Hot take time! Season’s end finds us looking forward to a month of NHL playoffs action that will undoubtedly be some of the most exciting sports action this side of the Rio Olympics. Who do I think will win? Will it matter, since my Devils fell short yet again?
I had the Finals being Montreal over Minnesota when I made my early predictions back in October, but things changed dramatically after that. In fact, this is only the second time (first – 1970) in league history that no Canadian team has made it to the postseason. Tragic turn of events, no? What fails their system is good for California hockey though, as Anaheim won it’s fourth straight division title, followed closely by the Kings and Sharks.
Anyway, who do I think will raise Lord Stanley’s Cup come June? Follow below to find out:
Philadelphia at Washington
Washington went on a torrid run like no other through the regular season and looks to face a resurgent and surprising Flyers team. Holtby tied the wins record in a season (48) so he’s the big question here. When Martin Brodeur reached 48 wins in 2007, he started out shaky against the Tampa Bay Lightning, looking very tired. He rebounded though, and got the Devils to the second round – only to be ousted by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Ottawa Senators. Will Holtby be tired? He’s only 26, as compared to Brodeur’s 35 at the time, and played 12 less games than his equal. I think it helps that the offense is a beast too – Ovechkin is always good for a goal. I say the Flyers put up a fight, but if Holtby wins the first two at home, they won’t stop dominating up in Philly. Capitals in 4.
New York Rangers at Pittsburgh
The Rangers have struggled mightily this season, with diminished play from stalwart Dan Girardi and rental Eric Staal, and injuries to nearly everyone, in particular captain Ryan McDonagh. Meanwhile, while the Pens lost Evgeni Malkin March 11, they’ve gone 13-2 since – losing only to the momentarily hot Devils and to the surging Flyers on the last day of the season. Would it be better to let Malkin take his time back from injury, as he’s a better food luck charm sitting up in a plush booth? Either way, the real worry for the Penguins is the injured Marc-Andre Fleury – concussed a couple times but due back in tonight’s game. If he can help continue the run, the Pens move on. Penguins in 6.
New York Islanders at Florida
The Islanders have rebuilt themselves into contention with players like Josh Bailey and John Tavares the past few years, but the last week saw them unable to unseat the Rangers for the third spot in the Metro. They end up facing the massively underappreciated Florida Panthers, led by the Dick Clarkian Jaromir Jagr. I expect this to be a back and forth, but with home ice advantage, the Cats should win the first Barclays Center series. Florida in 6.
Detroit at Tampa Bay
Injuries for Tampa and lackluster play for Detroit are the focus of this series, and because of that I almost don’t care who wins, they’ll likely lose to their next opponent. If I have to, I’d pick Tampa because Detroit looks tired. Datsyuk practically has his bags packed for Russia already. Tampa in 7.
Minnesota at Dallas
For the first time since hockey returned to the North Star State in 2000, a playoff matchup has finally lined up for the once and future Minnesota teams. A year removed from closely missing the postseason, Dallas rose to the occasion and proved that Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza were the real deal. Kari Lehtonen was no slouch either, splitting 50 wins with Antti Niemi. The Wild, on the other hand, stumbled into the playoffs, lucking out that Colorado didn’t catch them because of their various injuries. Because they almost don’t deserve to be here, I expect a quick exit. Dallas in 5.
Chicago at St. Louis
The Blues are due, honestly. With all they’ve done the past few years, they shouldn’t have only one series win (11-12, San Jose) to their credit. Also, despite the big names on the team – Patrick Kane (just won the Art Ross for most points), Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa – they’re missing dependable Duncan Keith for game 1. Hossa is also coming back after an extended period, and could be rusty. I say this will be hard fought, but goaltender Brian Elliott, overlooked in a year when Holtby looked perfect and Jonathan Quick raised even his own standards, will stone a ton of shots. St. Louis in 7.
Nashville at Anaheim
A year ago, this would have been the most exciting series. Nashville has taken a step back this year, slapping together just enough wins in a diluted West to squeak into a wild card spot. Pekka Rinne has been porous, and they really skated by on high scoring games. Anaheim, having turned things around after an ignominious start, are going to fill that net with goals. Anaheim in 4.
San Jose at Los Angeles
As much as I love my Sharks, they’re still sloppy and score more on the power play than 5×5. Los Angeles will take advantage of this, besides leaning on the goalie they did keep. The story here will really be how rookie goalie Martin Jones, stellar in the regular, plays while facing the team that gave him his first chance. I’d certainly love for Jones to show them why they shouldn’t have let him go (despite LA not knowing he would end up traded here from Boston) but I think the master isn’t ready to let the apprentice take his throne. Kings in 6.
Pittsburgh at Washington
Given that this is a what if, NBC and NHL will have conspiracy theories thrown at them if this matchup ends up happening. Ratings soar when these teams play, and for good reason: Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are still two of the most electrifying players on the ice today. I think Sidney and the Pens will come out swinging, but Ovi is much hungrier. His Cup run will last a little longer. Capitals in 5.
Tampa Bay at Florida
The Battle for the Sunshine State would be just as interesting, even if Tampa is ravished by injury and exhaustion. Maybe they’ll get a second wind and give this series some serious energy? Maybe, but if this is how it plays out, my guess is Jagr wants another Cup. Florida in 5.
St. Louis at Dallas
I just realized I picked all eight higher seeds, so I’m very likely wrong for one of these series. Can’t have hockey without an upset. So why not here? Let’s have the Blues give Dallas something to be sad about. Blues in 7.
Los Angeles at Anaheim
I also feel that these teams are a bit overrated, but the West is such a tossup – and I’ve read that so many people are picking the Kings to win it all I feel the need to go against that trend. Ducks fly together! Ducks in 6.
Florida at Washington
Jagr can only do so much, and Luongo isn’t the netminder he once was. At least Barkov, Bjustad, Ekblad and Huburdeau will get a taste for the journey to the Cup. Capitals in 6.
St. Louis at Anaheim
This would please me to no end, but if this were a matchup now, I’d say the Blues have the deeper squad – and the defense and goaltender tandem are far superior. Barring any inevitable injuries, and if this in fact comes true, I’d say St. Louis in 7.
St. Louis at Washington
Well look at that, I picked two teams who’ve never won the Stanley Cup. While that would be amazing, this will be tough to get to. Brian Elliott vs. Braden Holtby. Alex Ovechkin’s first time to the top. Washington’s first chance since losing to Detroit in 1998. St. Louis’ first chance to win since three straight losses to begin their franchise (1968-70). Kevin Shattenkirk, David Backes, Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko. The last guy is like LA’s Anze Kopitar, ready for a victory. If they win, I say the Conn Smythe goes to Elliott or Tarasenko. Washington will be Holtby or more likely Ovechkin. As for my final pick, I’m going St. Louis in 7.