Blue Line Bill’s NHL Playoff Preview

Bill Stoklosa

Often I think about the film Conan the Barbarian and the immortal question which the film poses: “What is best in life?” On the top of the list for me is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In my opinion, it is the best tournament in all of sports. Last year’s playoffs were especially entertaining, culminating in an amazing Game Seven victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Detroit Red Wings to win the Cup. Here are my predictions for how this year will pan out.

Eastern Conference

(1) Washington Capitals v. (8) Montreal Canadiens: The Capitals have been, far-and-away, the best team in the NHL this year. Their offense is incredible, led by the very talented Alex Ovechkin. They do allow a lot of goals, but all year they’ve been able to make up for their deficiencies on defense and in net by scoring a ton. They’ve also performed very well against the East’s elite except for the Devils, though they won their final matchup of the regular season against the Garden State’s finest. As for their first-round opponent, the Montreal Canadiens, they have been very streaky, but they are talented. Had they gotten a better seed they might have been able to pull off an upset. However, there is no way they are beating the Caps, who I think will go all the way and win the Cup. As for this series, Washington will win in five.

(2) New Jersey Devils v. (7) Philadelphia Flyers: This has been a weird season for the Devils, who landed star winger Ilya Kovalchuk in the middle of the season, but it is unclear if that trade actually improved the team. In fact, his lack of defensive prowess may be hurting them. Luckily for the Devils, Martin Brodeur has been playing great hockey and they should be able to beat a Philadelphia team that is pretty talented but has chronically underachieved. Expect the Devils to beat the Flyers in six, and go on to lose to the Capitals in the conference finals.

(3) Buffalo Sabres v. (6) Boston Bruins: This is a tough matchup for the Sabres, who are a bit banged up right now, and they are facing a team they did not play well against in the regular season. However, the Bruins are really struggling on offense and with Olympian Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres, I don’t think they will be able to score enough goals to win this series. Look for the Sabres to win a tough seven-game series and then lose to the Devils in round two.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins v. (5) Ottawa Senators: The Pens have made it to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals and with Sidney Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury still in top form, they will be a formidable foe again this year. Evgeni Malkin is having a down year, but I think the Pens have more than enough talent to win this series and they’ll skate past a very uneven Senators team in five games. That will set up a second round matchup with the Caps. The Caps have dominated the Pens this season and I expect that domination to continue in the playoffs.

Western Conference

(1) San Jose Sharks v. (8) Colorado Avalanche: The Sharks are again the most talented team out west, but they have a history of choking in the first round. This year, I don’t think the Sharks will make a first-round exit. Colorado is a great story, making the playoffs after a last-place finish last year. However, after a hot start, the Avs faltered down the stretch and just sneaked into the postseason. Look for the Sharks to get past the Avalanche in five, but I don’t see them getting past the Conference Finals.

(2) Chicago Blackhawks v. (7) Nashville Predators: Led by Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks ended the season strong and had a chance at the top seed in the West before losing in overtime to the Red Wings in the last game of the regular season. A big question is whether injured defensemen Brian Campbell will be ready to go in the first round. A bigger question is their goaltending, and whether Antti Niemi can get it done in the playoffs. For the first round, at least, the Blackhawks should have not trouble winning in spite of these issues. The Predators, led by Patrick Hornqvist, who scored 30 goals this year, are a better team than many are saying. However, the Blackhawks won the season series, 4-2, and I expect them to do the same thing in the playoffs, but I don’t think they will get past the second round.

(3) Vancouver Canucks v. (6) Los Angeles Kings: This year the Canucks have been winning with offense, led by the Sedin twins, instead of their usual policy of relying on goalie Roberto Luongo. Luongo has had a down year, but this team has been able to score enough to make up for that. Playing in a weak division has helped. The Kings, on the other hand, have played in a grueling division and I think they will pull off the upset in this series. I love their young stars Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, and I think they have what it takes to win in seven. However, they will not pull of a second upset in the next round.

(4) Phoenix Coyotes v. (5) Detroit Red Wings: Poor Phoenix. They have had a stupendous season that no one anticipated, and they get stuck playing one of the NHL’s hottest teams. The Coyotes have been stellar this year, thanks largely to amazing play from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. The Red Wings started off poorly but have been playing lights-out hockey lately. The offense that led them to back-to-back finals is finally in gear, and they have been getting great goaltending from young Jimmy Howard. Look for them to beat Phoenix in six, win the West, and lose to the Caps in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Contact Bill Stoklosa at [email protected].