Bruins in 5
The Boston Bruins enter the playoffs as the clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Last season they reached the Stanley Cup Finals but fell in a classic Original Six battle against the Blackhawks. The only thing the Bruins have to worry about is the President’s Trophy Curse, but of course that had no negative impact last season on Chicago. The last time the Bruins won the President’s Trophy was 1990 and they made the Stanley Cup Finals that season. That was also the last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs. Moving from the Western Conference to the East may have helped keep the streak alive. Either way the Red Wings postseason stay will be a short one. Both teams are chock full of veterans with Stanley Cup experience, but the Red Wings enter at less than 100%. Even if Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg see the ice it is impossible to see them having a big impact after missing most of the second half. The Bruins have too many edges in size, speed and defense and it will be hard to imagine the Red Wings even winning a game as the Bruins dominated the regular season, winning three of four matchups. The only thing going for Detroit is pride, and pride will get them just one game to avoid a sweep.
Ducks in 4
The Ducks hit the playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference looking to turn Teemu Selanne’s farewell tour into a victory ride into the sunset. The Ducks have all the pieces to win the Stanley Cup, with scoring, defense and top notch goaltending. When the Ducks are at their best there is not a team that can beat them, but when they are not they are quite vulnerable. The Stars are making their first playoff appearance in six years, but Tyler Seguin gives them some much needed playoff experience. The Stars are a fast team that will look to keep the tempo high, while the Duck prefer a slower more defensive game. The Stars won two of three regular season meetings, but it is hard to imagine that having much of an impact. The Ducks finished the season strong and have the look of a team on a mission. The Stars will need a superhuman effort from Goalie Kari Lehtonen just to avoid getting blitzed. The Ducks defense and the play of Jonas Hiller will be the difference as they dominate in four straight games.
Canadiens in 5
One thing the new playoff format has given the NHL is a share of outstanding first round matchups. While the casual fan may not get excited for the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning the true hockey fan sees this series as a thrilling series of contrasts. The Canadiens try to beat you with defense led by the strength of P.K. Subban and the Goaltending of Carey Price, while the Lightning look for the quick strike ability of Steve Stamkos, The Lightning have a solid goalie themselves in Ben Bishop, but his health is a question mark after suffering an injury in the final week of the regular season. The Lightning also have the big distraction of Ryan Malone’s DUI charge. These teams played tight games all season, with the Lightning winning three of four, as three games went into overtime. The Malone situation and the Bishop injury could be very big hurdles for the Lighning. I like the Canadiens defense and even if Bishop was 100% I would prefer Carey Price who showed that he can big games in the Olympics as he was nearly flawless while leading Team Canada to a Gold Medal in Sochi.
Sharks in 7
The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings have become one of the most intense rivalries in the Western Conference as seen in last year’s second round battle that went seven games. The Kings have the pedigree, winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and reaching the Western Conference Finals last season. The Kings live for this time, as their defense and goaltending makes them the type of team that is built for the spring rather than the long 82 game season as they often go into long slumps without a true go to scorer. The Sharks have more skaters and are deeper than perhaps they have ever been with players like Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski emerging as the stars behind longtime Sharks Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. The Sharks also have a decent goalie in Antti Niemi who has won a Stanley Cup. It is hard to imagine this series not living up to the standard of last year’s meeting as it once again goes seven games. However, this time with Game 7 in San Jose it will be the Sharks who survive.
Penguins in 7
The Penguins may be the most talented team on paper, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading their dynamic offense. However, come playoff time the Penguins often underachieve as they have not been back to the Stanley Cup Finals in five years. Goalie Mark-Andre Fleury often struggles in the playoffs and any bump in the road could snowball if they are not careful. They should easily dispatch the Blue Jackets as they won fall five regular season meetings, but should and would is the big disconnect in Pittsburgh. The Jackets are excited just to be in the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history and that is the team that will give a smug team like the Penguins fits. The Blue Jackets have a big edge in goaltending with Sergei Bobrovosky and that is often the most important factor in the playoffs. The Jackets will not fold and will play with spirit and energy and they will give the Penguins all they could handle to bring the Penguins to the brink. However, Columbus does not have the experience to finish off the upset as the Penguins will survive with Sidney Crosby scoring the game winner late in Game 7.
Wild in 6
The Avalanche have one of the most young exciting teams in the league with players like of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan McKinnon who will among the NHL All-Stars for years to come. The Avalanche also had a breakout season from Goalie Semyon Varlamov who should be among the finalist for the Vezina Trophy. The Wild meanwhile had trouble even finding a healthy goalie. However, they have gotten some steady work from Ilya Bryzgalov who was acquired at the trade deadline and have a good enough to defense to slow down the exciting young Colorado Forwards. The Avalanche did a great job finishing strong winning the Central Division, but most of their star players have little or no playoff experience. The Avalanche also has a rookie coach in Patrick Roy, who did a great job in the regular season but will learn fast the game is quite different once the postseason starts. With defense being more important in the playoffs, I like the Ryan Suter of the Wild to have a big impact, add in Zach Parise and the Wild have what it takes for the upset as Minnesota wins the series in six games.
Rangers in 7
If you like fights and bad blood, this may the series for you as the Rangers and Flyers hatred is mutual between these two long time division rivals. The two teams split four games this year, with home ice being the deciding factor as the host team won all four meetings. The Flyers have more players who can score as they had seven different players score more than 20 goals. The Rangers meanwhile rely heavily on Rick Nash and Brad Richards, while they hope Martin St. Louis can break out of his slump in the playoffs. If they don’t get offense out of these three players the Rangers will have a tough time going far in the playoffs. However, against the Flyers the difference will be who can make the big save, and the Rangers have a tremendous edge in goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist going up against Steve Mason or Ray Emery. However, neither team is that strong and deep. It will be a seven game battle with neither team escaping without a few majors scrapes along the way.
Blues in 6
The two best teams in the Western Conference may be the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues and they are meeting in the first round. Black and Blue may just describe how these two teams that were once battling for the top spot in the West finished the season. The defending champion Blackhawks have been missing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane since March, and though both are expected to play, it is hard to see them being 100%. Without a healthy Toews and Kane the Blackhawks have no shot at returning to the Stanley Cup Finals. While, the Blues are healthy they have gone into a slump at the wrong time, dropping their last six games to lose the division title. The experience edge clearly goes to the Blackhawks, but the health issues may all but blunt that edge. Winning the Stanley Cup is the toughest task in professional sports when a team starts banged up it becomes impossible. The Blues meanwhile have one of the best defenses and a top notch goalie in Ryan Miller and they are hungry to win the Stanley Cup. With the first two games in St. Louis I see the Blues quickly snapping out of the slump and taking the beaten Blackhawks down in six games.