Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions: Round 1

The quest for Lord Stanley's Mug starts Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the 15th of April, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin their long and tedious road to deciding the winner of Lord Stanley's Mug. All of the games are best of 7, and are played on the home ice of each team. The higher ranked team gets two games at home, then two at the lower ranked team's ice, after that, they alternate as need be. Using my hard-gained and great NHL knowledge, the following are my prediction for the first round of the NHL playoffs.

The East

1 Boston Bruins v. 8 Montreal Canadiens
This is the fourth time in just seven seasons that these two clubs will be matching up in the playoffs, and the third time that the Canadiens are large underdogs. The two previous meetings with Montreal being statistically lower were in 2002 and 2004; during both of these series the Canadiens managed to get a huge upset. That said, however, I think that the Bruins have a much better team then they did during those years, and they should be playing much better. The Bruins are second best in scoring in the NHL, and I expect them to use that to carry the series, both at home and away. This is going to be the closest to a blowout during these playoffs.
Boston in the fourth game

2 Washington Capitals v. 7 New York Rangers
Though the Rangers started the season out well, they have not been playing well in the final stretch. On the other hand, the Capitals have been playing well, and they have also been playing quite consistently. In the playoffs, more than in the regular season, this consistency is what is needed for a winning team. These two teams are almost exact opposites, as Washington has great offense (3rd in the league) but are 19th in defense and New York is air-tight and highly ranked in defense, but only 28th in offense. Due to these competing factors, you can expect close games, with the winner probably being the home team.
Washington in the seventh game

3 New Jersey Devils v. 6 North Carolina Hurricanes
This is a quick rematch for these two teams, as they closed out the season with a 3-2 NJ win. Even with that bit of momentum on the Devils' side, the pendulum is still swinging for the Canes as they have won 13 of their last 18 games. To win, North Carolina is going to need to learn how to score on the great Martin Brodeur, but it is indeed possible. Brodeur has been alternating in his skill throughout the season, so I believe that the series will be decided based on which version shows up for the game. Expect a close and hard hitting game, but the edge goes to North Carolina.
North Carolina in the sixth game

4 Pittsburgh Penguins v. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
There is no home ice between these two teams (as they are so close) and there is no denying the rivalry here. Expect both teams to start hitting and fighting quickly, as this is a nice rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from last year. Unlike last year, however, the Flyers have reformed their team, and they are a much larger threat the the Penguins. If Philadelphia could play as they have in the past, they should win the series easily, but they haven't been playing that well as of late. The Penguins, on the other hand, might have worse stats and rankings, but they have been playing game-in and game-out. I would expect this consistency to give Pittsburgh the edge, as they will be able to play well all of the series.
Pittsburgh in the sixth game

The West

1 San Jose Sharks v. 8 Anaheim Ducks
Though the state has three teams, this is the first time that California has teams meeting in the playoffs since 1969. These two teams probably fight the most of any grouping in the playoffs, and so we should expect a hard hitting and quick fighting brawlfest. The Sharks, who clinched the President's Cup, will be facing the Ducks, who had the strongest ending to the season of any team. This should be a good series and probably the hardest to judge. Expect this to go to all seven games and be a close final few.
Anaheim in the seventh game

2 Detroit Red Wings v. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets
This is an interesting match up, as it deals with my favorite team (and the one I cover) and a team from that state up north (we in Ohio don't like Michigan too much). The Red Wings are the defending champions, and they are trying to get back-to-back trophies. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are in the playoffs for the first time ever and are relying on their rookie phenom, Steve Mason, in goal. With these two teams only being 3 hours apart, you can expect fans from both at all of the games. Frankly, these two teams are evenly matched (split the season 3-3) and each game will probably go to the team with the first goal.
As much as I hate to say it, Detroit in the sixth game

3 Vancouver Canucks v. 6 St. Louis Blues
This series will have two of the hottest teams competing against each other - The Canucks, who went 23-7-2 in their last 32 games, and the Blues, who went 21-7-6 in their last 34. These two teams are on a roll, and so this collision should produce an interesting outcome. Both teams have amazing goalies, great special teams, and overall have good general stats. Though I believe that the Canucks will have an edge statistically on the Blues, I believe that the defensive line can shut Vancouver down, and that Chris Mason can make any and every save that he needs to make.
St. Louis in the fifth game

4 Chicago Blackhawks v. 5 Calgary Flames
These two teams have had distinctly different seasons leading to this point, and I think that that will impact the overall series. The Flames started strong and ran with it, easily holding the Northwest Division lead. Then, about a month and a half ago, they faltered and fell, falling from a potential first or second spot to the fifth. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have just played steady and strong all season, slowly growing from eighth place to their current fourth. These differences should play a strong role in the series, as Chicago will be confidant and the Flames will be nervous and scared of their own shadow. I expect this to be an easy Blackhawks victory in their first playoff showing in seven years.
Chicago in the fifth game

1 comment:

Steph Rakay said...

Great article, great predictions.
I'm so glad to see the playoffs getting a lot of recognition this year, as I've never seen so much in years past.


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