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

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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.

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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.

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!