The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here
For the Record: I picked the Bruins to win the Cup over the Sharks before the season (and Thunderblog) started All times Eastern
First Round Preview
Officially, the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the Divisional Semifinals.
Eastern Conference Atlantic Division Semifinals
Boston Bruins (1st Atlantic, 117 Points) vs. Detroit Red Wings (2nd Wild Card, 93 Points)
The Bruins enter the playoffs as the President’s Trophy winner, their first ever. Since the trophy’s inception in the 1985-86 season, the winner has made the Stanley Cup Finals eleven times (out of 28), winning eight Cups. Boston sports the league’s best goal differential, +84, and the second-best defense having only allowed 177 goals. The Bruins’ 261 goals are the third-highest in the NHL but lead the Eastern Conference in all three categories. The Red Wings, on the other hand, qualified for the playoffs for the 23rd-straight time — the longest active streak and fifth-longest of all time — as the East’s second wild card. The Red Wings are the only playoff team that did not: win 40 games, finish above .500, and have a positive goal differential (although the Flyers and Wild were close). This is the first time these two teams are meeting in the playoffs since the 1957 Stanley Cup Semis, when they were only six teams in the NHL. The Red Wings won the season series 3-1 this year but the Wings’ injury problems are going to be a lot to overcome in a seven game series. Bruins in five. This series begins in Boston on Friday night at 7:30 on NBCSN.
Tampa Bay Lightning (2nd Atlantic, 101 Points) vs. Montreal Canadiens (3rd Atlantic, 100 Points)
Both teams are coming into the Playoffs having won seven of their last ten games. They’ve played each other in the playoffs only once before: in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semis when the Lightning swept the Habs. The Lightning also won the season series 3-1 this year. With 46 wins, the Canadiens finished exactly how we thought they would but they did have to overcome a few midseason hiccups. Montreal is also this season’s only Canadian club to make the playoffs; this is the first time since 1973 that so few Canadians have qualified. The Lightning are one of this year’s big surprises. They came out of the gate hot and stayed hot despite loads of injuries, including Steven Stamkos for most of the season. Either team has the best chance to give the Bruins a run for their money in the Atlantic Division Finals, but I’m going with the more complete team. Canadiens in seven. This series begins in Tampa Bay on Wednesday at 7pm on CNBC.
Metropolitan Division Semifinals
Pittsburgh Penguins (1st Metropolitan, 109 Points) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (1st Wild Card, 93 Points)
JSB’s Penguins enter the playoffs as the first-ever regular season Metropolitan Division Champions but their 13-point margin over the Rangers was much larger before the Olympic Break. Columbus, on the other hand, got hot after 2014 began and used that run to stick around with the Flyers and Rangers before ultimately qualifying as the East’s first wild card for their second playoff appearance in their franchise’s history. This is the first time these two teams will meet in the postseason. Despite the cold streak, the Penguins were still able to finish 28-13 at home and sweep the five-game season series over the Blue Jackets this year. Make it 9-0 over Columbus, Pittsburgh in four. This series begins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 7:30 on NBCSN.
New York Rangers (2nd Metropolitan, 96 Points) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3rd Metropolitan, 94 Points)
I’m going to give this a larger preview as a part of my Flyers coverage but here’s a quick preview. This is the first time since 1997 that these two arch-rivals are meeting in the playoffs. These two teams split the four-game season series, each winning at home. The bad news for the Flyers, they haven’t won at MSG in their last eight trips. The puck drops at MSG on Thursday at 7 on CNBC. Full Preview coming.
Western Conference Central Division Semifinals
Colorado Avalanche (1st Central, 112 Points) vs. Minnesota Wild (1st Wild Card, 98 Points)
The Avs are this season’s biggest surprise. After selecting the mortal lock to win the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) with the first overall pick in last year’s draft in Nathan MacKinnon, the Colorado Avalanche surprised everyone by hanging around the Wild and Stars in the middle of the Central Division for the most season. The Avs furthered shocked the world by catching fire and overtaking the Central Division from the Blues and Blackhawks, both of whom were lightyears ahead of the Central pack. I’ve written this all season: Patrick Roy for Coach of the Year. The Wild, for all intents and purposes, had a disappointing season that was salvaged by the collapses of both the Phoenix Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks. Without those collapses, neither the Wild nor the Stars would have made the playoffs. That being said, Minnesota has the potential to make a run. These two teams are meeting for the third time in the playoffs, each team having won a series apiece. Colorado won four of the five regular season matchups and will repeat that in this series. The Wild are abysmal on the road while the Avs had the best road record in the NHL. Avalance in five. This series begins in Denver on Thursday at 9:30 on CNBC.
St. Louis Blues (2nd Central, 111 Points) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3rd Central, 107 Points)
Don’t let their recent records fool you, this is the heavyweight bought of the first round. St. Louis finished the season losing their last six games to fall into second in the Central while the Blackhawks, like the Penguins, have been cold since the Olympics. Much of this is due to injuries to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews but both have said “they’re set for Game 1.” The Blues have had their own injury woes, but TJ Oshie and Brendan Morrow both practiced Tuesday while David Backes did not. This is the 11th time these two Central Division Rivals will meet in the postseason; the Blackhawks have won seven of the previous ten but the Blues won the last series back in 2002. St. Louis also won three of the five regular season meetings this year. If Kane and Toes are as “all set” as they say they are, this will be an even more exciting series than should already be and should go the distance. Blackhawks in seven. This series begins in St. Louis on Thursday at 8 on NBCSN.
Pacific Division Semifinals
Anaheim Ducks (1st Pacific, 116 Points) vs. Dallas Stars (2nd Wild Card, 91 Points)
As mentioned before, the Stars snuck into the playoffs thanks to a collapse by the Phoenix Coyotes (and the post-brawl tailspin from the Vancouver Canucks). Just like Minnesota, the Star are awful on the road. In fact, the Stars and Wild both have the worst road record out of the 16 playoff teams. That is a big problem for Dallas considering their first round opponent: the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks had the second-best home record in the league and were tied for the best home record in the West. The Ducks also feature the third-highest scoring offense in the NHL. This all spells trouble for the Stars. This is the third time these two teams have meet; each have won a series with Dallas winning the most recent one in 2008 in six. This year won’t be that close, despite Dallas winning two of the three regular season games. Ducks in four. This series begins in Anaheim on Wednesday at 10 on NBCSN.
San Jose Sharks (2nd Pacific, 111 Points) vs. Los Angeles Kings (3rd Pacific, 100 Points)
One reason I am fan of the Divisional Playoff format is because of rivals playing each other more often in the playoffs. Case in point, the Sharks and Kings have only played in two series before this year; most recently, a seven-game thriller won by the Kings last year. The Kings won three of the five regular season games this year as well. The biggest reason for this is that LA has the league’s best defense, which is anchored down by Jonathan Quick. However, LA’s biggest weakness is San Jose’s biggest strength: offense. The Sharks feature the third-best offense in the league and the league’s second-best home record (tied with Anaheim). The header at the top should’ve given away my pick: CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. Sharks in six. The puck drops for this series in San Jose on Thursday at 10:30 on NBCSN.
Disagree with my picks? Let me know in the comments below.