NHL Postseason Preview: First Round

Ben Glassman

Thanks to playoff newcomers and perennial postseason contenders alike, the matchups and talent on display will make for yet another exciting postseason. Here is everything you need to know about every matchup before settling in to watch the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings. The Bruin’s shear dominance this season been well documented, but it absolutely bears repeating. Their 117 points earned them their second President’s Trophy in franchise history, their +84 goal differential was 27 goals better than anyone else in the league, and they had nine players this regular season with over 30 points. On top of all that, they lost just ten games at home the entire season, and will have home ice advantage for the entirety of the playoffs. This is not to say the Red Wings won’t put up a fight – they certainly showed impressive resolve down the final stretch of the regular season – but Tuukka Rask and the shear depth of the Bruins will be too much to handle in the end. Prediction: Bruins in five games.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. The Penguins’ defense gets a huge boost with the return of Paul Martin and Kris Letang, who will rejoin Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Olli Maata on the blueline, and although Pascal Dupuis’s season ended long ago and Evgeni Malkin is still battling a foot injury, the offense will be in good hands thanks to captain Sidney Crosby and winger James Neal. The Jacket’s lineup, however, features two standout defensemen in James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson as well as eight double-digit goal scorers. Where they really excel over the Penguins is in goal. If Sergei Bobrovsky continues his dominant play, he will be able to steal at least a couple games for his club. That advantage plus their late season success and momentum have me leaning towards an upset in round one. Prediction: Blue Jackets in seven games.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens. This is one of the toughest series to predict, as both teams play very similarly and both have solid special teams that will match up well against each other. I think the difference will be in goal once again, as Tampa’s superstar goalie Ben Bishop is trying to recover from an upper body injury sustained on April 8. He was a top seven goaltender in save percentage, goals against average, shutouts and wins all season, and is the main reason the Lighting got to the postseason in the first place. Even if he does return, he may not be 100 percent and Montreal’s high-flying offense led by Max Pacioretty Thomas Vanek, Tomas Plekanec and PK Subban will be too much to handle. Prediction: Canadiens in five games.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers. This will probably be the most entertaining series, as bad blood and intense physical play is inherent in any Flyers/Rangers game. The Flyers are one of the hotter teams in the league right now, but the Rangers have had points in eight of their last ten themselves. This season’s Blueshirts squad is built well for the playoffs, especially because of defenseman Ryan McDonough’s Norris Trophy-caliber play and an offensive system that focuses on grinding out shifts and tiring out defenses with continuous puck cycles. And while Steve Mason of the Flyers is a very good goalie in his own right, no one can debate the star status of the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, who is always a joy to watch in clutch situations. Prediction: Rangers in six games.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars. The Ducks fell just one point short of tying the Bruins for the President’s Trophy as the league’s top regular season team. They’re a talented, incredibly fast, physical team that boasts a deep lineup headlined by the league’s second-best scorer Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perreault and Cam Fowler. The Stars, meanwhile, rely heavily on captain Jamie Benn and former Bruins forward Tyler Seguin and don’t have much scoring depth beyond that. Though some people may be a little worried about the Ducks’ lack of a clear-cut number one goalie, I don’t think it will be an issue in the first round. Prediction: Ducks in four games.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild. The Avalanche surprised everyone with their level of success this year on their way to the third best record in the league. It’s no accident though, as fiery, inspiring head coach Patrick Roy has brilliantly led a group of talented young players back to hockey relevancy. The average age of the Avs’ top four scorers this season was just 20.75 years old, but they are some of the most exciting and gifted skaters in the league. With the Western Conference’s best goalie, Semyon Varlamov, backstopping Colorado, they will be pretty tough to knock out. Prediction: Avalanche in five games.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks. A month ago it looked like they were a lock for the Western Conference Finals, but since then the wheels have come off and the Blues have lost six straight and seven of their last ten. Due in large part to injuries to stars like David Backes, TJ Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis has struggled tremendously and has forced goalie Ryan Miller into a lot of work. Chicago meanwhile has maintained its consistent play, though it did see a bit of a drop off after minor injuries to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Though the Blues will get most of their players back, the Hawks are just too experienced and too sound a team to be beaten by a reeling, stumbling team like St. Louis. Prediction: Blackhawks in seven games.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings. These two teams have played each other twice in the last three postseasons and face off in the regular season all the time due to their being in the same division. Both clubs have tremendous depth at the forward position – the Sharks are led by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, while the Kings have Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. They both rely heavily on puck-posession to dictate the flow of their games and they both do so very effectively. These two California clubs are tremendously similar and there’s no doubt in my mind that the series will have to be decided in seven games. Prediction: Sharks in seven games..

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