I haven’t written on here in a while but with the playoffs and draft season coming along, it’s about that time of year again. I’m excited for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, obviously, but every time I look at the format I still can’t get past how terrible it is. Copying the AHL format to save money and “create rivalries” is such an NHL thing to do. Nevermind giving the bad divisions an advantage by playing against each other until the Conference Final while they good ones beat up on each other. But ANYWAYS, on to the playoffs.
Definitely going to be a weird/different look with no Los Angeles, Boston or San Jose. Those three have seemingly been mainstays in the NHL playoffs the last 6-7 years and it’s going to be strange to not see them in the mix. There is also a heavy dose of Canadian teams this year that should offer a different change of pace. The best part though? This is probably the most wide-open the playoffs have been. There is no clear-cut favorite and that obviously makes trying to predict what is going to happen quite difficult, but here goes nothing.
#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #4 Ottawa Senators
Sporting Charts: Canadiens vs. Senators
The Ottawa Senators are the hottest team in hockey right now and it isn’t particularly close. Andrew Hammond burst onto the scene and has an astounding 20-1 record with a 1.79 goals against average and .941 save percentage. Meanwhile the Canadiens have Carey Price, who should win the Hart Trophy after posting a 44-16 record with a 1.96 goals against average and a .933 save percentage.
This is going to be a low scoring battle throughout the series and the fact that the Sens have a 3-1 record against the Habs is problematic for the Habs. But over the course of a seven game series, I think that the cream will rise to the top. Eventually the Sens will have to slow down and Hammond and Mark Stone can’t carry them forever. Add in trying to solve Carey Price and that doesn’t bode well. Habs in 6
#2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings
Sporting Charts: Lightning vs. Red Wings
This series all hinges on the Red Wings’ goaltending. Petr Mrazek has been named the starter and if he can play up to his potential, then he could definitely steal a game or two for them. It’s going to be tough sledding for the Red Wings with Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader not completely healthy (it appears that Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall may not be either) but if they can get contributions from their depth like they have all season they will have the upper hand.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a more than sturdy netminder in Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos is one of the most dangerous shooters in the league. The Lightning are young and talented and have the most prolific scoring offense in the league. Looking closely at these two teams stats you can see that they’re very similar. I think that special teams and goaltending will be the two keys and the Red Wings have a 23.8% powerplay percentage. They have taken a gamble starting Mrazek, but if he performs, look for the Red Wings to win the “Yzerman Bowl.” Red Wings in 6
Division Final: #1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings
Sporting Charts: Canadiens vs. Red Wings
Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending. I always think that goaltending is the most important part of a team when it comes down to making a run in the playoffs. A hot goalie can carry a team quite far (look at the Sens) and teams with the best goalies usually win the Stanley Cup.
Carey Price has been a monster all season and even though the Canadiens have certainly over performed this year, they will keep the momentum rolling a bit longer. The Red Wings will need secondary scoring to get this far and if they match up with the Habs, they’ll need all hands on deck. Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist will have to perform and Nyquist will not be able to go quiet like he has at times this season. But assuming that Max Pacioretty is back to full-health and Carey Price plays like he did all season, this won’t bode well for the Red Wings. Habs in 5
#1 New York Rangers vs. #4 Pittsburgh Penguins
Sporting Charts: Rangers vs. Penguins
This is an intriguing series, and perhaps the most dangerous one the Rangers could have early on. The Penguins underperformed the second half of the season but their potential is higher than most teams that sneak into the Playoffs. Kris Letang might be done for the year and with no Olli Maata, the blue line is lacking some star power. But the same cannot be said for their forwards. When you have guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, anything can happen.
The Rangers have gotten contributions at forward when plenty of players, but their biggest asset is their blue line and their goaltending. They have arguably the best blue line in the entire NHL and certainly one of the best 5 goalies in the NHL. Should they shut down Sid and Geno, they could make quick work of the Penguins. Rangers in 6
#2 Washington Capitals vs. #3 New York Islanders
Sporting Charts: Capitals vs. Islanders
This is a matchup of two of the most evenly matched teams in the first round and I would be floored if this series went anything less than seven games. Naturally these teams played four times this year and split the series 2-2. John Tavares will be powering the offense for the Islanders, but there is quite a drop off after Tavares (at least points-wise). The Capitals have the sexier names on offense, but surprisingly the Islanders have more depth. That being said, the Capitals have advanced their game defensively with new head coach Barry Trotz and that is where the advantage lies. They have their typical superior offense and lethal powerplay, but now it is accompanied by a stingy defense and Braden Holtby has turned into quite the goaltender. Caps in 7
Division Final: #1 New York Rangers vs. #2 Washington Capitals
Sporting Charts: Rangers vs. Capitals
This would be quite a high-profile matchup if we are lucky to see it. If the Rangers get into penalty trouble then we could see an upset. The Caps powerplay going off at a 25.3% clip is pretty absurd and the last thing you want is a potent powerplay on the ice often. That being said, the Capitals new-found defensive strength will be put to quite the test by the blue shirts. The sheer depth the Rangers have on offense and defense is quite impressive and if Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom get shut down, the Caps could be in trouble. They don’t have the same depth the Rangers do up front or on the blue line and did I mention the Rangers went 3-1 against the Caps this year? Braden Holtby would have to outperform Henrik Lundqvist for the Caps to pull this off and I don’t like the odds of that happening. Rangers in 6
Eastern Conference Finals:
#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #1 New York Rangers
Sporting Charts: Canadiens vs. Rangers
The cream rises to the crop in the East, or at least that’s what you would think happens with the goalies each of these teams have. A Carey Price-Henrik Lundqvist duel would likely ensure one of the lowest scoring seven game series in Playoff history. The depth of the Canadiens up front does not match up well with the Rangers. Max Pacioretty’s health is unknown and outside of Tomas Pleakanec, they don’t have another forward that has over 50 points. If they get hot quickly or if Lundqvist falters, then the Habs have a shot, but the depth of the Rangers should be too much for them to contend with. Rangers in 7
Check out the Western Conference preview here.