15 April 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 1st Round Predictions

The path towards Lord Stanley's Cup begins this Wednesday as the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs starts this Wednesday. This year's playoffs will have a little bit of a different look thanks to the realignment that took place before the season with the relocation of the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference, and both are in the postseason.

Here are my first round predictions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

TV Schedule & Announcers

A1 Boston Bruins vs. WC Detroit Red Wings 
Sure, the Bruins won the President's Trophy as a result for having the best record in the league, but they get rewarded with a Red Wings team in the first round that won the season series 3-1, despite having 24 less points for the year. But Detroit will suffer from having to work down the stretch to get to the postseason while Boston was able to rest their core guys. The Wings are younger than usual and have a lot of promising young talent, but their relative lack of experience and their overall inferior roster to the Bruins will find them losing to a strong Cup contender.
Bruins in 5

A2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. A3 Montreal Canadiens
The big question for the Bolts is the health of goalie Ben Bishop. He suffered an elbow injury with a week to go in the season and he has been on the shelf since, and he will miss game one. Even for one game, that's a big loss as Bishop has been awesome this year and has solidified a position that has been a mess for Tampa for years. And it's a nice step back to backup goalie Anders Lindback, who did play well down the stretch but he is still unreliable. That is going to be a turning point in a relatively even series, and the Habs will take advantage.
Canadiens in 6

M1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. WC Columbus Blue Jackets 
There is no question that the Blue Jackets have been a great story, making the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history. And while their offense is decent at best, whenever you get to go against the famously inconsistent Marc-Andre Fleury, your offense is going to have a shot. However, I think an inexperienced Jackets club that does not have the firepower that the Penguins have offensively, they will have a tough hill to climb to the second round even with an outstanding goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky.
Penguins in 5

M2 New York Rangers vs. M3 Philadelphia Flyers
When two teams hate each other as these two teams do, you know it could get wild. This should be a fun series but I do think that the Blueshirts have the upper hand here. The Flyers are a very good offensive team, with superior depth to their opponents here, but their defensive corps leaves a lot to be desired and goalie Steve Mason is not exactly a steady hand in net either.
Rangers in 6

C1 Colorado Avalanche vs. WC Minnesota Wild
There is no question that the Avs have been a big surprise this year as they roared to win the Central division and finish with the second best record in the Western Conference. Patrick Roy has done an excellent job in his first season as coach, Semyon Varlamov has been unbelievable all season long in net and looks to be a strong contender, and their offense has been quite good as they have averaged a fourth-best three goals per game. But I think their success is unsustainable and thus they are vulnerable to a surprise exit. Varlamov has seen an absurd amount of shots this year and even with a sterling .927 save percentage, he still had a relatively high 2.40 goals allowed average. And one of the biggest signs to me they are looking a better than they are is due to their poor possession numbers, fourth-worst in the league. Plus, they're a young team largely experiencing the playoffs for the first time. Minnesota has looked to get their act together late in the season, they have played strong defense and believe it or not, Ilya Bryzgalov has helped to solidify issues in goal. I think Bryzgalov will have a strong series and the Wild will pull the upset.
Wild in 7

C2 St. Louis Blues vs. C3 Chicago Blackhawks
I am very excited for this series and perhaps the Western Conference champion could come out of this series. The Blues are beat up and slumped into the playoffs, but they are loaded on the defensive end and have an excellent goaltender in Ryan Miller to plug any leaks. The Blackhawks are banged up as well, as both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have not played in weeks, but this is still a loaded roster that can light up the scoreboard. I think a slightly healthier Chicago club will do just enough to get by Miller and the Blues to advance.
Blackhawks in 7

P1 Anaheim Ducks vs. WC Dallas Stars
Similarly to the Bruins, the Ducks get rewarded for having the best record in the Western Conference by drawing a team that defeated them two out of three times in their season series. The Ducks have a tremendous offense led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry that plays fast, and their defense is very good as well. The concerns with them will be in net where we still do not know who will start, although it does look like Frederik Anderson, who was very good this year, will be the guy. The Stars are led by a star in the rejuvenated Tyler Seguin, and Jamie Benn is awesome too, but they lack the depth Anaheim has and they struggle with taking care of the pick too. It will be a tough series but I think Anaheim will survive.
Ducks in 6

P2 San Jose Sharks vs. P3 Los Angeles Kings
Another tight and fun matchup will be this NoCal/SoCal showdown out on the West Coast and you could make a case that the top teams in the conference are in this showdown. The Kings had 11 less points than their opponents have, plus their offense was a mess this year as they averaged 26th in goals-per-game, but they have an excellent defensive squad and one of the elite netminders in the game in Jonathan Quick. But even as the Sharks were inconsistent over the last few weeks of the regular season, they have a strong offense, a very good defense and a good goalie in Antti Niemi. Plus, let's not count out how good of a home ice team San Jose is.
Sharks in 6

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