The first round of the National Hockey League (NHL) Playoffs begins on Wednesday. Regardless of who wins, there will be a new Stanley Cup winner this season because the Los Angeles Kings failed to qualify for the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the eight matchups.
St. Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild.
The Blues are once again a threat in the playoffs due to the scoring prowess of RW Vladimir Tarasenko (37 goals, 37 assists), the physical presence of C David Backes, and one of the best defensive duos in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Goalkeepers Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are both equally adept at keeping pucks out of the net.
Minnesota finally began to run wild during the middle of the season when they made a trade to make goalkeeper Devan Dubnyk their #1 stopper in the net. Since the trade was made, Dubnyk was the best goalie from a statistical standpoint (1.78 GAA, .936 save %). In the playoffs, you have to lean towards the hot goalie, so I am taking the Wild in six games.
Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks.
Both teams have slumped into the playoffs with Nashville losing their last three games and with the Blackhawks losing their last four. However, Chicago should receive some inspiration with the return of RW Patrick Kane after missing two months with a broken collarbone. The pick is Blackhawks in five games.
Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets. Emotions are running high in Winnipeg after the Jets reached the playoffs for the first time since the team moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg. Both teams play with a physical style which will make this series enjoyable to watch. I am taking the Ducks in seven games.
Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames. The Sedin twins are still around for Vancouver with Daniel at LW and Henrik at center. However, they finally found a RW in Radim Vrbata (31 G) that takes pressure off of teams keying on the Sedin brothers. The Flames have been the biggest surprise this season as the youth movement has progressed quicker than what was projected. The Flames keep the pressure on teams with defensemen Dennis Wideman (41 A), TJ Brodie (30 A), and Kris Russell (30 A) that spur the attack. Being physical against the Flames will not work because Calgary has too many options that have to be contained. I am taking the Flames in five.
Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators.
The marquee matchup in this series will be between Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. Both have 45 assists for the season. However, the difference will be in goal because Montreal GK Carey Price has been the best goalie all season long (1.96 GAA, .933 save %). The pick is Montreal in five.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings. Although Tampa Bay has plenty of scorers with C Steven Stamkos (43 G), C Tyler Johnson (29 G), RW Nikita Kucherov (29 G), and RW Ryan Callahan (24 G), their defense has been strong as well. That defense will be tested against the likes of Red Wings scorers like Henrik Zetterberg (17 G, 49 A) and C Pavel Datsyuk (26 G, 39 A). Detroit always seems to turn it up a notch in the playoffs, but I am picking Tampa Bay in seven.
New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins. In the past, the Penguins have been one of the best offensive teams in the NHL with centers Sidney Crosby (28 G, 56 A) and Evgeni Malkin (28 G, 42 A). However, the Rangers have scored more goals than the Penguins this season with LW Rick Nash (42 G) finding his scoring groove once again. Plus, Henrik Lundqvist lurks between the posts. I am taking the Rangers in five games.
Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders. Two of the top scorers in the NHL will square off against each other in this matchup. Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin led the NHL in goals this season with 53. Islanders C John Tavares was the focal point of their offense by leading the team in goals (38) and assists (48). The difference in this series is that the Capitals have plenty of more depth than the Islanders, which is why I believe that the Capitals will win in five games.
(All statistics taken from NHL.com. Picture of P.K. Subban from Pixabay.com.)