Here’s a preview of every first round series in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins
The President Trophy winning, New York Rangers have taken the Eastern Conference’s first seed, and take on a struggling Pittsburgh Penguins team. A lot of question marks surround the Pittsburgh Penguins going into the Post Season. The Penguins have posted a 3-5-2 record for their last 10 games of the season. Along with that, they have a goals per game average of 1.67 in the last15 appearances. Pittsburgh’s Post Season problems have usually stemmed from inconsistent goaltending from G Marc-Andre Fleurry, but he might be their most steady position entering this series.
Meanwhile, the New York Rangers have established arguably the best defense in the NHL. It doesn’t hurt to have your star player be your netminder either. With a goal differential on the season of +60 (Best in the NHL by 9), the Rangers look to keep the momentum going forward. During the season New York took the Season series 3-1(1 Overtime win) with the one loss going to a shootout.
Last year’s postseason had both teams fighting in one of the most exciting series going all the way to a game 7, with New York coming out victorious. Look for the same this year, but a bit easier for the Rangers this time around. New York has added firepower and have built a wall on the back end that I just do not see Pittsburgh breaking through.
Pick: New York Rangers in 5
Montreal Canadians vs Ottawa Senators
If you’re a hockey fan (especially in Canada) you could not ask for a better matchup. A huge rivalry between these two teams has built up recently over the years in post season hockey. With each fan base in driving distance between both arena, look for this to be the rowdiest series of the first round. This is my one pick for a 7 game series.
Montreal is heading into this series with one very big question mark. Will Max Pacioretty be available for this series? He sustained an upper body injury on April 5th against the Florida Panthers, and is without a doubt the anchor of the offense. Without Pacioretty to create chances and disrupt other teams with his 6’2 220 lbs. frame, the Canadians may have a hard time keeping up with Ottawa’s depth. Luckily, though, the Canadians also boast the best goaltender in the NHL, this season, in Carey Price. Hopefully Price is up to the task to take on the red hot Senators.
Since the organization fired Head Coach Todd MacLean, promoted interim Coach Cameron, and the the emergence of Rookie Goaltender Andrew Hammond, the Senators have been on a tear. There going 32-15-8 since all of these occurrences, Ottawa definitely has momentum on their side at the start. The key to success for the Senators is having their depth upfront to continue to get the job done. They had 20 goal scorers this season. If they continue the output, and with the Hamburgler (Hammond) staying in regular season form, look for the Senators to put up one hell of a fight.
Pick: Montreal Canadians in 7
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings
Talk about another fantastic matchup in this series. The Steve Yzerman run Lightning are set to take on his former team in the Detroit Red Wings. Two very similar styles of play are going at it head to head. I expect this to be a very fast paced and high scoring series.
At the beginning of the season these two teams were neck and neck in goals against averages, but towards the end of the season they both also slumped, with Detroit taking a much bigger nosedive. Tampa Bay has the second best goal differential in the NHL with a +51. This speaks volumes to the depth of the lightning and especially to the ones being called the triplets. Johnson, Kucherov, and Palat all have more than 60 points this season. This statistic only solidifies the team first mentality that this team has. 2014 Jack Adams finalist, Jon Cooper has put together yet another amazing season with that mentality. Tampa Bay has had lots of injuries to their back end all season. If they can stand on the shoulders of Bishop, past the Wings, look for the Lightning to skate deep into the playoffs. It will be exciting to see how Coach Cooper approaches this battle of wits against arguably the best coach in the NHL, Mike Babcock.
With a streak of 24 playoff appearances, Detroit has had another nail biting season end. In order for the Red Wings to compete in this series, Mike Babcock will need to find a way to overcome the two i’s, injuries, and inconsistency. Can the wings stars stay healthy and produce? Also, goalie, Jimmy Howard was on his way to a career best season before injuring his groin, right before his All-Star announcement. Now he finds himself being replaced with rookie goaltender Petr Mrazek. Both of these goalies have shown inconsistency, but Mrazek had the better showing at the end of the season. If they can find a way for him to build some confidence and momentum this Red Wings team has the speed and talent to give the Lightning a great fight.
The Goaltending may be a big matchup in this series, but I think it will be the youth movement that makes or breaks the winner of this series. Both teams faced each other in the AHL’s Calder Cup last year with Detroit’s Grand Rapids team winning it all. Now, a year later, 7 Lightning players and 9 Red Wings players will be facing each other in the same fashion, but now in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pick: Tampa Bay Lightning in 6
Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders
What will be known as, the battle of the talented captains. Alex Ovechkin and Jon Tavares go head to head in this Eastern Conference matchup. Both teams share the same play style of puck possession, but are very different in other areas. The Islanders are known as one of the fastest teams in the NHL, while the Capitals are one of the most physical.
With Ovechkin the Capitals have the most dangerous power play in the NHL, leading the league. He himself has 175 career PPG’s, while second place is behind him with 118. Washington will look to keep the ball rolling on the PP, but they will need to make sure they aren’t caught on their heels with the Islanders speed. Holtby has had a great season as the Capitals starting goaltender. He joins a list of 10 other to start at least 72 games in one season. We will see if this helped build his confidence going into the playoffs, or if it wore him down so that his best is already over this year.
The Islanders were knocked out by the Penguins a few years ago in the playoffs, and many would argue that it was because they lacked a solid net minder. Halak was ironically claimed from the Washington Capitals before the season by the Islanders, and he has given them just that. Also, with the additions of Boychuk, and Leddy during the offseason, they have added much needed talent to the defensive end of the rink. The Islanders look to tire out a big Washington Capitals team in order to get to the next round. They will need to clean up their turnovers and make sure they can distribute the puck around if they want to accomplish that goal.
Pick: New York Islanders in 6
Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets
Statistically these two teams are very close in certain areas. The Ducks definitely have the edge in most offensive stats, however the Jets are known for enforcing a big physical game, and they will look to do that against Anaheim’s top forwards.
The Anaheim Ducks have been a regular season standout for the past three seasons. They have been the top seed in the Western Conference for the past three years, and the Pacific Division champions for three years now. However, they will look to overcome their post season struggles this year. The Ducks will need to play consistent hockey. Coach Boudreau needs to let the team play out their problems, rather than playing to the Jets’ lineup. He has done this in the past against the Stars and Red Wings, and both were lost in a game 7. If the Ducks Can keep a dominant fore check, like they are capable of, they should be able to get by the Jets.
Winnipeg battled their way into the playoffs in a three team race to the finish. Their physical play has been able to wear down teams and create quality scoring chances. They have quality depth thanks to the Kane trade with Buffalo earlier in the season. Can they out play Anaheim on the fore check? This will be the key question going into the series. With similar playing styles, look to puck possession to be the stat that will separate who makes it to the next round.
Pick: Anaheim Ducks in 6
St. Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild
This series consists on one of the biggest matchups in net. Hitchcock has yet to announce who will be in net between Brian Elliot and Jake Allen, while Dubnyk of the Wild was added to the roster in January. Again, these are two very similar styles of play going at it this year in the first round. Both are at the top of the league in Penalty kill percentage (only separated by 1%). This will be a low scoring series with each PP being a crucial turning point of momentum.
The Wild struggled the first half of the season. They were on a 6 game losing streak until Dubnyk was put in net for his Wild debut. He hasn’t looked back since. He posted a 27-9-2 record in 38 straight starts for the Minnesota Wild. Miko Koivu became the first player in Wild history to post a 500 point career this year. He will guide the offense through a talented St. Louis Blues defense.
The Blues have balance throughout their roster. With 4 of their players having 20 or more points and a defense that can be argued as the best in the league, they will look to extend their trip in the playoffs this year. St. Louis has struggled to make it past the second round of the playoffs despite having made the playoffs every year since Hitchcock’s hiring in the 2011-12 season. They look to get past that point with a talented roster combined of Backes, Oshie, Steen, Shattenkirk, and Pietrangelo. This team has enough talent to bring the cup to St. Louis. The question remains of whether they will be able to produce in the post season.
Pick: St. Louis Blues in 6
Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames
The Canucks are back in the playoffs hopefully the city’s attitude has changed since their previous visit. In fact both teams last visit to the playoffs they had lost in the Stanley Cup finals (Calgary to Tampa Bay in 2008). Either way one of these teams will be moving on to the second round.
For the Canucks it all starts with a couple of lookalike players known as the Sedin brothers. However, their depth is something to be recognized as well. The Canucks have had 11 players this season score at least 10 goals. They had an injury to starting goaltender Ryan Miller in February which paved the way for Eddie Lack to insert himself as the starting goalie this post season. He had very average numbers during his starts, but made a nice run allowing only 2 or fewer goals 10 of the last 20 games of the season. Will lack be enough to overcome the young talent of Calgary?
The Flames were a question mark coming into the season, but Johnny Gaudreau has made a statement this season, on his run to a possible Calder trophy. The line of Hudler, Gaudraeu, and Monahan has combined for 202 points this season. A season ending injury to captain Giardano, in February, will be the biggest hurdle to overcome this post season. They have done an exceptional job of filling the hole since, but youth along the roster could pave the way for critical mistakes. If Jonas Hiller can give them a chance to succeed, look for this young team to gain confidence, and give the Canucks a first round battle.
Pick: Vancouver Canucks in 6
Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks
This Western Conference Battle has two teams that generate their offense through the neutral zone. The Nashville Predators were leading the league in points halfway through the season but began to slump and were soon overtaken. Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks had to find a new offensive strategy late in the season without their main goal scorer, Patrick Kane, in the lineup. The Goalie matchup in this series features two all-stars in Rinne and Crawford.
Luckily for Chicago Patrick Kane was cleared to play on Monday. This should be a mental boost for the team, as well as a statistical boost. Since his departure from the lineup the team suffered in puck possession. Having him back will surely increase this stat, along with generating scoring chances. The Blackhawks took the season series from the Predators 3-1, but that is no reflection of how close this series will be.
Nashville took Chicago to Overtime twice in the season series. With a stout defense led by Shea Weber, the Predators will look to slow down the puck movement and possession known by Chicago. Veteran Mike Ribeiro and rookie Filip Forsberg will try to put pressure on the hawks and Corey Crawford. If the Predators want a chance of beating the Blackhawks they will need to play mistake free two way hockey. If they can disrupt the first line of Chicago they may very well find themselves in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pick: Chicago Blackhawks in 6