The NHL Playoffs begin April 15th.
The NHL Playoffs are set and ready to begin. The weather is starting to get warmer, the sun is beginning to shine, and the grass is becoming greener by the second, yet there is still no other thing I’d rather be doing than sitting inside watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The playoffs came down to the final day of the season to officially be set. Only being separated by 16 points, this is the most narrow gap between playoff teams in the Leagues modern history. There were many surprising stories that came to the surface, as well as heart break for many teams.
A lot of match-ups that are happening in the first round are certainly ones to keep an eye on. A lot of rivalries that have already been created, and ones that are going to be born. Between a Calgary-Vancouver matchup, and Montreal-Ottawa, Canadian fans have much to cheer about. Having 5 of the 7 Canadian teams in the playoffs can only be seen as a good thing for the league, as well as the Canadian dollar. It will be interesting to see how Winnipeg does in its first ever opportunity at the big dance. Many questions will begin to be answered starting April 15th.
There are many surprises to get into before discussing the breakdown of match-ups, many teams that were expected to do more, that just didn’t make the cut. The Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, and Columbus Blue Jackets were all major surprises in not making it to the 2nd season. The season seemed to have just gotten away from teams like the Bruins, Kings, and Sharks, while the Stars and Avalanche were pre-season favorites to at least contend for the playoffs, yet all season were watching from the outside.
It will certainly interesting to watch these two teams face each other in the first round. The Canadiens are riding with the best goalie in the NHL right now in Carey Price, who holds the top spot statistically in wins, goals allowed average, and save percentage(44-16-6, .933%, 1.96), while the Senators have possibly the hottest goalie in Andrew Hammond, who has an astounding 20-1-2 record (As well as a .941%, and 1.79 GAA). The Senators snuck into the playoffs late into the season, as of February 10th, they were 14 points out of the wildcard, and a spot behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both teams match up well in the sense that they both play a speed and skill game, though will be interesting to see if Ottawa’s defenseman will be able to keep up with the transition game of the Habs forwards especially Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, and Plecanek. From the Senators besides Hammond, Bobby Ryan, and Erik Karlsson will be the guys to watch for, Karlsson who is so smooth with the puck can create magic from the point in the offensive zone, and Bobby Ryan can prove to the Canadian Tire Centre why they traded such a large package to obtain him. The question will really come down to, can Hammond keep up his success?
Now this is probably going to be THE first round matchup to watch for in the Eastern Conference. Both of these teams could’ve ended up as the #1 seed in their division had a few bounces gone their way. One of the best franchises ever in Detroit, who is an absolute playoff machine, making it their 24th consecutive season in the big dance, they are always a team to look out for year in and year out. Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist are all guys who should be looked upon as game breakers, and of course Pavel Datsyuk as well who even as he is beginning to age has still shown that he is a top guy in the league. From the Tampa Bay Lightning side of things, Steven Stamkos should always be looked upon as THE guy for the Lightning, arguably the best player in the NHL year in and year out by always being one of the fasted and most skilled guys out on the sheet. Now aside from Stamkos, Tampa has some young guys who have just flown under the radar this season. Tyler Johnson (72 points), Nikita Kucherov (64 points), and Andrej Palat (63 points) who can really be a make it or break it type series for the Bolts. Johnson, Kucherov, and Palat while unexperienced in playing hockey from April-June are important to Tampa Bay’s success, just as much as Stamoks. The question here would have to be, will Tampa Bay’s young legs show up for the playoffs?
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the worst teams in the NHL for the past 40 games or so, having a record below .500, while the New York Rangers have been the exact opposite. This is going to be a quick series, between the Rangers depth, speed, and skill, and the Penguins slow defense, as well as Marc-Andre Fleury’s inevitable playoff woe’s, I’d expect the New York Rangers to jump on the Penguins early. Watch out for Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan from the Rangers side of the puck, as Kreider usually has a tendency of being a Penguin killer, while the same can be said from Stepan. From the Penguins side it is mostly up to Sidney Crosby, and an injured Evgeni Malkin, who is still uncertain of his back injury which had been recently re-aggravated. Will Marc Andre Fleury actually show up?
Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals against John Tavares and the New York Islanders. Honestly this is a dream matchup for the league, as they will have the top goal scorer in Alexander Ovechkin (53 goals) against the
top second leading point scorer (Thanks to Jamie Benn and his 4 point night against Nashville), in John Tavares (86 points). Both are premier players, they are faces of their respected franchises, as well as the league. The Islanders were holding onto the top spot in the Eastern Conference for quite a while, and then coughed it up after the heart breaking 6-5 loss to the New York Rangers in their final matchup at the Coliseum. The Islanders have emerged as a serious threat within the Eastern Conference, with skilled forwards, and having a solid backstop in Jaroslav Halak. While the Capitals know very much about Jaro Halak, they will need to see if their players have the capability of showing up for the whole 200 feet of the ice. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and John Carlson will definitely be the guys to look out for, all with much more playoff experiences than the guys in orange and blue, John Carlson especially will be looked upon to be a difference maker. Can Tavares lift the Islanders past Ovechkin and Backstrom?
The St.Louis Blues have always been that team that has looked as if it will win the Stanley Cup almost with ease every year, and then lose in the first or second round every time. They are the modern day San Jose Sharks, almost fitting that they are replacing them now that the Sharks have missed the playoffs. The Minnesota Wild mostly known for their defensive versatility led by Ryan Suter, and their consistent forecheck. The main thing to watch for here is how the Wild will matchup to the Blues skillful wings. Having TJ Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Alexander Steen all in the top 6 is going to cause lots of problems for the Wild’s centre’s. Will Devan Dubnyk be able to recreate his outstanding regular season statistics in the playoffs?
This is definitely the premier match-up of the whole first round of the playoffs. While the Tampa Bay Detroit series is going to be a great one to look out for. This is definitely the series you want to have your DVR ready for. The Nashville Predators are among the NHL’s elite from this past season, and the Chicago Blackhawks have been labeled as the NHL Elite due to their past success. The big thing is the injury to Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks are certainly going to miss having Kane in their lineup, guys like Teuvo Teravainen, and Kris Versteeg are going to need to step up their game to plug that hole. This series will come down to the young guys in Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones, Roman Josi for the Predators, as well as Teravainen, and Brandon Saad from Chicago. The Predators have some experienced players on their roster in Shea Weber (Olympic Gold-Canada), and Mike Fisher(Stanley Cup Final loss in 2006), though that doesn’t exactly come close to the list of Stanley Cup Champions that the Chicago Blackhawks can boast on their roster. Will missing Kane be the nail in the Blackhawks season?
This is going to be a nasty hard hitting series. Whether it goes 4 games or 7 there will be plenty of injuries handed out on both rosters. Having Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf all in the same top 6 is going to cause major problems for anyone, all three are arguably the most talented big men in the game, along with the likes of Rick Nash, and Jamie Benn. The Winnipeg Jets do have a good answer for those three in Dustin Byfuglien, the largest player in the NHL at the weight of 270 lbs, he is no stranger to throwing his weight around, as he is recently getting off of a four game suspension for a cross check to New York Rangers forward JT Miller’s neck. While this is Winnipeg’s first trip to the big dance, to think that they are going to surprise and beat the Anaheim Ducks will be nothing short of a miracle. The Ducks have consistently been a top 3 team in the NHL all season, while the Jets squeaked in while having Ondrej Pavalec as their main line of defense. I just don’t realistically see how the Jets can keep up with the high tempo offense that the Anaheim Ducks own. Will Byfuglien be able to stop the scorers of Anaheim?
Johnny Hockey faces off against the Johnny Canuck, a Western Canadian classic. The Calgary Flames a remarkable story, of being one of the worst teams in the league last season, to cementing their playoff birth by beating the Stanley Cup Champs of last season. The Calgary Flames are very reminiscent of the Colorado Avalanche last season, very young, and very inexperienced. They could surprise in the first round and make a bit of a run, but they won’t really be anyones pick to make it to even the third round in all honesty. Having such a young team, added to the fact that Mark Giordano has suffered a season ending injury is a big enough factor in the prediction process. Will the youth of Calgary be able to defeat the experience of the Canucks?