09 April 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 1st Round Predictions

You know, there's nothing like the Stanley Cup Playoffs? You know why? Because it's the cup. Yes, I did just tie in the new NHL ad campaign for the postseason but why the hell not. Anyways, here are my predictions for the conference quarterfinals.

TV Schedule

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
Don't sleep on the Senators in this series. They may be the eighth seed but they won the season series 3-1. Ottawa is tremendous at putting the pucks in the net (fourth per game for the season), they're a veteran team and are well coached by rookie coach Paul MacLean. I think they will push the Rangers to the brink but what hurts them is that they are mediocre in net, and this Rangers team is pretty good on offense, especially right-winger Marian Gaborik and center Brad Richards. And they have a guy named Lundqvist in goal, and he's pretty good.
Rangers in six

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals
What could make this series a tricky one for the Bruins is if the Capitals play at their absolute best, because when that happens they can be elite. But it obviously has not happened all season as much of their team has disappointed, even Alex Ovechkin who scored the lowest points of his career by far this season. And when they have gotten in the playoffs, they struggle under the spotlight. But now the spotlight is off and they enter the playoffs winning four of five after a loss to the Sabres almost doomed them. Unless their goaltending steps up, because they have struggled in net all year, Boston will score on them at will. And as he showed last postseason, you can't score on Tim Thomas.
Bruins in five

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
We got a battle of the current and former coaches of the Panthers in current coach Kevin Dineen and Devils head man Peter DeBoer. Dineen did a great job getting this young Panthers club to the playoffs for the first time since 2000. But they have a whale of a matchup in the Devils, who really had a tremendous season after disappointing last year. Unlike most Devils teams from the past, this team can score very well with Ilya Kovalchuk playing tremendous (and actually trying on defense) as did Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. Marty Brodeur maay be getting old but he is still one of the best in net and Johan Hedburg is a very capable reserve. The Panthers can't score at all so this will be a tough series for them.
Devils in five

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers
This should be the most exciting first round series. Two teams that absolutely hate each other (and here is proof) and both could win the Cup. You have the two best offenses in terms of goals per game and both have goalies that can win games by themselves, even as Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fluery and Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov have had off seasons this year. Where I think the edge will be given to Pittsburgh is Philadelphis' mediocrity on the penalty kill, where they were 17th in the league. Against a team with the firepower like Pittsburgh, with a now healthy Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and so on, that will prove to be the falling point.
Penguins in seven

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Across the board, the Canucks are the stronger team, save for goaltending. Offensively, it really is not that close at all. Vancouver was fifth in goals per game, Los Angeles was 29th. Vancouver is also much stronger on the power play as well. But what is the great equalizer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? That's right, goaltending. Jonathan Quick was absolutely brilliant this season and makes a great case to win the Vezina Trophy. The Canucks have themselves really good goaltending with Roberto Luongo and a capable backup in Cory Schneider. Vancouver will take this series but Quick will help Los Angeles steal a pair of games.
Vancouver in six

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have been a relative disappointment this season, where they had high hopes. Meanwhile, this Blues team absolutely took off once Ken Hitchcock took over the reigns and they roared into the second seed behind the awesome goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. The Sharks' strength is on offense but they only score .2 more goals per game than St. Louis and their tremendous power play game is negated by the Blues' strength on the penalty kill thanks to their aforementioned goaltending plus their solid defense. I don't think this will be a sweep but I think it will be a relatively easy series for the Blues.
Blues in five

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
The biggest reason by far why the Coyotes were here (well, excluding the great coaching of Dave Tippett as always) is netminder Mike Smith, who had a great season. The problem though is that Phoenix struggles to score, which is never a good sign against a Blackhawks team that can light it up offensively. This is also a Chicago club that has a lot of playoff experience, including winning the Stanley Cup only a couple seasons ago. Smith will steal a game for Phoenix but that's it.
Blackhawks in five

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
I think this will probably be the best series out west. These teams are pretty equal in that both can score very well (Nashville eighth in goals per game, Detroit seventh), both are very good in net (Nashville eighth in goals allowed per game, Detroit seventh) and both clubs are tremendous well coached. Where I think the Predators have the very slight edge is that the Red Wings have been inconsistent in their last ten games, the goaltending has been spotty of late and they suck on the road. I think the home team wins every game, which of course tilts the series towards Nashville.
Predators in seven

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