With the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs set to start tomorrow night, the most exciting part of the NHL calender year is about to begin. Sadly the Dallas Stars will be sitting out again this season, something that has many Stars fans upset and split over what the team should do now. But as we here at Blackout Dallas start to talk about those topics and the offseason for one franchise, 16 other teams are about to kick off the postseason. So here are our predictions for the first round:
East – New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8): The surprise Senators have already accomplished a lot this season and jumping from 26th to 16th was impressive. But they will need a big miracle if they hope to get past the Rangers. New York finished the season with the most ROW wins in the league (regulation and overtime wins) and overall they constantly won on the road and at home. Henrik Lundqvist is an obvious candidate for some postseason award talk and if he is on his game the Rangers will be almost unbeatable. The Sens have some youth and Erik Karlsson could continue his amazing transformation into an elite young talent, but in the end I think the Rangers are a deeper team and they have the better defense combined with King Henrik. Predictions: Andrew Monrreal says Rangers in five games; Austin Waldron calls the Rangers in six.
Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7): A very interesting first round matchup. The Bruins had some rough patches but overall looked like the former champions and they had a strong season like many expected. While the Rangers and Penguins might be the popular picks from the East, Boston had the best goal differential in the league this season and they could again find a way to make a deep run. On the other hand, the Capitals took a step back this season. Of course Alex Ovechkin still had a good year and is one of the most dangerous men in hockey, but things have bee rough this season. Some early season issues combined with four straight seasons with almost no success once they reached the postseason lead to a coaching change, and things haven’t been much better since. While they finished strong in the final two weeks to make it in, but the issues are still there and they are on their 3rd goalie going into the postseason. It’s a matchup of a team that can win it all against a team that has yet to figure out just winning in the postseason. Predictions: Andrew – Bruins in six; Austin – Bruins in five.
Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6): The Panthers might have the higher seed and home ice, but the Devils ended the season with more points. Now the Panthers are the underdog after taking the Southeast Division, and rightfully so. The Devils finished fourth in their division, but still finished with eight more points than the Panthers. While the scrappy Panthers were impressive and better than expected, they finished with only 32 wins in regulation and overtime. Only seven teams had less wins than that, and of course none of them made it into the postseason. And they had 18 overtime losses. The Devils on the other hand went 21-9-3 down the final stretch, and they have been getting better throughout the season. Their offense is good enough to compete with the top teams and Martin Brodeur is ready to make one more run at the Cup. Predictions: Andrew – Devils sweep; Austin – Devils win in five.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5): This might be the most anticipated series of the first round. It’s common knowledge that these division rivals just hate each other. But on top of that, both could represent the East in the finals, if they can win this series. The rivals finished only five points apart but both passed the 100-point mark and despite not winning the division, both finished in the top six in the league. Ideally this should be a conference finals matchup, but one of the best series for this year will take place in the first round. Add to the intensity the couple of recent meetings with fines and after whistle activities, and the series likely could take a toll on whoever does win. Expect a physical, fast, and very close series. One bad game in net or major mistake at the wrong time could change the whole outcome. The Penguins have won both of their recent playoff meetings. Predictions: Andrew – Penguins in seven games; Austin – Penguins in seven as well.
West – Vancouver Canucks (1) vs.Los Angeles Kings: The Canucks look prepared to make another run through the Western Conference, but if they want to do so they will have to start by going through the Kings. The Kings of course have tried to add a lot in the last two years with their developing core, but this year the season did not go as planned. They do still have a talented and deep roster, but they were 29th in goals per game this season. Jonathan Quick carried the team to the 2nd best goals-against per game and likely will be up against Lundqvist for the Vezina. But the Kings continue to under-produce with all the talent on the roster. The Canucks though look to be in contending form again. Luongo is still questioned sometimes, but he continues to be one of the better goaltenders in the league. The one question might be Daniel Sedin‘s health. He is questionable for game one and might not even be at full strength if he does come back. If he does, the Canucks likely outlast the Kings. Predictions: Andrew – Canucks in five games; Austin – Canucks in six games.
St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7): The young and dominating Blues finally will get their chance to show what they are worth. While Ken Hitchcock took over the team full with young talent and speed, and turned them into the league’s 3rd best team. But the team isn’t full of guys with playoff experience and the rotating tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott might not work in the playoffs. While Elliott has better numbers, Halak has started a little more and it looks like the Blues will at least start with him. The Sharks are looking again to make a deep run in the playoffs, but this time they won’t have home ice and a strong season to rely on. The Sharks let the Pacific slip away from them and they’ve had issues with consistency all season. They have the talent and another early playoff exit could mean another big shakeup out on the west coast. The Blues might not have as much experience, but they do have the coach, the goaltending, and the consistent play that looks perfect for a strong playoff run. Predictions: Andrew – Blues beat the Sharks in seven; Austin – St. Louis takes out the Sharks in six.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6): The Coyotes stole the Pacific away in the closing weeks of the season, and now they will be looking for their first playoff series win. But just like in the East, the sixth seed actually finished above the 3rd and the two “weak” division winners will be the underdogs. Dave Tippett gets a lot out of little in Phoenix, but the Coyotes keep running into walls when the calender turns over to April. Mike Smith carried them this year and performed far above what many thought was possible, but he will have to steal the spotlight for the Coyotes to win this series. The Blackhawks have one of the league’s deadliest rosters offensively, but they’ve struggled on both sides of their special teams play this year and that will have to change if they want to return to the finals. But in the end Chicago has enough talent to take on the Coyotes already, and Jonathan Toews is expected to return for the postseason and he can take over any game he wants to. Predictions: Andrew – Blackhawks in six; Austin – Blackhawks in six.
Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings: Another 4 vs. 5 matchup between divisional rivals from a division that dominated the conference. The Predators finally look poised to make a deep playoff run and possibly an appearance in the finals, but they will have to dispatch their biggest rivals to start their quest. The Preds have their deepest roster ever, but it still starts in their own end. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter anchor one of the best defenses, and this likely is their last chance at winning together. Pekka Rinne again was one of the NHL’s best netminders and he again was relied upon more than really any other goalie. Those three cornerstones drive their team, but they also have improved offensively and have the league’s best powerplay. The Red Wings for once will be the underdog in a early postseason. Their home dominance is well documented, but Detroit was only 17-21-3 on the road, making home ice for the Predators a big deal. But the pressure is on the Predators, not the Red Wings this year. Jimmy Howard could give Detroit a good chance to win with a big series, this time around the Red Wings look out-gunned. Predictions: Andrew – Predators in a full seven-game series; Austin – Nashville in six.
Tags: Boston Bruins Chicago Blackhawks Detroit Red Wings Erik Karlsson Florida Panthers Henrik Lundqvist Jimmy Howard Jonathan Quick Jonathan Toews Ken Hitchcock Martin Brodeur Mike Smith Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils New York Rangers NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Ottawa Senators Pekka Rinne Philadelphia Flyers Phoenix Coyotes Pittsburgh Penguins Roberto Luongo Ryan Suter San Jose Sharks St. Louis Blues Vancouver Canucks Washington Capitals