2014 NHL Playoff preview

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The puck is set to drop on the 2014 NHL playoffs and I am extremely pumped for these playoffs to begin.  It is going to be an exciting couple of months.  Why not preview the first round and ultimately make a failed and very flawed Stanley Cup Finals prediction?  The NHL has some of the best playoffs around so let’s get right to it and preview the 2014 NHL playoffs:

Playoff format

jamie bennBefore we begin, a brief review of the new NHL playoff format and how it all works.  There are four divisions, two in the east (Atlantic and Metropolitan) and two in the west (Central and Pacific).  The top three teams in each division are guaranteed playoff spots while the top two highest point team s get the wild card spots.  The team with the most points plays the second wild card team and the second highest point team plays the number one wild card team.

This next part is the one that confused me for a really long time, up until yesterday quite frankly.  The number two team in one division plays the number three team in the same division.  So when you saw the match-up of Montreal against Tampa Bay, two teams with over 100 points, you were probably confused.  I was too.  The reason for the match-up t is because they are the number two and three teams in the Atlantic division.  There is no re-seeding in the playoffs like we’ve seen every other year, at least not the way we are used to seeing.  That’s part of what made the NHL playoffs so cool was the re-seeding after every round.  If the seven seed beat the two seed, they would play the one seed.  This year, I don’t think we should expect that.

Now that I’ve confused you or the NHL has confused you enough, let’s get right to some predictions for the first round…

Eastern Conference

Detroit Red Wings (Wild card #2) @ Boston Bruins (117 points) Game 1 Friday, April 18th 7:30 PM ET NBCSN

Two of the original six meet in this first round matchup.  Prior to this year, we would not have seen Detroit and Boston meet until the Stanley Cup Finals, but because the NHL made the smart move and placed both Detroit and Columbus in the eastern conference (because you know they are in the eastern time zone), we get this matchup.  The Red Wings are in the playoffs for the 23rd straight year.  That’s right. 23!  Wow!  They certainly are the model franchise that the rest of the league should strive to be like.  They’ve battled through a lot of injuries this year and are playing some of their best hockey of the year right now, but it might be too little too late against the big bad Bruins.  Led by defenseman Zdeno Chara and goalie Tuuka Rask, the Bruins won the Presiden’s Trophy, the award handed out to the team that finished with the most points in the NHL.  This is a very good squad and they are anxious the exercise the demons that led them to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals last year and make a return trip back to the Finals this year.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

Columbus Blue Jackets (Wild card #1) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd best in the east) Game 1 Wednesday, April 16 7:30 PM ET NBCSN

The Blue Jackets have been in the league since 2000 and yet this is just their second playoff appearance in franchise history.  Their only other playoff appearance in 2009, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.  Like the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets also switched conferences from the western to the eastern.  Makes a lot of sense.  This time around in the postseason, the Blue Jackets may find a little more success and by that I mean they could win at least one game.  Probably not much more than that though.  The Pittsburgh Penguins were the fifth best offensive team during the regular season and had the number one power play.  Plus they have that guy Sidney Crosby.  Yeah he’s pretty good.  The Penguins have been dealt their fair share of injuries, but they will be just fine in the playoffs and in this series.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Penguins in 5

Montreal Canadiens @ Tampa Bay Lightning (#3 Atlantic vs. #2 Atlantic) Game 1 Wednesday, April 16th 7 PM ET CNBC

This is perhaps the most intriguing match-up on the eastern conference side in terms of how even these two teams are.  Tampa Bay finished with 101 points and Montreal finished with 100.  Too bad most of the US won’t care about this game.  The Lightning traded Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan and it has worked out for them.  He’s a very good player.  Steven Stamkos is back from the ankle injury making the Lightning that much more dangerous and they have one of the best young goalies in the game in Ben Bishop.  Montreal has their own good goalie in Carey Price.  They traded form Thomas Vanek before the trade deadline to help bolster their offense.  While the Lightning seem like the more logical pick, I really like Montreal to give them a series.  This series feels like it will go the distance.  Maybe Lightning forward Ryan Malone will bring the cocaine that he got caught with that was in his car last week for the series.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Canadiens in 7

Philadelphia Flyers @ New York Rangers (#3 Metropolitan vs. #2 Metropolitan) Game 1 Thursday, April 17th 7 PM ET CNBC

Part of the reason why the NHL wanted to go to this new playoff format is to get more rivalries in the first round.  Mission accomplished with this one.  Both cities don’t like one another and these teams don’t care for each other either.  The Flyers got off to a bad start this year, forcing them to fire their head coach Peter Laviolette.  Since then, the Flyers righted the ship enough to make the playoffs.  They’ll take on a Rangers team that I think could be a sleeper to make the Stanley Cup Finals.  You need to ride a hot goalie in the playoffs and Henrik Lundqvist certainly can get hot in the playoffs for the Rangers.  They have plenty of good players that can put the puck in the back of the net.  They just haven’t done it that often.  Now is the time Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

Western Conference

Dallas Stars (Wild card #2) @ Anaheim Ducks (116 points) Game 1 Wednesday, April 16th 10 PM ET NBCSN

The Stars are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.  Their reward is one of the best teams on home ice, the Ducks.  The Ducks are phenomenal.  Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry each had over 80 points this year to lead the balanced attack.  In fact, the Ducks have the best offense in the league, number one in goals per game at 3.2.  The Stars have their work cut out for them in this series.  They have two guys who carried the team in points with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.  Both were 1-2 in goals and assists and by virtue, points.  They are going to have to have a monster series to get by the Ducks. Their playoff fate rests in goal with goalie Kari Lehtonen.  He needs to stand on his head in this series and play absolutely phenomenal for the Stars to get by.  I can see the Stars pulling off the upset…slightly.  I don’t think it’s going to happen though.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Ducks in 6

Minnesota Wild (Wild card #1) @ Colorado Avalanche (2nd best in the west) Game 1 Thursday, April 17th 9:30 PM ET CNBC

One of the feel good stories this NHL season was the Colorado Avalanche who most people had out of the playoffs and one of the worst teams in the NHL coming into this year.  Boy were we wrong.  Head coach and former Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy and GM and former Avalanche center Joe Sakic have done a remarkable job in getting the Avalanche to this point.  They have the rookie of the year in Nathan McKinnon.  He’s only 18 years old!  Wrap your head around that.  24 goals and 39 assists.  They’re one of the best scoring teams at 3.0 goals per game (4th) and have one of the best powerplays.  We know that the Wild have a lot of stars on their team like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville.  Yet this team struggles to score from time-to-time.  They need to pick it up in this series, but the Wild’s hopes of winning this series lie with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.  The Wild have had issues at the goalie position for a while and Bryzgalov hasn’t exactly been great in the postseason.  Prior to Sunday’s game against the Predators when he gave up five goals, he has played great since the Wild got him in the middle of the season.  They also need to shore up their penalty kill unit too.  At some point, the Avalanche’s youth and genuine inexperience will get to them.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Wild in 7

Los Angeles Kings (#3 Pacific) @ San Jose Sharks (#2 Pacific) Game 1 Thursday, April 17th 10:30 PM ET NBCSN

If you aren’t a huge fan of the NHL, you might not know that the San Jose Sharks struggle in the playoffs.  They’re bad, regardless of how high of a seed they are.  They just cannot break through.  Their series with the Kings promises to be a defensive battle one would imagine.  The Kings have perhaps the best goalie in the playoffs in Jonathan Quick.  He helped lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup as an #8 seed a couple years back.  He certainly can do it again, he’ll have to contain a potent Sharks team that has guys like Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau.  These guys must prove it in the postseason before I buy into them.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Kings in 6

Chicago Blackhawks (#3 Central) @ St. Louis Blues (#2 Central) Game 1 Thursday, April 17th 8 PM ET NBCSN

This series promises to be a good one.  The Blues are limping into the postseason having lost six in a row to end the season.  How can they right the ship?  Ryan Miller has to be better in goal.  They were so good for the entire season apart from the last two weeks when it all fell apart.  They’re getting a Blackhawks team that is getting healthy at the right time, getting guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews back from injury.  That makes the Blackhawks an extremely potent and dangerous team.  They’re your defending Stanley Cup champions and they’re back for a reason…they’re good.  I believe that the winner of this series wins the west.  Don’t know why I’m going with them, maybe because I think they’ll revert back to their early season form, but I’ll try the Blues in a classic series.

Full schedule and series information can be found here.

Prediction: Blues in 7

Stanley_CupI’m going to go out on a limb and take St. Louis (or Chicago) to win the western conference and in the eastern conference I like Boston to advance.  Goalie is a big reason for the Bruins.  If St. Louis (or Chicago) face Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals, I like Boston to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup and shake off the demons from last year.

Stanley Cup Champion: Boston Bruins

Enjoy the NHL playoffs everyone.  It is going to be a great couple of months!

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