The NHL Playoffs – The Great Unknown
by Allyus Fritz
If there is one thing we know about the NHL playoffs it’s this: anyone can win it all. Unlike the NBA where there are only three or four teams that have a realistic chance to win the championship each year, the NHL is an unpredictable tournament. Last year the Los Angeles Kings defied history and became the first 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup. The Kings were also the first team to beat the 1,2 and 3 seeds in the same playoffs. An 8 seed hadn’t made the Cup final since the Edmonton Oilers during the 2005-06 season. The Chris Pronger led Oilers would lose to the Carolina Hurricanes in 7 games.
Could this happen again? Of course it could. The seeding doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does in other sports. It’s almost a question of who is going to make a run as opposed to if. Who is this year’s dark horse? The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators have strong chances to pull upsets as 7 seeds, but I don’t see either of the 8 seeds pulling out a miracle.
The west is very top heavy, while out east playoff mainstays such as the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils all find themselves sitting at home this post season. In fact, four of the eight 2nd round teams from last year didn’t even make the playoffs.
Even though the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins were the two best teams in the NHL this season, them playing in the Stanley Cup final is not a guarantee. Both teams will need to stay healthy, while the Pens need Sidney Crosby to return and be his pre-injury self.
Here are the first round matchups and my predictions.
1. Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8 Minnesota Wild
Does anything really need to be said? The ‘Hawks are the best team in the west.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 4
2. Anaheim Ducks vs. 7 Detroit Red Wings
The Ducks were 1-2 against the Wings this season. Detroit has played well down the stretch, however Ryan Getzlaf and the ageless Teemu Selanne will be ready for the inconsistent Wings. The Ducks won’t stumble out the gate.
Prediction: Ducks in 6
3. Vancouver Canucks vs. 6 San Jose Sharks
Let the battle of the perennial chokers commence. These two squads consistently have loaded rosters and fail to bring home the bacon. San Jose has never given me a reason for me to invest any confidence in them. Ryan Kesler is back and the brothers Sedin will be ready to roll. In the end, the Canucks are the better team and win the long series.
Prediction: Canucks in 7
4. St. Louis vs. 5 Los Angeles Kings
The Kings swept the Blues out of the playoffs in last year’s 2nd round. L.A. followed that up by beating St. Louis in their three games this season by the combined score of 14-7. Over the past two seasons the Blues have lost 10 of their 11 games against the Kings. L.A.’s size negates the speed of playmakers Andy McDonald and Kevin Shattenkirk. Something about this series screams an upset, however I doubt the Blues can withstand the Kings and rack up four wins. The Kings own the Blues.
Prediction: Kings in 6
1. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 8 New York Islanders
This series will not be as lopsided as it might appear on paper, but Pittsburgh simply has too much depth to get upset. The Islanders must do what Philadelphia did last year, which is use their big bodies and try to beat Pittsburgh up as much as possible. The Isles won’t win the close games.
Prediction: Penguins in 5
2. Montreal Canadiens vs. 7 Ottawa Senators
If there is going to be an upset in this year’s playoffs it will be by the Senators. Ottawa’s Craig Anderson will outduel his counterpart in goal, Montreal’s Carey Price, who isn’t fairing as well as he was earlier in the year. After a season full of injuries, something finally goes right for Ottawa.
Prediction: Senators in 7
3. Washington Capitals vs. 6 New York Rangers
It seems like these squads play every year. It took the Rangers 7 games to beat the Caps in the Conference semis last season. This year will be different. The Caps will ride Alex Ovechkin into the 2nd round. Rangers stars Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash won’t be able to do enough.
Prediction: Capitals in 7
4. Boston Bruins vs. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Bruins have more playoff experience than the Leafs, who haven’t been invited to the dance since 2004. Both of these teams don’t like to pushed around. The Leafs led the NHL in penalty minutes and the Bruins finished fourth. If you’re looking for a series with plenty of fighting and tough guys, this one’s it. The Bruins haven’t been playing well as of late, including a 4-2 loss against Ottawa to close out the regular season. I still think the Bruins have a playoff run left in them.
Prediction: Bruins in 6
Allyus is a soon to be graduating journalism student at the University of Missouri. A native of Quincy, Illinois, Allyus grew up a fan of St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Bulls. Feel free to engage with him on his Facebook and Twitter pages.