Stanley Cup Playoffs: 1st Round Predictions

And just like that, the best time of the year is finally back. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin Wednesday night after a long and grueling regular season. Some teams steam rolled their way into the postseason as others backed their way in while relying on help from other teams around the league. Nonetheless, we’re in for a couple months of heart-stopping hockey.

Each year I take some time to make my predictions for every playoff series, and this year is no different. This is one of my favorite topics to write about, so let’s get to it.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h vs. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h

Season Series: Panthers won, 2-1

It’s not the most marquee matchup on tap in the first round, but that doesn’t mean this won’t be an exciting one. These are two relatively young teams that built from the ground up over the past few years and now get to try and prove themselves in the postseason. The Islanders were in the playoffs just last season and were eliminated in a tough seven game series against the Capitals. This is a team that is looking to finally get over that first round hurdle and advance to the second round. They are led by what can be a potent top two lines featuring John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielsen, but after that they take a bit of a dip in production. Defensively, the Islanders have a pretty solid unit led by Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and company. In net, they’ll likely be turning to Thomas Greiss as Jaroslav Halak is sidelined with an injury. This could end up being the biggest factor in this series as Halak has been a pretty good postseason performer in his career and has the talent to steal any game. With him out, lots of pressure shifts to Greiss and Chris Gibson if called upon.

On the Panthers’ side of things, this team may have been the best surprise of the year from start to finish. Dale Tallon, the architect of Chicago’s 2010 Cup-winning team, is working his magic again in south Florida. His compilation of young talent mixed with skilled and experienced veterans such as Jagr, Campbell, and Luongo have proven to be a solid formula all year long and led the Panthers to the Atlantic Division crown. The additions of Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell have worked out quite well so far and give the Panthers decent forward depth from nearly top to bottom. On the blue line they have a solid top three defensemen, but after that they go downhill just a bit. They will need their top two defensive pairs to stay strong for them to remain the better team in this series. Even if the Florida defense does begin to falter, they have one of the game’s top goaltenders standing between the pipes to back them up.

Ultimately, the Panthers are the better team in this series in nearly every aspect, most importantly in net. The Islanders will need to play their best hockey of the year to reel off four more wins.

-Florida wins series, 4-2.

STAT TO KNOW: Islanders – 84.5% PK; Panthers – 2.44 GAA

DRW Logo vs. TampaBayLightning_LOGO

Season Series: Tied, 2-2

On the one hand we have a Red Wings team that just clinched their twenty-fifth consecutive playoff berth. On the other, a Lightning squad looking to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year. First things first though for the latter of the two. Detroit will not be an easy out. They are no longer led by head coach Mike Babcock, but the same mentality still exists in that locker room. Guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Richards, and Kronwall who have all been here before many, many times know what it takes to win in the playoffs. When you add in the youth of players such as Dylan Larkin, this team has a nice combination of experience and fresh legs. And despite them barely making the postseason, the Red Wings have pretty good forward depth, which is always a must in the postseason. They ranked 8th this season in goals scored per game. Defensively they ran into some trouble while finishing 17th in goals against average, but this team still has the ability to turn in strong defensive performances. What once seemed like a foregone conclusion is now anything but: who starts in goal for Game 1? Given the minutes Jimmy Howard played down the stretch, don’t be shocked if it’s him in net and not Petr Mrazek, who started 49 games this year.

As for the Lightning, they are returning to the playoffs with *mostly* the same team they had last year at this time. The two big differences, and they’re big ones, are the absence of captain Steven Stamkos (blood clot) and defenseman Anton Stralman (broken leg). Neither player is expected to return to the lineup this spring, although the odds are better for Stamkos. The question with this team now is whether or not they can overcome those two losses to still be successful in the playoffs. You can’t replace Steven Stamkos from within, although Jonathan Drouin was recalled to take his roster spot. And in the case of the Lightning, they have no actual replacement for Stralman either. Can they still win a series? Of course. They still have some really solid forward depth that can score at a frequent pace, and they still have Victor Hedman leading the defense. Also, they own one of the league’s best netminders in Ben Bishop who can single handedly win a series. While losing Stamkos and Stralman hurts, big time, it’s not the end of the world for Tampa Bay, or at least not in the first round.

I think we’ll see a very competitive series between these two much like we did a year ago. In the end, I think goaltending is the deciding factor. You could say that in just about any series, but with uncertainty for the Wings in that area and the opposite for the Lightning, it will play a big role in this series.

-Tampa Bay wins series, 4-3.

STAT TO KNOW: Red Wings – 22nd in penalty minutes; Lightning – Bishop 2.06 GAA (1st in NHL, minimum 40 GP)

161 vs. 161

Season Series: Tied, 2-2

This could potentially end up being the best series of the first round in the East if everything goes right. Beginning with the team from Philly, the Flyers rode a hot wave through the last month or so of the season to earn themselves the East’s last wild card spot. They have been getting production all year long from the likes of Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, as was expected. What wasn’t necessarily expected was the sudden emergence of Brayden Schenn as a point-producer (career high 59 points), or Shayne Gostisbehere as one of the league’s best offensive d-men as a rookie (46 points). Offensive depth has been an issue for the Flyers this year, but the increased and added production from those two players are a huge reason why this team is in the playoffs. To now go on and win in the playoffs, they’ll need contributions from top to bottom. This is a team that ranked 22nd in goals per game, so they’ll either need pucks to start going in the net more regularly, or their defense (12th in GAA) will need to get even better, which isn’t out of the question. Steve Mason, who started 17 of the team’s final 18 games in net, is another major reason this team made the playoffs. He has had spurts here and there where he is incredibly tough to score on. The Flyers will need that to happen again starting now.

Taking on the Flyers is this year’s President’s Trophy winner, the Washington Capitals. The Caps closed out their season with a whopping 120 points and really don’t appear to have many flaws in their game. To find support for that statement, look no further than the fact that Washington ranked second league-wide in both goals per game and fewest goals against per game, and led the NHL with a +59 goal differential. That’s a deadly combination regardless of how you look at it. Alex Ovechkin reached the 50 goal plateau for the seventh time in his career, and Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in points with 77. Offensively, this may be the deepest and most dangerous team in hockey. While that’s all nice, the Capitals are one of the strongest defensive teams in the league as well. They are fully healthy on their blue line, led by a top four of Alzner, Niskanen, Orpik, and Carlson, and have a young d-man in Dmitry Orlov who took his game up to another level this year on both sides of the puck. Then you have that guy standing in the blue paint who tied Martin Brodeur for the single-season win record with 48 to go with only 9 regulation losses. Braden Holtby also finished 6th in goals against average, and 8th in save percentage. Needless to say, Washington is pretty stacked everywhere you look.

Having said all of that, the Flyers are a tough team to play against almost every night. They have virtually zero pressure on them as everyone expects the Capitals to play deep into the postseason. The Philly faithful also give the Flyers one of the best home-ice advantages in hockey. I’m expecting this series to be a close one, with the possibility of a huge upset.

-Washington wins series, 4-2.

STAT TO KNOW: Flyers – 5th in shots per game; Capitals – 5th ranked PP, 2nd ranked PK

144 vs. 174

Season Series: Penguins won, 3-1

It feels like these two meet every year in the playoffs, and here we are again. The Rangers, Eastern Conference champions just two seasons ago, and runner up last year, are looking to make another deep playoff push this spring. They added Eric Staal at the trade deadline, which has worked out pretty well to this point, and own one of the deepest forward groups of any team in the playoffs. That being said, their top six is not as lethal as most other teams’ top six. They don’t have an Ovechkin, Kane, Perry, Giroux, and so on. They do have Rick Nash, but he once again underperformed this year and, despite last year, does not have a great track record in the postseason. What tends to win games for the Rangers this time of year is their defense and goaltending. Unfortunately for them, they’ll be without their top defenseman and captain, Ryan McDonagh, for at least the beginning of the first round. This means guys like Girardi, Marc Staal, Yandle, and Klein will pick up more minutes and be heavily relied upon against a potent offense in Pittsburgh. Henrik Lundqvist will for sure have his hands full in net, but like we’ve seen in the past, is more than capable of getting the job done.

For Pittsburgh, they’ll be without Evgeni Malkin for likely the whole first round. He is about four weeks into what is supposed to be a six to eight week recovery from an “upper-body” injury. Despite his absence, the Penguins caught fire in the final weeks of the regular season and landed second in the Metropolitan Division. Sidney Crosby, after a slow start to the season, finished third league-wide in points (85) and is looking like his old self again. The Penguins also have Phil Kessel this time around, who has been a big part of Pittsburgh’s offensive success this year (3rd in NHL in goals per game as a team). Where Pittsburgh gets thin is their bottom two forward lines and 4-6 defensemen. It could be repeated a million times and still be a valid point: depth is crucial in the playoffs. In Pittsburgh’s case, they lack good enough depth to be considered a strong Cup contender. Add in that Marc-Andre Fleury is recovering from a concussion (he could play Game 1), and the Penguins may be in trouble.

This series is a tough one to decide on. You’ve got a deep team in the Rangers who are without their top d-man and captain going against a not as deep, but top heavy team in the Penguins. If New York can keep Crosby in check, they’ll win the series for sure.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

STAT TO KNOW: Rangers – 26th in PK%; Penguins – 2nd in CF%

WESTERN CONFERENCE

New_Dallas_Stars vs. New_Dallas_Stars

Season Series: Stars won, 4-1

Finally we get a matchup of the old North Stars versus the North Stars’ Minnesota-replacement, the Wild. Minnesota comes into this one as losers of five straight games to close out the regular season. If it wasn’t for Colorado losing their last six games of the season, this could be a different matchup. But here we are nonetheless. It was revealed within the last few days that Zach Parise, Minnesota’s leading scorer in the regular season, could miss an indefinite amount of time due to aggravating a herniated disk in his back. This is about the worst news the Wild could have gotten as there is no way they win a series without Parise. But, to try and move on they’ll need big contributions from players like Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville, etc. There’s no easy way to replace a Zach Parise-type player. Also, add in that Vanek may not even play in the first round and that Erik Haula is “iffy” for Game 1, and you begin to see a big problem for Minnesota. They’ll have to heavily rely on their defense and Devan Dubnyk to slow down the Stars’ offense.

Speaking of the Stars, they finished the year as champions of arguably the best division in hockey while leading the NHL in goals scored. Jamie Benn ended the season with 89 points (good for 2nd in the league), and Tyler Seguin, despite missing 10 games, finished with 73. However, it is unclear whether Seguin will be ready for round one due to an Achilles injury that has kept him sidelined since March. Even if he does miss this series, or the majority of it, the Stars should still be in good shape. What Dallas has to worry most about is their goaltending. Their team save percentage is .904, which is tied for the 4th worst in the NHL. It will likely be Kari Lehtonen starting in Game 1 for the Stars over Antti Niemi, but nothing is official as of yet. Luckily for Dallas, they are going against a Minnesota team that finished 18th in goals per game and will be without their top scorer. While Dallas doesn’t have a ton of postseason experience, the addition of players such as Sharp, Oduya, and Spezza who have all either won the Cup or played deep into the postseason should help them get through some rough patches.

The Wild are already in a hole in this series due to injuries, and they’ll need lots of fortunate occurrences to come out on top.

-Dallas wins series, 4-1.

STAT TO KNOW: Wild – 27th in PK%; Stars – 4th in PP%

56 vs. st-louis-blues-logo

Season Series: Blues won, 3-2

This series may be the single best matchup in the entire first round of the playoffs. The two teams met five times in the regular season, and three of those times the game was decided in overtime or a shootout. For the Blackhawks, they’ll be without Duncan Keith for Game 1 as he finishes up his six game suspension. Other than that, everyone else is ready to go. Their second line of Panarin, Anisimov, and Kane cooled off a bit in March, but has since regained their early season form. Kane ended the year leading the league in points and finished with 46 goals. Panarin led all rookies in goals (30), assists (47), and points (77). Those two alone can win a series if they continue to fire on all cylinders. The top line of Ladd, Toews, and Hossa started to increase their production until Hossa went down with back-to-back injuries, but now they’re all healthy and will need to create offense yet again. Where Chicago has the potential to make themselves the Cup favorite lies within their bottom two lines. If they get production from their fourth line again like they did last spring with the same three players, and if their third line continues to create chances like they have been as of late, they’ll be an extremely tough out for any team. Their weakness is their defense. They have yet to find a way to fully replace Johnny Oduya and have had a revolving door on their bottom pair. Corey Crawford will likely be tested in this one, and he’ll somehow have to regain his mid-season form to help his team advance.

The Blues come into the first round with everyone back and healthy. They finished the year ranked 4th in fewest goals against average, and 1st in team save percentage. Obviously, this is a team that relies on keeping the puck out of their net to be successful. When you look at their forward lines, you definitely notice that they have really good depth, but they lack that top-end firepower. Sure, Tarasenko was a 40-goal scorer this season, but after that they do not match up with Chicago in terms of offense. Where St. Louis is going to win or lose this series is defense. Can they stop Chicago’s offense, or limit it, for four games out of seven? We’ll see. They definitely have the defensive corps and goaltending to do it, but actually doing it successfully for a whole playoff series is not easy. If they can shutdown the Blackhawks’ 2nd ranked powerplay, St. Louis will have a good shot at winning this series. However, while the Blues do have the league’s third best penalty kill, they have a tendency to end up in the box as they ranked 9th in penalty minutes this year. In what will be a physical series, the Blues are going to have to not be dumb and take stupid penalties that will give the Blackhawks more powerplay time.

I’m expecting a bruising series here, and one that could potentially go seven games. In the end though, Chicago’s ability to score along with their experience in the playoffs should put them over the top.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

STAT TO KNOW: Blackhawks – 2nd in PP%; Blues – 5th in Faceoff %

NHL-Nashville-Predators-Logo-Wallpaper vs. ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO

Season Series: Predators won, 2-1

What we have here is a matchup of two of the NHL’s best teams over the course of the second half of this season. Nashville started the year pretty slow, then they acquired Ryan Johansen in exchange for Seth Jones and everything seemed to turn around. They rank near the middle of the pack in most offensive and defensive categories, yet they still have decent forward depth and one of the league’s best sets of top four defensemen. Given the Ducks’ offensive capabilities, the Predators will need that defense to elevate their game to the next level. Pekka Rinne, who had a subpar season by his standards, cannot take a night off at this point. His team will need to ride on his shoulders from time to time in this series. If Nashville can get timely scoring, especially from their top guys such as Forsberg and Neal, they’ll have a shot in this series.

For Anaheim, they simply just need to play their game. They have the edge in talent and depth over Nashville, they’re one of the top teams in possession (52.4% Corsi rating), and they are the top team on both the powerplay and penalty kill. They have suffered some injuries to players such as David Perron, Rickard Rakell, and Kevin Bieksa, and it’s unclear which, if any, of those players will see ice time in this series. Where they could run into problems is on defense. The Ducks run a little thin in this department, and a good offensive team could potentially give them trouble.

On paper, the Ducks should have this thing locked up. They have the talent and statistical edge over Nashville. However, anything could always happen.

-Anaheim wins series, 4-2.

STAT TO KNOW: Predators – 1st in fewest shots against/game; Ducks – 1st in PP% and PK%

crestonwht_rgb vs. third_jersey_logo

Season Series: Sharks won, 3-2

Who doesn’t love another good rivalry in the first round? Next to Chicago – St. Louis, this is the next most heated matchup of the opening round. The Sharks weren’t even really supposed to be a playoff team this season, but General Manager Doug Wilson kept his core players intact and it has paid off so far. Joe Thornton (82 points) had what many are calling a Hart Trophy-worthy season if not for Patrick Kane, and he was closely followed by Joe Pavelski (78) and Brent Burns (75). What was most impressive about the Sharks this season in both a good and bad sense was the fact that they led the NHL in road victories with 28, but had the fewest home wins (18) of any team to make the playoffs. For a team that has always had a great home ice advantage, their home woes this season are mind boggling. Will it be an issue in the playoffs? Maybe, except that they do not have home ice advantage in this series, which may benefit them. Aside from that, the Sharks rank 4th in goals per game and 10th in goals against average. Their blue line is surprisingly deep, and they have two solid goalies. Martin Jones appears ready to get the Game 1 start, but if he falters early look for James Reimer to replace him.

Standing in the Sharks’ way is the team that has won two of the last four Stanley Cups: the Kings. This is what Los Angeles lives for. They aren’t a great regular season team, but as soon as the playoffs begin, they become one of the best teams in hockey. They have the depth at forward and the right goaltender to go all the way, but for once it’s the defense that may hurt them. That’s not to say that their defensive unit is a bad one by any means, but they aren’t what they were during their previous two Cup runs. Aside from that, L.A. did lead the NHL in possession numbers this season and ranked 3rd in shots per 60 minutes of play. If they can find their playoff form again after a year off from the postseason, look out.

The Sharks always give L.A. problems. They were up 3-0 on the Kings two years ago in the playoffs, but ended up losing four straight. I’m not saying that exact same thing will take place again, but the Kings are in for a tough series.

-Los Angeles wins series, 4-3.

STAT TO KNOW: Sharks – 4th in goals per game; Kings – 1st in possession

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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.

Blackhawks – Ducks preview

Patrick Kane, Frederik AndersenThis year’s Western Conference Final features some familiar faces, and some not so familiar faces. On the one hand, we’ve got the Chicago Blackhawks who are making their fifth appearance in the WCF in the last seven years. On the other hand, there’s the Anaheim Ducks. The last time the Ducks made it this far in the postseason was 2007 when they eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup. Of the players on that ’07 team, only three remain.

The Ducks finished this season tied with the Blues for the most points in the Western Conference (109) and held the tiebreaker over St. Louis thus giving them the top spot in the conference. So clearly, they’re a solid team. But what about them makes them so good?

Well, they’ve got one of the best lines in all of the NHL. That line features the star names of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, as well as Patrick Maroon. While most average fans may not be familiar with Maroon, he is no pushover. The 6’2″, 230 pound winger can play a bruising game while also owning the ability to put the puck in the net. He’s not Getzlaf or Perry, but he is a nice complement to them. As for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, they are playing some great hockey this postseason. Perry leads the league with 15 points these playoffs, and Getzlaf is not far behind with 12.

Their second line consists of Matt Beleskey, Ryan Kesler, and Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg and Kesler rank third and fourth on the team in points this postseason, while Beleskey has just 5 of his own. All of his 5 points, however, are goals. This line is a pretty stellar defensive line, which is no surprise seeing as how Ryan Kesler is a former Selke Trophy winner.

The third and fourth lines of the Ducks are good, but not really great. They have some nice players such as Andrew Cogliano and Nate Thompson, but they just haven’t seemed to be able to generate a whole lot so far. The majority of Anaheim’s offense is provided by their top two lines.

Defensively, the Ducks are weak. This is most likely their achilles heel.

Hampus Lindholm, Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler, and Sami Vatanen are all pretty solid d-men when the play is in the offensive zone. They can generate from the blue line and contribute to the team’s offensive success. It’s when they are forced to defend in their own zone that these guys often find themselves in trouble. Both Winnipeg and Calgary were able to exploit this at times already this postseason, but neither team possessed enough offensive firepower to really make the Ducks pay. A team like the Blackhawks will make Anaheim pay for their lack of quality defensive defensemen.

In goal, the Ducks are riding the hot play of Frederik Andersen. During the first two round of the playoffs, Andersen posted a 1.96 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. Both of those statistics are respectable and deserve some recognition. Like most of his teammates, however, Andersen has never played this deep into the postseason. How he handles the pressure of playing in the Western Conference Final remains to be seen.

As for the Blackhawks, they come into this series fresh off a sweep of the Minnesota Wild, who many considered the hottest team in hockey heading into the second round. In beating the Wild, not only did the Hawks beat a very good team, but they also knocked out another Vezina Trophy finalist in Devan Dubnyk (Chicago beat Pekka Rinne in round one). Against two finalists for the best goaltender in the NHL during the regular season, the Blackhawks made both look mediocre at best.

Offensively, the Hawks have been led by Patrick Kane, who has 13 points this postseason and has scored at least one goal in five straight games. The team’s top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa has been very good and usually outplays whichever line is matched against them. That’s not really hard to believe when you consider that line has two future Hall of Famers.

The second line of Bryan Bickell, Brad Richards, and Patrick Kane has been good as well, although mostly because of Patrick Kane. The Hawks could really use a hot stretch from Bickell, who has earned a name for himself with his postseason performances the last two seasons. Even despite his lack of offensive production, Bickell has been a one man wrecking ball through the first two rounds with his physical play. That will need to continue.

The Blackhawks’ bottom two lines are what could put them over the top in this series. Their third line of Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, and Teuvo Teravainen was outstanding against Minnesota. When they play the way they did in the second round, they’re basically a top two line. Due to the acquisition of Vermette at the trade deadline, it has allowed Joel Quenneville to move Andrew Shaw from the third line center position to the fourth line right wing spot; his natural position. This, along with the unexpected chemistry shown from Andrew Desjardins (another trade deadline acquisition) with his fourth line linemates, Marcus Kruger and Shaw, has made Chicago’s fourth line extremely valuable this postseason. They not only get matched up against the opposing team’s top line most of the time, but they also have been consistently creating offense. You can’t ask for much more from your fourth line.

The biggest reason Chicago did not defeat L.A. in last year’s WCF was because they couldn’t effectively roll four lines. This year they can and are arguably the deepest team in hockey at the forward position.

On defense, the Blackhawks have their usual top guys of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya. They are just about as good of a top four as you’ll find in the NHL. It’s the fifth and sixth defensemen where the Hawks run in to some problems. Now that Michal Rozsival is done for the season with a fractured ankle, Kimmo Timonen will be forced to pick up some more minutes, which at 40 years old is more of a challenge than it sounds. Also, Rozsival’s injury means David Rundblad will be joining the lineup. Rundblad will most likely be paired with Duncan Keith, something that we saw a lot of during the regular season. The problem with Rundblad is that he can be a turnover machine. He absolutely must be smarter with the puck and not cost his team in this series.

The goaltending for the Hawks is actually better than what most people might think. After a rough first round, Corey Crawford has regained his regular season form and is playing at the top of his game. In the four games against the Wild in the second round, Crawford allowed just 7 goals. A couple of those goals came in the final minutes of Game Four when Minnesota was forced into desperation mode. Another 3 of those 7 goals came in the second period of Game 1. Needless to say, for nearly the entirety of the four games against the Wild, Corey Crawford was outstanding.

So now that we’ve briefly gone over each team’s make-up, here’s how this series will be won:

  • Depth. Depth is a must in the playoffs, and especially when you get to this stage. Whichever team gets better play from their third and fourth lines will likely have an advantage.
  • Special Teams. Both Chicago and Anaheim struggles on the powerplay during the regular season. During these playoffs, however, the Ducks have had the best powerplay in the league while converting 31% of the time. The Hawks rank fifth with a 20% conversion rate. On the penalty kill, the Ducks currently rank fifth, and the Hawks twelfth. After leading the NHL in PK percentage for most of the season, the Blackhawks saw their penalty kill percentage significantly drop over the final month. They haven’t really turned that trend around yet this postseason. Scoring on the powerplay could prove to be a huge part of this series.
  • Goaltending. This one’s kind of obvious, but needs to be mentioned. You can’t win the Cup without receiving stellar goaltending. Both goalies in this series are coming in hot. The question becomes who will falter?
  • Experience. Here is where Chicago has a big advantage. Their players and coaches have been here before, and most of them have won at least one Stanley Cup. The same cannot be said of the Ducks or their coaches. Bruce Boudreau is making his first ever appearance in a Conference Final, and it will be interesting to see whether or not he can come close to matching the smarts of Joel Quenneville in this series. Aside from that, having been here many times before should give the Blackhawks an advantage when it comes to winning on the road. The Hawks always get at least one important road victory per series.

After all of that, here’s my prediction.

The top two lines of each team will play to a draw, or close to it, in this series, and the Blackhawks will receive the better production from their bottom two lines than the Ducks. Defensively, the Hawks’ forwards will burn the Ducks d-men and create an abundance of scoring chances; something that Andersen has not been used to these playoffs. This isn’t the Calgary Flames anymore that Anaheim is going up against… Unless Andersen plays out of his mind, the Hawks should see some great offensive production. The team defense of the Hawks is very good, and should limit the number of good chances against Corey Crawford. As long as Crawford comes up with the necessary saves, the Hawks should be alright.

Depth, overall team defense, and experience should put the Blackhawks over the top against the Ducks.

Hawks in six.

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.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Quarterfinals predictions

Incredibly, it’s already playoff time again in the NHL. Each season seems to pass by quicker than the one before it. This year, the amount of parity in the league appears to be as great as it’s ever been. Twelve teams finished with over 100 points on the season, and none of them appears to be an absolute clear-cut favorite to win the Cup. Or maybe in better terms, they all seem capable of winning it.

With that, here are my first round predictions.

144 vs. 174

This year’s President’s Trophy winners and the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Rangers, are about as talented of a team as you’ll find from top to bottom in the NHL. They may not have the extreme offensive firepower that other teams have throughout the league, but each of their lines is more than capable of finding the back of the net. Add in the fact that their blue line, now with Keith Yandle, is arguably the best in hockey, and that they have one of the world’s best goalies, there’s really no reason to bet against these guys.

The Penguins ended the season with one of the worst second half records in hockey. To put that into context, they were right there with Arizona in terms of record since the All Star break. That is not good. Still, they are a team with names such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and cannot be taken lightly. Despite just making it into the postseason as the second Wild Card team in the East, the Penguins will not be an easy out. This is a team that has a lot of playoff experience and seems to have the ability to take their game to the next level when it matters. As usual, however, the Penguins will only go as far as Fleury lets them.

All in all, this really should be a good series. These two teams do not like each other and will no doubt let that be known on the ice. In the end though, I just don’t see the Rangers being ousted in the first round. They’ll knock out Pittsburgh for the second year in a row.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO vs. WinnipegJets

The Ducks ended the season tied with the second most points in hockey at 109, but won the tie-breaker with the Blues and therefore got the number one seed in the West. The addition of Ryan Kesler to their lineup this year was a big one and added a lot of depth to their already deep group of centers. Defensively, the Ducks are not as strong as their record as a team may indicate. They ranked 20th in the league in goals against per game, which is not good. Their defensemen are not necessarily below average, but I don’t think they are good enough to win the Cup by any means. Aside from that, they have some big questions marks in goal for the second straight postseason.

As for the Jets, they are making their first playoff appearance since returning to Winnipeg just a few years ago. That city will be electric for Game 3 and should propel the team to at least one home victory between games 3 and 4. As for as the team itself, they will be a tough out. They’re one of only a couple teams in the league that can effectively combine great size, skill, and speed. They are a big team and will wear you down physically in a short amount of time. While their goaltending has been above average this season, to me it could go either way for them in the playoffs. Ondrej Pavolec tends to be an up and down type player, but has played really well most of this year. If he can keep up his current level of play, I think the Jets have a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset.

I am anticipating this series going the distance. The winner will be decided by goaltending, and at this point, I couldn’t tell you who has a definitive advantage in that category.

-Anaheim wins series, 4-3.

si34dm1f9jex9eoexq9l1svqk vs. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h

The Canadiens were at or near the top of the NHL standings from start to finish this year and ended the season with the league’s best goals against average. Offensively, however, they rank 20th in goals per game. While they might not be the strongest team in that regard, their defense should make up for it. Their depth on the blue line, coupled with Carey Price in net, makes them arguably the toughest team in the league to score on as evidenced by their GA/G.

In Ottawa, they just witnessed a semi-miracle. The Sens finished out the regular season going 23-4-4 in their last 31 games, thanks to rookie goalie sensation Andrew Hammond. The guy went 20-1-5 over the past couple months and helped sneak the Senators into a Wild Card spot with a win in the last game of the regular season. Not many people had Ottawa pegged as a playoff team back in October, but here they are. Aside from Hammond, rookie Mark Stone has done everything in his power to earn this year’s Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. He ended the year with 26 goals and 38 assists, basically carrying the Sens in goal scoring over the last couple weeks.

It wasn’t long ago that the Senators pulled off a big upset over the Habs in the first round of the playoffs, and this year’s team seems to have the makeup to do that again. While I won’t specifically predict that to happen, I wouldn’t be shocked if it did.

-Montreal wins series, 4-2.

st-louis-blues-logo vs. Minnesota-Wild-Wallpaper-

St. Louis yet again enters the playoffs as a “favorite” to win the Cup by a lot of people. Unfortunately for them though, they haven’t lived up to those expectations in recent years, or ever for that matter. All that aside, this year’s team does look to have the makeup of a true contender. Along with the Rangers, the Blues have one of the league’s elite group of d-men. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk might just be the best one-two punch of right handed defensemen on any team in the NHL. Add in the fact that they have Bouwmeester and now Michalek, and the Blues are without a doubt one of the hardest teams to score on. Offensively, St. Louis got a lot better this year. Vladmir Tarasenko is coming off an injury, but when healthy is lethal. The emergence of Jaden Schwartz as a top six forward has been a welcomed one for the Blues, and has made them a much better goal scoring team. Their only real question mark is in goal, where it looks like Jake Allen will be their starter for Game 1.

Was there a better team in the NHL since January 1st than the Minnesota Wild? Devan Dubnyk almost single handedly brought this team back from the dead to earn the top Wild Card spot in the West, and he should be considered an MVP candidate. He has started practically every game for the Wild since signing there and went 27-9-7 on the year. On offense, the Wild are better this year than in year’s past as they ranked 12th in goals per game. Zach Parise is constantly a major threat with the puck on his stick, and now that they have Thomas Vanek on the roster, their top two lines have become much tougher to handle. On the blue line they have Superman himself in Ryan Suter, who averaged more ice time per game than any other player in the league (29:03). After him, the Wild are good, but not great.

My question is this: will Devan Dubnyk become worn out at any point in this series after playing almost every game since January? Maybe, maybe not. Even if he remains at the top of his game, however, I’m not sure that’ll be enough for the Wild to pull off the upset.

-St. Louis wins series, 4-2.

161 vs. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h

 

Here we have the seemingly annual underachieving Washington Capitals, although this season was a little different. They didn’t quite start the year at a playoff pace, but over the course of the second half of the season, they have turned it on. Alex Ovechkin topped the 50 goal plateau again and finished the year with more than anyone else in the league. As a team, the Caps ended the regular season ranked 6th in the NHL in goals per game. Braden Holtby closed out his regular season 41 wins, good for third among all goaltenders, and will need to be great for his team to have success in the playoffs. Defensively, the Capitals also rank in the top 10, as they ended with the 7th best goals against average in the league.

The Islanders have now made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons after not seeing postseason action in quite some time. They began this season as possibly the hottest team in hockey and held the number one spot in the East for a decent amount of time. John Tavares has become one of the game’s elite players and fell just one point shy of Jamie Benn for the league lead in points this year. Him and Kyle Okposo lead the forward group on this team in terms of offensive production, and blue liners Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuck make up one of the NHL’s most lethal defensive pairings. In net, Jaroslav Halak seems to have found a home with the Islanders. He’s had good postseason success in the past, and he’ll need it again.

This is one series that I really don’t have a good feel for. In my mind, it could go either way. However, with the way these two teams finished out their regular seasons, I have to lean towards Washington.

-Washington wins series, 4-2.

6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h vs. jesus-clip-art-2

First of all, how many people had either of these teams making the playoffs back in the preseason? Couldn’t be many. Regardless of that, here they are as first round opponents. After doing what many people perceived as a mini rebuild late last season and over the summer, the Canucks put together a 101 point season. Start to finish this year, the Canucks were one of the best teams in a very competitive Western Conference. Despite losing Ryan Miller a little past the halfway point of the season, the Canucks never missed a beat and kept on winning with Eddie Lack in net. He will be the team’s starter for Game One. On offense, the Sedin twins still lead this team, but Radim Vrbata proved to be a great offseason acquisition as he ended up with 31 goals and 32 assists. As far as defense goes, the Canucks are slightly below average and have a lot of inexperience on their back end.

Now to this year’s Cinderella story, the Calgary Flames. This team was sitting near or at the bottom of the league standings for the past handful of years, and now in just one year are a Wild Card team. A huge reason for that is their incredible, young talent. Another reason is their work ethic. This team works harder than possibly any other team in the NHL, thanks in large part to their coach who demands that style of play. Jiri Hudler, rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan are the offensive leaders of this team and make up the team’s first line. They have been a handful for anyone they’ve played against this year and figure to do the same against Vancouver. Calgary’s defensemen might be the most active offensively of any team’s d-men. After the previously mentioned trio of forwards, the next four players in points on the Flames are all defensemen. In goal they have Jonas Hiller, who has had a very solid season and will need to keep that up against the Canucks.

Despite these two teams combining for the fewest point total of any first round matchup, this has all the makings of being one of the best first round series this year. It’s been a while since we’ve had a series between two western Canadian teams, so hopefully this one lives up to the hype. In the end, it will come down to which team has more depth.

-Vancouver wins series, 4-3.

TampaBayLightning_LOGO vs. DRW Logo

The Lightning had been hovering around the top spot in the Eastern Conference all season, but came up five points shy of the Rangers. Led by Steven Stamkos, the Lightning own one of the league’s most threatening offenses as they finished first in the league in goals per game with a 3.16 average. Aside from Stamkos, Tampa has maybe the league’s most underrated player in Tyler Johnson, who in five fewer games finished with as many points (72) as Stamkos. On defense, the Lightning are good and have three d-pairings that are all effective and reliable. Unlike last year, they should have Ben Bishop in goal for the first round barring an unexpected injury. One could argue that his absence from the lineup last postseason was a huge reason why the Lightning got swept by Montreal in the opening round. When healthy, Bishop is one of the game’s best between the pipes.

On the other side sits the Red Wings. Detroit is making their 24th consecutive playoff appearance this year, which is flat out incredible. One of their biggest strengths is their team speed, but it’s also something that their opponent is good at as well. Whenever you have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on your team though, you can always be optimistic. The Wings finished as a top 10 team in goals per game this year, and they’ll need their offense to keep clicking in order to beat Bishop. On the blue line, Detroit is above average, but not elite. Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are a very talented first pairing and will no doubt have their hands full against the top lines of Tampa Bay. Jimmy Howard, who has proven he can be a clutch playoff performer, is going to need to bring his A game in goal this series. Without goaltending, you have no shot in the playoffs.

While I feel inclined to take Tampa Bay right away, Detroit is quietly one of the toughest teams to beat in the NHL. Add in that they have two superstars in Datsyuk and Zetterberg, a great head coach in Babcock, and a goalie who has the potential to steal a series, and you just can’t count these guys out. This one’s going the distance.

-Tampa Bay wins series, 4-3.

NHL-Nashville-Predators-Logo-Wallpaper vs. 56

The Predators had been leading the Central Division for almost the whole season until the past few weeks or so. After trading for Cody Franson before the trade deadline, the Nashville kind of went into a free fall. Their once big lead in the division quickly evaporated as both the Blues and Blackhawks made up a lot of ground on the Preds. They enter the playoffs as losers of three straight. Having said that, this is still one of the best teams in hockey. While their group of forwards is not that eye popping by any means, they do have some quality depth and can roll four lines. Their defensemen, on the other hand, can be as good as any in hockey. The top pairing of Josi and Weber may be the best duo in the league, and they are followed up by Ekholm and Jones, and Ellis and Franson. In net, I think we are all aware of who Pekka Rinne is. The guy could easily be considered the best goaltender in the NHL and without a doubt can win a series on his own.

For the Blackhawks, news broke today that Patrick Kane has been cleared to play for Game One. So much for that whole “out for 12 weeks” thing. This is very bad for Nashville and the rest of the playoff teams. Since Kane went down with his injury, the Hawks’ offense has severely struggled. Getting him back will be a huge boost. If the Hawks had been able to score over the past month and a half, they might have finished first or second in the division as their defense and goaltending have been rock solid for the most part. The addition of Kimmo Timonen on the back end really helped solidify the Hawks’ third d-pairing, and while he missed the last few games of the regular season, he is expected back for the first round. Aside from him, the Hawks still have Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya. In goal, Corey Crawford put together his best season as a starter and earned a share of the Jennings Trophy along with Carey Price. Crawford already has one ring, and there should be little doubt surrounding him as he goes for his second.

This should be a tightly contested series, and maybe a low scoring one. In the end, however, I think the Blackhawks have way too much firepower for the Predators to handle, especially with Kane now back.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

Western Conference Final prediction

After the first two rounds of the playoffs, I have correctly predicted the outcome of nine of the twelve series played. So far, New York knocking out Pittsburgh has been my biggest upset pick. Hopefully I can keep my hot streak going here.

56 vs. 940-couture-logan

So for the second year in a row, we get a Chicago-LA Western Conference Final. This is a matchup of the last two Stanley Cup winners, and many believe the winner of this series will go on and win the Cup again.

The Kings enter this series fresh off a dominating Game 7 win in Anaheim in which they beat the Ducks by a final of 6-2. I was anticipating the Kings to win that game, but not in that fashion. They are on a tear right now despite needing seven games to dispatch the Ducks. Marian Gaborik has done exactly what the Kings were praying he would do when they acquired him at the trade deadline a couple of months ago. He leads the playoffs with 9 goals, and also has 6 assists to go along with that. He also sits second in the league in points right now with 15, 4 points behind teammate Anze Kopitar. Speaking of Kopitar, this guy is playing in a different world right now. Neither Dallas or Anaheim could figure out a way to slow him down. To beat Chicago, the Kings will need those two guys to keep playing at their current pace. Besides those two, the Kings are one of the deeper teams in hockey at the forward position. They can roll four lines just about as well as anyone in the NHL, and all four of those lines have been valuable to them this postseason as the Kings are averaging the most goals per game of any team. Again, to beat the Blackhawks, they’ll need production from their depth guys. We all know the Kings are a top defensive team in the league, and they are proving that to us yet again right now. After allowing 22 goals in the first round to the Sharks, the Kings allowed just 15 to the Ducks in the second round. They rank fifth in the playoffs in GA/G, but would be higher had they not been asleep through the first 3 games of the first round against San Jose. Drew Doughty is having an excellent postseason defensively, and he is one of their most important players in the offensive zone as well. However, the Kings will need more defensemen than just Doughty to be good offensively if they want to advance. In goal, Jonathan Quick has been decent, but not outstanding like in years past. Going back to last year’s regular season and WCF, he has really struggled against the Hawks. Could Chicago already be in Quick’s head before the series even starts?

As for the Blackhawks, they knocked off the Wild in six games in the second round to get to this point, but it wasn’t easy. The Wild did what the Kings will try and do, and that is win the neutral zone and force the Hawks to play a chip-and-chase game. The Blackhawks need to figure out how to be more effective on the forecheck after chipping pucks into the offensive zone than they were against Minnesota. If they can find a way to use their speed against the Kings and put LA on their heels, that would be ideal for Chicago. To do that, Kane and Toews will need to lead the way yet again. However, without more production from guys like Hossa, Sharp, Saad, and the depth guys, Chicago could find themselves in trouble. They are hoping to get Andrew Shaw back at some point during this series, and they’ll need him. His physical and pesty presence on the ice is key in the playoffs, not to mention his ability to screen goalies on the powerplay. One thing that the Blackhawks absolutely need to do better this series than in the first two is taking less penalties. The Kings can be a dangerous team with the man advantage, so the Hawks won’t want to test them too often. Having said that, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been outstanding thus far. They lead the playoffs with a 91.3 penalty kill percentage, and now is not the time for that trend to change. A big reason for that number is the play of Corey Crawford through the first two rounds. Your goalie is your most important man on the PK, and Crawford has come up huge time and time again for the Hawks while shorthanded. This postseason, Crawford has the best save percentage and goals against average of any goalie in the league. While most people will be focusing on Quick this series (as usual), it is Crawford who has actually been the better goalie for the second postseason in a row. He’ll need the help of his defensemen against LA, and so Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya will need to be really good to beat the Kings. How well the pairing of Hjalmarsson and Oduya plays could determine how this series pans out.

This is not the same Kings team that lost to the Blackhawks in 5 games during last year’s Western Conference Final. They are healthy now and have more firepower than they did a year ago. That said, I still don’t think the Blackhawks have played their best game(s) yet. They didn’t really come close to doing so against the Wild, yet still won that series in six games. I’d anticipate the Hawks to take their game to the next level now, and it’ll be on the Kings to try and stop them. If they do, or if the Blackhawks run out of gas after all the hockey they’ve played the last two years, LA will advance. If Chicago does begin to play their game and find some new energy, it’ll be them going on to their second straight Stanley Cup Final.

This should be a good one.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

 

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.