NHL Playoffs: First Round Preview

This will be the 2nd NHL playoffs I have covered on the site.  I do have a NHL playoff bracket, which will not be anywhere on the internet until after the Stanley Cup Final.  I’m expecting this first round to go very well for myself, besides the fact that my two teams probably won’t make it out.


Philadelphia Flyers vs. Washington Capitals 

I am so happy for this Philadelphia team.  This season started out as a dud for them, at least by my standards.  I had this Flyers team close to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, not trusting the goaltending and thinking they wouldn’t have enough talent.  Oops.

And it turns out they’re in the playoffs, with an electrifying rookie, experience, and goaltending that has finally solidified.  And they have a chance to pull off an unprecedented upset, which I believe is certainly possible.

The Flyers are unique.  They are defensively-minded and play fast offensively.  Shayne Gostisbehere is an amazing talent.  He is fast, is menacing defensively, and isn’t afraid to take risks on the ice.  I feel like Washington is gonna have trouble keeping him under control.

Now sure, the Capitals have talent everywhere.  They’re the best team in the league.  But Philadelphia is young and has experience, a rare combination.

I see this as a low scoring series.  Steve Mason and Braden Holtby have had fantastic seasons, and both defenses are strong.  The Flyers are going to challenge Washington with their speed, and because of that, I think they steal two games.

Pick: Capitals in 6


Detroit Red Wings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Steven Stamkos injury sucks because it hurts Tampa Bay’s chances of making a deep playoff run and removes one of the league’s best players from the playoffs, where everyone is watching every game.

At the same time, I think this is the best possible matchup for a banged up Lightning team.  Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, and Victor Hedman are all hurt.  But Detroit barely made into the playoffs, and probably isn’t even playoff-worthy.  Then again, would you really like to see the Bruins in instead?

The back of the East was really underwhelming this season, and was part of the reason I wished Ottawa would step it up late in the season.

Anyways, Detroit has issues everywhere.  They go through these weird slumps, then pull out of them and look like a 104 point team.  The Red Wings biggest issue is goaltending, where Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek have both struggled lately.  Against a talented Lightning team, who has  capable scorers on the blue line, thats an issue.

Tampa Bay won’t miss Stamkos too much in this series, but when they move on, thats when things will get tough.

This is a ballsy pick, but I don’t trust Detroit and don’t think they belong here.  Tampa Bay is only gonna get better and healthier.

Pick: Lightning in 4


New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers

I have loved watching this Panthers team this season.  They have the right mix of experience and youth, and have no weaknesses.

The Islanders are an 100 point team, but haven’t shown their best play when I have watched them.  Sure, the stats show certain things, many which are useful, but I have relied on my eyes more with this team.  I feel like, similar to the other New York team (more on that later, unfortunately), they have underwhelmed as of late.  The Islanders have struggled to put away games close to the end.  New York hasn’t been able to get production out of guys like Josh Bailey and Ryan Strome lately, and they’re very much aware of it.  John Taveras has been doing it all.  That can’t happen against a Florida team like this.  They will make you pay with their high-powered offense.

Both teams need to play smart in this series, as neither are great on the power play.  Both teams are below-average when it comes to man-up situations.

The Panthers are also healthy, and have great goaltending.  The Islanders have issues in the net, even though Thomas Griess has a 2.36 GAA and and a Quality Start percentage well over 50%.  The struggle to close out games may not be Griess’ fault, but the backseat taken to the Panthers in  the quality of goaltending is.

I don’t think the Islanders are a bad team, I just think Florida is much better.   This Panthers team is slated for a deep playoff run.  Blowing through the Islanders kicks it off.

Pick: Panthers in 4


Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

Are you ready for a physical, brutal, hatred-running-high series?  We’re gonna get seven games of it, and it has me worried.

The Rangers have underwhelmed me lately, which has me worried for these playoffs.  The Penguins have done the opposite.

This is a Pittsburgh team I have criticized all season, and since the new year, they’ve turned it around.  I am usually skeptical of teams that turn it around and coming flying into the playoffs, so what makes Pittsburgh scary?

Its their talent.  This team is stacked.  That is why it was so shocking to see them stumble out of the gates.  And that talent is gonna test the Rangers.  Both teams are dealing with injuries right now, though I think Pittsburgh will be able to make New York miss their guys more.  Dan Girardi has been shaken up, and Ryan McDonagh will miss a good chunk of this series.

The Penguins possess speed and physicality, and have blue-line scorers.  Pittsburgh is gonna be able to do whatever they want offensively.  It will take another run from Henrik Lundqvist to get the Rangers out of the series.  He’s a had a great year, but we all know how the playoffs are a totally different story.

The Penguins goaltending is a mess, but that may be okay if their defense plays to their ability, which they certainly have as of late.

This is gonna be a great series, and I do have hope for my Rangers.  I just think the Penguins will take advantage of the opposition’s injuries better than New York will.

Pick: Penguins in 7



Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars

It was a month and a half ago when I was attending a hockey game in which Mike Yeo’s son was on the opposing team.  Being the cruel hockey fans we were, we chanted “Who’s your Daddy?  (Clap clap, clap clap clap) He got fired!”  Yeah, that was a month and a half ago.  The Wild sucked and all their fans were pissed off.

And now they’re in the playoffs, matched up against the best team in the conference, and a huge rival.

If you’re a Wild fan reading this, which trust me, there will be a lot, you like how this series preview has started.  Its about to take a turn south.

First of all, you should be happy you’re here.  Because around six weeks ago, you shouldn’t have been.  At the same time, its been easy to tell the confidence level is not as high as it was last year.  That was out of control, and those out of control Wild fans got what they deserved in a sweep by the Blackhawks.  This year, everyone is a bit more cautious, which means smarter.

Minnesota is faced against the best offense in the league in this series.  Keeping that under control is going to be important, and that means scoring first.

The Wild have games where they get six shots in the first period.  That can’t happen versus this Dallas team, because they will easily take the lead.

The Wild fan’s view would be “Dallas’ defense isn’t good anyways.”  Well, its not the tough defenses that give Minnesota trouble, its themselves.  Those are the games where they “choke” are when the offense simply does nothing, not because there is a good defense shutting them down.

Minnesota needs to force the puck deep in series like this one.  Antti Neimi is a below average goalie this season based on the quality start metric, though stats like GAA support him.  Creating chaos in front of the net can only help Minnesota in this series, but that forces them out of their comfort zone.  That scares me too much.

Pick: Stars in 5


Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues

Chicago loaded up at the trade deadline, improving their depth to make another run at the Stanley Cup.  They understand the threat the Kings are posing.  I don’t see that big of a threat in this series.

The Blues defense is very good, and is backed by the tandem of Brian Elliot and Jake Allen.  Both have had great seasons.  I see this series as a low scoring, defensive-minded contest.  Both teams are going to struggle to score, and this goalie matchup will make it even harder.

The reason I am taking the Blackhawks is because of their talent and the trust I have in it.  This is a St. Louis Blues team we routinely make fun of for choking in the playoffs.  Who says it won’t happen again?  Chicago needs to stick to what they’re used to: Getting the puck deep and not pushing the puck too far off the rush.   This is a tough Blues defense.  If Chicago keeps attacking the net and getting it deep, the puck will eventually get in.

Corey Crawford is better than the two St. Louis goalies combined, though that doesn’t mean Chicago will have an easy time scoring.

This pick is about trust and talent.  Its very hard to see this good of a Blackhawks team go out so early.

Pick: Blackhawks in 5


San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

I’ve been telling friends this isn’t the year you’re allowed to give me crap about my hockey teams, because I don’t think either of them are going to get out of this first round.

This has been a surprising and fun to watch Sharks team.  I’m just happy we got this far.

I think this Kings team is really good, and I’ve been saying that all season.  It was improbable to me they would fall off, like some expected.  Los Angeles’ offense has struggled throughout the year, but have one of the best defenses in the league, which will go very far in this series.

The Sharks play similar to Chicago where they force the puck deep and don’t rush things on the ice.  That’s the way you play against the Kings, but getting the puck in the net is a different story.  Jonathan Quick has had another great season, with a GAA of 2.22.  The Sharks are gonna have much trouble scoring.  I expect this to be an easy series for Quick.

This being the 4th time in the past six years these teams have played in the playoffs is an overrated statement.  These teams have changed so much. Sure, its a cool fact, but lets not shove it down people’s throat.

These are two talented teams, but the Kings have better goaltending and are gonna be so hard to score on.  I think the Sharks are gonna make this a competitive series.  These teams are very similar, but I think the Kings talent outweighs the Sharks’.

Pick: Kings in 6


Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks

This is gonna sound really odd considering this will be a long series, but I don’t know how fun this will be to watch.

This series is going to lack offense.  The Anaheim defense is too good for Nashville to have their forwards break through, and that is if they show up.

See, I want to like this Nashville team.  They’re good, but they’re not really good.  Pekka Rinne has had a little bit of a down year, but that will be manageable since I don’t trust the Anaheim offense.  I’m not sure I trust Anaheim overall.

John Gibson and Frederick Anderson have had great years, but we haven’t seen them in big spots.  Rinne has been there, and won’t have too much of a hassle if his defense steps up.

This series may be a little underwhelming at times.  I see close games all the way through, mostly due to lack of scoring.   I’m not sure anyone will truly stand out for either team, making this an odd, long series.

So why am I picking the Predators?  I think when the offense gets going, they will score easier than Anaheim on the net.  And they’re more likable.  Except for Mike Fisher.  He stole Carrie Underwood from me.

Pick: Predators in 7