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!

 

 

Quick Thoughts: Team USA Olympic Hockey Roster

Following the Winter Classic game in Detroit today, the US announced their Olympic hockey team for the upcoming games in Sochi, Russia. Immediately, we look to the players that didn’t make the cut, such as Bobby Ryan, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Kyle Okposo, or my most surprising omission, Keith Yandle.

usa-hockey-2014-jerseysHere are the players (from cbssports.com):

Left Wing: Dustin Brown, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk. A little bit of everything here. Brown is tough, Parise is fast, and Pacioretty can finish. I like this group.

Center: David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stasny. Backes has become a favorite of mine, and there is good toughness here with him and Kesler. Not sold on the Stasny pick. It seems like the high point of his career is past him, and he is no longer an offensive force.

Right Wing: Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, TJ Oshie. Love the inclusion of Oshie. Kane is one of the best, and Callahan has grit and leadership.

Extra Forwards: Derek Stepan, Blake Wheeler. This is where it is surprising that Bobby Ryan didn’t make the cut.

Defense: Cam Fowler, John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Justin Faulk, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk. Big youth movement here! I like these picks, although Orpik sort of sticks out like a sore thumb to me. It’s important to have defensive-minded players, but it seems to me that Orpik isn’t the best at doing this. I foresee him struggling on the bigger ice in more wide-open situations. Not a ton of size and definitely missing some angry with these picks, but that’s not the most important thing on the big ice. The team was going for speed, and they will get it with these D. There will be a ton of pressure on these young guys, and it will be interesting to see how they react. The worst-case scenario is that they do poorly, but Team USA is set up for the next couple of Olympics with this group able to grow together.

Goalies: Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard. No surprises here. Won’t be surprised if Miller comes in and takes over the starter’s role. He still has a ton of fight left in him, and has been doing his best in a bad situation in Buffalo this year. Plus, a big Olympics could boost his trade value even more. A little concerned with the Quick injury, but he will be back on the ice soon enough and will be able to get plenty of action in before going to Russia.

Overall, I don’t know that this team has near the same depth that Canada will once it reveals its roster. But something the US has been good at doing in the last couple Olympics is put together good teams, not necessarily just a collection of the best players. With this team, I feel they will be in the running for the medals. The US always seems to step it up, even when they are not expected to (see 2010 Games in Vancouver). I don’t see them as a gold medal threat, but I can easily picture them playing for bronze. Really, this tourney comes down to who has the hottest goalies (and I will call Finland as being a good dark horse pick, because their goaltending situation is amazing). Most glaring weakness for me is on the back end, and that could expose their goalies a little too much in such a short tournament.They also seem that they will struggle to score goals, because outside of Kane and maybe Kessel, they lack some true snipers. There is plenty of grit up front, and we will see how that works out for them.

Only a few weeks and we’ll get to see!