The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here. My hockey coverage may have been spotty this season, but I was watching.
First Round Preview
Unofficially, the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the Divisional Semifinals.
Eastern Conference Atlantic Division Semifinals
Montreal Canadiens (1st Atlantic, 103 Points) vs. New York Rangers (1st Wild Card, 102 Points)
The Habs come into the playoffs with one of the best defensive units in hockey that is anchored by Carey Price. The last time these two met in the playoffs, Price was injured in Game 1 as New York went on to win the 2014 Eastern Conference Final in six games. The Rangers enter the Stanley Cup Playoffs ice cold. They finished the season with a win over the Pens, but the Rangers are banged up. Habs in six. Game 1 is tonight (Wednesday, April 12th) at 7pm on NBCSN, effectively kicking off the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ottawa Senators (2nd Atlantic, 98 Points) vs. Boston Bruins (3rd Atlantic, 95 Points)
History lesson! These Senators and the Bruins have never faced off in the playoff before. The Original Ottawa Senators, however, faced the Bruins a few in the playoffs with the most recent meeting being the 1927 Stanley Cup Finals. If you’re asking who are the Original Ottawa Senators, clink that link and read about the Pre-Original Six Era. Could be a fun pod to do. Anyway, this series is going to be a defensive grind as both teams sport top-ten goals against averages. Special teams are going to make the difference in this one: the Bruins are GREAT at it, the Sens aren’t. Bruins in Six. Game 1 is tonight at 7pm on the NHL Network.
Metropolitan Division Semifinals
Washington Capitals (1st Metropolitan, 118 Points) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (2nd Wild Card, 95 Points)
A familiar spot for the Caps; they’ve won the President’s Trophy for the second-straight year while gaining two fewer points. Despite that, this Capitals team is better, much better. The offense still hums with Ovi leading the charge but they are far and away better defensively than they were a year ago. Toronto isn’t too shabby either. A super young team led by rookie sensation Auston Matthews will be relevant for years to come, just not this year. Caps in five. Game 1 is tomorrow night at 7pm on USA. Is this the Caps’ year? Well, their second round opponent will be the winner of the next series, which looks to be GREAT.
Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd Metropolitan, 111 Points) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (3rd Metropolitan, 108 Points)
This series has the makings to be a high-flying affair. Both teams can score a lot of goals and watch out when either team gets on the power play. The big difference maker that unfortunately holds the series back from being the best in the East: Pittsburgh is banged up. An already shaky defensive core will be missing a few pieces and Torts’ Blue Jackets will capitalize. Sid the Kid and the Penguins offense will keep them hanging around but in the end, I’m picking Blue Jackets in seven. Looking into the crystal ball, CBJ gets worn out by Pittsburgh in time for their turn against the Caps. Game 1 is tonight at 7:30pm on USA.
Western Conference Central Division Semifinals
Chicago Blackhawks (1st Central, 109 Points) vs. Nashville Predators (2nd Wild Card, 94 Points)
The Hawks and Preds met two years ago in the first round and it was INTENSE. Back then, the Preds were a defensive juggernaut which has regressed since then. Chicago is still Chicago meaning they come ALIVE in the playoffs. The opening for the Preds to win maybe a game or two will be on the power play, but don’t hold your breath for that to happen. Hawks in five. Game 1 is tomorrow night at 8pm on NBCSN.
Minnesota Wild (2nd Central, 106 Points) vs. St. Louis Blues (3rd Central, 99 Points)
Another 2015 first round rematch, Minnesota has been one of the most exciting teams to watch this year. Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund lead the West’s best offense while Devan Dubnyk is a brick wall between the pipes. St. Louis is certainly a good team and Vladimir Tarasenko is a great goal scorer. The Blues defense scares me, though. Wild in six. Game 1 is tonight at 9:30pm on NBCSN.
Pacific Division Semifinals
Anaheim Ducks (1st Pacific, 105 Points) vs. Calgary Flames (1st Wild Card, 94 Points)
Both teams struggle to score a ton of goals so look out for low-scoring games. That being said, both teams have GREAT goalies, Brian Elliot in Calgary and John Gibson for Anaheim, but Anaheim’s defensemen are better. The Ducks’ goalscorers are also much more experienced as well; both in the playoffs and at beating Calgary (25-straight home wins vs. the Flames). I’m excited to see the young guns in Calgary here, Gaudreau especially, but I’ve gotta pick Ducks in six. Game 1 is tomorrow night at 10:30 on NBCSN.
Edmonton Oilers (2nd Pacific, 103 Points) vs. San Jose Sharks (3rd Pacific, 99 Points)
I’m torn here. I’ve loved following the Oilers’ season because of how great they’re going to be and seeing it start to come together is incredible (especially considering it has been a LONG 11 years in Edmonton). However, long time readers know I really LOVE the Sharks. Not as much as the Flyers and not just so I can type CHOMP CHOMP, but San Jose has always played a fun brand of hockey, plain and simple. I love Jumbo Joe, Pavelski, and Burns. McDavid and his 100 points will have their time (and it could be another dynasty): Sharks in seven. CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. This is my first for Best 1st Round Series.
Disagree with my picks? Let me know in the comments below.