2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

A1) Florida Panthers vs. EWC1) New York Islanders

For both teams, they are trying to win their first playoff series in over 20 years. The last time the Panthers won a playoff series, it was the 1996 Eastern Conference Final in which they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. The last time the Islanders won a playoff series, it was the 1993 Patrick Division Final in which they upset the Presidents’ Trophy and two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. The Islanders came in just battling for position with their cross-borough rival New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division. The Panthers surprised everybody by winning the Atlantic Division, their first division championship since winning the Southeast Division five years ago. One of the reasons the Panthers had a great season was Jaromir Jagr turning back the clock at the age he’s in. This series is going to be a close one, most likely because Thomas Greiss is starting for the Islanders in net, and not Jaroslav Halak.

Prediction: FLA in 6

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

The Red Wings extended their playoff appearance streak to an astounding 25th straight season, which ties the St. Louis Blues streak from 1980-2004 for third-longest streak when it comes to consecutive playoff appearances. And just like last year, they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. This is a very different Tampa Bay Lightning team they’re facing. Steven Stamkos won’t be playing because of Blood Clots,, defenseman Anton Stralman is out with a broken leg, and the status of Tyler Johnson is uncertain as he was injured after an illegal check by Montreal Canadiens defenseman Greg Pateryn. There’s also questions for the Red Wings regarding who will start in net. It looked like the job would belong to Petr Mrazek, but a late-season dropoff gave the job back to Jimmy Howard. This series could go either way, so expect it to go the distance.

Prediction: DET in 6

 

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

M1) Washington Capitals vs. EWC1) Philadelphia Flyers

This season has pretty much exceeded expectations if you’re a Capitals fan. Presidents’ Trophy, another 50-goal season by Alex Ovechkin, a record-setting season by Braden Holtby; on paper, this should be the year Washington wins the Stanley Cup. Then again, “on paper” usually doesn’t equal what happens in real life. The Caps’ first round opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers, actually split the season series against the Capitals this season. Sure, the big story in Philadelphia was the emergence of rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehre, but more recently, the untimely passing of Flyers founder Ed Snider  will probably fuel the Flyers to hopefully go on a deep playoff run. Some people are expecting this series to be a short one, but if you take a look at previous playoff series between these two teams, this series should be a long one.

Prediction: WSH in 7

M2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. M3) New York Rangers

This will be the second straight year in which the Penguins and Rangers will meet in the first round. Last year, the Rangers dispatched the Penguins in five games. However the Penguins are coming in as the hottest team in the NHL, going 24-9-1 in the final three months of the regular season. And even without Evgeni Malkin playing in the last month of the season due to injury, the Penguins kept on winning. For the Rangers, they’re coming in without captain Ryan McDonagh, who is out with a broken hand. If the Rangers want to repeat what they did last year, they’re going to have to attack a less-than-100% Marc-Andre Fleury.

Prediction: PIT in 6

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION

C1) Dallas Stars vs. WWC1) Minnesota Wild

What a complete 180-degree turn for the Dallas Stars. They got Patrick Sharp AND Johnny Oduya from Chicago. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin helped fuel the Stars to become the hiughest-scoring team in the NHL this season. Add two goaltenders that are playing like each could be the number one goalie, and you got a team that won it’s first division title in ten years. Minnesota came in streaky after firing head coach Mike Yeo in February. Now they’re coming into this series, potentially without Zach Parise. And with the recent inconsistent play the Wild has gone through, finishing the season losing their final five games after winning their prior six games. the Wild need to be consistent and use their prior playoff experience if they want to upset the Central Division Champions in the first round for a third straight year.

Prediction: DAL in 5

C2) St. Louis Blues vs. C3) Chicago Blackhawks

This could be St. Louis’ year to finally get past the first round. I mean, to Blues fans, it has been TORTURE the last three years.

2013: won first two games against defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, only to lose series in six games

2014: won first two games against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, only to lose series in six games

2015: after splitting first four games to the Minnesota Wild, they lose Game 5 on home ice, and go on lose series in six games, despite winning Central Division

There is no team NHL that has a lot of playoff pressure than the Blues, especially when the future of head coach Ken Hitchcock might be determined by how far the Blues go in the playoffs this year. The same pressure is on for the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, except the pressure is self-imposed.

No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since 1998. The Blackhawks had a chance to do that in 2014, but lost in an epic Game 7 in overtime to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. In hindsight, the Hawks would’ve been the first team to win three Stanley Cup championships since the New York Islanders had their dynasty in the early 1980s had they beat the Kings in Game 7. To win a fourth Stanley Cup championship in the last seven years would be unprecedented, and make the Blackhawks an official dynasty. However, this series is a toss-up, and there are more questions for the Blackhawks than there are for the Blues.

  1. Can they win Game 1 without Dunncan Keith, who is serving the final game of a six-game suspension for slashing Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle with the intent to injure.
  2. Is Duncan Keith 100% healthy when he is eligible to play in Game 2?
  3. Is the defense deep enough to beat the Blues? A team needs four defensemen to hold fort the blue line, but Trevor Van Riemsdyk, a defenseman who’s actually playing his first full season in the NHL, is a “sixth” defenseman playing as a “fourth”; Victor Svedberg and Erik Gustafsson, both rookie defensemen with minimal NHL experience, play where van Riemsdyk was as the so-called “fifth” defenseman; and elder skatesman, 27-year old Michal Rozsival and veteran defenseman, 33-year-old Christian Ehrhoff platoon themselves as the “sixth” defenseman.
  4. Is Corey Crawford 100% healthy? The best player in this series for Chicago may not be Patrick Kane, or Artemi Panarin, or Jonathan Toews, but the last line of defense is the goaltender. After missing the last three weeks of the regular season with what looked to be symptoms of vertigo, Crawford looked to be very rusty in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, in a game that actually meant nothing to Chicago. If the sixth-year goalie, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, doesn’t shake off the rink rust as soon as possible, this repeat bid will be like 2011: one and done.

The Blackhawks take pride in going deep in the playoffs year in and year out with the intent of inning the Stanley Cup. And although the Blues won the regular-season series 3-2, the Blues three wins went past 60 minutes, with the last game in St. Louis being decided in a shootout. Sure, the Hawks have played a combined 117 playoff games in the last seven postseasons, but they are the most experienced team in the playoffs, and the toughest team to eliminate in a seven-game series. In the last three years, only the Kings found a way to beat the Hawks. Good luck, St. Louis. Try and find a way to beat this team four times.

Prediction:  CHI in 6

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

P1) Anaheim Ducks vs. WWC1) Nashville Predators

After starting the season winning once in the month of October, the Anaheim Ducks rebounded to win their fourth straight Pacific Division championship. However, under Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks went one playoff round further than the previous season. but ending of the playoff season has been the same ordeal the last three years.

2013: lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round in seven games after holding a 3-2 series lead with Game 7 on home ice.

2014: lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the second round in seven games after holding a 3-2 series lead with Game 7 on home ice.

2015: lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final in seven games after holding a 3-2 series lead with Game 7 on home ice.

Logic says the Ducks should be playing in the Stanley Cup Final this year. And why not? This team is sound offensively, defensively, on special teams, and in net. When Ryan Getzlaf went, the team followed suit.. The Ducks became the first team since the 1985 New York Islanders to lead the NHL in both power play and penalty kill, and with only 192 goals allowed, John Gibson and Fredrik Andersen won the Jennings Trophy. However, the last time they faced the Nashville Predators in the playoffs, it was the Preds’ first playoff series victory in franchise history, knocking off the Ducks in six games. The Predators had a good season, putting more emphasis on offense when they traded defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus for forward Ryan Johansen. If the Predators want to repeat 2011, they have to rely on their bread and butter —their established defense — to shut down the Ducks’ offense.

Prediction:  ANA in 6

P2) Los Angeles Kings vs. P3) San Jose Sharks

Both teams has remarkable turnaround seasons from 2015, when both missed the playoffs. It especially stung more for the Kings, who became the first team since the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes to miss the playoffs as defending Stanley Cup champion. But these Kings are the same Kings that have won two Stanley Cup Championships in 2012 and 2014. To make it three in the last five, a feat that that hasn’t been done since the Edmonton Oilers won five Stanley Cups in seven years in the mid-to-late 1980s, the Kings have to clean up in the third period. During the stretch run, they let a couple of games get away from them, but other than that, these are the same LA Kings that have lost only one series in their last three playoff runs. The last time these two teams met in a playoff series, the Kings did the unthinkable — they won in seven games after being down 3-0. To erase that moment, their big three — Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski — can’t afford to go dry in this series. Their goaltender, Martin Jones — who was  Jonathan Quick’s backup when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014 — is entering his first Stanley Cup Playoff series as a starting goaltender. You talk about a baptism by fire? What Jones is doing coming out of the frying pan and into the fire against the team he was “traded” for Milan Lucic. Is it going to be enough for the Sharks to exorcise the demons of 2014? The one advantage they have entering this first-round series is their road record: away from the Shark Tank, the Sharks were 28-10-3 — the best road record in the NHL this season.

Prediction:  LA in 7

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