12 April 2016

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions: 1st Round

The Stanley Cup Playoffs kick on Wednesday night and for the first time since 1970, there are no Canadians teams in the playoffs at all. And for some perspective, there were only 12 teams in the NHL that year and there were two Canadians clubs (one of whom, the Canadiens, lost out on a tiebreaker). So there's that.

The road to the Stanley Cup is now on, but who will survive the 1st Round with their dreams intact? Here are my predictions.

TV Schedule
 NHL Eastern Conference (1994 - 1997)
A1 Panthers vs. WC Islanders
Florida Panthers (1994 - 1999)New York Islanders (1973 - 1995)
Florida has been one of the surprising stories this season, using the power of Kevin Spacey to win the Atlantic division to make their first playoff appearance in four years. They are led by the ageless Jaromir Jagr, who was terrific this season, the rising star Aleksander Barkov has made a big impact and veteran goalie Roberto Luongo has been very good in net. The Islanders have their stars, most notably John Tavares, but they give up too many shots and their offense has been disappointing. I like the Panthers.
Panthers in 6

A2 Lightning vs. A3 Red Wings
Tampa Bay Lightning (1993 - 2001)Detroit Red Wings (1984 - Pres)
Normally, a team that has the kind of injuries (Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman, potentially Tyler Johnson) that have felled the Lightning of late would be in some deep trouble but against an inferior club like that of Detroit, I don't think they're in that bad of shape. Fortunately for them, they are deep and are much better where it counts the most, in net with Ben Bishop. The Red Wings will give it their all for the retiring Pavel Datsyuk but it won't be enough for the upset.
Lightning in 6

M1 Capitals vs. WC Flyers
Washington Capitals (1975 - 1995)Philadelphia Flyers (2000 - Pres)
The Capitals are the heavy favorite in this series and it is pretty easy to see why. After all, they are the superior club in virtually all areas and they have the home-ice advantage. The one concern for me was how inconsistent they were down the stretch prior to blowing out the Blues. But even then, I don't see the Flyers stealing more than a game.
Capitals in 5

M2 Penguins vs. M3 Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins (2003 - Pres)New York Rangers (1997 - 2007)
The Penguins may just be the team that nobody wants to face right now as they enter the postseason having won 14 of their last 16. As a team, they have been terrific since Mike Sullivan took over for the fired Mike Johnston in December. At least the Rangers still have King Henrik in net and he is going to have to carry them given that the defense has been disappointing, and will suffer without Ryan McDonagh. Lundqvist also hasn't played that great on the road, which will hurt them further.
Penguins in 5

 NHL Western Conference (1994 - 1997)
C1 Stars vs. WC Wild 
Dallas Stars (2014 - Pres)Minnesota Wild (2004 - Pres)
Dallas had themselves the top offense in the NHL this season, and even more impressive was that they played a decent number of games without one of their stars, Tyler Seguin. But now he's back healthy and that is huge for them. The Wild will need to shut down the vaunted Stars offense because their offense is not good enough to take advantage of an average Dallas defense. In the end, this will be four games in and four games out.
Stars in 4

C2 Blues vs. C3 Blackhawks
St. Louis Blues (1996 - 1998)Chicago Blackhawks (1990 - 1996)
Ken Hitchcock has coached some pretty good Blues teams but for him to only get out of the first one once, and that was a trip to only the second round, it's time for him to get over the hump. This would be a good opportunity to do so against the hated Blackhawks. After starting the season 32-13-4, Chicago ended it at 47-26-9. They have the stars in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews but a healthier and deeper St. Louis team will have the edge.
Blues in 7

P1 Ducks vs. WC Predators
Anaheim Ducks (2014 - Pres)Nashville Predators (2010 - 2011)
The Ducks got off to a mess of a start, sitting three games below .500 on Christmas but since then, they have gone 34-10-5. They have had the best defense in the league and a strong combination in net with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. Nashville's only shot is to generate some offense but they just don't have the kind of starpower to consistently get pucks to the back of the net.
Ducks in 5

P2 Kings vs. P3 Sharks
Los Angeles Kings (1976 - 1987)San Jose Sharks (2009 - Pres)
Where have we seen this one before? These two rivals faced off in the opening round of the playoffs last year with the Kings coming out on top in seven after the Sharks led 3-0. It is easy to discount the Sharks here given their now famous streak of coming up short in the playoffs, while the Kings generally overachieve. These two are relatively even but I think that San Jose will come out with a big chip on their shoulder and they will generate enough offense on Jonathan Quick to advance on.
Sharks in 7

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