The Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here and I’m very excited to discuss who I think will be the winners and losers from each conference and which players I think will have the biggest impacts on each series.
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The President Trophy winners of this year are taking on a red hot Philly team that only pushed their way in to the playoffs days before the start of the playoffs. I can’t imagine there being much of a series here if I’m going to be honest, but the Caps are known to choke in the playoffs. Ovi has yet to make it past the second round in his career but if there was a year to do it, this would be it. Riding the hottest goalie of the year, Braden Holtby, the Caps are healthy and are by far the biggest threat in the East. Philly will be counting on rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere who lead all rookie defensemen in points and goals without even playing the whole season. Even though Philly is hot right now and looking to prove themselves, I’m taking the Caps in this one. Caps in 5
Key Player: Braden Holtby
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers
Pittsburgh is looking to avenge two straight playoff losses to the Rangers. Sidney Crosby ended the year on an amazing hot streak and with Kris Letang having one of his best seasons yet, they could give the Rangers all they can handle. The main concern I have with the Penguins is injuries. Losing their goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Evgeni Malkin might be too much for them. The Rangers on the other hand, don’t quite have the squad they have had in the past but when you have Henrik Lundqvist, you have a way to win. McDonagh being out for at least one game doesn’t help this overrated defensive core either so I have to go with the Penguins. Penguins in 7.
Key Player: Sidney Crosby
New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
An overall young roster, with a few veterans in Jagr and Luogno, will put the Panthers in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. This team is flying under the radar and could easily climb the bracket, but this is mostly because of the week division it is in. While the Islanders should give them the biggest challenge until they reach the Conference Finals, the Panthers have played solid hockey all year long and I can’t see them going home just yet. John Taveras ended the season as one of the top forwards in the league yet again and getting back Harmonic will help, but I just don’t think this team is going to be able to win this series. Reaching 100 points is a great accomplishment but they should have been better this year and I don’t see it changing any time soon. Panthers in 6.
Key Player: Aleksander Barkov
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
The Wings kept the playoff streak alive by the skin of their teeth and they get to play a Lightning team without their best forward, Steven Stamkos. The Lightning are a young team with great speed and are filled with great scorers like Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson, but I’m just not sure if they can handle losing one of the best centers in the league. With the news of Pavel Datsyuk retiring, I’m sure the Wings want to make a push but barely making the playoffs isn’t a great way to start. I am almost sure that this series will go to 7 games and I’m taking the Lightning just because they proved themselves last year by making a cup run. Lightning in 7.
Key Player: Ben Bishop
Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild
The highest scoring team in the league might be getting their all-star forward Tyler Seguin back just in time to make a run for the cup but the biggest question this team has is defense. Can they score so much that it doesn’t matter? It’s possible but the West is stacked and it wont take much for the Stars to falter. The Wild wont last long in the playoffs this year mostly because Ryan Suter can only do so much. Devan Dubnyk has been very inconsistent all year, Zach Parise is out indefinitely and they finished with a measly 87 points on the season. The Stars should take this easily. Stars in 5.
Key Player: Jamie Benn
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Saint Louis Blues
The Blues are looking to get revenge from the 2014 playoffs against the Stanley Cup Champions of 2015. With lights out forward Vladimir Tarasenko, they have the first chance at stopping a repeat. The defensive core with Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo, and red hot goalie in Elliot, they are no easy task for the reigning champs. Although the Hawks ended on a cold streak, they are by no means going down easy. The Art Ross winner Patrick Kane, along with line mate Artemi Panarin, are looking to keep their chemistry going and to continue being one of the most dangerous lines in the league. It looks as though the Hawks are going to get Hossa and Shaw back just in time, but will be without Duncan Keith for 1 game due to a suspension. Corey Crawford is also back in net which is great news for Hawks fans. I’m taking the Hawks in 7.
Key Player: Corey Crawford
Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators
The Ducks once again win the West, but can this finally be the year they win that elusive cup? After a slow start to the year, the Ducks heated up quickly and finished with 103 points, their 3rd consecutive 100 point season. Forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry continue to produce for this team and putting them on different lines this season has been their best move yet. The Predators are counting on their defensemen in Roman Josi and Shea Weber to carry them to the next round. With young talent at forward in Filip Forsberg and veterans in James Neal and Mike Ribeiro, this team has the ability to play any of these Western teams very tough. Sadly, I think the Ducks will handle them in 6 games.
Key Player: Ryan Getzlaf
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
This could turn out to be one of the most exciting series in this first round. Joe Thornton looks ageless, scoring 82 points at age 36 and Joe Pavelski is pushing hard to prove they can do what it takes to win the West. A sneaky pick to make the finals, they have by far the toughest road to get there with a bad recent playoff history. The series they lost 2 years ago after being up 3-0 against the eventual cup winning Kings is still fresh in their mind. This series will be the true test. The Kings roster is full of veterans and they have almost all been here before. Winning 2 cups in the last 4 years, this team is always dangerous. They didn’t make the playoffs last year and I guarantee they are mad because that isn’t a characteristic of this team. Jonathan Quick is arguably the best goalie in the league and proves it every year, while defensemen Drew Doughty showed he is a finalist for the Norris Trophy again. I think the Kings take this series in 7 games.
Key Player: Jonathan Quick
That raps up the first round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs now everyone sit back, relax and enjoy one of the best times of the year!