Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders
This will be an entertaining series between two high-octane offenses. John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome lead the Isles into battle against Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson of the Caps. Both teams sport two great defensemen with offensive prowess. The Isles Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy will match up on the blueline against Mike Green and John Carlson for the Caps. The series may very well come down to the goaltenders. When they’re hot, Jaroslav Halak and Braden Holtby are studs between the pipes for the Islanders and Capitals respectively. The Islanders will have to stay out of the penalty box so killers like Ovechkin and Backstrom don’t get to do their thing. In the end, the Isles more balanced offensive attack might be the difference.
Prediction- Islanders win series 4-2
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
After earning the most points in the NHL, the Rangers will have to play one of their rivals: the Penguins. Although Pittsburgh struggled to close out the season, just barely clinching a playoff birth, it’s hard to underestimate a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. The Rangers may not have the star power of the Pens, but an offense with Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Martin St. Louis is nothing to sneeze at. The Rangers have the better defensive corps, led by Keith Yandle and Ryan McDonagh. They also have a slight edge in net with Henrik Lundqvist returning from his injury. Marc-Andre Fleury has had a stellar year for the Penguins, too. But when it’s all said and done, the defending Eastern Conference champions should get it done in the first round.
Prediction- Rangers win series 4-2
Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators
It’s often said that hot goaltending wins playoff games. Two of the hottest goalies in the league will be meeting up in this series, assuming Ottawa opts to use 27-year-old rookie Andrew Hammond over veteran Craig Anderson. “Hamburglar,” as he’s been called, has a record of 20-1-2 this season, leading the Senators’ playoff push. He’ll be opposite Carey Price, the likely Vezina winner for best goalie in the league. Given how hot Hammond’s been, the division-winning Montreal’s advantage in net isn’t as large as it would be against most other teams. Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec will try to put pucks past the inexperienced Hammond. They’ll be matched by Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan and stud rookie Mark Stone. This may be the hardest series to call, but this matchup has serious upset potential.
Prediction- Senators win series 4-3
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
The Lightning will be looking to have a more successful postseason than last year, when they were swept by Montreal, and with a monstrous offense they have every chance to do so. One of the best scorers in the league, Steven Stamkos, is joined by Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan. The Wings will try to oppose that with Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. I feel the Wings’ only chance of winning the series is for their goalie, Jimmy Howard, to stand on his head and outplay Ben Bishop.
Prediction- Lightning win series 4-1
Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This will be a great matchup between two teams that should be good for years to come. I think the Blackhawks are just a bit better in each area, though. They have more stars with players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. Oh, and Patrick Kane will probably be coming back in time from his broken collarbone injury to play Nashville as well. The Predators will try to counter that with Shea Weber, Mike Ribeiro, Roman Josi, James Neal and rookie standout Filip Forsberg. The goaltenders are fairly even. The Blackhawks have Corey Crawford, while the Predators have Pekka Rinne between the pipes. I like the more experienced Blackhawks who won two cups in the past five years in what should be a tough series.
Prediction- Blackhawks win series 4-2
Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets
The best team in the Western Conference will take on the Jets in the first round. Winnipeg has had a surprisingly good season with a balanced offensive attack led by Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien. On paper they seem to match up pretty well offensively against the powerhouse Ducks. Anaheim boasts Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler. The Ducks’ goaltender will likely be youngster Frederik Andersen. It’s hard to tell who the Jets will start in the position between Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson. While the stats may sing a different song, I believe the Ducks are better in goal and more experienced overall.
Prediction- Ducks win series 4-1
St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild
The Blues have struggled in the postseason and Minnesota has looked impressive in the second half of the season. The Blues have a plethora of good forwards in Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Paul Stastny. They also have a pair of elite defenders in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Going into the season, goaltending was an area of concern for the Blues with the tandem of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. Both have played well though, and it may be the rookie, Allen, between the pipes for the playoffs over the veteran Elliott. Allen has only allowed one goal in each of his past four starts. One of them will square off against Devan Dubnyk for the Wild, who has been a dynamic trade acquisition for them. Minnesota also has a solid forward corps in Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek leading the charge. Ryan Suter anchors a solid defense. This should be a very close series that can go either way, but I think the Blues finally get over the hump if their goaltender can come close to matching Dubnyk.
Prediction- Blues win series 4-3
Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames
Before the season began, most people weren’t expecting either team to make the postseason. And yet here they are. The resiliency both teams have shown this season has been admirable. The Canucks have more star power on offense with Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Radim Vrbata leading the charge. The Flames have the better depth on offense. Jiri Hudler put up 76 points with youngsters Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau not far behind. The Flames will miss Mark Giordano on defense, who was having a Norris-Trophy caliber season as the league’s best defenseman before he needed surgery to repair a torn bicep tendon. Not to fear, Dennis Wideman and T.J. Brodie have picked up the slack on defense. Jonas Hiller will likely be the Flames’ playoff net minder opposite Ryan Miller of the Canucks. Miller may be rusty after just coming back from his own injury. Depth and goaltending win playoff games, and I think the Flames have an edge in both areas.
Prediction- Flames win series 4-3