The best playoffs of them all, the battle for The Stanley Cup, starts Wednesday! Personally, I can’t contain my excitement as this year has some amazing first round matchups, mostly because the NHL system is broken and doesn’t seed teams properly. That’s a rant for another time. For today, I’m going to take a quick look at all 8 matchups and give my predictions for all of the series. As a reminder, join the Razzball Bracket Challenge here. Let’s get going!
Capitals (1) vs. Flyers (WC 2) – This has become a trendy upset pick because of how well the Flyers played down the stretch. For me, the key to this series is going to be Sean Couturier. Couts’ line is going to be matched up with Alex Ovechkin as much as Dave Hakstol can get him on that line. It looks like to start that Brayden Schenn is going to move down to the second line to help defensively while Jakub Voracek goes back to the first line with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. The difference to me here will be defensively. The Capitals have excellent depth on the backend, including Braden Holtby, while the Flyers have a few weak spots.
Prediction – Capitals in 6
Penguins (2) vs Rangers (3) – This is arguably the biggest mismatch of all the series. The Penguins are coming in absolutely on fire, they’re third in the NHL in score-adjusted Corsi (Rangers are 22nd) and the Rangers are quite simply, a mess. That said, Henrik Lundqvist is The King and is the only goalie who could steal a series all by himself. Do I expect that to happen? I expect Lundqvist to play amazing but that it won’t be enough.
Prediction – Penguins in 6
Panthers (1) vs Islanders (WC 1) – I really don’t know what to make of this matchup. On one hand, the Islanders were in the playoffs last season and should get Travis Hamonic back. The Panthers have a lot of young guys who have no playoff experience. On the other hand, the Panthers had the best goal differential in the league, were a better possession team down the stretch and have Roberto Luongo between the pipes. I think the Panthers are the better team here, albeit marginally. Very few expected the Panthers to be here so they could come in feeling like they’re playing with house money. And as good as John Tavares is, I think the Panthers first line, led by Aleksander Barkov, push them to victory.
Prediction – Panthers in 7
Lightning (2) vs Red Wings (3) – These teams finished 12th and 15th overall but play each other in the first round. Good job NHL! Meanwhile Pens and Rangers are 3rd vs 5th. What a horrible system. Anyways, no Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman makes this series closer than it should be. The Lightning beat the Wings in the first round last year and the Wings are worse right now. I’m going with the Bolts here because they have Ben Bishop. I’ve been pumping his tires all season and still don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. The distraction around Pavel Datsyuk right now won’t help the Wings either. They completely backed into the playoffs with Boston’s collapse; I think they’re overmatched despite Tampa missing two of their best players.
Prediction – Lightning in 6
Stars (1) vs Wild (WC 2) – This looks to be a quick series. The Stars are a powerhouse offensively, they’re the #4 team in Score-adjusted Corsi while Minnesota is 23rd (worst of the playoff teams) and Tyler Seguin could be back for game one. On the other hand, Zach Parise could be out since he has a herniated disk in his back. The Wild are overmatched.
Prediction – Stars in 5
Blues (2) vs Blackhawks (3) – I keep going back and forth on this one. I truly believe that the Blues are the better team here. The Blues are this team every year at this point. This is more of an indictment of the Blackhawks who were actually out-scored at even strength this season. They’ve given up the most shots of any season under Joel Quenneville while shooting the least of any season. All of the talk about Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford has overshadowed the flaws of this Chicago team. So can the Blues clear the mental hurdle of losing in the first round repeatedly and losing to Chicago in the playoffs? I think they can but it absolutely wouldn’t shock me if the Hawks win this.
Prediction – Blues in 7
Ducks (1) vs Predators (WC 1) – I don’t think this series is close either. I absolutely love this Ducks team. They’re the second best team in Score-adjusted Corsi, have the best power play in the league and the best penalty kill by a mile. The only question mark is their goaltending but their goaltending is clearly better than Nashville; Pekka Rinne has been downright horrible this season.
Prediction – Ducks in 5
Kings (2) vs Sharks (3) – Poor Sharks. This is the best team they’ve had in a while and they get to play the Kings in the first round, arguably the favorite to win. The Kings take the most shots per 60 minutes and give up the fewest which is remarkable. That said, the Sharks have the flashy offensive talent to capitalize on the chances that they have. They’ve come on strong down the stretch, James Reimer has been great and Brent Burns should help drive the play at times despite going against Drew Doughty. I think this series is closer than people expect but am going with the Kings, setting up a matchup in the next round between the Ducks and Kings, the two best teams in the NHL by my money.
Prediction – Kings in 6
That’s all for now guys. Tomorrow, I will have a post recapping the regular season from a fantasy perspective. If there’s anything specific you want me to look at, let me know in the comments section below. As always, feel free to ask any questions as well. Take care!