Penguins in 6
The New York Rangers just completed the best regular season in franchise history after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last season, their fans are have dreams of ticker tape parades dancing in their heads as they face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. This is why this is going to hurt. The Rangers swept the Penguins in the regular season and won the President’s Trophy, while the Penguins have been in a terrible slump and barely made the playoffs. However, they still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and will give any team a hard time as they are still two of the best players in the NHL. The Rangers have a history of playoff letdowns and this one will be the one that will hurt the most, as Henrik Lundqvist struggles to find his grove after missing much of the second half with a freak vascular injury. The Rangers great run came with a power play that struggled most of the postseason last year, this time around it will cost them dearly. Meanwhile playing for his career, the Penguins will get the best out of Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and that will be a big difference.
Jets in 6
The Anaheim Ducks have been one of the favorites in the NHL all season, as they have sat atop the Pacific Division. However, their play down the stretch was not strong and they have been very shaky on defense, ranking 20th in GAA. The Jets meanwhile have gotten outstanding play from their Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who has posted a 1.98 GAA and a 93.2 save percentage since the All-Star Break. The Ducks did win all three regular season games against the Jets. However, all three games were in the first half of the season, with two being decided in overtime. The Ducks may have tried to coast down the stretch, but their inconsistent goaltending has to major cause of concern. The Jets will also have a huge edge when the series shifts to Winnipeg, as it has been two decades since they have seen playoff hockey. Just the emotion in the building alone should carry them to one win. If they ever get a series advantage it could turn into a snowball as the Ducks will surely get buried in a sea of white, becoming the second number one seed to fall.
Capitals in 5
For two thirds of the season the New York Islanders were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, leading the Metropolitan Division. However, the Islanders faltered down the stretch and backed into the playoffs. The Islanders defense and goaltending has been especially terrible as of late. With a chance to get home ice in the first round Jaroslav Halak allowed a soft goal to tie the game and struggled in the shootout in the final regular season game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Capitals offense is always one of the best led by Alex Ovechkin, who despite a history of postseason struggles could breakout in a big way, if the Islanders defense and Halak continue to allow soft goals. These two teams split four regular season games, but have not played since February 21st, when the Islanders were still playing strong hockey. The Capitals have too much firepower and the Islanders won’t be able to turn things around in time to stop it.
Canucks in 7
This series has seven games written all over it as perhaps no two teams are more evenly matched than the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. The two teams split four regular season meetings and have nearly the same stats top to bottom. The Canucks did finish a few points ahead and will get home ice, and that could end up being the difference. I also like the fact that Goalie Ryan Miller comes into these playoffs with something to prove. The Canucks do have the best chance for a long run if they get the Sedin Twins on track, and the Flames are a younger team that will benefit just by getting a taste of the postseason. No player is perhaps more exciting than Johnny Gaudreau who finished tied for the lead in scoring among all rookies, with a big series from Johnny Hockey the Flames could actually beat the Canucks. However, in the end experience will be the difference as the Canucks survive in seven games.
Canadiens in 7
No team was hotter in the second half than the Ottawa Senators, who looked to be heading for a lost season when Andrew Hammond started playing in goal. The Senators lost just three games in regulation after February 18th, including six wins in their last seven games. The Montreal Canadiens were just consistent from start to finish as they were at or near first place in the Northeast Division all year, beating out the Tampa Bay Lightning by two points. While Hammond became an instant fan sensation in Ottawa, Carey Price affirmed his position as one of the top net minders in the NHL. Price is a heavy favorite to win his first Vezina Trophy, winning 44 games league best 1.96 GAA and a .933 save percentage, and could get heavy consideration for the Hart Trophy. This series should be hard fought and low scoring and there figures to be plenty of intensity I expect this one to go the distance, but in the end Carey Price and the Canadiens will get it right and advance.
Blues in 5
The Minnesota Wild had a great second half run just to get back in the running for the playoffs after such a sluggish start. However, down the stretch the Wild slumped, winning just two of their final six games. Making matters worse the Wild have been having trouble scoring goals, as leading scorer Zach Parise has been in a slump. This does not bode well against a team like the St. Louis Blues, who are one of the best defense teams in the NHL. The Blues rank in the top seven in goals scored, goals allowed, power play percentage and penalty kill. The Blues are also going into the playoffs with some momentum and something to prove after first round exits in the last two seasons against teams that were the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. The Blues have the talent to win a cup and if they can get Vladimir Tarasenko on a roll it might just happen.
Lightning in 5
The Detroit Red Wings are there year after year, with 24 straight playoff appearances. The last time they failed to reach the postseason in 1990, the Tampa Bay Lightning did not even exist. A big part of the Wings success was Steve Yzerman, who is now hoping to build the same success as the General Manager of the Lightning. The Red Wings sputtered down the stretch and did not clinch the playoffs until the last days of the regular season. The Lightning meanwhile, have been at the East all season and could be poised for a long playoff run. Tampa is especially strong at home, winning 32 games at Amalie Arena, by far the most home wins in the NHL. The Wings goaltending situation is tenuous at best and when facing a team with scorers like Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson that does not bode well for Detroit.
Blackhawks in 6
It’s been a long trying year for the Chicago Blackhawks as they have dealt with injuries especially losing Patrick Kane to a broken collar bone on February 24th. At the time of the injury Kane was among the top scorers in the NHL, with 27 goals and 37 assists in 61 games. Kane is expected to return to the lineup for Game 1, if he is able to get his scoring touch right away the Blackhawks could be poised for another long playoff run. The Predators were one of the top teams in the NHL all season but sputtered over the last six weeks. The Predators come into the playoffs losers of six straight and don’t nearly have the experience and the toughness of the Blackhawks who won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. The only chance Nashville has to win is if Goalie Pekka Rinne is able to steal a few games, and that is going to be nearly impossible if Patrick Kane is at full strength.