Well after being completely shattered and disappointed by the results of the NHL draft lottery, we proceed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs which begin tonight. Remember that for the first time in what seems like forever, all playoff games will be broadcast to a national audience on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC, and NHL Network.
I’ll give my predictions on the first three series to get underway tonight.
#5 Philadelphia vs. #4 Pittsburgh
Has there been more anticipation for a series than this? Here is a quick look at the brawl from the regular season.
Not only have these games been hard hitting and intense, but they’ve been up tempo and high scoring as well. This series has the makings of a classic. The Flyers also have a ridiculously good record AT Consol Energy Center. Philly also won 4 of the 6 contests this year. Jaromir Jagr will be hungry in his first playoffs in 5 years…especially against a team where he shined for a majority of his career.
On the flip side, there is a healthy 50 goal scorer in Evgeni Malkin for Pittsburgh. Of course a healthy Sidney Crosby adds a deadly combination to the offense.
Will offensive threats Daniel Briere and James van Riemsdyk be able to play? This could swing the series.
I expect an all out effort from both clubs in a series that hopefully will live up to the hype. Philadelphia in 7.
#5 Detroit vs. #4 Nashville
The matchup of these two Central division opponents was inevitable weeks ago. The question was who would get home ice advantage. 17 regulation losses combined for these teams at home is how good these teams are in front of their own fans. Detroit broke the NHL record for consecutive home wins while the Predators were fantastic with the combination of Rinne and Music City fans.
The season series is identical, each team 3-3. They are 2-1 on home ice.
All eyes in this series should be on Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. While I think he is completely overrated and nearly any goalie could have been in his skates this year and be successful, the playoffs are a different animal. Howard has never been successful in the playoffs as a professional, even in Grand Rapids.
Obviously the premiere goaltender in this series is Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. Rinne won a league high 43 games and could very well be a Vezina trophy finalist this year. The team is built around defensive hockey and if they jump on the board early, they could give the Wings fits.
Detroit has defeated Nashville in the playoffs in both of their previous meetings. This is a vastly improved Predator club and they won’t go down without a fight. Nashville in 6.
#8 Los Angeles vs. #1 Vancouver
Vancouver has been on a tear lately, going 8-1-1 down the stretch to obtain the best regular season record by a game. Home ice throughout the playoffs is always something to be excited about.
The regular season saw only 15 goals scored (excluding shootout winners) and the Canucks winning by a narrow 2-1-1 margin. The playoffs generally translate into lower scoring games so I’d expect to see at least one 1-0 game between the teams.
Los Angeles has thrived this year thanks to a defensive game and goaltender Jonathan Quick. Leading the NHL in shutouts (10), Quick will be a favorite to take home the Vezina.
Vancouver meanwhile has Roberto Luongo who has a stigma of less than stellar play in the playoffs. This despite the fact that the Canucks took the champion Boston Bruins to game 7 in the finals last year. With Cory Schneider sitting on the bench, Luongo will have to be no less than awesome to avoid having the best backup in the league take his place.
The Canucks have too much fire power and so much playoff experience on the team and Daniel Sedin is expected to return for game 1. The Kings were 29th in the league in goal scoring. Unless Quick plays even better than he did in the regular season, they’ll be exiting very
quickly soon. Vancouver in 4.