Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise because the most wonderful time of the year has just begun. That’s right it’s playoff time for the NHL. Sixteen teams battle in best-of-seven game series to edge ever closer to that most impressive trophy in all of sports: the Stanley Cup. Last year I failed miserably at predicting last year’s playoffs so I thought I’d take try again this year. These are my predictions for the first round of the playoffs:
Washington Capitals v. Toronto Maple Leafs
The obvious beast in the eastern conference has to be the Washington Capitals. They are the President’s Trophy winners for the second year in a row, got even deeper with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk on defense, and are one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs after winning 10 of their last twelve. While the Toronto Maple Leafs hold a legitimate star in Autson Matthews and their entire team has been incredibly impressive this year it would be quite the upset if they took down the Caps. Capitals should move past the Leafs.
Montreal Canadiens v. New York Rangers
Claude Julien has returned to the Canadiens and revitalized the whole team. Though the Rangers are a quick team with a solid defensive core and great goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist it just seems like the Canadiens hold a slight advantage. The Ranger goaltender was 0-2-1 with a .870 save percentage and if that play leaks into this series than New York will have an early exit. I give the edge to the team I dislike the most, the Montreal Canadiens.
Boston Bruins v. Ottawa Senators
The Senators dominated the Bs in the regular season but I pick the team from Boston in this series. The Bruins have so much experience in their lineup with the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask. The Bruins hold an edge in goals for, goals against, powerplay, and had the best penalty kill in the League. Erik Karlsson is likely to play in this series and that does give me some pause. And Craig Anderson has been lights out in net. But Boston is still my pick.
Pittsburgh Penguins v. Columbus Blue Jackets
The reigning Stanley Cup champs face one of the surprises of the year in the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. Normally I would pick the Pens and move on but with injury hovering over the team from Pittsburgh I will explain my choice. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is the biggest obstacle the Penguins will face in this series and without scoring depth with injuries to Kris Letang, Carl Hagelin, Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin he will prove too much. I pick the Blue Jackets in this matchup.
Chicago Blackhawks v. Nashville Predators
The closest thing to a modern dynasty faces the Predators in the first round. The Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013, and again in 2015. They have a great goaltender in Corey Crawford, superstars in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Brent Seabrook, and are accompanied by Niklas Hjalmarsson and a force in Artemi Panarin. Meanwhile Nashville has a solid goalie in Pekka Rinne, great players in James Neal, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban….I’m sorry but I pick Chicago. It would be an incredible upset for most any team to beat the stacked Blackhawks.
Minnesota Wild v. St. Louis Blues
Early on in the season I wouldn’t have given this series a second thought. Minnesota was having a great year and St. Louis wasn’t playing great hockey. As the season has wound down the tables have turned dramatically. I think the Wild should be terrified to be playing the red-hot Blues in the first round. Minnesota has some advantages in scoring and on defense but their recent play is enough for me to pick their opponents. I’m going with the hot team and giving the series to the Blues.
Anaheim Ducks v. Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund going against Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry. Calgary has some real firepower on their team, and they have finished strong to get into the playoffs but it seems like Anaheim just has their number. Anaheim went 4-1 in the regular season series this year and has won nine of the last ten games between the teams. The two are relatively close on for the major statistical categories and when that happens I usually side with the intangibles and experience. Anaheim over Calgary.
Edmonton Oilers v. San Jose Sharks
I once won the Stanley Cup with the Oilers seven years in a row in NHL 2007. I know that doesn’t have an y bearing on reality but I just thought I would share. Edmonton has the Art Ross-winning player in Conner McDavid and a heck of a goaltender in Cam Talbot (42-22-8) but San Jose packs quite a punch as well. The Sharks have arguably the best defensemen in the League in Brent Burns and usually have the assistance of forwards Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Joe Thornton. The teams are relatively close in some categories but the Oilers are much better at putting the puck in the net. I know that San Jose won the conference last season and I know they have so much more experience in their locker-room but I pick the Oilers. We saw what speed could do to the Sharks last year in the finals and I think the Oilers will prove too fast and too good.