Stanley Cup Playoffs in Full Swing

Playoff fever has hit the NHL hard already, with just under a week of games played in the opening rounds. This week I will try to give an overview of each series, how the first few games have played out, and my opinion on which teams will make it to the next round, the conference semifinals. 

Let’s begin in the West, objectively the stronger conference with five of the last six Stanley Cup Champions in its ranks (my Boston Bruins being that sole champion from the East).

What a surprising start in the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks series. As of now, the Sharks lead 2-1 in the series, with home ice advantage in their corner having won on the road (though that may not be such an advantage, remembering that the Sharks had one of the worst home records in the entire league this year). Even though the Sharks lead, I’m siding with LA to take the series. The Sharks have choked every time in the playoffs for pretty much the past decade, and I don’t see that changing against an always clutch Kings team, with their goaltender Jonathan Quick consistently stepping up big for his team in the playoffs.

Another somewhat surprising series beginning has been the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators matchup. The Ducks won their division this year, and were not only clear favorites in this series but also predicted to make a deep playoff push. However, the Predators have taken it to them, and have a 2-0 lead in the series, also capturing home ice advantage for Games 3 and 4. As with the Kings, I see the Ducks clawing their way back into this series, relying on captain Ryan Getzlaf and star Corey Perry to lead the way.

The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks series, in my opinion, is the toughest and most talented matchup in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams had successful seasons, and both boast All-Star players such as Vladimir Tarasenko and David Backes for the Blues, and the dynamic duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the Blackhawks. The Blues lead the series two games to one, but each game has been so close, that I see no other way but an epic Game 7 showdown to determine who moves on. Hockey fans, this is the series to keep an eye on if you want to see some high-level hockey. 

The last series of the West seems a bit less interesting to me. The dominant Dallas Stars lead 2-1 in the series against the Minnesota Wild. Maybe the Wild can squeak out another game in the series, but in my mind, no question the Stars will be moving on.

Moving to the East, we find another unexciting series in the Washington Capitals/Philadelphia Flyers matchup.  The Capitals lead 3-0, having dominated the games, 2-0, 4-1 and 6-1 respectively. I anticipate the Capitals will make short work of this series, not letting it go any longer than 5 games.

The three other series seem to be pretty well matched. The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins have each taken a game, both clubs showing their desire and will to fight for every advantage. But unfortunately for all my friends rooting for the Rangers, I anticipate a sad ending for Rangers Nation: with Fleury potentially coming back from injury, and Malkin back already, I see the red-hot Penguins taking this series. 

The last two are real toss-ups in my mind. Between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings, I think the Lightning will come out on top. Even without their star captain Steven Stamkos, the Lightning have depth and experience, along with 6’7” goaltender Ben Bishop between the pipes, who I believe has the talent to support a team in a deep playoff run. As for the Florida Panthers vs. the New York Islanders, I predict, much to my chagrin, a Panthers victory. While I despise their goaltender, Roberto Luongo, he is much better than Islanders backup Thomas Greiss, who is filling in for the injured Jaroslav Halak.

These first few games have effectively kicked off what I’m sure will be another successful playoff scene for the NHL. Every team is battling, but the war that is the NHL playoffs is just getting started.