Stanley Cup Playoffs Quarterfinals Predictions
Western Conference Preview:
- 1. Anaheim Vs Dallas
For the back to back Pacific Division champions, Anaheim Ducks, they get to start off the post-season with a matchup with the upstart Dallas Stars. A match up that by luck allowed them to avoid having to face Los Angeles for at least one round (am I already giving away whom I think will win?). With all of the hullabaloo about the Ducks great form for the first 2/3 of the season, their play toward the finish has been a bit more disturbing. Not too mention, they’ll be facing a Dallas team that has taken 2 of 3 from them already this year. For Anaheim, the lessons of last years playoff loss to Detroit will loom large over them not for the defeat but for the cliché saying of ‘you learn more from losing than you do from winning’. And Anaheim learned a lot from that series last year. Anaheim has been playing a lack of emotion and confidence of late and it’s been noticeable in their play lately. At one point, they were dominating offensive team that was getting contributions from every line and they were using their defense for great two way play. Now, they’ve been pedestrian (though a lot of contenders seemed to have taken their foot off the gas of late) in their play. But that’s the beauty of the playoffs. It’s a clean slate.
For Dallas, this comes as something of a bit of a surprise (not myself, I predicted they would finish in the top 3 in the central, so I was only a tad off) as not many predicted they would make the playoffs as most assume it would be at least a year off before they became contenders once again. For Dallas, a scintilla of psychology warfare could make the series go their way. Dallas, though doesn’t have much that can match up with Anaheim though. Their goaltending might hold them up in this series but the lack of playoff experience reminds me of last years Ducks. I believe that this series will be big step forward Dallas, getting playoff experience but much like low seeded team at the World Cup, this series will be more of a learning tool and that actual victory for Dallas.
In the end, I think Dallas will steal a game or two but ultimately, the Ducks will prevail and in convincing fashion where they’ll await the second battle for California.
Subplot: Stephane Robidas plays against his old team that traded him for a low draft pick for a chance for him to win the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: Anaheim in 6
- 2. Colorado Vs Minnesota
Now you would’ve predicted this happening? I’m sure nobody except the hardcore believers in Denver saw this happening but due to St. Louis playing like crap and Chicago’s injuries holding them back from their true form of play, Colorado was able to sneak by and take over the Central lead. How Colorado got there though is a different story altogether. They are the anti-thesis of the stats argument (you know, those facts that Joffrey Lupol claimed were bogus similar to saying the earth was flat) and I believe this will come into play against them in the playoffs. Colorado has one of the worst corsi ratings in the league almost Toronto Maple Leafs bad and their defense isn’t helping out on that. If there is an achillies heel for Colorado, it’s their defense. Their offense is highflying but lacks any physical game that could allow them dominant beyond pure skill.
With that being said, Minnesota is one of the stingiest teams in the league and had quite an impressive run in it’s last few games getting points from top teams and had one too many come from behind wins this season as well. They’re a resilient team that replies on a grinding to the boards, stifling approach that makes you want to avoid showing their games to hockey novice to get them into the sport, as the Wild will turn them off from it with their play. With that being said, Bryz has been pretty good since coming over and I believe he might steal this series for them. But as in every playoffs, there is always one upset and I believe that is going to be it.
In the end, I believe the lack of Duchene will hurt the Avalanche and the fore-check for Minnesota will cause of many turnovers in their own zone. This will be a long series though and similar to Dallas, this Avalanche team will gain a lot of experience from this series. As the future is bright for them as well but that doesn’t mean Patrick Roy won’t have them prepared. He’s gotten them to buy into his system and that can’t be discounted either. But as NHL history has shown, the team with most playoff experience, is usually the winner.
Subplot: Will the Avalanche prove the stats community wrong?
Prediction: Colorado in 7
- 3. San Jose Vs Los Angeles
San Jose comes in just short of taking the Pacific division crown where they could’ve had a plushy first round with Dallas, whom they have a bit of a playoff history with. This is the match up everyone wanted except I’m sure players in San Jose. Their recent play of late though has me a bit worried and Niemi hasn’t been playing to the Vezina standards he set a year ago where he was dominant and could’ve won the Vezina trophy if it not for the out of this world goaltending of a certain netminder in Columbus. With all that being said, the Sharks can roll three scoring lines and a decent checking line and were one of the top teams in puck possession. But this series will only go as far as Niemi can take them.
The Kings come into this series as the best defensive team in the league. They allowed the fewest goal and their play out of the defensive zone was amazing all year long especially with Drew Doughty manning the point out there. Los Angeles’ biggest problem is their scoring though. While on paper they should have one of the best forward groups in the league, it wasn’t until a late season trade for Marion Gaborik that the Kings seem to finally balance out their scoring which was all too often coming from their bottom lines. But what the Kings have that no other team has, is Jonathan Quick. An all world goalie who plays at his best when the pressure is on. He’s a former playoff MVP and was the only reason the Canada only scored once during the semi final game at the Olympics (any other goalie, that scored would’ve been much higher). He’s hard to beat any day but during the playoffs, he’s one of the best.
The battle of California begins…again. They’ve faced each other in three of the last four postseasons and the intensity of their fans, the players can’t be discounted. This will be best series of the first round and it’s not to be missed. These are two teams that simply put, don’t like each other and other than their west coast fans and a few east coast writers who care to watch Western Conference games past their bed time, this is a series that will have a lot of fireworks and chippyness involved. The bummer about this series is that it’s happening so early and it’s really a bummer that one of these teams will be one and done after this.
Subplot: Which team will try to send a message first? I feel like this series is going to have one very unfortunate play that turns the series around.
Prediction: Los Angeles in 7
- 4. St. Louis Vs Chicago
If you’re a Blues fan, you must be downright scared about this matchup. Less than a month ago, St. Louis looked prime to return to the Stanley Cup Finals and were the pick to win it all by a lot of people in the know. Suddenly, their allowing odd man rushes, making mistakes in their own zone, their goaltending has been shaky and they’ve not been able to score. This could be for the second straight year that St. Louis is bounced in the first round after working so hard to prove to the league that they are one of the elite teams now.
If you’re a Blackhawks fan, this series is also not what you had hoped for either and the Blackhawks are also coming in stumbling with injuries to some of their key players. The Blackhawks still playing a heavy possession game are still considered one of four favorites to come out of the west. But with all that is going on around them in terms of injuries and expectations, you can see this being a quick one and done spring for the defending champions.
A month ago, this would’ve been the marquee series to watch, now it’s series that’ll be filled with AHL’ers trying to stave off each other until the other side can be healthy enough. I think this might ultimately, like the San Jose Vs Los Angeles series, come down to goaltending. While I believe Ryan Miller can finally play his game and make a steal here and there, Corey Crawford is a proven winner. But with that being said, you’ve got two coaches who know how to juggle lines and can play up their strengths. So, making it a long series is possible.
Prediction: St Louis in 6
- 1. Boston Vs Detroit
Boston comes into the playoffs rolling with four deep lines that can score, play defense and the defense corps that has been injury riddled all year but has stood up and is battle harden for the post season. Boston is everyone’s odd’s on favorites and for good reason, they’re that good. They have an MVP candidate in Patrice Bergeron, a Norris candidate in Zdeno Chara and a Vezina candidate in Tuukka Rask. The team is built to win today and tomorrow. Kind of like their first round opponent.
The Red Wings come in with a lot of youth and energy but they also come in without their captain Henrik Zetterberg and he leaves a big void in the line up. Injuries is what prevented the Red Wings from what could’ve been a dominating season but they come in with confidence knowing while they’ve been outplayed by Boston in their meetings they also came out with three wins.
But the Red Wings lack of play off experience, lack of Henrik Zetterberg won’t be able to hold up against a deep Bruins team that can win with every line, has one of the best corsi ratings in the league and simply dominates with puck possession. I think the Red Wings will steal the first game and Boston will come roaring back afterwards. I dunno why I feel that way, I just do. Boston always seems a bit slow in the first period and I believe they’ll be a bit slow for the first game. I expect this to go the distance though. Detroit are led by a smart coach and expect him to keep Boston to the edges and make their neutral zone breakout difficult but the Bruins will persevere and eventually as they did with Toronto and Pittsburgh last year, they’re physical game will wear down on the opposition eventually. Not too mention, they simply have the edge in every category and I believe one dumb play by Kronwall is going to cost the Red Wings far too many power play goals.
Subplot: First time these teams have met in over 50 years. If Boston wins, then Montreal wins and they defeat them and get the Rangers, we could be seeing the Bruins taking on all Original six teams on their way to the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: Boston in 7
- 2. Pittsburgh Vs Columbus
Pittsburgh comes in as one of the top teams in the east but with a lot of question marks and the most vulnerable they’ve been in years. When you watch them, you’re amazed by their first two lines but when it’s time for the third and fourth lines, if that fourth line ever goes over the boards for a shift, you’re gambling that they won’t allow a goal. The Penguins just haven’t been the same since Jordan Staal left and they come into this series with the past playoff performances as a reminder that there will be many doubters.
Columbus has been playing the underdog role all year long and finally made it to the post season for just the second time in their history. They have a dynamic center in Ryan Johansen and Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky who’s been holding the ship for the team most of the year. But with all of that comes down to their lack of playoff experience and as I’ve mentioned earlier, that’s usually a difference maker in the post season.
This is other series in the East that could have an upset and most wouldn’t be too shocked if it happened but I believe Marc Andre Fleury will be great and put the past behind him. But this could ultimately come down to special teams and if Columbus allows too many penalties, this could be a short series. I know a lot of people are picking for the upset but I believe Pittsburgh will make it through.
Subplot: Can Marc Andre Fleury consistently play?
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6
- 3. New York Vs Philadelphia
New York comes in playing some of its best hockey of the season and have simply put dominated Philadelphia for the last few years. With all of that being said New York has a dynamic scorer in Rick Nash and one of the top goalies in the league, Henrik Lundqvist. Even with that, Ryan McDonagh can’t be discounted if he’s at 100% and he’s proving to be one of the best defensemen in the league. If he’s healthy, the Rangers could make this a quick series.
For Philadelphia, they come into the playoffs on a bit of a roll but with questions surrounding their goaltending situation. Steve Mason will most likely be given the nod with his comeback year and steady play in goal but Ray Emery has more playoff experience and If I were Craig Berube, I would probably have Emery start on a short leash. Claude Giroux could be the difference maker but the Rangers play great stifling defense but never discount the brute physicality that Philadelphia plays with. That could play a factor.
This is going to be a rough series and whomever comes out by come out with a players hiding injuries. This is going to be long battle with both teams not ceding ground. For all of the regular season dominance that New York has had, I wouldn’t discount the Flyers.
Subplot: Who will emerge as big heavy hitter?
Prediction: New York in 7
- 4. Tampa Bay Vs Montreal
Tampa Bay comes into the series with a big question in goal. Will Ben Bishop be able to start the series? That is a big if to their playoff hopes and if he can’t, Anders Lindback will have to play as he played last week. With that being said, Tampa Bay has been resilient all year long with Steven Stamkos going down with an awful leg injury, to Marty St. Louis leaving mid season to and Ben Bishop being injured. It hasn’t stopped them all year long from having one of their most impressive regular seasons.
Montreal comes in hot with a lot of key components that could make them a hard team to beat for anybody. They have an Olympic gold medal winning goaltender in Carey Price and a fast forwards group. But they still have questions on defense and they still will have the pressure of being the Montreal Canadians. A first round playoff loss would be a monumental failure for the team.
This could be either a really short or really long series. It’s really hard to say until we know if Ben Bishop can play or not. If he can’t, I can’t see Tampa Bay winning this series. Their lack of depth in goal and their youth could be undermining factors. Montreal on the other hand has a suspect defense that can be exposed by Steve Stamkos and I don’t believe anyone on Montreal can stop him. If you let him have a power play, this series could be tight one. Overall, it’s hard to choose against Tampa Bay.
Subplot: how will the young players handle the pressure of playoff hockey?
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 7