Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Round One

We made it.  We made it here.  Holy cow.  I’m freaking out.

Last year’s playoffs were ridiculous.  There’s no reason to think this’ll be any different.  I have a couple, not rules, but things I like to see from playoff hockey teams.

  1. I like experience.
  2. I like teams that have been good all year long
  3. I like teams that win face-offs and set up attacks well

Those are kinda the rules.  Keep those in mind below.


Ottawa Senators vs. Montreal Canadiens

We should just blame everything on Boston for allowing the Senators in the playoffs and (in the NBA) the Nets in a possible playoff position.  This Ottawa team fired Paul MacLean in December after a horrible start.  Ottawa’s problems in the first half of the year went around their goalie situation. Three guys on their team have started more than 20 games this year.  It’s been their biggest problem.

The Canadiens, like I predicted, dominated all year long.  There was never any real worry with this team for me.  They have so much experience.  Two of some of the best players in the league.  The best goalie in the league in Carey Price.  There was nothing not to like and there still isn’t.

Montreal has some ridiculous +/- scores on their team, and they revolve around P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty.  Both have point shares over 10, which is pretty insane.  In this series, the Canadiens will have to attack Ottawa with speed.  Getting their goalies dis-ortiened and confused is the key.  Take advantage of their weakness, and get goals out of it.

The Senators in this series has the much tougher task.  They’ll have to score off the breakaway, as attacks will be hard to set up due to Montreal’s tough defense.  Carey Price is another issue for Ottawa, as he has only 7% of shots get past him.  The Sens are gonna have to force turnovers and bad passes if they have a shot in this series.

My main problem with the Senators: They win hockey games relying on the other team’s mistakes, and Montreal doesn’t make many.  Ottawa isn’t strong enough to set up on their own against a team like the Canadiens.  Honestly, I don’t think they have a chance.  It was a good run, but the Cinderella ends here.

Prediction: Montreal in 4

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings

I said in October that if the Red Wings were going to make the playoffs, they would have to stay healthy.  They did a good job with that, and look at where they are.  I’ve liked this team most of the year, but have never loved them.  They’re very smooth with their possessions, but turn the puck over a lot.   They’re pretty average when it comes to their offense and defense, but hockey is more about how you play together.  Detroit does a good job with that.  They have chemistry.

Tampa Bay was no surprise, like Montreal.  Their offense is insane.  Tampa Bay scores more than anyone in the league.  That’s the biggest key in this series.  It’s about matchups.

Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson were tied in points this year at 72.  Johnson had more assists, but Stamkos is more athletic and really flies around the ice.  The Red Wings are gonna have to control this scoring duo.  This is what could lose this series for Detroit.  They allow Johnson and Stamkos to set up and generate an attack.  The attack continues on and Detroit gets tired.  Then they allow a goal.  It happens all the time, and I’m quite concerned for the Red Wings and their handling of that duo.

I don’t expect Detroit to get totally dominated though.  They have a ton of experience with guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.  Both are over 34 and are still playing at an incredible level.  These guys are gonna have to play extraordinarily well in this series.  They’ve done it all year.  The Red Wings will have to set up attacks around Zetterberg and Datsyuk, because they aren’t gonna be able to defend the Lightning.

I hope this is a good series.  It has a lot different possible paths.  I won’t shocked by anything, but here’s my best guess:

Prediction: Lightning in 6

Rangers vs. Penguins

Man, Pittsburgh is walking into this series like a zombie.  They’re tired, mad, and hurt.  This team collapsed late in the year, and barely sneaked in due to Boston’s lackluster ending to the year.  Everyone got hurt.. ok, well, not everyone, but most of their key guys.  Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin got hurt around the same time, and it led Sydney Crosby to go into Sid-the-Kid mode and take over.  I’ll tell you what, Pittsburgh wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.

Now, Pittsburgh is coming into this series a tad lost.  I mean, they’re barely here!  So guess who they get?

That’s right.  The President Trophy winners New York Rangers!! (Homerism seeping into this column).  They’ve been great all year.  They play outstanding defense.  Their defensemen are their star players.  Those guys play great hockey and mean so much to what they’ve done this year.  New York’s defense is what they’re known for, but the offense is just as good.  Rick Nash has had a great season.  Chris Keider’s season has been totally underrated, as he’s posting a 24 +/-, third on the team.

This series is going to revolve around how Pittsburgh comes out in Games One and Two.  If they’re still rusty from the late season haul, it’s gonna be troubling.  The case is there for Game 1 to be a must win for them, just because of momentum.

The Penguins are also going to have to be careful with penalties.  Kris Letang is out for the year. He’s arguably their best power play guy.  In fact, he leads the Pens in power play assists.  He’s a great set up man Pittsburgh will miss.

The goalie matchup is incredible in this series, with Henrik Lundqvist in the net for the Rangers. While he was hurt in March, Cam Talbot stepped up and played great.  I’ll have no issues if they choose to start him in a playoff game this postseason.

I expect this to be a tough series for the Rangers.  Pittsburgh is a tough team.  They’re just tired and hurt.  They could come out and win Game 1, have me on my heels and a tad nervous.  But they could also be their normal, late-season selfs and not skate fast enough.  It’s all about the Pens coming out of the gate.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

Capitals vs. Islanders

I really think this could be the best series in the first round.  These two teams have been good all year.  Washington has gone under the radar.  This team is really good.  They have experience and youth.  They have a good, but not great goaltender.  They are ranked 6th in offense and defense.  So yeah, they’re pretty fun.  I think they’re fun to watch.

New York was this year’s surprise team.  They score, score, and score.  John Taveras fell just short of the scoring title, and is one of the best young players in the league.  He leads the Islanders in most of the scoring categories.  He’s, well, really good!  You should know who he is!

This is gonna be a great and fun series.  Both teams score like crazy, and set up attacks very well.  This series could average something like four goals a game per team.  Yea, that’ll be fun.

Where this series takes a turn is the goalie situation.  i’m not sure either goalie is great, and with these offenses, it could get ugly for one team.  Jaroslav Halak is okay.  I mean, he did go 38-17 this year, but had a 2.43 GAA (Goals Against Average), which is a tad high.

Braden Holtby is younger and better.  His Goals Saved Above Average is ridiculous at 17.46.  The guy is a machine and started 71 games this year.  And their backup isn’t great.

With two great offenses in this series, the goalie who does a tad worse than the other could end up being the reason why his team lost the series.  This is gonna be a fun seven games.  It’s too bad one of these teams will be heartbroken, because they’re both very good overall.

Prediction: Capitals in 7


Wild vs. Blues

This Wild team, oh this Wild team.  I have no words.  They start slow in games, and comeback in the third period and win.  It’s just ridiculous.  If you looked at this team in January, Mike Yeo was on the hot seat.  Their goalie situation was a mess.  The defense wasn’t playing well.  I mean, this was one big dumpster fire.  Then the Devan Dubnyk trade happened on January 15th.  And look at where we are.

The Blues have been good all year.  Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the best players in the league, at only 23.  St. Louis made moves at the deadline to acquire older experienced guys.  Three of the six oldest guys on their team they traded for at the deadline.  C’mon, they wanted leadership.  Agree with me.

This is going to be a fantastic series.  I live in the Twin Cities, and the excitement is overwhelming.  Everyone’s pumped, everyone’s overly cocky, everyone has crazy predictions.

I really like this St. Louis team and have all year.  They’re super fast, and set up attacks very well.    My only concern with the Blues would be their defense, and their lack of experience there.  While they do have older guys, they aren’t… totally great.

Minnesota can take advantage of that.  While they aren’t stellar offensively, the have very productive players who play well together.  Zach Parise is a fantastic player, and is one of my favorite players to watch in the league.  Hockey takes chemistry, and the Wild have it.

Minnesota’s team problem is the slow starts.  In the regular season, that’s typically what happened.  They come out slow, don’t get shots, and depending on who they played, fell behind.  They’d play behind most of the game, until the third period hit.  The jets came on, and they come back and win.  This happens on a weekly basis, and everyone who watches Wild games knows it.

I don’t think that’ll work in the playoffs.  Teams are too good for that to happen.  That’s my main concern for the Wild.  Unless their opponent starts slow, they’re in trouble.  And I really don’t think the Blues will allow that to happen.

Prediction: Blues in 6

Predators vs. Blackhawks

The runner up for best series of the first round, Chicago and Nashville are very different teams.  Though they were both very good during the regular season, the Blackhawks play outstanding defense, while Nashville excels on the other end.

Chicago lost Patrick Kane in late February, and while they made a ton of moves at the deadline, they didn’t panic.  Chicago’s moves worked out very well, getting guys like Antonio Vermette.  They beefed up their center position, giving lines a boost.  It worked out, and now with Kane back way ahead of schedule, they’re good to go.  Kane wasn’t even expected back till the 3rd round (if they made it that far), and I was quite concerned for the Blackhawks in the playoffs.  With him being ahead of schedule, he’ll play Game 1.

Nashville is so young and raw, and haven’t been plagued by injuries this year like Chicago.  This team plays so fast, and they get their opponents off guard with it.  When that happens, they score, and then it repeats.

Nashville’s defense is surprisingly ranked higher than their offense, and that can be attributed to goalie Pekka Rinne.  They guy is unbelievable, and will have incredible runs withing games.  He’s one of the best goalies in the league, and his point shares prove it at 14.23.

This is going to be a fantastic series.  Above, I stated my three (kinda) rules, and Nashville falls into one of the things I don’t like.  Their best players are so young.  Filip Forsberg is 20!!! 20!!!  And he leads his team in points!!  It’s unfortunate that Nashville’s biggest leadership guys don’t contribute much.  This is where Chicago has the advantage.  They know what they’re doing, while Nashville will still have to figure things out.

The Predators are gonna give the Blackhawks a run.  Chicago won’t get out of this series easily.  They’ll get tired late in games, and you have to expect Kane to be just a tad rusty.  Though, Chicago, with their best player, will get through this, but it definitely won’t be their toughest test.

 Prediction: Blackhawks in 7

Ducks vs. Jets 

Alright, I know how teams who have dominated all year freak people out when making picks in the playoffs.  Everyone thinks that because they’ve been good, this is when they’ll fall apart.  Anaheim fits that mold pretty well.  And nobody is really picking them to get out of this one easily.

The Jets are kinda like the person who you don’t really like but they keep bugging you.  You try to ignore them and you don’t really want them around, but they just keep poking you.  Then, they ask you if you want to hangout and (in Winnipeg’s case) make the playoffs.  That’s how I feel about the Jets.  They’re kinda good, kinda great, and kinda bad, all at once.  They aren’t sketchy, but aren’t in any way great.

Winnipeg doesn’t have star players.  They have Dustin Byfuglien, one of the most exciting players in the league, but they aren’t super flashy as a team.  They play good hockey, and know what they’re doing.  The Jets don’t score much, but play good enough defense to make up for it. Blake Wheeler is a super underrated player on this team, scoring the highest +/- on the team.  Andrew Ladd has great scoring abilities, and is one of those guys who see the ice very well.

Ondreji Pavelec has been fantastic as of late, but is simply average as a goalie.  He has the hot streak going for him, and if he can keep it up, the Jets have an easy advantage over the Ducks in the net.

Anahiem has a ridiculous offense featuring their three star players:  Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, and Ryan Getzlaf.  Perry has and will always be a great hockey player.  He shoot the most out of anyone on the team, and well, Wayne Gretzky can explain how everyone feels about that:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” -Wayne Gretzky

I’ve never used a heading before.  It’s pretty cool!

The Ducks struggle a bit on defense, but make up for it with their insane scoring attack.

I don’t see Winnipeg really having a shot here.  I know, I know, their crowd is insane.  Those fans are just absolutely crazy.  Whenever the Jets play the Wild in St. Paul, the crowd is about 50-50.  If the Jets do win a game in this series, it’s because of that.

In my bracket (which you’ll see later), I had the Ducks in 4.  To not look absolutely ridiculous, I’ll make it five, and give Winnipeg a win because of that crowd.

Prediction: Ducks in 5 (or 4)

Canucks vs. Flames

How are the Flames here?  Is this it for the Canucks after this playoff run?  Johnny Hockey?  Yes, wait, ok, he doesn’t deserve a question mark!!!  He’s Johnny Hockey!!!

Anyways, this is a question-filled series.  Both teams have been good this year, but not great.  They’re pretty evenly matched.

Calgary somehow got the 3rd spot in the Pacific division because the Kings fell apart.  The Flames lost their captain Mark Giordano to a torn bicep in late February.  They don’t play great defense, but have a top ten offense in the league.

Vancouver is quite similar.  They have a very good offense and an okay defense.  The Sedin twins have been decent this year, but are the leading scorers on this Canucks team.  Their stars are aging, and this is probably their last big run.  Alexandre Burrows has been great this year, and severely underrated for his impact on this team.  Even though +/- doesn’t think so.

Calgary has a ton of youth and speed, and aren’t very experienced.  The Canucks have that experience, and have showed since the turn of the decade.  The Flames are going to have to out -skate Vancouver, and get breakaway goals.  The Canucks have goaltending, well, not issues, but they have two guys capable of starting.  They’ve switched back and forth all year.  It’s very possible they play both of them in this series.

Calgary has a starting goalie who’s alright overall.  He (Jonas Miller) is not great, but not bad.  Like the Capitals-Islanders series, this could come down to who’s just a tad worse in the net.

I expect this to be a fast series, but Calgary could cause Vancouver to get tired, as their guys are older.  However, Vancouver has the experience, and they know what they’re doing.  And yes, I know I’m probably underrating Calgary.

Prediction: Canucks in 5



I don’t care what you think.  We aren’t past the first round yet.  It’s just for fun.  In fact, that’s what the playoffs are about for us:  Fun.