It’s my favorite time of year. Summer is right around the corner and the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have begun. No more stupid shootouts, fewer penalties, and great battles every night. Let’s take a look at the match ups.
#1. Montreal Canadiens vs. #4. Ottawa Senators
The Habs have been stellar all season long. They finished the season 2nd overall in the East and rightfully so. Carey Price will likely be up for MVP this season posting a RIDICULOUS .935 SV % which allowed the Habs to finish tops in goals against. If you look at their stats they don’t have a ton of guys with double-digit goals but this team is clicking and has been all season long. Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec lead a team that will outwork you in the corners and plays solid D. The penalty kill for the Habs finished in the top ten in the league which will be important come playoff time. The only concerns for the Habs are their puck possession and lack of firepower. A 47.8% Corsi For (CF) since January 1 was good enough for 25th in the league but perhaps may not be good enough to ensure a long playoff run.
The Ottawa Senators are the cinderella story of this year’s postseason. 14 points out of a playoff spot after the All Star Break, the Sens got hot and charged their way into the playoffs. There are two reasons the Sens made the playoffs, goaltendeing and balance. Goaltender Andrew Hammond has put up some historic numbers. He is 20-1-2 over his last 23 starts allowing 1.79 GA and posting a .941 SV %. He will be a challenge for the Montreal Canadiens. The Sens are also very balanced, finishing the season with 10 players over 10 goals and 18 guys in double digit points.
Sens in 6.
#2. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #3. Detroit Red Wings
Tampa Bay has been a machine all season long. 11 players have 10+ goals and Steven Stamkos finished the season with 43. The team overall finished the regular season first in the NHL in goals for. In addition to the offense, they finished 12th in goals against. Ben Bishop has had a great season in net, posting a .916 SV %. The Lightning have had solid possession numbers posting a 53% CF since January 1, good enough for 4th overall. The only thing that should have Lightning fans worried is the recent injuries that have taken a toll on the team. If the subs can do a good job and players begin to heal quickly I expect this team to either take round two into 7 games or be right there at the start of round three.
Detroit has been up and down all season. The biggest strength of this team is their power play. At just about 24% it was good enough for 2nd in the league. Another positive for this team is possession. They were top five in the league since January 1. If they can draw a ton of penalties I could see them making it out of the first round alive, however, I feel they are trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Franzen is on IR, Jimmy Howard has hit a bit of a cold streak which has led to a goalie parade, Pavel Datsyuk, while listed as healthy has a nagging injury from late in the season. I don’t think they have enough of a supporting cast and team continuity to make it past round 1.
Lightning in 5.
#1. New York Rangers vs. #4. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Rangers have been beasts this season. They closed out the season by winning the Presidents Trophy (awarded to the team with the most points). Rick Nash has finally become Rick Nash (40 goals), the addition of Keith Yandle at the trade deadline has bolstered an already solid D. The supporting cast of players like Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello have done a great job carrying the load; with Henrik Lundquivst healthy again and pretty rested the Rangers look poised to make another deep playoff run. Playing the Penguins should be an easy test for them in round 1.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are an interesting team. How will rookie head Coach Mike Johnston fare in his first playoffs? Which Marc-Andre Fleury will we see in the postseason? Is Evgeni Malkin really healthy? Will Crosby show up? So Many questions!! Fleury has posted an embarrassing .877 SV % (combined) over the past three season in the playoffs. But goaltending is not the only thing that should worry the Pittsburgh faithful. Sidney Crosby has played in 33 games over the past 3 playoffs and has racked up 32 points. While that seems alright for a normal player this is Sid we are talking about. You expect that “The Next One” would step up a little more. The Penguins will need their youngsters such as Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennet to support the top guys if they want to make it out of the first round.
Rangers in 6.
#2. Washington Capitals vs. #3. New York Islanders
I have been really impressed with the Washington Capitals this season. Barry Trotz has come in and completely refreshed this squad. After being a -35 last season Alexander Ovechkin finished the season +10 and had 56 goals. Truly a different Ovi than we have seen in years past. Nick Backstrom has been great all season long as well, finishing in the top ten overall in points. Aside from Ovi and Backstrom, the Caps success have had this season because of the powerplay, (25%) and the stellar goaltending of Braden Holtby (.922 SV%). This is my team to watch out for in the east.
9 players on the Isles have goals in the double digits with John Tavares leading the pack at 34. Jaro Halak has posted a solid .914 SV% but the defense has let them down at times (23rd in goals against). On the other hand, the Isles seem to have no issues scoring goals, finishing 3rd overall in that category. The Islanders are a quick team and can certainly light up the scoreboard. However, they seem to have drawn the short end of the stick by getting the Caps in the first round. I’m not sure they will be able to contain Ovi and Backstrom long enough to survive the first round.
Caps in 6.
#1. Saint Louis Blues vs. #4. Minnesota Wild
The Blues have followed the same blueprint for the past couple of seasons. GREAT regular season, very disappointing playoffs. Vladmir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals, and provided endless highlight reel material. Unfortunately, the Blues seem to be the same team as always. They have a strong D, and they are a very physical team; Bryan Elliot has been pretty darn good this season and their possession numbers are top 10 since January, but is all of this going to be enough to get them out of the first round?
The Wild clinched a playoff spot early last week and seem to be rolling at just the right time. Goaltending will be important for the Wild in the postseason and that plays right into their strengths. Over his last 20 games Dubnyk has a .947 SV % which puts him 9th overall over the last 20 games of the season. The penalty kill is another strength of the Wild. Since the all-star break they have killed off 91% of shorthanded situations; that will come in handy in the playoffs when timely penalties can make or break your series. This team could be a dangerous first round opponent, ESPECIALLY since they have won their last 11 games on the road. The only concern I have with the Wild is scoring. They haven’t exactly been lighting the world on fire at 14th overall. Zach Parise has carried the load despite missing some time potting 34 goals on the season, but beyond that they only have two other guys with over 20 goals. The Wild should make it out of the first round, but I worry the scoring will run dry come round 2.
Wild in 7
#2. Nashville Predators vs. #3. Chicago Blackhawks
Nashville has been one of my favorite teams to watch this season. Peter Laviolette has done it again, coming in for his first season and completely turning the team around. Even though Shea Weber has had a bit of a down year, the Preds D has been lights out for most of the season. But that’s not why they are tops in the Central. They can thank goaltender, Pekka Rinne, for that. Rinne has be unbelievable this season. He posted a .925 SV% over 65 games. While goaltending has been the anchor for the team their offense is no joke either. Calder Candidate Filip Forsberg (no relation) has been magnificent, and it seems that a change of scenery for James Neal did him well. These two guys combined with Lavvy’s system, and their solid possession numbers allowed the Preds to finish in the top ten in goals for.
The Hawks are once again a legit Stanley Cup contender this season. The Hawks would’ve finished higher were they in a different division, but those are the breaks in the Central this season. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw really stepped it up this season and have added even more firepower to an already lethal offense. The D has been good, not great, but the goaltending of Corey Crawford has been able to mask that. This series will be a VERY good one.
Preds in 7
#1. Anaheim Ducks vs. #4. Winnipeg Jets
The Ducks have been a powerhouse all season long. Frederick Andersen and Jon Gibson have done a great job in net this season (over .91 SV% each), and Ryan Getlaf (70 points) has been a monster. The Ducks have a well-balanced attack and though the defense isn’t the greatest they can seemingly score at will. I worry about the special teams. The Ducks finished in 27th overall in PP % at 15% and the PK was below average at 81%. This and the fact that each time they’ve made the playoffs in the past couple of years they have had an early exit, doesn’t show promise for a long playoff run.
The Winnipeg Jets are in the playoffs for the first time since the relocation to Winnipeg largely thanks to their goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec seemed to be struggling a bit early in the season but over the past three months has posted stellar numbers (among the top ten in the league over that span). The Jets won’t exactly light the world on fire with their scoring ability and aren’t necessarily the best on special teams (middle of the league in each category) but they have played solid hockey for the past 6 weeks which propelled them into a playoff spot. Interestingly enough, they play better when Dustin Byfuglien is not in the lineup so we shall see how that effects their trip to the postseason as he will most definitely be playing.
Ducks in 6.
#2. Vancouver Canucks vs. #3. Calgary Flames
Now that John Tortarella is gone, the Vancouver Canucks seem to have returned to their old form. The Sedin twins once again led the way in terms of points for the team and Radim Vrbata netted 33 goals. Ryan Miller has been good all season but is now out for 4-6 weeks with a sprained knee. Eddie Lack will have to help the Canucks out of the first round. Over 41 games this season he posted a .921 SV %, so he’s been pretty good I’m just not sure he’s the type of goalie that can steal a game when you need him to which could end up hurting the Canucks in a tight series.
The Calgary Flames will make an appearance in the postseason for the first time in 5 seasons, and I will be the first to say I did not expect them to be here. Not only did they make the playoffs, they kept the reigning champs (LA Kings) out. How did the Flames do it? The Flames have been one of the most balanced teams over the course of the season. The team finished with 11 guys in double digit scoring. Unlike Johnny Football, Johnny Hockey (Johnny Gaudreau) IMMEDIATELY made an impact on this squad. He will likely win rookie of the year potting 24 goals and 40 assists for 64 points. Calgary is also a very disciplined team taking the fewest penalties in the league during the regular season, this will be HUGE in the playoffs.
Flames in 6
Photo Cred Scazon Flickr via CC Search. Modified
All Stats via hockey-reference.com, nhl.com, and war-on-ice.com