Home > Uncategorized > NHL Playoff Predictions: Guesses and Gut Feelings

NHL Playoff Predictions: Guesses and Gut Feelings

SHAUN BEST/REUTERS
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby hoists the Stanley Cup after his team beat the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Final.

It’s that time of the year again, when the real games begin. Yes, the NHL playoffs are upon us.

While my boyhood team, the Edmonton Oilers, had reason to celebrate on Tuesday — winning the NHL draft lottery for a third straight year — 16 teams enter the post-season with Stanley Cup aspirations. Some more realistic than others, of course, but when the puck drops, anything can happen.

Smart money is on certain clubs based on regular-season ranking, but upsets aren’t unprecedented and who doesn’t enjoy rooting for underdogs? With nothing to lose or gain — aside from eating crow or earning bragging rights — I’ll try my hand at the prediction game again.

May as well start in the Western Conference where much of the local and provincial interest lies. Here goes nothing . . .

Vancouver (1) vs. Los Angeles (8)

A rematch of a first-round series from two years ago that Vancouver won in six games, I’m anticipating a case of déjà vu here. Expect a low-scoring battle as Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick engage in a goaltender’s duel. I don’t see Cory Schneider factoring into the equation, at least not yet. I think the Canucks have more firepower, enough to overpower the Kings, especially if Daniel Sedin returns from his concussion to net a few goals.

Prediction: Vancouver in six.

St. Louis (2) vs. San Jose (7)

The Sharks are underdogs, but only on standing. On paper and on the ice, these two teams match up very evenly, and San Jose has playoff experience on its side. That could prove beneficial, but I have a feeling whoever wins Game 1 wins this series. If Jaroslav Halak can channel his past playoff heroics and outplay Antti Niemi, that might be the Blues’ best chance. I just think the Sharks have been here before and will find a way to prevail. Call it a hunch.

Prediction: San Jose in six.

Phoenix (3) vs. Chicago (6)

The Blackhawks are the lower seed but had the higher point total in the regular season. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews (concussion) is expected back and, despite a lengthy layoff, is likely to be an impact player in this series. The Coyotes overachieved in the eyes of most this season, and playoff success has never been their forte. The Hawks are deeper with more talent overall, so with any kind of respectable goaltending from Corey Crawford (and/or Ray Emery), they have to be considered favourites. I don’t even think it’s close.

Prediction: Chicago in five.

Nashville (4) vs. Detroit (5)

Flip a coin on this one. The experts are split and I have mixed emotions too. I know the Predators have loaded up for a playoff run, but they might have met their match in the first round. It’s hard to bet against battle-tested Detroit under any circumstances. The Red Wings’ core isn’t getting any younger, but, surprisingly, they aren’t getting any — or much — worse with age, either. Detroit might be a bit better up front; Nashville a bit better on the back end. In no scenario do I foresee a short series. Anything less than six games would be a shocking result to me. Heads or tails . . .

Prediction: Detroit in seven.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

N.Y. Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa (8)

The Senators are getting some love in mainstream media, maybe because they are Canada’s other team or because they won the season series 3-1. I’m not buying it. New York was a top team from start to finish and doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses for Ottawa to exploit. Stranger things have happened and who knows if the Sens can snatch a split of the first two games in the Big Apple, but I’m going with my gut — and the bookies — on this series.

Prediction: New York in five.

Boston (2) vs. Washington (7)

The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins won’t have an easy path to repeating. Don’t plan another parade in Beantown just yet. The Capitals aren’t burdened by expectations for a change and I fully expect Washington to embrace its underdog status. The Capitals have all the skill in the world, but their heart is often called into question. No better time than now for captain Alex Ovechkin and Co. to answer their critics. The goaltending matchup certainly favours Boston with reigning Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas pitted against playoff debutant Braden Holtby, but I’m sensing a coming-out party — for Holtby and the Caps.

Prediction: Washington in six.

Florida (3) vs. New Jersey (6)

Much like the Phoenix-Chicago pairing, Florida is ranked higher even though New Jersey produced more points this season. The Panthers are back in the playoff picture for the first time in a long time — like more than a decade — while the Devils are returning to the dance after a rare hiatus last spring. New Jersey appears to have the edge on paper, at least up front and in goal, plus many of its players are familiar with the post-season grind. Unless Florida wins the opener, I think the Panthers are about to be overwhelmed — much like they were back in 2000 when the Devils swept their first-round series. Dust off those brooms . . .

Prediction: New Jersey in four.

Pittsburgh (4) vs. Philadelphia (5)

This might be the most hyped series, and rightfully so. Two Cup contenders and bitter cross-state rivals facing off in the first round: It doesn’t get much better than that. Both teams have their go-to guys, but if I’m going to war and can only take one NHL roster, I’d hitch my wagon to Pittsburgh. No disrespect to Philly, I’d probably pick the Flyers over anybody else in the East, but the Penguins are legit. If Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang can stay healthy and Marc-Andre Fleury plays up to his potential, the Penguins could be unstoppable. Crosby could be rusty, or he could be fresh. That’s a matter of opinion, but as Sid showed at the Vancouver Olympics, he rises to the occasion. Given the elevated intensity here, I think Crosby emerges as the ultimate difference-maker.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in seven.

And the winner is . . .

I’ll take this one step — or three rounds — further and predict that Pittsburgh hoists hockey’s holy grail this June, defeating Chicago in five games for the Stanley Cup. Loathe it or love it, that prognostication also has Chicago beating Vancouver in the West final, while Pittsburgh knocks off Washington in the East final.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter with a passion for hockey at all levels. Follow him on Twitter @LarryFisher_KDC or email larry.fisher@ok.bc.ca.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 12, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Bold choice picking Washington to upset the Stanley Cup defenders..! respect!

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