It’s the most wonderful time of the year, kids! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, it’s finally above freezing in the NY Metro area, and hockey is about to be on at all times. Really, what’s better?
Here on the blog, we’ve previewed each of the eight upcoming series, broken down by series and by each writer. Share yours in the comments and let us know how spot on / awful our predictions are.
Philadelphia Flyers vs Washington Capitals
Dave: Philly has the most under appreciated goalie in Steve Mason, and a blue line that is surprisingly good. But Washington is Washington. They are by far the best team in the East, even if their recent play has slowed down. Caps in 5.
Becky: Mason is great, the Flyers’ top line is great, and Shayne Gostisbehere (Ghostbear!) has had a phenomenal rookie season, but aside from that, they have nada that will go against a deep Capitals team. For the record, I’m still upset that TJ Oshie is wearing Capital Red. Caps in 5.
Kevin: The Capitals may take a little while to get going in this one since they coasted to the finish line and the Flyers have been fighting for their lives for two months, but in the end Washington just has way too much firepower. I think this will be closer than many think, but Caps in 6.
Chris: Philly scraped into the playoffs and have top level talent but as we’ve seen all year, this year’s Caps are a different beast. They can match Philly in top end talent and are the deepest team in the East. They’re also better defensively. Caps in 5.
Pat: Philly’s been hot, has some grade-A talent including a certain spooky ursine defenseman, and I’d probably take Steve Mason over Holtby, but the Caps simply are on another level this year. I do think however that the Flyers are going to be tough to play against, especially because of Mason, so I think this one’s going to be reasonably close. Caps in 6.
Justin: The Flyers are dangerous offensively and have a very good goaltender in Steve Mason. Gostisbehere aside, their blue line is a tire fire. The Caps on the other hand, are ridiculously dangerous (and deep) offensively, have their own very good goaltender in Braden Holtby and have a solid blue line. Flyers don’t stand a chance. Caps in 5
New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Dave: This all comes down to injuries. If the Pens are without Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Beau Bennett for extended periods, I think the Rangers depth wins out. Otherwise, there’s only so much Hank can do. The Pens are red hot, and the Rangers are not. I can’t believe I’m about to do this: Pens in 7.
Becky: I said on the podcast this week that it all comes down to adjustments, and I haven’t seen much of it from the coaching staff on down this year. The Rangers put on a good show in front of the Garden faithful, and Fleury, though practicing, isn’t a guarantee, but this ain’t the Rangers year. I pray to the higher powers that be that I am very mistaken here. Pens in 6.
Kevin: Ready for a homerific pick? I’m buying that Hank is going to stand on his head and I think the Rangers will give Pittsburgh’s defense some trouble as the series goes on. Pittsburgh’s issues in goal with both injuries and the potential for a MAF meltdown give me solace. Rangers in 7.
Chris: It hurts me to say it but I can see the Rangers slowing down the Pittsburgh express. Even sans Fleury. The Rangers won’t have enough of the puck to slow down the Pens offense, but if they do somehow ‘find their game’ they can sneak it. Pens in 7.
Pat: In order for the Rangers to be successful they’re going to need three things. First is that their forward corps is going to need to be firing on all cylinders. I’m talking depth guys, marquee names, everyone. Second is that their defense simply cannot be bad, although they need not be amazing. Finally, as is tradition, Henrik Lundqvist is going to need to stand on his head night after night. I realize that those three things pretty much cover all the bases but that’s sort of my point – the Rangers are going to have to play truly complete hockey (which they’ve struggled with) in order to win this series, because Pittsburgh is simply too good right now to bring anything but your best against. I’m also a dumb optimist/huge homer, so I’m going to pick the Rangers for this one. Rangers in 7.
Justin: To me, the Rangers fate will be determined by their ability to adjust. Whether it’s on the breakout or the penalty kill, they have to learn from their mistakes. It looks like Fleury could make it back for game 1, which narrows their margin for error. Ultimately, I believe that Henrik Lundqvist will be Henrik Lundqvist, so I’m jumping on the homer train. Rangers in 6.
Detroit Red Wings vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Dave: This would be a lot easier to pick if Tampa were healthy, but without Stamkos and Stralman, they are vulnerable. I don’t think Detroit is good enough to take them out though. Tampa in 6.
Becky: A broken Tampa team versus a lacking Detroit team. I was surprised to see the Wings eke it out to get a spot in the playoffs. What this comes down to will be the leadership and the youth of the Wings against a veteran, yet injured group of Lightning. It’s a crap shoot. I’ll take Detroit in 7.
Kevin: The Stralman and Stamkos injuries combined with Datsyuk’s final hurrah have changed my thinking on this one. Mostly I just want to see the Magic Man play a little longer, but I’ll take the Red Wings in 7.
Chris: Detroit aren’t as talented as Tampa but no team can compensate the losses Tampa have endured. Detroit’s young talent led by Dylan Larkin will keep it interesting but Tampa’s recent playoff pedigree will help them through. Tampa in 6.
Pat: What I’ve seen of Tampa Bay has impressed me more than what I’ve seen of Detroit, and even with some really brutal injuries I think the Lightning’s forward group is simply too talented to lose this one. Still though every time I’ve watched Detroit Petr Mrazek has looked great and I’m a huge fan of Brad Richards in the postseason, so I think this one is close as well. Lightning in 6.
Justin: The injuries are going to be very tough for the Lightning to overcome, but I don’t think the Wings have the horses this year to get over a (still) very talented team in the Lightning. It’ll be a grind, but I’m ultimately betting on Tampa. Lightning in 7.
Dave: Will the tanking Isles, who basically dressed an AHL lineup on Sunday, get their karma? It’s possible. The Panthers are skilled and deep up front, but have an exploitable blue line. The Isles are lacking high end talent after John Tavares, but are deep. I think it will come down to goaltending. Luongo is better than Halak. Panthers in 7.
Becky: Oooh boy do I love me some karma. Thomas Greiss threw some magic out there against the Rangers last week, but he isn’t their starter. The Islanders secondary scoring hasn’t been impressive. On the other hand, the Panthers aren’t known for their D. The Panthers are playing with passion right now, and with Jagr’s magic, I’m giving the series to them. Panthers in 6.
Kevin: This feels like the Season of Jagr to me, and I don’t love what I’ve seen lately from the Islanders. The Panthers may be a year or two early to be legitimate contenders, but I still think they can win a round. Panthers in 6.
Chris: The Panthers Cinderella story will continue for a round. It’s hard not to like what the Panthers are building and this series can go either way but a Jagr-inspired Panthers edge out the Isles. Panthers in 7.
Pat: Who’s having more fun than Jaromir Jagr these days? It’s hard not to love the kind of season he’s had, and that’s to say the least of Florida’s young guys like Barkov or Huberdeau. I’m into the moves the Panthers made at the deadline, and I’m into Roberto Luongo, but I think JT turns it on at least once or twice and provides some serious offensive leadership for the Islanders. Panthers in 6.
Justin: I think this series is going to come down to goaltending. Roberto Luongo is vastly superior to any of the Islanders’ options, while the rest is a wash. Plus, I believe in whatever magic dust putting in the water down in Sunrise, these days. Panthers in 7, because Jagr.
Minnesota Wild vs Dallas Stars
Dave: Minnesota can’t score at all, and Dallas basically scores at will. But while Minny can’t score, they are solid defensively and in net, where Dallas is a complete train wreck. If Minnesota were capable of scoring more consistently, I’d pick them. But they can’t. Dallas in 5.
Becky: No Zach Parise all but seals the deal for Dallas, who are offensively stacked, but deeply flawed. I don’t see Dallas having a deep run with their at-best average blueline and goaltending, but they’ll get past the Wild. Dallas in 6.
Kevin: I don’t know what to make of the Wild this year. Minnesota has been really, really bad at times, but the Wild does have a strong blueline and netminder, which are obviously invaluable this time of year. Minnesota in 7.
Chris: The whole Dallas/Minny history make it an interesting story to follow but Dallas have far too much firepower for a middling Wild team. If Dallas start quick it could be over quickly. Dallas in 5.
Pat: While Minnesota has some players whose kind of game I really like (Charlie Coyle, Matt Dumba) and their blue line is probably better than the Stars’ I really can’t argue with the amount of firepower Dallas has up front. I think Dubnyk shuts it down enough for the Wild to win at least one game, but the Stars forward corps is just so overwhelmingly good that it’s tough for me to imagine them losing this series. Dallas in 5.
Justin: We all know the story on the Stars by now. Offense, and nothing else. Minnesota can beat Dallas if they commit to defense and the Stars get their predictably putrid goaltending. I just don’t think they will. Dallas has too many weapons and while Devan Dubnyk is good, he isn’t that good. Dallas in 5.
Chicago Blackhawks vs St Louis Blues
Dave: Every time I say the Hawks have holes, they win the Cup. So, I’m done picking against them. Plus St. Louis never wins in the playoffs. Ever. Chicago in 6.
Becky: The Blues can not get out of the first round. I can look at this as logically as possible, but until they prove they can win a series, I’m sorry — Chicago in 6.
Kevin: Sorry St. Louis, I have no reason to believe this year will be any different. The Hawks are the Hawks and take it in 6.
Chris: This could go either way. Will St Louis’ depth outlast Chicago’s elite skill? This series is so much of a toss up Duncan Keith’s game one absence could still have a major influence on the entire series. Chicago’s top 6 will see them edge it. Chicago in 6
Pat: This might be partially me being sick of Chicago in the playoffs, and partially me thinking this could be the year the Blues finally do the damn thing, but I really think this series is going to be close. I know it’s death, taxes, and St Louis losing in the first round, but their goaltending finally seems legit this year. They’ve got enough weapons to match up well against Chicago, and I think that this could be a big series for young guys like Colton Parayko and Robby Fabbri. Chicago’s a good team however, and it’s hard to deny that guys like Patrick Kane or Artemi Panarin can simply take over a game or two, so I think this one goes to seven. Blues in 7.
Justin: If this is the year the Blues finally shake their playoff demons, I won’t be the one with the smug look on my face. I will not be betting against the Hawks. Chicago in 6.
Nashville Predators vs Anaheim Ducks
Dave: Nashville has some issues in net, while Anaheim has been the hottest team in the West, going from last place to Pacific Division champs. Nashville doesn’t stand a chance. Anaheim in 5.
Becky: Remember when the Ducks were a hot mess and couldn’t win a thing? If you told me they’d win the division, I would have laughed in your face. Nashville’s got themselves some defense, and they can score, and I’m not fully convinced by Anaheim. Preds in 6.
Kevin: What a difference a few months make for the Ducks. This team is rolling on all fronts and it’s hard to find a weakness on this roster. Plus, Anaheim is built for playoff success with huge, skilled players that drive the net and a deep, active defense. Nashville drew a bad matchup here. Ducks in 5.
Chris: All of a sudden Anaheim, despite their awful start to the season, are a legitimate Cup threat. They’ve grown stronger as the year has gone on and are peaking at the right time. Nashville aren’t. Ducks in 6
Pat: This one’s going to be a big test for Ryan Johansen, who I think will have a strong series despite Nashville ultimately losing. The Preds’ defensive depth is seriously cut into by the loss of Seth Jones, and although I do expect big things from Johansen I don’t think he can be enough of a difference maker that they win more than one game against arguably the hottest team next to the Penguins heading into the playoffs. Anaheim’s simply playing too well to lose this one, but I’m not sure a sweep happens. Ducks in 5.
Justin: Anaheim’s ascent in the standings from a horrid start has been very impressive. I am a big believer in John Gibson and I think the Ducks are playing their best hockey at the right time. Nashville doesn’t possess the type of balance necessary for playoff success, and it looks like Pekka Rinne’s best days might be behind him. Ducks in 6.
San Jose Sharks vs Los Angeles Kings
Dave: Ah yes, the matchup that may have cost the Rangers a Cup in 2014 (SJS blew a 3-0 series lead). Just for that, I refuse to pick San Jose. I’m holding a grudge. Kings in 4.
Becky: FLASHBACKS!!! GOD MAKE THEM STOP!!!! I’m not convinced by either of these teams, but I have absolutely zero faith in the Sharks. I mean, DeBoer doing well seems peculiar to me. Let’s say Kings in 6.
Kevin: The Kings look every bit as good as they’ve been in recent years when they’ve gone all the way and San Jose has gotten here thanks to Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski and not much else. I can’t see a way the Sharks pull this off. Kings in 6.
Chris: It’s hard to argue against the Kings given their cup pedigree (ugh). That said, it’s fair to suggest Joe Thornton has been the best player in hockey since January. Neither team are playing consistently well but San Jose score lots of goals. If the Sharks can actually, you know, win at home they’ll edge the series. Sharks in 7.
Pat: This is probably another one where my personal feelings are clouding my vision, but I don’t think the Kings to win this one. Jumbo Joe is proving himself to be an ageless wonder in the mold of Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Quick is overrated and the Sharks have James Reimer, and Brent Burns is a freak of nature. From there it’s just a preference for San Jose’s depth guys over LA’s, but it’s still hard for me to say that LA’s a bad team, given their overall possession dominance and perennial contender status. I think this one’s going to involve some close games, but ultimately everything’s coming up Milhouse for San Jose. Sharks in 6.
Justin: This is far and away the most interesting playoff series (Rangers, aside) for me. The Kings are incredibly talented and super deep, but the Sharks have been almost as good and seem to thrive with no one believing in them. I will go out on a limb here and call the upset. Sharks in 7.