The NHL playoffs are set to begin tomorrow, so now’s the time to pony up your thoughts and predictions on the eight matchups in the first round.
But first, for those who were asking about the “secret project” Audra Martin and I were discussing the other day, here it is. She produced this fine video about Dan Snyder and the award named in his memory. Bryan Little was honored with this award as the team unsung hero this season.
Nicely done, Audra.
Now…let’s just dive right in to our predictions, shall we?
#1 Washington vs. #8 NY Rangers: Season series won by the Rangers 3-1-0.
The Caps are coming off their fourth straight Southeastern Division championship. However, they so far have but one series win following the previous three. This year is a little different, as they seem to have discovered how to play a little defense. That, plus I think Bruce Boudreau and the Caps will come into this postseason with a bit of a chip on their shoulder looking to erase previous playoff disappointments.
Total Voters: 359
A rested and healthy Alex Ovechkin can do nothing but help the Caps cause as well.
The Rangers are making their first postseason appearance since 2009, when they were defeated in seven games during the first round by these same Washington Capitals. Chris Drury’s return after knee surgery will certainly mean a lot to their chances.
New York made it into the playoffs regardless of the great help the Atlanta Thrashers provided to the Carolina Hurricanes last week. After beating the New Jersey Devils Saturday afternoon, they had to wait for the Lightning to finally settle things between the two, defeating Carolina 6-2.
Ah, if only the Hurricanes could have played the Thrashers just a few more times.
Anyway, methinks the Rangers wild ride comes to a halt here.
My pick: Capitals in six.
#2 Philadelphia vs. #7 Buffalo: Season series won by Flyers 2-1-1.
Down the stretch the Flyers lost their top seeding in the east to Washington, then they darn near lost the top spot in the Atlantic Division to a surging Penguins team. In fact, Pittsburgh did catch them in points, (106), and finished with more wins, (49 to 47), but lost out due to the ROW stat.
Total Voters: 356
The Flyers look to be going with rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in goal with Brian Boucher backing up. For added depth in goal, Philly has recalled Michael Leighton from the AHL and have added him to their playoff roster. Defenseman Chris Pronger, who has missed 16 games with a hand injury, would help matters if he is able to return.
Buffalo on the other hand, the Sabres rode their 8-2 beat down of the Thrashers last month to a 9-1-2 finish. They also have a healthy Ryan Miller ready to go after missing time to an upper body injury. They are led in scoring by Thomas Vanek with 32 goals and 41 assists. Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville each finished with 52 overall points, Stafford was also a +13.
The Sabres are looking to advance to the second round for the first time since 2007.
I’m going to go with Buffalo in this series, if for no other reason than I feel compelled to pick at least one upset of a division winner.
My pick: Sabres in six.
#3 Boston vs. #6 Montreal: Season series won by Canadiens 4-2-0.
This matchup of original six teams is sure to pack quite a punch. Certainly there was quite a bit of punching dished out between the two during their regular season meetings. Probably the only people who hate each other more than the players here…are the fans.
Total Voters: 341
This could be a dandy series to watch. Heck, it may be worth it just to see the fans respond to Zdeno Chara’s return to the Bell Centre for game three.
Of all the teams that qualified for this spring’s Great Hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup, Montreal scored the fewest goals in doing so, 216. But at least they don’t give up a great deal either, allowing only 209 goals against.
Boston comes to this fight with Tim Thomas and his incredible .938 SV% and sparkling 2.00 GAA. As a team, they only allowed their opponents an average of 2.20 goals per game.
Carey Price is good enough to steam a couple of games for the Habs, but in the end the Broooooo’ns will outlast their rivals.
My pick: Bruins in six.
#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Tampa Bay: Season series split 2-2-0.
Here we have the makings of what could possibly be the most entertaining first round matchup of the eight, in my opinion. It’s the only one in which both teams notched 100+ points in the season, the Pens with 106 and the Bolts 103.
Total Voters: 336
I have to admit I’m quite impressed with what Pittsburgh has done minus Crosby and Malkin. That’s a testament to their depth and overall organization. As of the posting of this blog, Crosby has yet to be cleared to practice and might very well miss the series.
Tampa Bay is making a return to the playoffs after missing three seasons. What they have accomplished this year has been quite impressive as well and stands to show what new, good ownership can do.
Oh, and that Steve Yzerman seems to know what he’s doing in the GM chair too.
I look for Marc-Andre Fleury to bring his A-game between the pipes for the Pens and the Bolts offense to test him for the entire seven games. In the end, I’m going with Tampa Bay …but I wouldn’t wager any money on it.
My pick: Lightning in seven.
#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago: Season series won by Canucks 2-1-1.
No team scored more goals than Vancouver’s 262 and none allowed fewer than the 185 the Presidents’ Trophy winners gave up. Their 24.3% power play was the NHL’s best this season and only two teams killed off penalties at a higher efficiency than did the Canucks.
Total Voters: 343
No Malhotra, no problem for these Canucks. After his season-ending eye injury on March 16, Vancouver still skated to a 7-3 record in the final 10 games of the season. This even after their top seeding was already a forgone conclusion.
That’s what having a couple of Swedish twins that go by the name of Sedin, Ryan Kessler and Roberto Luongo in goal will do for ya.
Like the Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks had to bite their nails waiting for another team to lose on the final weekend to get their playoff tickets punched…even though they wound up with 97 points.
I’m not saying Vancouver will have an easy time with their old playoff nemesis of recent years, but I am saying they’ll advance to the second round.
My pick: Canucks in six.
#2 San Jose vs. #7 L.A. Kings: Season series won by Sharks 3-2-1.
Antti Niemi will be gunning for his second Stanley Cup in as many years as he leads the Sharks into this spring’s postseason. San Jose finished strong but will be trying to shake off it’s history of playoff letdowns if previous postseasons.
Total Voters: 307
They have seven players with 50+ points, five with 60 or more and two…Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau…with 70 or more.
Of the 219 goals scored all season for L.A., Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams netted 47 of them. But Kopitar was lost for the season with torn ligaments in his right ankle on March 26 and they’ve been without Williams’ services since March 21 with a dislocated shoulder. The Kings are hoping after today’s practice Williams will be cleared to play in the series.
I don’t like predicting sweeps. But if there is one I’d be tempted to make it would be this one. I’ll give L.A. one…just because.
My pick: Sharks in five.
#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix: Season series won by Coyotes 2-0-2.
The Coyotes have qualified for the playoffs two straight years now, this despite their ownership issues. The Wings have played past 82 games now for two decades running and have earned 100+ points for 11 consecutive years.
Total Voters: 306
Detroit is hoping Henrik Zetterberg’s knee will be healthy enough to start the series, which is a rematch from the first round last year when the Wings advanced in seven games.
The Yote’s only have one 20+ goal scorer, Shane Doan, as opposed to Detroit having four. Thus, it would appear that Phoenix’s hopes depend primarily on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov who was stellar between the Desert Dogs pipes. He finished the season with a 36-20-10 record, .921 SV%, 2.48 GAA and 7 shutouts.
I want to go with Phoenix here…and their record versus the Wings this season bodes well for their chances. But when we get to game number 83 and beyond, it goes against my better judgement to bet against the Big Red Borg.
My pick: Red Wings in six.
#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville: Season series won by Predators 3-1-0.
Like the 4-5 matchup in the east, this one could prove to be a very entertaining series as well. These are a couple of gritty, hard-working teams that have earned every one of the 99 points both got in the regular season.
Total Voters: 319
Anaheim surged into the playoffs thanks largely to Cory Perry’s 19 goals during the final 16 games. They may need to rely on Dan Ellis in goal if Ray Emory hasn’t fully recovered from his lower-body injury. Jonas Hiller is still suffering from vertigo and hasn’t played since March 24th.
The Preds finished the season 9-2-1 and their best player arguably is the man between the pipes. Pekke Rinne finished the season with a 33-22-9 record, .930 SV%, 2.12 GAA with 6 shutouts. Since February 28 he’s gone 12-4-3 with a .935 SV%.
A hot goalie can make all the difference in a tight series.
A Nashville loss to St. Louis was the difference between having the home-ice advantage if the series goes seven games, which I think it will. But when it does, I’m siding with the away team in this contest and Nashville wins their first ever playoff series.
My pick: Predators in seven.