Stanley Cup Playoffs 1st Round Preview
The Culdesac’s Picks
Dads Playoff Projections in depth
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. WC# 2 Nashville Predators (4-1 CHI)
The surging Blackhawks are entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a four game bender. That would be a bigger concern if their overall record after January wouldn’t rank them 3rd best in the league. The Hawks were 4-1 head-to-head against the Preds during the season. With their superstars firing on all cylinders it’s hard to see this series going past five games. I got Hawks winning the series 4-1 CHI.
#2 Minnesota Wild vs. #3 St. Louis Blues (4-3 STL)
Very intriguing matchup, the roles are flipped from the past. Minnesota has headed into this series as the underdog before and prevailed. Now Minnesota with a stellar regular season has home ice over the Blues. St. Louis since the firing of Ken Hitchcock with the former Wild coach, Mike Yeo under the helm has a record of 21-8-2. Could Yeo be the X-factor for the Blues? The atmosphere of the XCEL and the goaltending of the Wild may all just be too much… however the Wild, just haven’t been playing well enough down the stretch. Taking St. Louis here 4-3.
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. WC#1 Calgary Flames (4-3 CGY)
Two Weeks ago, I would have said Calgary was going to beat any team in the first round, that’s how solid their play was. This matchup couldn’t have been any worst for the Flames. Anaheim finished their season 8-0-2 and the 2nd best record after January 1st. My gut still says Calgary, mainly because the matchup of Calgary and Edmonton in the second round is too sexy to pass up. I think we all as hockey fans want to see a battle for Alberta. Calgary in seven; wont be surprised if I am dead wrong. Taking 4-3 CGY.
#2 Edmonton Oilers vs. #3 San Jose Sharks (4-3 EDM)
The crafty vets versus the Young stars (young star?). I don’t think I am alone in saying we would love to see Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau finally reach Hockey’s Valhalla. San Jose once had a comfortable lead in the Division, only to find they are slumping hard… Edmonton had a big part in that, taking their last three meetings against the Sharks. McDavid’s crazy point streak, along with Draisaitl and Talbot’s solid play, I am going to take the young pups in seven games. 4-3 EDM.
#1 Washington Capitals vs. WC#2 Toronto Maple Leafs (4-1 WSH)
Toronto, you have surprised us all, Congratulations. You were blessed with Auston Matthews in the Lottery. Unfortunately the Leafs luck ends here, as they lost a tiebreaker with Boston to finish in the last spot, drawing the President Trophy Capitals. This might be the closest thing to a sweep we will see in the first round. I’m taking the Caps in 5. 4-1 Caps.
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #3 Columbus Blue Jackets (4-3 CBJ)
On paper the best matchup in the first round. For how electric PP&G arena will be with the “yellow out” in the crowd and Columbus fans finally having a record franchise year. The penguins have some key injuries; it’s hard to bet against Crosby and Malkin, but for some reason… I am. Columbus’ year was too magical to deny them. With that said, how enticing is this Pens/Caps matchup? But, Ill still say the Jackets in seven. 4-3 CBJ.
#1Montreal Canadiens vs. WC #1 New York Rangers (4-2 NYR)
New York may have struck gold. Their road to the Eastern Conference goes through the weaker Atlantic Division. Cannot wait for goaltender duel between, King Henrik and Carey Price. Montreal just isn’t deep enough up front to take down the Rangers. As previous playoff teams with deep runs would indicate, having depth of Centers is a key factor. Montreal couldn’t be further from that makeup. Scary Carey Price will have to stand on his head for the Candiens to have a shot. 4-2 NYR.
#2 Ottawa Senators vs. #3 Boston Bruins (4-2 OTT)
Dislike then Bruins here, even with Tukka Rask and Marchand playing unbelievable down the stretch. Something about Ottawa and Karlsson are attracting. Maybe its because Karlsson has the sickest flow and mitts in the league, and Defenseman in the playoffs have been proven to be a crucial factor. Guy Boucher’s neutral zone trap or the path Craig Anderson has had to endure to get to this point, pulling for Ottawa. 4-2 OTT.
View from the Hills – A 2017 NHL Playoffs Preview
There has been some discussion recently about changing the playoff format. Matching teams up from each division in the first two rounds seems a little unfair when the divisions are uneven. You could argue that St. Louis ran out of steam in the conference finals a year ago after two grueling series against the Blackhawks and Stars. San Jose looked like the fresher team the entire series, and as a result, they got a chance to play for the cup. The path to the finals could have been different for St. Louis if we rearranged how the playoff seeding works. Everybody is calling for this realignment mostly because we are all hoping to see Pittsburgh and Washington against each other in the conference finals, instead of the second round. The issue with this, however, is that there is no guarantee either of those teams would make it to the finals. The playoffs are a grind and it is not that uncommon to see a team seeded 6 or lower under the old format make a run. I like the current system. I love that teams get to end their rival’s season in the first round. Watching the Blues and the Blackhawks go at it in the first round the past few seasons has not made those matchups any less special. I vote we keep the playoffs how they are. Under any playoff format, it takes 16 wins to hoist the cup. That has never been an easy thing to do. Does the current system make it a little harder? Maybe. However, you have to beat the man in front of you if you want to move on and whether that is in the first round or conference finals doesn’t make much of a difference to me.
With all that being said, here is my solid as oak first round preview. Starting with the Western conference because I’m a western kind of guy.
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. WC# 2 Nashville Predators
The Blackhawks are once again the top seed and back in the playoffs (yawn…). No big surprise here. They have an amazing core with Toews, Kane, Seabrook and Keith. The role players are great at what they do. They have the best coach in the league in Joel Quenneville (sorry Babcock fans) and possibly one of the greatest to ever do it, but that discussion is for another blog. Nashville is a perennial playoff team, but always seem to be a piece or two away from contending. They have a good young core who has been here before and a coach with a lot of playoff experience, but the Blackhawks season is just beginning. They have been on cruise control the whole year, and still have the most points in the west. Nashville will put up a fight, but I don’t think they have the steam to last a whole series.
Pick: Blackhawks in 6.
#2 Minnesota Wild vs. #3 St. Louis Blues
This has to be the most interesting first round match up. It wasn’t too long ago we were talking about Minnesota making a run for the President’s trophy and whether St. Louis would even qualify for the postseason. My how fortunes have changed. Minnesota still finished with an incredible season, but they have been sputtering down the stretch. St. Louis is one of the hottest teams in the league, this all coming after a mid-season coaching change and trading away one of the top defensemen in the entire league. The coaching matchup is also interesting. Mike Yeo goes up against his former team, while Bruce Boudreau is trying to prove he can get a team out of a first round. This series is so evenly matched on so many levels, except for one: goaltending. Goalie play has been the Achilles heel of the Blues for a few seasons now, while Dubnyk has turned into an absolute monster between the pipes. It is going to be a tough fought series and will come down who can get the best from their tender.
Pick: Minnesota in 7.
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. WC#1 Calgary Flames
The Ducks flamed out (pun intended) last year in the first round to the Predators, which ended up costing Boudreau his job. The Ducks are back on top of the Pacific a year later under new/old coach Randy Carlyle. Is this coaching change going to make the difference this year? In my opinion, yes. The Ducks have a nice combination of veterans and young guns, and when Gibson is on his game he is one of the better goalies in the league. On the other side, you have Brian Elliot who proved during his time in St. Louis he is not a big game player. I like the excitement this young Flames team brings to the table, they just aren’t quite ready. Anaheim has been trying to get the bad taste of last year out of their mouth all season, and are chomping at the bit to get this series underway.
Pick: Anaheim in 6
#2 Edmonton Oilers vs. #3 San Jose Sharks
Similar to the Wild, the Sharks seemed to be running away with the pacific before the wheels fell off, and now here they sit in 3rd with a road series against the Oilers. I still like the veterans of San Jose in this series. They have tons of playoff experience, compared to Edmonton who has very little. I’m excited McDavid gets the spotlight of his first postseason, but San Jose has enough to take him out of the game. The depth of San Jose will be the difference. I think the energy is Edmonton is going to be very high and the Oilers will come out tough with the crowd behind them. I see this series going 7 games, and in a 7 game series I have to go with experience.
Pick: Sharks in 7.
On the the East…
#1 Washington Capitals vs. WC#2 Toronto Maple Leafs
The narrative is beginning to get old, but once again we find ourselves asking if this is the year for the Capitals. Before they can win the Cup they have to survive the first round against what will be a very exciting Toronto team. The Leafs have been struggling down the stretch and their goaltending has been suspect all year, but they are a fun team to watch. All of the young studs the Leafs had at the very least will gain some valuable playoff experience. The coaching matchup favors the Leafs with Babcock, but nobody is denying that Barry Trotz can coach. The only thing we have against him is he hasn’t won the whole thing. The Caps have the depth and the goaltending advantage, which is why I think they walk through this first round without much resistance. Then again, the Caps don’t like to live up to expectations, so this could blow up in my face immediately.
Pick: Capitals in 5.
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #3 Columbus Blue Jackets
In a series that has everyone questioning the leagues playoff format, I don’t see this one lasting too long. Pittsburgh is a team like Chicago in that their season doesn’t start until the postseason begins. Columbus has had one of the best years in franchise history, yet they still finished third in their division. Yes, I know it would have been 1st in the Atlantic, but we can have that debate another day. If you take away Columbus record-setting winning streak they had midway through the year, they are a .500 club. Their silver lining is that they have a stud in net in Bobrovsky, but I don’t know if he can carry them in a series with as much firepower as the Penguins have. The Blue Jackets have been a great story all year, but I think they have written the final chapter. In a matchup of Stars and No-Namers, I’m going to take the Stars.
Pick: Penguins in 6.
#1Montreal Canadiens vs. WC #1 New York Rangers
What is Montreal’s reward for finishing on top of their division? A date with the New York Rangers who have been playing as well as anybody in the league lately. Montreal has had an interesting season with the midseason coaching change and all of the moves they made at the deadline. The big question in this series is can the Canadiens size matchup with New York’s speed. The answer is no. New York is too skilled and have a wall in net in Lundqvist. Price is a phenomenal goalie for the Habs, but hasn’t proven himself in the postseason. New York is only a few years removed from a Stanly Cup Final appearance, and most of that core is still in tact. I like the Rangers to advance in this one.
Pick: Ranges in 6.
#2 Ottawa Senators vs. #3 Boston Bruins
In what will probably be the least entertaining of all the series in the first round, I see this one as a coin flip. Ottawa is a team who you can’t name a single player on, yet they hung around second place in their division all year. Boston is a team we expect to be good due to recent successes, yet it wasn’t until the firing of head coach Claude Julien that they were able to turn it around. Boston had to battle until the very end to secure their playoff spot and come in as one of the hottest teams over the past month or two. They have lots of veterans who have their name on the Cup, and their presence is what will lead them past the Senators. Unless of course Erik Karlsson, who is the definition of a stud, can make enough plays to spark the Ottawa offence. As much as I want to pull for the Senators, it is hard to pick them against a pesky Bruins team.
Pick: Boston in 7.
Once all of the predictions come true in a week or two, check back for my Round Two preview. Stay classy boys!
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. WC# 2 Nashville Predators (4-1 CHI)
Surprise surprise, the Chicago Blackhawks are #1 in the western conference yet again. Year after year they dump stars and still remain one of the best teams in the league. With the Blackhawks superstars playing at the tops of their game and the youth making major contributions, Chicago is a shoo in for the second round. Hawks in five.
#2 Minnesota Wild vs. #3 St. Louis Blues (4-3 MIN)
This is an intriguing matchup with a lot of great elements to it. These two teams have met in the playoff multiple times in the last handful of years and are all too familiar with each other. However, one thing has changed, Mike Yeo will now be standing on the other bench coaching the Blues in his old barn. With the Wild reeling late in the regular season it should be interesting to see if they can pull it together and win the series. I think they can, Minnesota in seven.
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. WC#1 Calgary Flames (4-2 ANA)
Watch out for the Ducks. They have a big bodied core group of veterans who have been here many times before. It also seems that the Ducks got hot at just the right time to make a Stanley Cup run. How can you doubt a beauty like our giant bald friend Ryan Getzlaf? The Ducks are too strong down the middle and much to seasoned for a young inexperienced Flames team to handle. Ducks in six.
#2 Edmonton Oilers vs. #3 San Jose Sharks (4-2 SJ)
I’m just not ready to see the gray beards die. Although Jumbo Joe and Marleau are shells of their younger selves, I want to think that they have one more cup run in them. Year after year of getting knocked out of the playoff must have taken its toll on these guys, but how great would it be to see them face their bitter rival, the ducks, in the second round. Sorry youthful Oilers your time will come. Sharks in six.
#1 Washington Capitals vs. WC#2 Toronto Maple Leafs (4-1 WSH)
I can’t count how many years I have predicted the Caps would win the cup only to watch them fall short, but this year is different. I’m already jumping ahead of myself here but let’s just get to the Capitals Penguins in the second round already. The Caps finally seem like the complete package poised to hoist the Cup but who hasn’t thought that before. The leafs will gain valuable experience in this series but that’s it. Caps in five.
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #3 Columbus Blue Jackets (4-2 PIT)
Always a big fan of this matchup since the playoff series a few years back. Again I think this matchup comes down to experience. Crosby and the boys don’t seem to have a case of the “Stanley Cup hangover” and look to be a strong contender again this year. Columbus had a fantastic regular season but much like the Wild they appeared to slump pretty hard towards the end of the year. “See you in the second round Ovi” -Crosby. Pitt in six.
#1 Montreal Canadians vs WC#1 New York Rangers (4-3 NYR)
This was the most difficult matchup for me to pick and I’m still questioning my decision. Whichever way this one ends up I believe it will be won by a goalie. Scary Cary vs. the King, in terms of goalie matchups I don’t think it can get much better. I expect a grinding series where goals are scarce and most games to be decided by one goal. I guess I’ll go with the King, Rangers in seven.
#2 Ottawa Senators vs. #3 Boston Bruins (4-3 BOS)
Ottawa vs. Boston, this matchup should be exciting. Not a ton of superstar players in this one but these two teams are very similar. Much like the Rangers Canadians matchup, I expect this matchup to be grueling and long. Bold prediction but I think we will see at least 3 overtime games here and that always adds to the excitement. I see Boston outlasting the Senators, Bruins in seven.