This year for the NHL playoffs features a team who lost in the finals last year as the best team in the league this season and the team who won it all being left out of the post season. The end of the season this season wasn’t as thrilling as last year, but does feature some potential collapses as well as some teams getting hot in the second half of the season. We have 5 Canadian hockey teams this postseason and 4 of them are facing each other in the first round. Lines up to be an exciting first round of the playoffs and my predictions for them are as follows:
1) New York Rangers vs. 4) Pittsburgh Penguins
Analysis: The Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year for the first time since 1994 and then dropped to the Los Angeles Kings. This year they came back with vengeance and won the President’s Trophy with the best record in all of hockey. They are lucky enough to play the Penguins first. Maybe that’s sarcastic and maybe it’s part truth. The Rangers were 3-0-1 against Pittsburgh this season with their only loss coming in a shootout way back in November. The Penguins skid into the playoffs and barely hung on over the Bruins to get in. The Penguins still have 43 wins this season and they have a guy name Sidney Crosby who can make a difference. The Rangers are clearly the stronger team and they carry more momentum over Pittsburgh as the Penguins managed to go 1-4-1 in the last month of the season.
Pick: Rangers in 5
2) Washington Capitals vs. 3) New York Islanders
Analysis: This should be an excellent series and one of the best in the East. Unfortunately for the Islanders, they have to face off against one of the scariest teams in the East. The Isles and Caps went 2-0-2 in the regular season in which all but 1 went into OT. In fact, they are as even as it gets as they both finished with exactly the same number of points, 101. The Islanders took a bit of a collapse themselves as they lost 12 of their last 18. I give the edge to the Capitals goaltender which is most important in the postseason, but either way it will be punch for punch and wouldn’t be surprised with an incorrect pick in this one.
Pick: Capitals in 6
1) Montreal Canadians vs. 4) Ottawa Senators
Analysis: The Canadians missed the best record by just 3 points to the New York Rangers and they get the hottest team in the league in the first round because of it. This series features 2 of the 5 Canadian teams in the post season. Also, Ottawa owns the series during the course of the regular season by going 3-1-0 against Montreal which includes 3 of their last 4 and all by 2 goals or more. Impressive. Ottawa even won 21 of their last 27 games which includes a few winning streaks of 5 or more wins. Also impressive. The Canadians are the stronger team, but streaks in hockey, especially leading to the post season matter most. I’m playing the hot hand with my prediction.
Pick: Senators in 7
2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3) Detroit Red Wings
Analysis: Tampa leads the regular season series 3-1-0 and lost the last meeting against Detroit by way of the shutout. Mike Babcock may be on his way out, but only time will tell. It is still weird for me to see the Red Wings in the East and even more weird to see the Red Wings not as mighty as they used to be. The Lightning had a great season and last year in the first round they got screwed out of a few calls which cost them a few games in their series against the Habs. Tampa had a 50 win season and 7 more points than they finished with last season. They have a strong goaltender in Bishop who was hurt for the post season last season and are obviously led with Stamkos. It was once difficult to pick against Detroit in the post season, but not so difficult this season.
Pick: Lightning in 4
1) St. Louis Blues vs. 4) Minnesota Wild
Analysis: Does everyone remember last season when the Wild were the strong underdogs against my beloved Colorado Avalanche? They were awful in the regular season against them, but they threw a ton of punches on the young team and they pulled them apart. This season series could have happened last year, but now we are rewarded this season. The regular season between the two teams is tied 2-2-0, however St. Louis favors the Wild by 9 points. The Blues are 5th in the league in scoring, led by Tarasenko and Steen, 4th in Goals Against led by Elliott, and 4th on their power play percentage. They are also a top 10 team in killing penalties. This is a strong hold for any team going into the playoffs. We all saw what Minnesota was capable of doing last season and they likely have a stronger, more experienced team this season. They had the ability to win on the road last season and they were able to punch their opponents in the mouth. This season will be no different, but I predict a different outcome. Minnesota is 1st in the NHL killing penalties, however they struggle when they have a man advantage. Those can be frustrating and really wear down a team and their momentum and may be the difference in this series.
Pick: Blues in 7
2) Nashville Predators vs. 3) Chicago Blackhawks
Analysis: These teams are separated by just 2 points and that gave Nashville home ice advantage. Shouldn’t matter. The talent on Chicago is extreme and their experience is greater. They both had remarkable seasons, however the Hawks lead the season series 3-1-0. Chicago is always dangerous in the playoffs when they are lead with Toews and Kane. They did struggle at times scoring goals which hurt their ranking, but as always their goals against is top 5 in the league. They have a strong defense and time and time again it’s proven that’s what ultimately wins a Cup. Nashville on the other hand got off to a hot start and was best in the league for a time, but tampered off during the second half. They are led by young Filip Forsberg and Rinne in net, but I just don’t think they have enough fire power to beat out Chicago this season.
Pick: Blackhawks in 5
1) Anaheim Ducks vs. 4) Winnipeg Jets
Analysis: The Ducks are 10 points better than the Jets and though they only played three times during the regular season, Anaheim is 3-0-0 against the Jets. The Jets return to the playoffs for the first time since returning to Canada. But like last year, I think the Ducks will have their hands full in the first round. The Jets finished 5th in their division and in the NHL ranks they are a mere average team, however, they are led with some great talent. The crowd will come rocking, but they just have to hope they manage 1 victory in sunny California between the first two games of the series. The Ducks are strong, but they are also beatable. They don’t dominate any category amongst the rankings in the NHL, but they are also led with Getzlaf and Perry and they are dominating in the post season. I’m going with a big upset here, because it happens to be a hunch.
Pick: Jets in 6
2) Vancouver Canucks vs. 3) Calgary Flames
Analysis: I don’t know what the preseason predictions were from analysts, but I’m willing to bet that Calgary wasn’t on any of their lists to make the post season. This series features the last 2 Canadian teams and the second of the match ups in their country. The Flames return to the playoffs and they have an aggressive fan base that will light up the Saddle dome. In the regular season these teams were even and tied 2-2-0. The Flames failed to reach 100 points, but they are 20 points better than they were last season. They are led by a guy named by Jiri Hudler. If you don’t know his name yet, you should get to know it now. He has 76 points for Calgary this season and leads the team in goals and assists. He’s 31 years old, but he isn’t talked about much, but is finally having a great season in goals. Calgary has also been successful in net this season with Hiller. On the other end with Vancouver, they are back in the rankings of scoring over 100 points and they no longer have Luongo, which has been a struggle in the past during this time of year. As always they have the Sedin twins leading the way and I’m honestly not sure how this series will go, but I’ll take a shot in the dark.
Pick: Flames in 6