Okay, I’m a day late to the party. To be fair, two of the three teams I would have predicted to win their series won their initial playoff games last night. So without further ado, here are my official NHL playoff predictions (a day behind schedule):
Washington vs. Philadelphia – If not now, then when? That’s the operative question for Washington. The great Alexander Ovechkin has never even played a conference final game, let alone appear in a Stanley Cup game. The Flyers squeaked in on the final day and have scrapped and clawed against Washington this year, going 2-2. But whether Steve Mason and company can slow down the mighty Caps depends on stopping Ovechkin. Here’s thinking the Caps are re-charged and ready to stomp on an inferior foe. Prediction: Capitals in 5.
Pittsburgh vs. NY Rangers – Last night’s 5-2 win hardly surprised me, or anyone that’s watched this Penguins team over the past month. New York looked overmatched, and the Pens keeping finding a way even down to their third-string goalie. New York simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up, and Henrik Lundqvist’s Game 1 absence was a bad omen. Prediction: Penguins in 5.
Florida vs. NY Islanders – One of the playoff’s truly fresh faces, the Panthers have a nice mix of youth and veteran leadership. The Islanders came up just short against the Caps a year ago and have not matched up well with Florida this year, going 1-2 and needing a dramatic late comeback for their only win. Vincent Trocheck’s health is something to keep an eye on, as he has been one of Florida’s true spark-plugs this season. This could be one case where the Panthers’ inexperience works in their favor. Certainly, not having the playoff baggage that other teams in the field do is a big plus. Prediction: Panthers in 7.
Tampa Bay vs. Detroit – The Red Wings kept their magical playoff streak alive, stretching it to 25 years, but it may be another one-and-done in Motown. Even without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, the defending Eastern champs look like the better team. Detroit has not had any impact performances this season, relying on balance and winning tight games. Being down 1-0 already to a team that beat them in seven last year is a mental roadblock. Prediction: Lightning in 6.
Anaheim vs. Nashville – How is it that the Ducks were once 1-9 and ended up winning their division? Credit Bruce Boudreau for keeping things intact, as the Ducks are now considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. But standing in their way are the Predators, who won two of the three meetings this season. Nashville did lose five of seven to end the year, and its top goal-scorer is still just 21 years old. The Preds may still be a year or two away. Prediction: Ducks in 5.
Los Angeles vs. San Jose – This matchup fell into place when the Kings blew a three-goal lead to Winnipeg on the final day. En route to winning the Cup in 2014, the Kings rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to stun the Sharks. San Jose has some serious playoff baggage heading into the tournament, especially against LA. Winning on the road has been the Sharks’ forte, as they are an NHL-best 28-13 away from the SAP Center. That bodes well for them, but ultimately the Kings’ depth and experience will win out. Prediction: Kings in 6.
Dallas vs. Minnesota – The Wild looked so bad early on that head coach Mike Yeo was fired. They are 14-12 since, but will be up against it facing a potent Dallas offense that led the league in goals scored. Unless goalie Devan Dubnyk plays out of his mind, the Wild will fall short again. The Stars would normally be a prime one-and-done candidate because of their reliance on offensive firepower, but the talent discrepancy appears to be too great for that to happen. Dallas went 3-1 vs. Minnesota this season. Prediction: Stars in 5.
St. Louis vs. Chicago – So this one threw me for a bit of a loop. It seemed extremely difficult to pick against the Blackhawks at the outset of the series, but St. Louis’ 1-0 overtime win changes the complexion of things considerably. Duncan Keith will return from his suspension in Game 2, which should boost the defending champs’ hopes. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Andrew Shaw, and company are too experienced and proud to bow out in the first round. Prediction: Blackhawks in 7.