The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here
First Round Preview
Officially, the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the Divisional Semifinals.
Eastern Conference Atlantic Division Semifinals
Florida Panthers (1st Atlantic, 103 Points) vs. New York Islanders (1st Wild Card, 100 Points)
The Panthers come into the playoffs having won seven of their last ten while the Isles have won six of the last ten. The Panthers had seemed to be locked in a battle with Tampa Bay for this spot until Tampa slowed down. NYI, on the other hand, slowed down just a bit too much to allow the Penguins to zoom into 2nd place for the Metropolitan. These teams have never met in the playoffs and each have the longest outstanding playoff-series-winning-droughts so one will end this year (the Isles have the current title). Florida won two of the three games this season and with the inconsistency of the Isles coming in, I’ve gotta go with Panthers in six. Game One is Thursday night at 8pm on CNBC.
Tampa Bay Lightning (2nd Atlantic, 97 Points) vs. Detroit Red Wings (3rd Atlantic, 93 Points)
The Steve Yzerman series lives on! The Lightning cooled off towards the end of the season and locked in the 2-seed in the Atlantic Division while the Red Wings made it exciting down the stretch. The Wings and Flyers were battling for the 2nd Wild Card spot when all of a sudden: the Bruins went ice cold and the Wings extended their playoff-streak to 25-straight-years. Last year’s seven game battle was the only playoff meeting (which Tampa won in seven) and the teams split the regular season. The Lightning are battling injury but the Wings are inconsistent: Red Wings in seven. Game One is Wednesday night at 7pm on NBCSN, effectively kicking off the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Metropolitan Division Semifinals
Washington Capitals (1st Metropolitan, 120 Points) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (2nd Wild Card, 96 Points)
The Caps have won the President’s Trophy once again. When they won it in 2010, they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs, beginning the reputation of the Caps being the master choke-artists of the postseason. (I really tried to make this not sound incredibly biased.) The Capitals have been on a tear since 2016 began when the Stars started to come back to Earth and Caps kept soaring. The Flyers took a different path having at one point been in 7th in the Metropolitan Division. The two teams split the regular season series with the Flyers wins coming from overtime and a shootout. I honestly believe the Flyers have the pieces to grind this series to seven games, the big guns on the first line will just need to match Ovechkin. I think it will be a lot like the last time the teams met in 2008. If I had to bet though, I’d go Caps in six. As much as I want to be homer, Neuvirth will have to get back into form fast and Mason will need to be Stone Cold Steve Mason. I hope I’m wrong, I just don’t think the Flyers will win in less than seven games. Game One is Thursday night at 8pm on NBCSN.
Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd Metropolitan, 104 Points) vs. New York Rangers (3rd Metropolitan, 101 Points)
When I last wrote Playoff Previews two years ago, I was very adamant about the new format and how it build up divisional matchups to be more and more intense due to the greater amount of times the teams would play each other. The Penguins and Rangers have met in each of the last three years, with the Rangers having won both times in 2014 and 2015. Pittsburgh may have won three of the four meetings with NYR this year, but the injuries will finally catch up to the hottest team in hockey. Rangers in six. Game One is Wednesday night at 8pm on USA.
Western Conference Central Division Semifinals
Dallas Stars (1st Central, 109 Points) vs. Minnesota Wild (2nd Wild Card, 87 Points)
Surprisingly, this is the first time these two teams have met in the playoffs. Dallas came flying out of the gates and actually had a pretty comfy lead on the Central but gradually let St. Louis creep back into the race. The Wild are ice cold entering the playoffs losing their final five games of the regular season. The Stars are loaded with talent whereas the Wild took advantage of a weak year for the West. Stars in four. Game One is Thursday night at 9:30pm on NBCSN.
St. Louis Blues (2nd Central, 107 Points) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3rd Central, 103 Points)
Just like the Stars, St. Louis finished the season winning eight of their last ten games. In fact, St. Louis was the better team during the second half of the season. Their opponents are their archrivals to whom they have lost eight of the eleven previous series: the Blackhawks. Chicago enters the postseason trading back and forth with wins and loses. The Blackhawks’ advantage over the Blues is their higher powered offense, but St. Louis has a better defense and is one of the better road teams in the NHL. Blues in six. Game One is Wednesday night at 9:30pm on NBCSN.
Pacific Division Semifinals
Anaheim Ducks (1st Pacific, 103 Points) vs. Nashville Predators (1st Wild Card, 96 Points)
Another uneventful Division Winner/Wild Card matchup. The Ducks were a team who seemed like they could be one of 2016’s biggest disappointment’s around the All Star Break. They quickly erased that thought post-All Star Break and began to battle the Kings for the top spot. The Preds can be dangerous and actually outscored Anaheim this year overall as well as winning two of the three matchups. The Preds are just abysmal on the road and their PK unit won’t be able to match the NHL’s best PP. Ducks in five. Game One is Friday night at 10:30pm on NBCSN.
Los Angeles Kings (2nd Pacific, 102 Points) vs. San Jose Sharks (3rd Pacific, 98 Points)
The Kings barely missed out on the Pacific Division title; they won two more games than Anaheim but the Ducks were able to extend more games to OT and edged LA by a point. In the Ducks’ defense, they finished the season 6-4 and LA finished 4-6. LA’s defense is one of the best in NHL but they go up against one of the best offenses (and power plays) in the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks’ D isn’t one to doubt either as it’s ranked 10th in terms of goals allowed. I’m taking the Sharks in seven for one reason: revenge. LA’s Cup run in 2014 began by overcoming SJ’s 3-0 lead in this very 2/3 Pacific Division matchup. San Jose missed the playoffs last season basically because of the distraught. CHOMP. CHOMP. CHOMP. Game One is Thursday night at 10:30pm on CNBC.
Disagree with my picks? Let me know in the comments below.