Capitals in 5
The time is now for the Washington Capitals as they have won the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season. Of course, the Capitals have long mastered the regular season, only to stumble in the playoffs. This is the year that Alex Ovechkin needs to show he can play in the postseason. The Capitals star has scored over 500 career goals in the regular season, but has often gone into long drought when the games matter most. The Capitals will have the advantage in experience as three of the Toronto Maple Leafs top scorers are rookies. The Capitals have a distinct advantage in defense and goaltending as well, as they allowed the fewest goals in the NHL. It won’t take long to tell if the Capitals are in trouble as the longer the series lasts; the more confidence Toronto will gain. If the Capitals are going to their playoff doubters, they must make this series a short one.
Blackhawks in 5
The Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the NHL’s most successful teams over the last seven years, with three Stanley Cup Championships, and long postseason runs nearly every other season. Last year the Blackhawks limped into the playoffs and limped home early, losing in the first round. This year Chicago comes in healthy and looking primed for another long run of Chelsea Dagger being stuck in your head most of the spring. The Blackhawks, were the top team in the second half of the season, posting a record of 20-5-4 since February 4th. The Nashville Predators have one of the league’s top defensive teams, but don’t not match up well with the Blackhawks, losing four of five regular season meetings. One place where the Predators have exceled is at Bridgestone Arena, where they posted a 24-9-8 record during the regular season. The Predators though struggled greatly on the road, losing 20 games. With the Blackhawks healthy it’s hard to see another early exit.
Blue Jackets in 6
The Pittsburgh Penguins begin defense of the Stanley Cup with a showdown with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Seeking their fifth drink from Lord Stanley, the Penguins have their work cut out for them as they will be without Kris Letang their top defenseman who was a big part of last year’s playoff run. The Jackets are making just the third playoff appearance in franchise history and have made a great many strides, topping 100 points for the first time in franchise history. Columbus was just one of two teams to allow fewer than 200 goals in the regular season. While Pittsburgh has one the NHL’s most dynamic offenses led by Sidney Crosby, defense is the key to their success. The main concern for Columbus is how poorly they played down the stretch, losing five of their last six games. I think that may have been more of boredom and seeing the champs, will quickly get the Jackets attention, especially Brandon Dubinsky who will score more goals than Crobsy and lead Columbus to their first ever series win.
Wild in 7
Under first year coach Bruce Bodreau, the Minnesota Wild had their finest season, posting 106 points as they challenged the Blackhawks all season for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Wild have been strong on both ends of the ice, as they ranked second behind the Capitals in goal differential thanks to a career best season from Devan Dubnyk. This is a series that will have a great many storylines as Minnesota’s former coach now stands behind the St. Louis Blues bench. The two teams played tight games in all five regular season meetings as St. Louis, won three of five meetings, with one game decided in overtime. Blues Goalie Jake Allen has played well down the stretch, but when the series is on the line, their lack of depth will catch up to them. Minnesota has more scoring options, with four players topping 20 goals and are a deeper team that is poised to make a run deep in the playoffs.
Canadiens in 6
Until the last few games of the season, the top four teams in the Metropolitan Division all had better records, than the Montreal Canadiens who won the Atlantic Division. With the NHL’s current playoff format that means the fourth place New York Rangers will cross over as the Wild Card to take on the Habs, who finished just one point better in the standings. However, in three regular season meetings, Montreal had a big edge over the Blue Shirts, taking all three games. The Rangers come into the playoffs in a slump, as they struggled down the stretch especially at home, holding a record of 8-9-4 since February 26th. The Canadiens have the better defensive play, with much of New York’s struggles coming at the blue line, especially with Goalie Henrik Lundquist having a down year. The only concern for the Canadiens is finding a goal to scorer, but with Carey Price they won’t have to put that many pucks past Lundqivst to advance.
Ducks in 6
No team comes into the Stanley Cup Playoffs hotter than, the Anaheim Ducks who have been quite mighty as of late, not losing in regulation since March 10th. Over that stretch the Ducks have posted an 11-0-3 record to win the Pacific Division. The Calgary Flames also had a strong second half, powered by a ten-game winning streak at the beginning of March. The Flames have always had their struggles in Anaheim as they have not won a game at the Honda Center in 11 years. If they are to win this series, they must break that slump. The Flames do have the players to skate with the Ducks, with rising stars like Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, while Brian Elliott, give them edge in net. However, with Ducks end of the surge it is hard to bet against them. Look for Cam Fowler to be the difference maker as the Ducks could be poised for another long run.
Bruins in 6
After a two-year absence, the Boston Bruins are back in the playoffs. The key was the decision to change coaches on February 7th, as Boston took off after Bruce Cassidy replace Claude Julien, posting a record of 18-8-1. Despite their two-year absence, the Bruins still have a Stanley Cup pedigree, with several players remaining from the 2011 team. During the regular season the Ottawa Senators had their way with the Bruins, winning all four matchups. However, as the playoffs begin the Senators suffered a potential crippling blow as Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson could miss the entire series with a lower body injury. Karlsson is the entire key to the Senators success as he not only protects the blue line but he helps make up for Ottawa’s revolving door in net as Craig Anderson missed long stretches to be by the side of his wife as he undergoes cancer treatments. Look for Patrice Bergeron to be the difference as the Bruins advance.
Sharks in 7
After losing in the Stanley Cup Final last season, the veteran San Jose Sharks know there is not much time left for them to capture the hockey’s Holy Grail. For most of the season the Sharks appeared to be in good shape as they were at the top of the Pacific Division. However, a prolonged slump, at the end of March sent them tumbling into third place. The Edmonton Oilers meanwhile were surging at the end of the season as they have posted a record of 13-4-1 since March 1st. For the Oilers, it is their first appearance since the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, when Connor McDavid was 9-years-old. McDavid is the driving force behind the Oilers rebirth as he became the third youngest player to win the NHL scoring title. The key of this series will be the health of Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, if both can go the Sharks will win thanks to the veteran edge, if not the Oilers youth will be too much to stop.