After a grueling regular season, the NHL is now ready to move on to the next stage: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sixteen teams, each with the goal of lifting the prestigious Stanley Cup Trophy, will duke it out in what is considered by many as the best postseason in all of sports.
Which among these teams will survive the first round and continue to fight for the right to become the newest Stanley Cup champion? For more about the NHL Playoffs, you can click here for Game 1 of the series between the Rangers and the Penguins.[sc:NHLArticles ]
Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview and Predictions
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
[sc:NHL240 ]Last season, the Rangers rode the heroics of Henrik Lundqvist to reach the Stanley Cup Final. This time around, the Rangers no longer have to depend their lives on Lundqvist as they enter the playoffs as a better scoring team than last season’s version of themselves.
In fact, the Rangers finished third in the NHL in goals, netting three scores a game back in the regular season. As for Pittsburgh, it’s a team difficult to underestimate given its pair of all-world centers in Sidney Crosby (28 goals, 56 assists) and Evgeni Malkin (28 goals, 42 assists) to go along with Marc-Andre Fleury, who is a playoff-experienced goalie.
Prediction: New York wins series, 4-2.
Prediction for the Rangers: Will reach the Stanley Cup Final
Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators
The Habs finished the regular season with 110 points, just four points short of taking home the Presidents’ Trophy. The Sens, meanwhile, barely made the playoffs, finishing the regular season with 99 points. Despite what the difference in their regular-season points suggests, this matchup isn’t going to be a cakewalk for Montreal.
For one, the Sens have been a constant thorn in the side of Montreal, beating the Canadiens three times in four meetings back in the regular season. They also have Andrew Hammond, a goalie that seems to have what it takes to go mano a mano with Vezina Trophy favorite Carey Price. Where Hammond can’t hold the candle to Price, however, is in terms of experience. Price has played in 42 playoff games. Hammond, on the other hand, has yet to play in one.
Prediction: Montreal wins series, 4-2.
Prediction for the Canadiens: Will reach the conference final
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
Hockey is filled with surprises but Detroit making the playoffs isn’t particularly an astonishing thing, as the Red Wings have always made the cut. For the 24th-consecutive season, the Red Wings will be part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, meeting the high-scoring Lightning squad right in the first round. To get past Tampa Bay, Mike Babcock and his men will have to find a solution on how to contain the Lightning’s offense that averaged 3.2 goals per game in the regular season. This puts pressure on Detroit’s pair of goalies in Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek. On the flipside, Detroit’s offense can also give it to Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, who’ll face seasoned veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and a couple of dangerous youngsters in Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins the series, 4-2.
Prediction for the Lightning: Will reach the conference semis
Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders
Alex Ovechkin (53 goals) has been a ring-less superstar thus far in his career in the NHL. And his quest to hoist Lord Stanley continues this postseason, beginning with a first-round showdown with the Islanders, who are as deadly on offense as Washington. The Caps are sixth in the league in scoring with 2.9 goals per game, while the Isles nets an average of three each game. Washington, however, possesses better defense (2.4 goals allowed per game) with the workhorse Braden Holtby in front of the net.
Washington also has a decided advantage on the man advantage, as it ranks No. 1 in the league with a 25.3 percent power play conversion rate. New York’s offense has the talent and depth to challenge any team, too. The Isles have the likes of John Tavares (finished second in the Art Ross Trophy race with 86 points), Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee. That’s not to mention a couple of championship-experienced and two-way defensemen in Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy.
Prediction: The Isles bid goodbye to Nassau Coliseum, as they lose the series to Washington, 4-3.
Prediction for the Caps: Will reach the conference semis
Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets
Postseason hockey finally returns to Winnipeg as the Jets take on West top-seed Anaheim in the first round. At the forefront of the Ducks’ offense is the prolific trio of Ryan Getzlaf (25 goals), Corey Perry (33 goals) and Ryan Kesler (20 goals).
The Ducks, who are 11th in the league in scoring with 2.8 goals per game, however, also have to deal with Winnipeg’s own deadly triumvirate of Andrew Ladd (24 goals), Blake Wheeler (26 goals), and Bryan Little (24 goals). If there’s a weak spot in Anaheim’s game for Winnipeg to take advantage of, it has to be the Ducks’ shaky defense. The Ducks are 20th in the league in defense, allowing 2.7 goals per game. The Jets, meanwhile, are 10th with 2.5 goals conceded per outing.
Prediction: Anaheim wins series, 4-2.
Prediction for the Ducks: Will reach the conference final
Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames
Few thought that Calgary would make the postseason. Those who believed in them, however, are looking like a bunch of geniuses right now as Johnny Hockey and the rest of the scrappy Flames clinched a playoff berth as an eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Both teams’ fates in the first round will largely depend on their defenses, as offense hasn’t been a problem for the Flames and Canucks. Led by Radim Vrbata (31 goals), the Canucks were able to finish the regular season sixth in scoring with 2.9 goals per game. That’s the same output by Calgary, which has the pair of Jiri Hudler (31 goals) and Johnny Gaudreau (24 goals) pacing the team.
Prediction: Vancouver wins series, 4-2.
Prediction for the Canucks: Will reach the conference semis
St, Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild
Expect a tightly contested series between the Blues and the Wild in the first round, two teams that play great on both ends of the ice. The Blues are top five in the NHL in scoring (2.9 goals per game) and defense (2.4 goals allowed per game). They’re also fourth in power play conversion percentage (22.3%) and seventh in penalty kill (83.7%).
The Wild, on the other hand, are 12th in scoring (2.8 goals per game) and sixth in defense (2.4 goals allowed per game). Their special team is the best in the league when it comes to killing opposing team’s power plays as they stifle 86.3 percent of their opponents’ chances on the man advantage.
One player to watch for the Blues is Vladimir Tarasenko, who can be a one-man wrecking crew, as he’s as talented a scorer (37 goals) as he is as a playmaker (36 assists). As for the Wild, they have goalie Devan Dubnyk to challenge the Blues’ scorers. Dubnyk has made a world of difference for the Wild since landing in Minnesota back in January, registering a 27-9-2 record with a 1.78 GAA and .936 SV% in 39 starts for the team this season.
Prediction: Minnesota wins series, 4-3.
Prediction for the Wild: Will reach the conference semis
Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago is aching to redeem itself after coming up short in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’ll get a shot in the arm just in time with Patrick Kane’s looming return after missing most of the season’s second half because of a collarbone injury.
Kane should inject life to Chicago’s offense that finished the season with a middling average of 2.7 goals per game, good for 17th in the league. The Blackhawks’ defense, meanwhile, looks sharp with Corey Crawford between the pipes. The Blackhawks enter the postseason second overall in goals against with only 2.3 surrendered per game. Crawford will square off with Nashville goalie and Vezina Trophy contender Pekka Rinne, who has 41 wins under his belt thus far this season.
Prediction: Chicago wins series, 4-3.
Prediction for the Blackhawks: Will reach the Stanley Cup Final
Writer’s Stanley Cup Winner Prediction
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