2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

A1) Montréal Canadiens vs. EWC1) Ottawa Senators

This will be the second time the Canadiens and Senators will meet in a playoff series in the last three years. The Habs have been propelled by a career season by Carey Price, who could be the first goaltender to win the Hart Trophy since Jose Theodore in 2002. On the other side, youth emerges as a key factor for the Senators from having a season where they look like they were out of contention, to a team that could make a long playoff run. Led by Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Andrew Hammond, youth along with experience could lead to a potential first-round upset in this matchup.

Prediction: MTL in 6

A2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. A3) Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings extended their playoff appearance streak to an astounding 24th straight season, which ties the Canadiens streak from 1971-1994 for fourth-longest streak when it comes to consecutive playoff appearances. Their first round matchup is no easy task. The Lightning come in as the NHL’s highest scoring team, scoring a league-high 262 goals this season. With Petr Mrazek starting this series for the Red Wings, can their goaltending stop one of the most potent offenses in the NHL?

Prediction: TB in 6

 

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

M1) New York Rangers vs. EWC1) Pittsburgh Penguins

Even without The King in net for a while, the Rangers rolled on to their best regular season in franchise history, going 53-22-7 with 113 points; one point better than their 1993-94 season — the last time the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. Their opponent, the Penguins, didn’t even clinch their playoff spot until their 82nd game. They also come in hobbling. With no Kris Letang and no Pascal Dupuis, it’s going to be a huge task trying to take down the Presidents’ Trophy champions. Expect this series to be somewhat short; sweep not guaranteed.

Prediction: NYR in 5

M2) Washington Capitals vs. M3) New York Islanders

The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, it was in 1993. That series was best known for this hit:

In Game 6 of that series, Dale Hunter delivered a malicious hit on Pierre Turgeon, which separated his shoulder. I don’t think there will be that much bad blood in this series, but there are no guarantees. For the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin looked like the Alex Ovechkin of old; the most prolific goal-scorer in the last 10 years. That, along with a career year in net for Braden Holtby, led the Caps to a huge bounce-back season under head coach Barry Trotz. For the Islanders, acquiring Nick Leddy from Chicago and Johnny Boychuk gave a team with zero expectations headed into the season, to a team that can give the Nassau Coliseum a huge sendoff into the sunset in its final season with a fifth Cup; their first in 32 years.

Prediction:  NYI in 6

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION

C1) St. Louis Blues vs. WWC1) Minnesota Wild

The Blues had to grind there way towards a Central Division title, their second in four years. Their gift for winning the Central? Facing a team that had one of the biggest second-half surges I’ve seen in years. Back in January, the Wild looked like ANYTHING but a playoff team. Some people, me included, thought that head coach Mike Yeo would be out of a job by the time the All-Star break. Then the trade that changed the Wild’s season happened. Chuck Fletcher dealt their third-round pick in the NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes to acquire goalie Devan Dubnyk. At the time, the trade looked like a huge loss: the Wild got a average-playing goaltender who spent a majority of his career as a second-string backup. What the Wild actually got was a workhorse goalie that has proven himself as a no. 1, starting every game since being traded, going 27-8-2 with a 1.73 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage with five of those wins going as shutouts. But the Blues will give the Wild everything they have. Forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz each had career seasons, and the emergence of Jori Lehtera solidifying the Blues’ top six forwards. The one major question the Blues need to answer in the playoffs is can their goaltending be enough to give the Blues their first Stanley Cup. Both Jake Allen and Brian Elliott have proven themselves to being the no. 1 goalie in St. Louis, but this’ll be Jake Allen’s first playoff series in which he’ll be in net. Either way, this is not going to be an easy out for both teams.

Prediction:  MIN in 7

C2) Nashville Predators vs. C3) Chicago Blackhawks

Out of all the teams Nashville didn’t want to see in the first round, the Predators didn’t, and I mean DIDN’T, want to see the Chicago Blackhawks. After leading the Central Division for the majority of the season, the Preds lost 16 of their final 25 games of the season, finishing five points behind the Blues in the Central. Like the Predators, the Blackhawks enter the playoffs cold, dropping their final four games of the season, all of it in regulation by one goal. But all of it means nothing when the series starts. Under head coach Peter Laviolette, the Predators became more  of an offensive-first team, rather than a defense-first team. That’s because James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, and Filip Forsberg are scoring, not just goals, but goals in bunches. Last year, the Preds scored 216 goals, which ranked 20th. This year, the Preds scored 232 goals, which ranks 13th this season. For the Hawks, they’ve notched their fifth 100-point season, in the last six full (82-game) seasons. And they did it without Patrick Kane in the final quarter of the season. Some people are writing off the Hawks because of their inconsistency of scoring, their defense isn’t as quite as good, and their special teams — specifically their power play — has been described as B+. And without Patrick Kane, who was supposed to be out until the Conference Final, they couldn’t beat Nashville. And the trades they made, acquiring Antoine Vermette, Kimmo Timonen, and Andrew Desjardins turned out to be nothing but busts. DON’T BELIEVE IT. There’s a reason why in the last 7 seasons, this team made it to the Western Conference Final four times and winning the Stanley Cup twice. They’ve been there been there before, and they sure know how to get there this time around, even if they don’t have home-ice advantage. If the Predators DO win this series, they could finally put the ghost of this to rest:

Prediction:  CHI in 6

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

P1) Anaheim Ducks vs. WWC2) Winnipeg Jets

April 28, 1996: that was the last time playoff hockey was in Winnipeg. Slava Kozlov had two goals, and the Red Wings dispatched the Jets in six games. Months later, the Winnipeg Jets became the Arizona Coyotes.

May 31, 2011: After 11 seasons operating in Atlanta, True North Sports and Entertainment, purchases the Thrashers and renames them as the Winnipeg Jets.

April 9, 2015: Despite losing in a shootout in Colorado, playoff hockey returns to Winnipeg as the Jets clinch a playoff spot for the first time since relocating from Atlanta.

It’s been a long road for the Jets in their quest to bring playoff hockey to Winnipeg, but thanks to people who have previously worked in Chicago — be it in the AHL with the Wolves (Bryan Little, Ondrej Pavelec), in the NHL with the Blackhawks (Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Michael Frolik), or in one instance, both (General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff) — the Winnipeg White Out is finally back. The Jets’ playoff opponent took control to win the Pacific Division for the third straight year. The Ducks bolstering their lineup with the acquisition of Ryan Kesler made all the difference as the Ducks have the best record in the Western Conference for the second straight year. Like St. Louis, the biggest question entering the playoffs is can their goaltending be enough to give the Ducks a deep playoff run, let alone win the Stanley Cup. Is this the year Bruce Boudreau finally gets over the second-round wall? Honestly, this is a series that can go either way.

Prediction:  WPG in 7

P2) Vancouver Canucks vs. P3) Calgary Flames

After the John Tortorella experiment went FUBAR last season, the Canucks restructured and bounced back to get second place in the Pacific Division. However, the starting goaltender they signed, Ryan Miller, won’t be starting this series after being riddled with injury. Is Eddie Lack’s goaltending good enough to get past a team that wasn’t even supposed to be in the playoffs this year. At the beginning of the season, the Flames were supposed to be rebuilding; playing for nothing, hoping to become a contender next season. Then, when their captain, Mark Giordano, went down with a season-ending torn bicep injury, the Flames looked like they were all but done. But they weren’t. Thanks to potential Calder Trophy finalist Johnny Gaudreau, and an amazing second season from Sean Monahan, Calgary played like their name. They were red-hot, going 12-5-3 in the final two months of the season, clinching a playoff spot in their last home game of the season, dethroning the defending the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in the process. Like the other playoff series in the Pacific Division, this series is one that can go either way.

Prediction:  VAN in 7

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