NHL: Playoff Predictions and Matchup Breakdowns

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six
Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By: Rossy Pasternak

Finally! The moment all Hockey fans have been waiting for, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived! These Playoffs feature some of the best first round matchups in the past decade, as well as many interesting storylines. So much to talk about, yet so little time! The Playoffs kick off tonight, and I couldn’t be any more excited! Here are my predictions of how the Playoffs will play out.

Buffalo Sabres v Washington Capitals
Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Eastern Conference

Washington over Philadelphia in 5 games

Many critics have hated on Alex Ovechkin for his inability to bring a Stanley Cup home to D.C. However, much of it has not been Ovi’s fault. Sure, Ovi has scored 36 goals in 72 games, which is good for a 0.50 goals-per-game average, down from his regular season mark of 0.626. Many critics will point to this as evidence that Ovechkin is not a good playoff player. On the other hand, one could look at the top marks of goals per game this season other than Ovechkin, and you will see Patrick Kane (0.56), Jamie Benn (0.50) and Vladimir Taresenko (0.50). What these numbers tell you is that Ovechkin’s level of offensive play goes from historically amazing in the regular season, to just best-in-the-league during the playoffs. And this year, Ovechkin is surrounded by his best supporting cast yet. I think Evgeny Kuznetsov – who will look to build upon last year’s great playoffs – will lead all Washington players in points. Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky round out the stellar top-6. Then, on the back-end, there is a plethora of playoff experience, with Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Matt Niskanen. In goal, Braden Holtby hopes to bring his Vezina level of play to the playoffs. All of this talent is going to be too much for a defensively challenged Flyers team. The Flyers can score – as any team with Giroux and Voracek should – but they will not be able to defend adequately enough to have a chance in this series. Washington will win easily in 5 games, though this series has the highest potential for a sweep in an otherwise very competitive bracket.

Rangers Outlast the Injured Penguins in 7

Both of these teams come into the playoffs crippled, but one has fared better than the other. The Penguins, without Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury have been on a tear of late, with a record of 8-2-0 in their last 10. The Rangers, without Captain Ryan McDonagh, have gone 6-3-1. The Penguins won 3 of 4 games between the two teams, and will have home-ice advantage. Fleury is likely to be back for game 1 of the series, and Malkin isn’t supposed to be back until mid-May, but knowing how hockey players treat injuries during the playoffs, it wouldn’t surprise me if he made a miraculous comeback toward the end of this series. Sidney Crosby, as well as the pairing of Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino, have carried this team through their recent hot-streak, and will continue to do so in Malkin’s absence. There is actually only one reason, or person, that made me pick the Rangers in this series. Henrik Lundqvist has a record of 6-2 in game 7s, and has only allowed more than 1 goal twice, in both of the losses. With a very big group of forwards, the Rangers should successfully be able to lock down the top two lines of the Penguins. One of the things the Rangers do best is shut down their opponent, and that is what they aim to do here. The line of Eric Staal, Rick Nash, and Kevin Hayes has the size, speed, and defensive ability to limit the amount of success the Crosby or Kessel line has, depending which line coach Alain Vigneault chooses to deploy them against. Lunqvist stands on his head and wins this series in a deciding 7th game, and gives his captain a chance to play in the playoffs.

Panthers Top Islanders in 6 Game Battle

The Florida Panthers have depth throughout their roster. Through all 4 forward lines, the Panthers should be able to score and defend in their own zone. The Panthers possess the 4 s’s: size, speed, skill, and smarts. The one thing they are lacking is postseason experience, but the ageless Jaromir Jagr can make up for that. Coming in relatively healthy, other than Vincent Trotcheck who should be back before this series is over, the Panthers have a huge advantage over the injury riddled Islanders. John Tavares’ squad comes into the playoffs without Travis Hamonic, Anders Lee, Jaroslav Halak and Mikhail Grabovski. The Islanders will start Thomas Greiss in net, which will not lead to good results. I think the offensive prowess of the Islanders, and sheer hard work by Tavares, will allow the Islanders to give the Panthers a scare. In the end, however, the Panthers will pull through due to great goaltending by Roberto Luongo, and great play throughout their lineup.

Red Wings Over Lightning in 6

Both of these teams come in after going 5-5 in their past 10 games. The Lightning have a few injury concerns coming into the playoffs, with their three stars, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, and Steven Stamkos, status’ up for debate. Johnson and Hedman will be back during the series, but may be held out of game 1. Stamkos may miss the entire playoffs, if the Lightning get past the Wings. The Red Wings slump has come because of struggling goaltending. They have been in playoff mode for the past month however, and are coming in as a confident group. Pavel Datsyuk will likely want to finish off his NHL career – rumour is he is leaving for the KHL after the playoffs – with another Cup, and will be extremely motivated to make that happen. Rookie Dylan Larkin is excited to get his first taste of playoff hockey, and I expect him to go into another gear once the puck drops and his nerves go away. I think the difference in this series will be depth, as Detroit, line 1 through 4, will outwork and outplay the injury-riddled Lightning, straight to a 6 game victory.

 

Western Conference

 

Anaheim Ducks v Dallas Stars - Game Three
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Stars Beat Wild in 6 Games

The Dallas Stars are one of the most dangerous teams in this years playoffs. Headlined by stars (pun intended) Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg, as well as a strong supporting cast, Dallas has a winner on it’s hands. The Stars will face off against a Wild squad who struggled through the first half, but has played better since replacing coach Mike Yeo with John Torchetti. Both of these teams come into the series healthy, as Seguin, Zach Parise, and Tomas Vanek are all expected to dress in game 1. The Wild have the advantage in goal, but Dallas makes up for that with their dynamic offence and adequate defence. The Wild play a fast, grinding style of play that is tough for their opponent, but the Stars have the star power to get by them in 6, and move on to the next round.

St.Louis Break Reputation vs. Chicago

Ken Hitchcock and his team have a well-deserved reputation as a team that can’t win in the playoffs. Since he has taken over, Hitcock has exited in the first round 3 out of his 4 trips to the playoffs, with the one exception being a second round exit. The Blues come into this years playoffs with the best team they have had since he has taken over, but they face a scary opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. Make no mistake, this Chicago team is a dynasty. The Blackhawks are looking to win a fourth Cup in the past 7 years, which would be one of the most impressive feats in any sport’s history. Patrick Kane is on a whole other level than anyone else this season, and is joined by an army of playoff veterans and exciting young players. Backstopped by Corey Crawford, who has just returned from injury, the old crew is all back, with the addition of Artemi Panarin and the acquisition of Andrew Ladd. The depth and talent the Blackhawks have is something rarely seen in this sport. Chicago has also played an absurd amount of hockey in recent years, as they have made multiple deep playoff runs, including three all the way to Cup. I think the Blackhawks will finally succumb to the wear and tear caused by playing so much hockey in recent years, and they bow out in one of the best 7 game series we have ever seen in the first round.

Ducks Make Quick Work of Preds

The Ducks are just too skilled, big, and complete a team for the Predators to put up a fight. They have an abundance of size and skill down the middle, with Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Rickard Rakell. They have size and skill on the wings, with Jamie McGinn, Corey Perry, Jakob Silfverberg, and more. They also have stellar defenceman, led by the sensational Sami Vatenen. And lastly, they have two superb goaltenders, John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. Coach Bruce Budreau has yet to decide which goalie will start, but either will do. The Predators are a very vulnerable team, although they still have amazing defence, led by Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Pekka Rinne, usually a mainstay in the top-5 Vezina vote-getters, has struggled to the tune of .908 Sv% and 2.48 GAA. The offence is dynamic, with Ryan Johansen, James Neal, and Filip Forsberg producing at a high level. They will struggle to score a lot of goals if those three are shut down, and Anaheim has the ammo to do just that. The Ducks win in an easy 5 game series.

Sharks Get Revenge vs. Kings

The Sharks and kings are set to write another chapter in this exhilarating California Rivalry. In 2014, these teams met in the first round, and the Sharks jumped to a 3-0 series lead, before collapsing and losing the series in 7 games. The Kings then went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Sharks will look to get revenge on the kings, while also getting rid of the reputation as a team that crashes in the playoffs. Joe Thornton had his best season since 2009-2010, putting up 82 points. His supporting cast is a mix of seasoned vets like Patrick Marleau, Paul Martin, Joe Pavelski, and Joel Ward, as well as young players such as Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, and Matt Nieto. The biggest difference between this matchup and the one in 2014 is the goaltending. San Jose replaced Anti Niemi with the tandem of James Reimer and Martin Jones, and both have had success with the Sharks. Jones will get the nod against the team he got his name on the Stanley Cup with. The Kings will not be an easy out whatsoever. The favourites coming into this series thanks to their experience and success in previous playoffs, the Kings are looking to win a third Cup in 5 years. Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, and Jeff Carter are proven playoff performers, and Milan Lucic is also a very good playoff player. The Sharks have their work cut out for them if they want to extract revenge on the Kings of California, but I think they are finally ready to do so.

Conference Semi-Finals

I will preview the Conference Semi-Finals, Conference Finals, and Stanley Cup Finals when the matchups are set, as they may (somehow) be different than my predictions. Here is what I think will happen in those rounds.

 

East

Washington over Pittsburgh in 6

Florida over Detroit in 7

West

Dallas over St.Louis in 6

Anaheim over San Jose in 6

Conference Finals

Washington over Florida in 7

Dallas over Anaheim in 7

Finals

Washington over Dallas in 5

What do you think will happen in the Playoffs? Let us know what you think about our predictions, and what your predictions are in the comment section!

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