The playoffs are finally upon us, and it has been some time since the matchups have been so even. There isn’t one series that I look at and think a certain team is a lock to win. Here I will do a quick preview of each series and then myself, Brandy and Kevin will make our predictions on who will come out on top.
I am looking at the other 7 series today, and tomorrow I will be looking in-depth at the Ottawa – New York series.
LOS ANGELES KINGS (8) vs VANCOUVER CANUCKS (1)
This series is very interesting, and like many first round matchups, an upset is possible if not probable. The Canucks have won their second straight President’s Trophy but have played a ton of hockey the last two seasons, and it is hard for a team to make the finals in two straight seasons (if you are not Detroit or Pittsburgh).
The Kings seem to me to be ripe for an upset, and they appear to be built for a playoff run. Warriors like Mike Richards and Dustin Brown are prototypical playoff performers and the addition of Jeff Carter (although he has been banged up of late) has added offensive depth.
For the Canucks, Daniel Sedin should be ready to go for the opening night, but is he at 100%? More question marks loom as to the effectiveness Ryan Kesler can have as he didn’t match his production from a season ago following hip surgery.
Goaltending is important in any series, but the pressure will be on Roberto Luongo more than ever, as he is being pushed by backup Corey Schneider (who actually had better statistics). The leash for Luongo will be very short and it might not be too long before a goaltending controversy looms over VanCity. At the other end, Jonathan Quick needs to translate regular season success over to the post-season, but he needs offensive support to do it.
Jared’s Prediction – LA Kings in 7 games
Brandy Says – LA Kings
Kevin Says – Vancouver Canucks
SAN JOSE SHARKS (7) vs ST. LOUIS BLUES (2)
Two of the most surprising teams (for completely different reasons) in the West this season square off. The Blues finished 2 points short of the President’s Trophy, and did so with defense and goaltending, trademarks of new coach Ken Hitchcock. They have accomplished this without a player who amassed 55 points in the season.
By contrast, the Sharks are a team that seems to be shrinking into the background when it comes to the elite teams. Their window may have closed, and if they don’t get deep into the post-season this time around, expect the club to be blown up and start over. They are still led by Joe Thornton, who quietly put up 77 points.
Bottom line is, San Jose doesn’t exude the confidence of a team that is ready to make its impact and St. Louis is a team that perhaps over-acheived but has the veteran leadership of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner that will help overcome some of the inexperience.
Jared’s Prediction – St. Louis in 6 games
Brandy Says – St. Louis
Kevin Says – St. Louis
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (6) vs PHOENIX COYOTES (3)
In what could be the final run in Phoenix, the Coyotes have quietly put together a divisional title and a solid chance at winning its first playoff series since the team was in Winnipeg. Goaltender Mike Smith provides better than expected netminding for a team that lost Ilya Bryzgalov in the off-season. Devoid of star power, coach Dave Tippett maximizes the talent on the roster, and 40 year old Ray Whitney is the key component, as his chemistry with Radim Vrbatalately has carried the club.
Chicago is two years removed from a Stanley Cup Championship, but with their undisputed leader Jonathan Toews currently on the mend from a concussion and the depth that they once possessed is not present any more. With the talent they have, including Marian Hossa, and the Patricks (Kane and Sharp) you can’t fall asleep on the Hawks, but I am not convinced their goaltending duo is strong enough.
Jared’s Prediction – Phoenix in 7
Brandy Says – Chicago
Kevin Says – Chicago
DETROIT RED WINGS (5) vs NASHVILLE PREDATORS (4)
Is this finally the year that the Predators break through? After finally winning their first ever playoff series last season, they unfortunately drew the massively experienced rival Detroit Red Wings in the first round. Bolstered by the return of Alexander Radulov and boasting a very solid defense corps, the Predators have to be optomistic about a deep playoff run. It could be the last chance to do so with the dynamic duo of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, as both players will be free agents and it is not likely both will be back next season.
The Red Wings kind of limped into the playoffs, and do not have home ice advantage in this series. The team is aging and it could be the last hurrah for Nick Lidstrom. The Wings are a balanced offensive unit with the superstar ability of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg poised for a breakout.
I think this might finally be Nashville’s season. They seem to have the pieces in place, and Pekka Rinne is an elite goaltender playing behind a strong unit.
Jared’s Prediction – Predators in 6 games
Brandy Says – Nashville
Kevin Says – Detroit
WASHINGTON CAPITALS (7) vs BOSTON BRUINS (2)
The defending Champs take on the underacheiving Capitals in what could have been a great series. However, with Washington’s top 2 goaltenders likely unavailable to start the series, the Caps will be forced to go with Braeden Holtby between the pipes. It might be a bit unfair to the youngster, as the Bruins have the abitily to attack in waves, even without the likes of Nathan Horton.
Washington will need Alex Ovechkin to produce at a level he hasn’t got to in a couple of years, and Nick Backstom to regain a mid-season from after missing months with a concussion. Joel Ward was a breakout player for Nashville in the playoffs last season, but failed to live up to expectations of his new contract in Washington. If he can step up to that level in the playoffs, it would be a bonus for Washington’s chances.
In the end, the Bruins are just too deep in too many areas and should not have much problem dispatching the Caps, although an upset wouldn’t shock me in this one.
Jared’s Prediction – Boston in 7 Games
Brandy Says – Washington
Kevin Says – Washington
NEW JERSEY DEVILS (6) vs FLORIDA PANTHERS (3)
One of the two teams that seem to get no respect, the Florida Panthers just didn’t go away like I thought they would. They held off the Captials, and earned thier first ever division title and first playoff appearance since the 1999-2000 season. The moves made in the off-season seem to have worked, and the coaching of Kevin Dineen has been a revelation.
That being said, the Devils were consistently good heading down the stretch and fended off the Senators and Capitals for the 6th seed. Martin Brodeur won 30 games for the millionth time (or at least the 14th) and will lead the Devils into the playoffs again. Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Elias and Zach Parise provide the offensive spark.
In the end, this series will be very intriguing, and the experience of the Devils will trump the exuberance and enthusiasm of the upstart Panthers
Jared’s Prediction – Devils in 7 games
Brandy Says – Florida
Kevin Says – Florida
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (5) vs PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (4)
To say that these two teams do not like each other is an understatement to the nth degree. Having already played two incredibly intense games against each other in April, this series is going to be an epic battle and could be one of the best series ever, but definitely of the first round. Both teams are loaded with offensive talent, solid defense and streaky goaltending.
This series will likely come down to which goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury or Ilya Bryzgalov, can be more consistent. Both are capable of being Conn Smythe winners, but both are also capable of mental collapses.
In the end, I have more faith in Fleury. He has been there before and has a slightly deeper team in front of him
Jared’s Prediction – Pittsburgh in 7
Brandy Says – Philadelphia
Kevin Says – Pittsburgh
Check back Thursday for my in-depth look at the series we are all anticipating – The Ottawa Senators vs New York Rangers.