The Best Defenceman in the NHL

The Best Defenceman in the NHL

Since the retirement of the incredible Niklas Lidstrom, there has been a vacancy in the National Hockey League in the position of the best defenceman. There are a ton of worthy candidates, and many of them have staked their claim with awards, acclaim, and defining moments.

Keith, Chara, Weber, Pietrangelo, Subban, Karlsson. All are excellent. But the NHL has a new best D-man, and he is showing it in these 2014 playoffs.

Drew Doughty, of the Los Angeles Kings.

doughty2Four years ago, I was taken by the incredible presence that Doughty came up with during the Vancouver Olympic Games. Just a kid (20 years old), he looked like he belonged among the very best that the world had to offer. Despite his young age, he already has a Norris Trophy nomination under his belt, a Stanley Cup, and two Olympic Gold medals. One can only assume that there will be more of these in his future.

During the current playoff run that the Kings are enjoying (but are in danger of ending, after their game 6 loss to Chicago), Doughty has shown time and again why he is nudging himself ahead of the rest when it comes to being the best. He plays incredible minutes on a strong team (around 27 minutes per game), against the toughest opposition that teams have been able to throw against him (the Sharks, Ducks, and Blackhawks). He has been an stalwart in his own end, but is also contributing offensively, to the tune of 16 points in 20 games. Pretty impressive for a forward in the tight Western conference, let alone a guy who plays the point. Nine of his points have come on the powerplay that he quarterbacks, and he has amassed 50 shots over those 20 games. He is all over the place, and his offense has never taken away from his important play in his own end.

Doughty has the ability to do everything, in all three zones. He also has size, at 6’1″ and 213 pounds, so he isn’t simply a finesse player, either. He can be tough on you.

In a league where goalies are always considered to be the playoff heroes, if the Kings win the Cup again, it would be tough to overlook his contributions when it comes to the Conn Smythe voting.

Drew Doughty is emerging from the pack of young D that are taking the league by storm, and he has shown himself to be the best that the league has to offer. Look for him to pile up more awards as his career moves forward. Scary to think that he is only 24, and he has not yet reached his prime. This is a kid that will be among the best for the next 10 years.

Rangers to the Finals

Rangers to the Finals

After 20 years, the New York Rangers will be back in the Stanley Cup Finals, with a chance to win it all since their legendary run in 1994. They dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in six games, with a 1-0 victory on Thursday night, cementing their berth in the final round of the NHL playoffs.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Chicago Blackhawks-Los Angeles Kings semi-final, and they will be decided underdogs with whichever team they will be facing for the holy grail of hockey.

For the majority of the series, the Rangers seemed to be in control, and with the damaging loss of the red-hot Carey Price, the Habs were doomed from the moment of his injury. The main slip by the Rangers was a 7-4 loss in Game 5, as they looked like a team that knew they had more than one shot to close out the series.

New York is a deep team, and they will be competitive in the finals. They are getting production from all over their lineup, and the standard great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. As usual, he will play a major role in determining the fate of his team in the next round.

The MVP of the series must be Dustin Tokarski, the third string netminder for Montreal that was thrust into an impossible situation with the injury to Price. With fewer than a dozen NHL games under his belt, Tokarski jumped up the depth chart over regular season backup Peter Budaj, and did an admirable job of keeping the Habs in the series. He has definitely cemented himself as a solid #2 for next season. If he had managed to win this series, he would have quickly become a legend in Montreal. He was facing a team that was hot and on a roll, and he did a great job in leading his team to two wins. He should be commended for his determination and prowess in this series.

Dustin TokarskiI’m personally pleased that the Rangers have made it to the final, as they were my pre-season pick to make it to the finals. Looks like I can pretend to be reasonably smart when guessing NHL games for a little while.

Best of luck to New York, where it will be an incredible party if the Blueshirts are able to bring back the Cup to the Big Apple.

The Stanley Cup Finals will begin on Wednesday.

Carey Price Out

Carey Price Out

Definitely the worst nightmare for fans of the Montreal Canadiens is leaving the fate of their team, and a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993, in the hands of their backup goalie. Especially since their starter, Carey Price, has been absolutely amazing in the playoffs, he being the primary reason the team advanced past the favored Boston Bruins, with his incredible play.

Carey Price is the backbone of the Habs, and a leg/knee injury will apparently keep him out of the rest of this series, according to the reports released today.

This is absolutely terrible news for Montreal, already down 1-0 to the Rangers after being smashed in Game 1. Does it mean that they are totally doomed?

No.

Carey Price is at his best right now, and the Habs were flying with confidence because of him. But, at least Peter Budaj is a reliable backup goalie, one who is more than capable to man the nets. He will have some serious rust to shake off from a long break of games Price played, but he can get in there, and make some of the saves that are required. Budaj isn’t going to steal any games the way that Price did, but this definitely does not mean that the Habs are sunk. If they keep playing with tons of energy, and Budaj can make a couple of key saves here and there to give his team confidence in him, things could keep rolling along smoothly.

Could.

It's up to this guy now.
It’s up to this guy now.

The Rangers are a team that struggles to score goals (although it didn’t seem that way in Game 1), and this could be a crack in the door that opens things up for them.

In the end, I don’t think the Habs win this series with Budaj in net. Bu I don’t necessarily think that they lose it because of him.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.

Halfway done.
Halfway done.

Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.

On to my next round of guesses.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

  • How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
  • Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
  • Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
  • Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
  • These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
  • Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
  • I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
  • Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
  • This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
  • This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
  • Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.

Prediction: Kings in 7

kings2

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
  • I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
  • This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
  • This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
  • Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
  • Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
  • Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
  • Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
  • On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
  • Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

rangers2

I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.

Round 2 Observations

Round 2 Observations

We are part way through the second round of the NHL playoffs, and it looks like we have some tight series on our hands, which is always great to see.

Boston and Montreal tied 2-2

  • I feel that with the Bruins winning Game 4 in overtime, it will be the turning point they need to take this series. Not that you can nitpick a 1-0 overtime loss, but the Habs really needed that one.
  • Carey Price is establishing himself as one of the best high-level goalies in the game. We should have known that before, and especially after he dominated in the Olympics, but he is awesome. If the NHL is back in the Olympics in 2018, I want him as my started for Team Canada.
  • It is weird that a goalie as good as Rask has such trouble with one team. But he stepped up in Game 4. No curses here.

Pittsburgh leads New York 3-2

  • Inspiring story of Martin St. Louis playing the day after his mother passed away. I can’t even imagine.
  • The Rangers offense woke up in Game 5 to stay alive. Can they show up for another game to push it to 7? Or will they go back into a slumber and make Fleury look like a good goalie again?
  • It would be nice if Rick Nash decided to show up on the scoresheet. His production will be key for what remains of the series.
  • Is Fleury rattled after giving up 5 goals last game? Will this crack him, or can he bounce back to his ways of back-to-back shutouts earlier in the series?
  • It’s odd how harsh we will be on Crosby’s games. He finally scored a goal in the series, but we want more. Regardless of the points he is putting up, he is still dominant, and by far the best player in the game.

Chicago and Minnesota tied 2-2

  • Will Minnesota ever lose on home ice?
  • If Bryzgalov can put together a decent game on the road, the defending champs could be in some serious trouble.
  • I like the look of this Wild team, and Parise has been great so far. Shown tremendous leadership and has raised his game to a new level.
  • I kind of want the Wild to win this one. I thought the Hawks would roll through this series.
  • Very strong performance by the Wild D so far.

anzeLos Angeles leads Anaheim 2-1

  • It’s too bad nobody sees this series, it may be the best one.
  • These teams do not like each other. Which is what the playoffs are all about.
  • Good black and blue hockey.
  • The Kings really need to put a stranglehold on the Ducks tonight. They don’t want to be going back to Anaheim with the series tied up. They need to finish, like the Sharks couldn’t do with them.
  • How amazing has Anze Kopitar been in this series? He has been on the cusp of stardom for years, and is one of the best two-way players in the game.
  • Who cares about Jonathan Quick’s regular season numbers? The kid plays big when it is important.

Is Fleury for Real?

Is Fleury for Real?

After ragging on Marc Andre Fleury forever based on his string of poor playoff performances, the embattled goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins comes along and posts back-to-back shutouts of the New York Rangers in their second round matchup.

The question needs to be asked if all of a sudden, Fleury has put his shaky confidence on hold and become the goalie that the Pens need to continue on their quest for another Stanley Cup victory. Or, if he is merely fortunate and has had a good string of luck over the past couple of games.

MarcAndreFleuryOne argument against Fleury being for real is the exhausted nature of the Rangers team. They have been forced to play 5 games in 7 nights over three different cities, for which the league can be faulted for poor schedule making. This is a team that is completely spent, and after putting together a strong game in Game 1, they appear to be completely out of gas, and rightfully so. That is a lot of games to play in a short amount of time, at the very highest level. The playoffs are a level of intensity unseen in the regular season, and one could argue that Fleury is simply taking advantage of a team that has very little left at the moment.

With that, he has managed to avoid the mistakes that have plagued him in the past. A weak goal here or there would be damaging to the Pens, especially since they know they have a team on the ropes. So credit goes to him to pull it together and make the saves that he needs to make in order to keep his team in the games, and to preserve the leads that they have worked so hard to attain. This is not typical of Fleury, as he has had a propensity to give up a soft goal that is completely deflating to the rest of the team.

I can’t believe that this Fleury that we’ve seen over the past two games is the one that we are going to see for the rest of the series, or the rest of the playoffs for that matter. There is too much evidence against him rising to the task in big games, that I fear for the Pens any time they are in a tight situation.

Missed Opportunity: Habs Lose Game 2

Missed Opportunity: Habs Lose Game 2

A two goal lead with about 9 minutes left in the third period should be a pretty safe thing. Especially when your goalie is being dominant, and you are controlling the pace of the play for the majority of the game.

But the Montreal Canadiens let it all slip away this afternoon, as they imploded, losing game two the Boston Bruins by a final score of 5-3, after the B’s scored four unanswered goals in the last half of the third. This evens the second round series up at a game apiece, while the series will shift to Montreal for games three and four.

bruins-vs-habs-jerseysRolling to such an improbable victory gives the Bruins some serious momentum as they hit the road, and it feels like this will be viewed as the turning point in the series when it is all said and done. Having a two game lead heading home would have been huge for the Habs, but letting it slip away will do nothing but wake the sleeping giant that the Bruins can be. I could easily see them not looking back from this point on, with Montreal unable to recover from the meltdown.

For the rest of the series, the Habs need to look for quick starts, and make Boston play from behind. Despite the game two surprise, they are not really designed to be playing without the lead like that. A grinding team, they are made to wear you down and eventually break their opposition. If Montreal is to have a chance, they need to be out in front, and learn to shut it down much better. This is a massive missed opportunity for them, and they need to come out fast to try and correct it.

The game was another great performance from Patrice Bergeron, the most underrated player in the league, who definitely merits being considered as one of the best in the game. Not many people would put him with the likes of Crosby or Toews, but he deserves to be there. He has an offensive punch, and is simply the best defensive forward in the league. His goal and assist propelled his team to victory.

Great comeback by Boston, and probably a major turning point in the series.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 2

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 2

I guess I did alright on my Round 1 guesses in the end, even though it looked bad for a while. I was right about the Kings, Wild, Penguins, Bruins, and Rangers. 5-3 overall. Not the best, but not the worst. I was dead on in choosing the number of games in a few of those as well. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied.

Here are my guesses for the second round of games, which begin tonight with Montreal facing off in Boston.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins

bruinsI already wrote a post about this one. I love the ancient rivalry here, and it should be some intense games once the series gets rolling. Surprisingly, the Habs had a winning record against the Bruins during the regular season, but the B’s look like a team on a mission. They are too tough and deep for the Canadiens, and should wear them down. I will give one game to Carey Price as a steal, and one for the rivalry.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

 

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

rangersThat was a pretty ugly opening series for the Pens, not looking great as they dispatched the Blue Jackets. There are a lot of holes on this team, starting with the eternally shaky playoff goaltending from Marc Andre Fleury. He can’t be trusted, and that becomes more and more apparent with every passing game, series, and year. The Rangers are a solid, all-around team, and their biggest advantage is having Lundqvist in net. That is a major plus over the Pens. Pittsburgh has more up front talent, with the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Neal, and Kunitz, but it kind of stops there. They lack the depth that the Blueshirts can roll out line after line. The Rangers are a tough team, and they have the look of previous teams that have been successful in the playoffs.

Prediction: Rangers in 5

 

Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks

kingsIt’s not going to get any easier for the Kings, as they face another California rival in this series. The major question is how much they will have left after playing their hearts out in coming back from the seemingly insurmountable 0-3 game deficit to the Sharks. The Ducks were lucky to get past the upstart Dallas team, a series that I predicted the Stars would win. I just don’t love the Ducks top-heavy lineup. There isn’t a lot to be afraid of once that top line is on the bench. The trouble for most teams is that top line can eat them up. But, then again, most teams can’t roll Drew Doughty out for half a game. I like this match for the Kings.

Prediction: Kings in 6

 

Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks

chicagoThe Hawks surprised me in Round 1, showing plenty of everything in taking care of my Cup favorite Blues in 6 games. They are an incredibly complete team, with everything from elite scorers (Sharp, Kane, Toews), to solid defense that can chip in plenty on the offensive side as well (Keith, Seabrook), to goaltending that is solid, if not spectacular (Crawford). The Wild are happy to have defeated the Avalanche, and are now in a world of trouble now that Bryzgalov is back in the nets after another injury to Darcy Kuemper. They had better hope he is back soon, or this one could be over quickly. I would like to cheer for the Wild, and like the look of their team, but they really are no competition for the defending Champs.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 5

 

All right, let’s see how I do this round, and let the games begin!

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

NHL Playoffs Round 2: Habs vs. Bruins

Since we will have quite some time before the first round of the playoffs is complete, as there are some close series that will probably go the distance, I might as well take a look at the first series of the second round.

The one that all hockey fans were hoping for.

Round 2 will feature the ancient, Original Six rivals, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Both teams polished off their opening series pretty quickly. While I didn’t think the Habs would be able to take down the Tampa Bay Lightning, they proved me wrong by sweeping them in four games. From my predictions, I actually got one right in the Bruins beating the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games, so I will hang my hat on probably the only one I will have guessed right by the time the playoffs are over.

Habs-Bruins is a fantastic rivalry in the NHL, and there is no doubt that series will be hard fought and live up to some of their previous battles. Over the course of the regular season, the Canadiens surprisingly took three of the four games from the President’s Trophy winning Bruins. One would not imagine that the Habs would pose a serious threat to the mighty B’s, but they do.

habs2bruinsMontreal is a very well balanced team. They can roll four solid lines out there, and even without a superstar in their forward lineup, they have guys who can produce. They are a team of solid and specific roles, and all the players play their roles perfectly. On the back end, they of course have the reigning Norris trophy winning defenseman, in PK Subban. The kid is a wild card, and he can produce offense almost at will. He is a force to be reckoned with, and someone that the Bruins will need to shut down, especially on the power play.

In net, Carey Price is trying to continue his great season, where he probably just narrowly missed being a Vezina Trophy finalist, and has already won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the dominant Team Canada in Sochi. Price is a goalie that has ice in his veins, and is difficult to rattle with any kind of pressure. He should be able to at least steal a game for Montreal in this series. He has that ability, to truly dominate, even though he is just typically solid. If I were the Bruins, my goal would be to throw everything at him, and create anarchy in front of the net.

On the Bruins side, they are a tough team. Full of hard-working, hard-hitting players, they all seem to play their roles perfectly as well. They have speed, skill, defensive ability, strong special teams, outstanding goaltending, size. It is tough to find a weakness on this team, which is why they were the best during the regular season. Then proceeded to shut down the Wings after a surprising Game 1 loss. This team will be tough to beat.

It is impossible to ignore the regular season matchup numbers between these two teams, but I feel that in a seven game series, the Bruins will simply wear down the Canadiens with their physical play. They won’t stop coming, and this will grind down the smaller Montreal team.

Plus, as good as Carey Price is, and has been, Tuuka Rask has been better. Right now, he is the best goalie in the league, will easily win the Vezina (in my opinion), and dominated in the first round series. The Bruins have an advantage in every aspect of the game.

I think Montreal puts up a big fight in this series, and it has moments that will remind us of all those battles over the years between these two teams. But my early prediction for this series will be for the Bruins to win it in 6, advancing them to the Eastern Conference finals.

But, based on my predictions so far, it could end up being the complete opposite. I look forward to seeing some of this series. It should be a barn burner.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

Here are some vague guesses for round 1 of this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. I am really liking the new playoff format, as there are some really, really good matchups in the first round. A couple of them could end up being blood baths, and that is all that NHL fans can ask for. There is nothing better than the first round, in my mind, where upsets happen, and teams who move on get beat up. It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan.

crystallWestern Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

  • This has quickly become the trendy upset pick, with a lot of people choosing the Stars to take down the hot-starting Ducks, who traditionally fade over the course of the season.
  • Ducks are top heavy. Not much beyond the Getzlaf-Perry line.
  • Anaheim seems to have endless stud goalies, so whether they end up with Andersson, Hiller, or Gibson, they are in good shape.
  • Love, love, love the combo of Benn and Seguin in Dallas. They will be good together for a long time.
  • Surprising depth on the Stars. They are pretty underrated across the board.

Prediction: Stars in 7. I’m going with the trends here.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

wild

  • Hugely surprising year for the Avs. Are they ready to make the next step?
  • Biggest question in Colorado is that unknown D corps. Can they stop a consistent Wild team?
  • Huge disadvantage for the Wild in net. Bryzgalov is the ultimate wild card here. He could be great. He could be awful.
  • Big bonus for the Wild: their D is very strong, led by Ryan Suter. He will be a difference maker.
  • I’m smelling upset here.

Prediction: Wild in 6. Avalanche not ready to be great just yet.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

kings

  • This would be a worthy Western Conference Final matchup.
  • It’s too bad one of these teams has to go home, they are both Cup contenders. But that’s the beauty of the new playoff format.
  • Great rivalry. This is one of those series that will be an all out war. It’s going to go 7, no matter who wins. Winning team will be battered and bruised by the time they get to the 2nd round.
  • Biggest advantage is for the Kings in net, with Quick over the under-appreciated, but inconsistent Antti Niemi.

Prediction: Kings in 7. Too deep. Too relentless. Sharks love to choke. 

St.Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

st-louis-blues-logo

  • Ugly 6-game losing streak for the Blues leading into the playoffs.
  • Ryan Miller has come back to earth after hot start after his trade to St. Louis.
  • Battle of injured teams. A lot of banged-up guys on both teams. Hawks are getting Kane and Toews back, the Blues should get Backes and Oshie back. Big difference if they are fully healthy.
  • Another bruising series. The Blues play mean, and I wonder if the Hawks have enough to fight back with.
  • It’s so hard to repeat as champs in this league.

Prediction: Blues in 7. I think they can turn it around. They are just infinitely deep and tough to play against. 

 

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

bruins

  • 23rd straight year the Wings are in the dance. Incredible.
  • Important injuries on the Red Wings, including Zetterberg, who won’t be back. Datsyuk always seems to be banged up now.
  • Bruins are a monstrous team. They can score, defend, and beat you up. Wings can’t match them in any department.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

pens

  • Maybe the most unappealing first round matchup?
  • Constant worry over Fleury in the Pens net. Bobrovsky is an advantage for Columbus.
  • Columbus has only been to the playoffs once before, and they were swept. Going against a team that can explode offensively.
  • Will Malkin be back?
  • Crosby has had an incredible season, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue it in the playoffs.

Prediction: Penguins in 7. I really want to take the Jackets in an upset, but they just aren’t there yet. If Malkin is back, they take it. 

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

  • The biggest coin flip of the first round. Both teams are evenly matched.
  • Biggest impact is Ben Bishop’s injury. Huge downgrade to have Anders Lindback in net.
  • Carey Price has had a good year. He can/will be a difference maker.
  • Love the young guns of the Bolts. Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Callahan.
  • Big year from Victor Hedman, largely not discussed over the course of the year. Big breakout for him.

Prediction: Lightning in 6. I feel the Habs will disappoint, and not give Price enough support. 

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

rangers

  • Another great rivalry, both teams are real contenders coming off a terrible start to the season.
  • Huge plus having Lundqvist over Mason in net.
  • Will be a tough series, both teams can hit and mix it up. Will be a bruiser of a series.
  • Not terribly sold on the Flyers D. Not that the Rangers set the world on fire on offense, but there is enough depth to do some damage.

Prediction: Rangers in 6. 

 

There we have it. Now we can sit back and enjoy the games, as they start tomorrow night. NHL playoffs are the best time of year, after the long, grueling season. Time to get to the real games!