to generate more offense. Washington is not the greatest defensive team, but they have been rather decent in these playoffs. Braden Holtby will be heading into this series with a ton of confidence after the way he performed against Boston. Confident, rookie goalies are some of the toughest goalies to figure out and beat, which means that the Rangers need to score more goals per game in this series than they did against Ottawa. Defensively, the Rangers should stick to what they have done all year. They have been one of the strongest defensive teams in the league since day one of the season. Special teams will be a key to this series. Whichever team has a better and more consistent powerplay will have an offensive advantage over the other team. Neither Washington or New York have been that great on the powerplay this year, so if one of them can get it going in this series, it could be a difference maker.

The Capitals knocked off the defending champion Boston Bruins in 7 games in the first round. My prediction before that series started was that the Bruins would win in 7 games, and that the Capitals would not go down easily. Well, I partially got that right. The Bruins didn’t win, but the Capitals sure put up a fight, and a good enough one to advance. Braden Holtby was an absolute star in net during the first round for Washington. Who would have ever guessed that he would be the starting goalie for the Capitals come playoff time, and that he would play well enough to eliminate the Bruins? The play of Braden Holtby has been the most surprising story line thus far in these playoffs. After having such a disappointing season, the Capitals seemed to have found their stride in the first round against Boston. Ovechkin picked up his game, and so did Alexander Semin. Semin looked like a man possessed at times for the Capitals, which really made life difficult for the Bruins defense. If Washington wants to beat New York and advance to the Conference Finals, they need to keep on playing like they did in the first round. They will be going up against another great goalie, actually the best goalie, in Henrik Lundqvist, as well as another fantastic defensive team. In the regular season, the Rangers ranked third in goals against per game. So far in these playoffs, they rank fourth. Washington is going to HAVE to get another strong series from Ovechkin, Semin, and Holtby. Nicklas Backstrom is also going to need to play well. He had an OK first round with 1 goal (it came in the second overtime of Game 2) and 3 assists, but he is going to need to step it up even more against the Rangers. Also, physical play is going to be a big factor in this series. New York is arguably the most physical team in the league, so the Capitals are going to have to try and match the Rangers in the department.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

vs. 

The Devils will head into this series fresh off their Game 7 victory in Florida over the Panthers, while the Flyers will head into this one with plenty of rest. Offense was the name of the game for Philadelphia in the first round, but now they will be going up against one the best playoff goaltenders of all time in Martin Brodeur. Who will prevail?

The Flyers did what most people didn’t think would happen to the Penguins. They eliminated them from the playoffs, and they made it look somewhat easy. Their offense absolutely exploded in round one, netting 30 goals. A big part of their offensive explosion was the play of Claude Giroux. He recorded 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in the first round, which I believe set a Flyers playoff record for one round. Giroux was easily the most impressive forward in round one of any team in the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to play at that high level against the Devils. Danny Briere also came up big for Philadelphia in round one, netting 5 goals and 3 assists. Against the Devils, the Flyers need to get a lot of shots on goal. Martin Brodeur is not going to let in too many soft goals, so Philadelphia will need to get as many shots as possible and create a number of decent scoring chances in order to beat him. Also, there is some concern regarding the Flyers defense and goaltending. They looked OK in round one against the Flyers, but also looked pretty bad at other times. They are going to have to play quality minutes and clog the passing lanes against New Jersey’s top 2 lines. As for Ilya Bryzgalov, he will need to be better against the Devils than he was in round one. In the first round, his goals against average was a whopping 3.89, and his save percentage was just .871. Those are unacceptable numbers, especially in the playoffs. Even though Bryzgalov was able to win 4 games against Pittsburgh, neither he nor the Flyers can rely on those same numbers to get them through the second round.

The Devils have yet to convince me that they are a serious contender in the east. At times they have looked really good, but at other times they have looked very beatable. Their defense is their strength. They ranked ninth in the NHL in goals against per game this season, which is something that they will need to continue against the Flyers. As we all know, Philadelphia was about as potent of an offense as there was in the NHL this year, ranking second in the league in goals per game at 3.17. In the first round, they averaged 5 goals per game, which is nearly unheard of. The point I am making is that the Devils have to be on top of their game defensively every minute of every game in this series if they want to advance to the next round. They cannot afford any mishaps against the Flyers. Martin Brodeur, who didn’t have his best playoff series against the Panthers, will need to have one of his best against the Flyers. Odds are that his defense will need him to bail them out more than once in this series. He cannot allow any weak goals, because Philadelphia will without a doubt get a number of good goals as well. As for the New Jersey forwards, they played rather well against Florida in the first round, averaging 2.57 goals per game. There is one major concern, however. How healthy is Ilya Kovalchuk? In Game 7, he was noticeably laboring out on the ice and was not his normal self. He was unable and/or unwilling to make sharp cuts on defense, which led to a couple decent opportunities for the Panthers’ forwards. In order for the Devils to win this series, they will need Kovalchuk to be as healthy as can be. They cannot afford to have him play at less than 100%. Adam Henrique, who scored just 2 goals against Florida (both in Game 7), will need to have a better series. He was a huge part of the Devils offense this season, even as a rookie, and they will need him now more than ever. Lastly, Zach Parise needs to play like the Zach Parise we all know. It’s as simple as that with him. With that said…

-Philadelphia wins series, 4-1.