NHL Playoffs First Round Predictions
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators
Believe it or not, Ottawa won the season series 3-1, and stands a better chance than most people think. That being said, the Rangers are the overwhelming favorite here. Defense reigns supreme in the playoffs, and the Rangers are built from the back-end out. They have the best goaltender in the league, and one of the leagues best defensive units. Ottawa’s best chance will be to pour on the offense and simply hope to outscore their opponent. With Karlsson dictating the pace on the blue line this is a possibility, as they do have the guns to be in this fight. However keeping the puck out of their own net might prove to be difficult.
New York wins in 5
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
I think this series will be closer than it appears on paper. With Backstrom back and feeding a hungry Ovechkin, Chara will have his work cut out for him. Also, missing Horton is a huge hole that Boston just won’t be able to fill. I think one of the keys to success for the Bruins is to bring back that “playoff grit” that worked so well for them last year. Well that, and they need Thomas to return to his Vezina Trophy winning form. But for me the game-breaker in this series is Tyler Seguin. He really has an opportunity here to step up and carry this team offensively. If he can do that, this team has a chance to go deep again.
Boston wins in 7
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
Jersey won six straight games to end the regular season, and Kovalchuk was on a tear during the second half. Look for them to continue that solid play into the playoffs and take 3 of the first 4 games. Florida isn’t a pushover, and had to play well down the stretch to hold on to their coveted division title, but I don’t think they will have an answer for New Jersey’s fast paced offense. Momentum is a huge factor in the playoffs, and Jersey has it.
New Jersey wins in 6
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
If all things were considered equal to start this matchup, I would say that it would be a coin flip to see who wins, or maybe even give the edge to Philly. But all things are not equal. Philly is, and has been without one of their best players. No I’m not talking about Briere, although he is a big piece of the puzzle too, I’m talking about Chris Pronger. This guy is/was their captain on and off the ice, and is sorely missed in the playoffs where he plays his best hockey. Besides Pronger and Briere, they are also missing JVR who was on fire for them in the playoffs last year, and Andrej Meszaros who is a big part of their defensive unit. And then we look at the Penguins, who would probably be in 1st and playing the Sens if it wasn’t for Crosby and Letang going on the IR for lengthy stints this season. And unlike Philly, Pittsburgh has all of its’ stars back healthy, and hungry. Forget the rough stuff, and the Jedi mind tricks, this is Pittsburgh’s series to lose.
Pittsburgh wins in 6
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
Yes Vancouver won the presidents trophy, again. But is that really a surprise to anyone considering the division they play in? They have by far the worst division in hockey, and this season they were the only team in their division to crack 90 points! I’m not saying they are a bad team, I’m just saying that they aren’t as good as their record, or point total would indicate. I also think L.A. is better than they appear in the standings, especially with the addition of Carter. They are a great defensive team, and on paper should have enough offense to blow any team out of the water, but they have had trouble gelling this year. Which has led to a big loss in production. If they can get on the same page, which it looks like they were starting to do down the stretch, than we could possibly see a big upset here. I know the consensus favorite is Vancouver, but I’m going to go with my gut here and take the underdog.
Los Angeles wins in 7
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
The Sharks were a real disappointment to a lot of people this year. Expectations were high after two straight trips to the Conference finals, and four straight division titles. This year though they fell below the 100-point mark, and barely qualified for the playoffs. They are still built as a team that can make some noise in the playoffs, but their low seed is really going to cost them. Of all the teams they could have played, they are matched up with the one team that owned them all season. St. Louis swept the season series 4-0. I don’t think this series will be a sweep, but I do see the Blues coming out on top. With their dedication to team defense, and their speedy counterattack, they will prove to tough for this mediocre Sharks team.
St. Louis wins in 6
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
Similar to the 3 vs. 6 matchup in the East, this series features the 6th seed as the favorite, who subsequently finished with more points. Which is one of the reasons I don’t like the division winners being given a top three seed. They should be guaranteed a playoff spot, but then seeded appropriately based on their total points. Anyway, back to the matchup. I think Chicago is by far the better team here, and if they get their captain back healthy, there is no reason they shouldn’t win this series. Phoenix is no pushover though, and they did actually win the season series 3-1. Their best chance of winning this series is to get on Crawford early and often. Lots of shots, lots of traffic, and make him stop the puck. They did this during the regular season, and it proved effective. Goaltending is the one and only thing stopping Chicago from going deep. If they can get Crawford to play the way Niemi did a couple of years ago, then there’s no reason they can’t go all the way.
Chicago wins in 6
#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
This series is as close a series as you are going to see in the playoffs. They are division rivals, they finished within a few points of each other, and they split the season series 3-3. Detroit has one of the league’s best offenses, whereas Nashville has one of the leagues best defenses. The tiebreaker for me is home ice advantage. If Detroit had it, they would be the clear favorite, and should still dominate at home in the early going. I think as the series wears on, things start to shift in Nashville’s favour, and with them having the home ice advantage, that’s just one more game that leans in their direction. Also I think the game breaker in this series is Alexander Radulov. I don’t know why he came back when he did, but I would speculate that it has something to do with wanting to make the big bucks now that his entry-level contract is expiring. And if that’s the case, look for him to showcase what he’s worth, and earn those extra zeros.
Nashville wins in 7
…and that’s the last word.