2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

A1) Montréal Canadiens vs. EWC1) New York Rangers

When healthy, the Canadiens are one of the best teams in the NHL. This season, after a stretch that saw Michel Therrien lose his job and Claude Julien get rehired as head coach, the Habs coasted to another Atlantic Division title, and a first-round date with the Rangers. The Rangers come in as the first Wild Card in the Eastern Conference, finishing fourth in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division. With 102 points, the Rangers looked to be a favorite on paper…with a huge emphasis on the words “ON PAPER”. Both teams have goaltending. Both teams have defense, but the main difference in this series is that the Canadiens forwards will grind down the opposition using physical play. If the Rangers can find a way to slow down the Canadiens, maybe they might have a chance to pull off the upset.

Prediction: MTL in 6

A2) Ottawa Senators vs. A3) Boston Bruins

The Senators and the Bruins took very different paths to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Senators came in as a restructured team built to clog up the neutral zone using Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 defense. The Bruins come in as a different team after Bruce Cassidy took over as head coach in February, putting more emphasis on offense rather than defense and physicality. The key for this series is the first two games. The Bruins need to split the first two games in Ottawa if they want a shot to get through to the Second Round. The Senators won all four games in the season series , but I have a feeling, with the Bruins playoff experience, they’ll eke out some few games.

Prediction: BOS in 6

 

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

M1) Washington Capitals vs. EWC2) Toronto Maple Leafs

The Capitals came in to this season expected to win the Stanley Cup, and for a very good reason: they have the most complete team in the NHL. They dominated the season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy for a second straight season, and  were pretty much unstoppable at home, winning 31 games  — a new franchise record. Their first round playoff opponent, the Maple Leafs, had a season of resurgence behind 2016 #1 draft pick and prohibitive Calder Trophy nominee Auston Matthews. But as someone once said, they’re now a minnow in ocean full of sharks. The Caps need to prove to themselves that they can get over the second-round hump and make a deep run. this might be the best, and potentially, the only chance the Capitals will have at winning the Stanley Cup with Alex Ovechkin in the lineup.

Prediction: WSH in 5

M2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. M3) Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s been nearly two decades since there was a repeat Stanley Cup champion. The Penguins just might have the chance to repeat this year, in spit of not having the services of defenseman Kris Letang in the lineup. The Pens offense is so deep, that their defense, which will hopefully be healthy by Game 1, can make up for missing Letang. Their opponent, the Blue Jackets, had the best season in franchise history. Led by prohibitive Vezina Trophy finalist Sergei Bobrovsky, rookie defenseman Zach Werenski, and star forwards like Cam Atkinson, Brandon Saad, and team captain Nick Foligno, the Jackets might have the chance to dethrone the champs. However, the Pens are one of the most experienced playoff teams, and sometimes, that’s all you need to get through.

Prediction: PIT in 6

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION

C1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. WWC2) Nashville Predators

The Blackhawks have been the standard of success this decade, but this playoff matchup could be the hardest test the Hawks have faced so far. As good and as deep as the Hawks defense is, the Predators defense just might be better. Add the emergence of forward Viktor Arvidsson, and you might have the making of a first-round playoff upset. For the Preds, they have to take advantage of the Hawks poor special teams and poor faceoff win percentage. For the Hawks, they have to make goaltender Pekka Rinne “earn his paycheck” by peppering shots at him. The last two playoff meetings between these two teams saw the Hawks win in six games. Will the third time be the charm for the Preds?

Prediction: CHI in 6

C2) Minnesota Wild vs. C3) St. Louis Blues

The Wild had a great season, in spite of their March slump in which the Blackhawks ran away with the Central Division. Their first-round opponent, the Blues, seem to have lost no steam after changing head coaches (Mike Yeo) and trading away one of their best defenseman (Kevin Shattenkirk) to Washington at the Trade Deadline. The key to this series lie in the men between the pipes. Devan Dubnyk is one of the top three goaltenders in the NHL, and has a lot of playoff experience. Jake Allen has only a baker’s dozen worth of games of playoff experience, and the only full playoff series experience he has in net was in 2015, when this same Wild team beat the Blues in six games.

Prediction:  MIN in 6

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

P1) Anaheim Ducks vs. WWC1) Calgary Flames

The Ducks have been the standard in the Pacific Division, winning five consecutive Division championships. but in the last four years, the words “Game 7” and “Bruce Boudreau” equaled playoff disappointment. Now with Randy Carlyle back behind the bench, the Ducks look to turn things around, in spite of not having defenseman Cam Fowler for potentially the entire duration of the First Round. The Flames have to take advantage of the Ducks sans Fowler if they want to have the chance to pull off the upset.

Prediction:  ANA in 5

P2) Edmonton Oilers vs. P3) San Jose Sharks

What a difference a year makes for the Oilers. With Connor McDavid as their captain, the Oilers almost went from worst to first this season, finishing second in the Pacific and making the Playoffs for the first time since 2006. In the First Round, they face the defending Western Conference Champion Sharks who come into the Playoffs in worst possible way — limping in, losing nine of their last twelve games. Add the facial injury to Logan Couture, and this could potentially spell disaster for them. The Oilers have the advantage this series based on the sole fact that Oiler fans have been waiting for this in what seems like an eternity. To have a playoff atmosphere in the first year in your new arena is something you’ll always remember.

Prediction:  EDM in 6

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