The race to the Stanley Cup is about to get underway.
This is the time of year I look forward to the most, especially when the Montreal Canadiens have clinched a berth in the post season. At the same time I can’t help but have a heavy heart as the end of the season is near and the wait for Hocktober sets in.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are hitting the golf course for the six straight year since the 2004-05 NHL lockout. As a fan of the bleu, blanc et rouge I can’t help but feel slightly joyous that our rivals failed to make it yet again. However, the blue and white have some potential next season with a hot goaltender in James Reimer (Optimus Reim) and a stack of young talent.
For the first time the Vancouver Canucks (52-19-9, 113 points) are the recipients of the Presidents’ Trophy – an annual award given to the club finishing the regular season with the best overall record.
In the 24 years the Presidents’ Trophy has been awarded; only five times has the winning team been knocked out in the preliminary round of the playoffs while six winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8)
Having just barely made it into the post season, the Chicago Blackhawks are not the same team that hoisted the Stanley Cup a year ago. The team was dismantled with many of the core players who led the team to the finals being traded away.
Vancouver’s dynamic duo of Henrik and Daniel Sedin is a serious threat to any opponent. The Canucks have also received some superb goaltending from Luongo. His goals against average (2.11) and save percentage (.928) put him second and fourth amongst NHL tenders, respectively.
Luongo also helped lead Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
However, Luongo always seems to slip come playoffs. After finishing the 2009-2010 season with a save percentage of .913 and a goals against average of 2.57 his stats dropped quite substantially (.895 SV% and 3.22 GAA) as the Canucks were knocked out in the second round.
My prediction: Vancouver will take this round in 6 games.
San Jose Sharks (2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (7)
The Sharks are hungry for their first Cup after making it to the West Conference final last year only to be swept by the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks.
San Jose has a strong offensive core in Patrick Marleau (37-36), Joe Thornton (21-49), Dany Healtey (26-38) and rookie Logan Couture (32-24) that led the league with an average of 34.5 shots on net per game.
Meanwhile the Kings will be left without much depth up front with injuries to top scorers Andre Kopitar (25-48) and Justin Williams (22-35). Los Angeles will have to rely on captain Dustin Brown (28-29) to step it up offensively along with the added bonus of veterans Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus and Jarret Stoll.
The Kings do have a stronger defensive core than San Jose so if they can keep the Sharks at bay there is a chance they could come out on top.
My prediction: San Jose will take this round in 5 games.
Detroit Red Wings (3) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (6)
After taking the Red Wings to a seventh game last season before losing 6-1 at home, the Coyotes will be looking for revenge and their first playoff series win since moving from Winnipeg.
Detroit has a very dangerous team with a lot of depth; second in the league with a 3.13 goals per game record.
Their offensive unit boasts big name veterans such as Datsyuk, Franzen, Modano, Holmstrom, Hudler, and Draper who all also have Stanley Cup rings.
The Coyotes only have a 2.76 goals per game record with their leading scorer, Shane Doan, having a mere 20 goals.
The Red Wings take the edge on defense as well with 41-year-old Lidstrom who finished No. 2 among defenseman and three-time cup winner Brian Rafalski.
The Coyotes’ blue line is strong but lacks experience; their seven defensemen have played a combined total of more than 4,500 NHL games but none of them have won a Stanley Cup.
My prediction: Detroit will edge the coyotes in 7 games.
Anaheim Ducks (4) vs. Nashville Predators (5)
With Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan leading the forwards the Ducks are a very dangerous team for any goalie.
Luckily for Nashville they have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Pekka Rinne who was runner up to Tim Thomas in goals-against average and save percentage.
Along with Rinne between the pipes, the Preds also have a lot of talent on the blue line. The combination of the two should be enough to stop the Ducks in their tracks.
However, I’m giving this one to Anaheim in 6.
Washington Capitals (1) vs. New York Rangers (8)
The Capitals have been here before.
Last season le bleu, blanc, rouge were the underdogs the Washington Capitals wished they hadn’t taken for granted. This season they’ll be looking to fix that mistake.
However, the Rangers have been the thorn in Washington’s side all season long having won the final three meetings between the two clubs while outscoring the Capitals 15-1.
Washington’s superstar, Alex Ovechkin, has not been as productive this season. Having played in 79 games, Alex the Great has scored as many goals as Sid the Kid did in just 41 games. Not exactly something to write home about.
My prediction: New York Rangers defeat the Washington Capitals in 7.
Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs. Buffalo Sabres (7)
The Flyers went on a bit of a skid near the end of the regular season going 7-7-6. Starting rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is a bit of a risky move considering he’s never played Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. The pressure will be intense.
Meanwhile the Sabres are coming off a hot 16-4-4 to end the season.
Philadelphia has a lot of talent up front with eight of their forwards scoring at least 40 points. They have three solid lines to roll through including a tough, speedy fourth line.
While the Flyers lack experience between the pipes the depth of their forwards and veteran Chris Pronger on the blue line give them the edge.
My prediction: Philadelphia will oust Buffalo in 6.
Boston Bruins (3) vs. Montreal Canadiens (6)
One of the greatest rivals in the league meeting for the 33rd time in the post season, this is surely going to be a tough and interesting series.
The Canadiens are 24-8 all time against the Bruins in the playoffs including their 4-2 series win during the regular season.
The last time these two teams met, the big bad Bruins swept the bleu, blanc, rouge. Boston is also coming off a high from their 7-0 romping of the Habs after the Chara-Pacioretty incident.
Both teams have solid goaltending which will be very helpful for the Canadiens in their own end but not so great for them offensively.
Les boys have been pretty lackluster in the scoring department this season with an average of 2.6 goals per game (22nd in the league) while the B’s are ranked fifth in the league with 2.98 goals per game.
If Price continues to play the way he has and the Canadiens can manage to get on the scoreboard a few times they will do well.
My prediction: Montreal will take Boston in 6.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (5)
Tampa Bay’s top line with Stamkos and St.Louis leading the way is one of the best in the league, while the Penguins are without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
This is good news for the Bolts whose defensive core has been struggling to keep the opponents off the score sheet.
My prediction: Tampa Bay will defeat Pittsburgh in 6.