With the NHL conference quarterfinals series beginning April 30, here’s a brief preview and prediction for each series.
Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs Minnesota Wild (8). The Blackhawks were the NHL’s dominant team, while the Wild struggled down the stretch and barely qualified for the postseason. The Blackhawks are deep at all positions, and led by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa hold a considerable offensive advantage. To counter, the Wild will play a tight-checking defensive style in hopes of grinding down the Blackhawks offense, while looking to Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and recently-acquired Jason Pominville to provide leadership. Ultimately, the Blackhawks are too talented for the Wild to contain. BLACKHAWKS IN FOUR.
Anaheim Ducks (2) vs Detroit Red Wings (7). The Ducks were also dominant through most of the season but struggled over the final weeks, while the Red Wings barely kept their remarkable streak of playoff appearances (22 years) alive. Both clubs match up well defensively, but the Ducks (powered by Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne) hold the offensive edge. Still, they shouldn’t make the mistake of taking the Wings lightly or Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franson will make them pay. Ultimately, the Ducks offensive depth should carry the day. DUCKS IN SIX.
Vancouver Canucks (3) vs San Jose Sharks (6). Though the Sharks swept the season series 3-0, this series could be close. Despite both clubs carrying offensive talent (the Sedins, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau), they were carried more by solid goaltending and defense. This series could come down to the goalies, with the Canucks relying on Cory Schneider while the Sharks counter with Antti Niemi. If Schneider struggles, the Canucks can call upon Roberto Luongo, whereas the Sharks have no one of that caliber backing up Niemi. CANUCKS IN SEVEN.
St. Louis Blues (4) vs Los Angeles Kings (5). Another series with two clubs evenly matched in most areas, though the Kings held a slight advantage in offense and swept their season series. Both clubs play a very physical style, which should come to the fore in this series. The Kings also hold the psychological advantage of being defending Cup champions. Blues goalie Brian Elliott played well down the stretch but it remains to be seen if he can avoid another playoff meltdown. KINGS IN SIX.
Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs New York Islanders (8). It’s been twenty years since these two clubs last faced each other, when an underdog Isles club upset a heavily-favored, talent-rich Penguins team. Don’t expect history to repeat itself. The Penguins dominated the season series, winning four of five games. They’re deep in experienced talent at every position and won’t take this series lightly. The Islanders will give it their best, and it should be a worthwhile experience for players like John Tavares making their post-season debut. Ultimately, they can’t match the Penguins depth. PENGUINS IN FOUR.
Montreal Canadiens (2) vs Ottawa Senators (7). Ignore the placement in the standings, this series is going to be close. The two clubs split their season series 2-2, with three of those games decided by one goal, two of those via shootout. The Canadiens were dominant for most of this season but struggled down the stretch, while the Senators overcame a rash of serious injuries to key players to clinch a berth. Goaltending and defensive play will determine the outcome of this series, with the Senators holding the advantage, having given up the second-fewest goals-per-game and possessing the league’s best penalty-kill . SENATORS IN SEVEN.
Washington Capitals (3) vs New York Rangers (6). This will be a clash of the Capitals rejuvenated offense meeting the Rangers aggressive defensive game backstopped by goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers took the season series 2-0-1, but much has changed for both clubs since their last meeting. The Rangers improved their defensive depth before the trade deadline, while Capitals stars Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green rediscovered their scoring touch. Both clubs were also red-hot down the stretch, setting up what should be an entertaining series. The Rangers prevailed in their post-season match-up last year, but this year should be the Capitals turn. CAPITALS IN SIX.
Boston Bruins (4) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (5). The Bruins struggled down the stretch but they’ve dominated the Leafs, winning 12 of their last thirteen meetings. The Leafs are the better offensive team and can physically match the Bruins, but the latter counters with a strong goaltender in Tuukka Rask and a playoff-seasoned roster which appears to hold a psychological edge. Leafs scoring star Phil Kessel will have to answer his critics by elevating his play against his former team, something he’s struggled to do since the Bruins dealt him to Toronto. BRUINS IN SIX.
I look forward to hearing your opinions, and of course I expect many of you will disagree with my take. Just keep it clean. If I didn’t pick your team to win, it’s not because I’m biased against it, ok? I don’t take playoff predictions seriously, and neither should you.