Home > Uncategorized > NHL Playoff Predictions: Ducks destined to hoist Stanley Cup

NHL Playoff Predictions: Ducks destined to hoist Stanley Cup

Reuters Teemu Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks last captured the Stanley Cup in 2007. With this spring's playoffs serving as Selanne's swan song, having announced his intention to retire after the season,  it seems fitting for the Finnish Flash to go out on top. That will be the case if guest blogger Jesse Gill's playoff predictions come to fruition.

Reuters
Teemu Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks last captured the Stanley Cup in 2007. With this spring’s playoffs serving as Selanne’s swan song, having announced his intention to retire after the season, it seems fitting for the Finnish Flash to go out on top. That will be the case if guest blogger Jesse Gill’s playoff predictions come to fruition.

Tis the season, to make playoff predictions before the puck drops on the NHL post-season.

Some will go bold and bank on a handful of upsets. Others will stick with the bookies and take the odds-on favourites in every round.

It is, however, a new season and anything can happen with a clean slate in a best-of-seven series. Of course, home-ice advantage is a factor and there are reasons why the 16 playoff-bound teams finished in the order they did during the regular season.

Picking the right teams in the right amount of games requires a combination of intelligence and luck. It might not be as daunting of a challenge as the recent March Madness brackets that mostly went bust, but it’s still far from a slam dunk.

Especially this spring, with parity as prevalent as ever in the NHL, a new playoff format in place and some peculiar circumstances that have resulted in marquee matchups for the opening round.

Chicago and St. Louis. San Jose and Los Angeles. Either of those pairings could easily have been the Western Conference final.

Ditto in the East, where the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are set to clash in the first round, along with an Original Six showdown between Boston and Detroit.

The other four series — Anaheim-Dallas and Colorado-Minnesota in the West, Pittsburgh-Columbus and Tampa Bay-Montreal in the East — should also provide quality entertainment and aren’t exactly shooting fish in a barrel when it comes to making predictions.

Without further ado, a few of us were up to the task, led by guest blogger Jesse Gill, who noted “There are lots of close matchups, so it should be interesting to see how many come true and which ones I look foolish on.”

Jesse Gill

Jesse Gill

Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks (1st Pacific, 54-20-8-116 PTS, 266 GF, 209 GA, +57)

vs. Dallas Stars (wild-card, 40-31-11-91 PTS, 235 GF, 228 GA, +7)

Prediction: Ducks in 4. OK, maybe the Stars will steal a game, but honestly the Ducks are going to roll through this one. They have way too strong of a team and will be rallying to win one for Teemu Selanne who is set to retire. As the top team in the West, Anaheim should be expected to make it to the final and potentially win the Stanley Cup.

Season Series: 2-1 Stars, 1-2 Ducks

Goaltending: Anaheim has the slight edge, but not by much. Having three solid options in John Gibson, Frederik Andersen and Jonas Hiller against two solid options for Dallas in Kari Lehtonen and Tim Thomas means both teams won’t have to worry about changing their netminder should any of them falter early. Gibson played three games for the Ducks near the end of the season, posting a perfect 3-0 record with a 1.33 goals-against average and .954 save percentage with one shutout. It might seem odd to use a 20-year-old goaltender in the playoffs when you have two other goalies with GAA under 2.5 and both with over 20 wins, but don’t be surprised if it happens.

Forwards: Anaheim because they have the more established Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the way compared to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in Dallas. All four are elite NHLers and should provide much of the offence in the series. The aforementioned Selanne should also be motivated in his final NHL playoffs.

Defence: Anaheim again with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Francois Beauchemin a step above a Dallas grouping that includes Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley and Sergei Gonchar.

Power play: Anaheim 16% (22nd) vs. Dallas 15.9% (23rd)

Penalty kill: Anaheim 82.2% (13th) vs. Dallas 81.4% (21st)

Colorado Avalanche (1st Central, 52-22-8-112 PTS, 250 GF, 220 GA, +30)

vs. Minnesota Wild (wild-card, 43-27-12-98 PTS, 207 GF, 206 GA, +1)

Prediction: Avalanche in 5. The Avs finished the regular season on a 7-1-2 run, and I don’t see them slowing down against the Wild. Minnesota has a good squad, but the Avs under Patrick Roy have been a force to be reckoned with this year — finishing first in arguably the league’s top division over contending teams like St. Louis and last year’s champs, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Season Series: 3-0-1 Avalanche, 1-3-1 Wild

Goaltending: Colorado has the edge in the battle of Russian netminders, Semyon Varlamov vs. Ilya Bryzgalov. Varlamov has been solid all year and Bryzgalov has been good since coming to the Wild, but I can’t see him taking them past the Avs in the first round. I don’t see Niklas Backstrom or Josh Harding coming off the injured reserve before this one is done, either. Darcy Kuemper offers the Wild another option should Bryzgalov falter.

Forwards: Colorado has a slight edge with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny vs. Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Mikael Granlund and Dany Heatley, who has been less than stellar this season with only 28 points in 76 games. Worth noting, Duchene is expected to miss the first two games due to injury.

Defence: Minnesota has a slight edge with Ryan Suter anchoring the D, but not by a lot. The Avs do have quality on the point and Erik Johnson will be relied upon heavily. Tyson Barrie is an Avs blue-liner that could also see increased ice time, having led their defence corps with a plus-17 rating in the regular season.

Power play: Colorado 19.8% (4th) vs. Minnesota 17.9% (15th)

Penalty kill: Colorado 80.7% (24th) vs. Minnesota 78.8% (27th)

St. Louis Blues (2nd Central, 52-23-7-111 PTS, 248 GF, 191 GA, +57)

vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3rd Central, 46-21-15-107 PTS, 267 GF, 220 GA, +47)

Prediction: Blackhawks in 7. This one could go either way — these teams are both contenders. I am giving the defending champs the edge, and with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews expected back, they will be tough to beat. St. Louis does have Ryan Miller between the pipes and he will have to be on his game for the Blues to win this series. The Blues also hold the special-teams advantage, so if the Hawks end up in the penalty box, the Blues could very well end up winning.

Season Series: 3-2-0 Blues, 2-1-2 Blackhawks

Goaltending: Advantage St. Louis — Miller is a little bit better than Corey Crawford, but not significantly.

Forwards: Chicago — Kane, Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are a more established group and a definite step up from Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Jaden Schwartz.

Defence: This one is a draw with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson leading the way for Chicago against Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman for St. Louis.

Power play: St. Louis 19.8% (7th) vs. Chicago 19.5% (9th)

Penalty kill: St. Louis 85.7% (2nd) vs. Chicago 81.5% (19th)

San Jose Sharks (2nd Pacific, 51-22-7-111 PTS, 249 GF, 200 GA, +49)

vs. Los Angeles Kings (3rd Pacific, 46-28-8-100 PTS, 206 GF, 174 GA, +32)

Prediction: Sharks in 6. Even though I am tipping my hat to the Kings for goaltending and defence, the Sharks are strong on special teams and put up a lot more offence than the team with the NHL’s lowest goals-against in the Kings. That gives the Sharks a slight edge, and I think they are due for a solid playoff run.

Season Series: 3-1-1 Kings, 2-2-1 Sharks

Goaltending: Kings — Antti Niemi is good, but Jonathan Quick is a bit better. They both have Stanley Cups to their credit.

Forwards: Sharks — but not by much. I’ll take Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Brent Burns over Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown. Some may disagree.

Defence: Kings — Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Robyn Regehr and the rest of the L.A. rearguards could make any goaltender look decent, so I give them the advantage over another solid group that includes Dan Boyle, Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Power play: Sharks 17.2% (19th) vs. Kings 15.1% (27th)

Penalty kill: Sharks 84.9% (7th) vs. Kings 83.1% (11th)

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins (1st Atlantic, 54-19-9-117 PTS, 261 GF, 177 GA +84)

vs. Detroit Red Wings (wild-card, 39-28-15-93 PTS, 222 GF, 230 GA, -8)

Prediction: Bruins in 5. I don’t see the Red Wings giving the Bruins a lot of trouble. The Bruins have a goal differential of 92 better this year, and despite there being a lot of people in the sports world who actually think the Red Wings have a chance, I think they will be terribly mistaken. The Bruins are the best team in the NHL this year and the odds-makers have them as the favourite to win the Cup. As much as I don’t like to say this being a Leafs fan, they are the team to beat this year. I could care less that the Red Wings won the season series, this is playoff time.

Season Series: 3-1 Red Wings, 1-3 Bruins

Goaltending: Bruins get this with Tukka Rask over Jimmy Howard in a landslide. Howard isn’t bad. Rask is just that damn good. Leafs fans can thank John Ferguson Jr. for trading the franchise goalie away for a season-and-a-half of Andrew Raycroft. It’s enough to make me want to cry myself to sleep.

Forwards: Bruins by a little bit. David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Jerome Iginla, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand are all proven playoff performers. Second-year players Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg have also been impressive this season. Reilly Smith should be pumped to play against his brother Brendan, a defenceman for Detroit. Loui Eriksson hasn’t produced as much as expected, but he could turn things up in the playoffs. The Red Wings still boast a pretty impressive squad up front, with Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and, of course, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, who have been very impressive since being called up from Grand Rapids. Nyquist so much so that he led the team in goals with 28 in only 57 games. Captain Henrik Zetterberg is still recovering from injury and is considered a long-shot to play in the first round.

Defence: Bruins get the edge here with Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Bartkoswki, Dougie Hamilton and the offensively gifted Torey Krug. The Red Wings are fairly solid as well with Niklas Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl, Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith, who, likewise, will be motivated to shut down his brother Reilly and the Bruins.

Power play: Bruins 21.7% (3rd) vs. Red Wings 17.7% (18th)

Penalty kill: Bruins 83.7% (8th) vs. Red Wings 83.1% (12th)

Pittsburgh Penguins (1st Metropolitan, 51-24-7-109 PTS, 249 GF, 207 GA, +42)

vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (wild-card, 43-32-7-93 PTS, 231 GF, 216 GA, +15)

Prediction: Penguins in 5. I can see the Blue Jackets stealing one game, even though they didn’t beat the Penguins once during the regular season.

Season Series: 5-0 Penguins, 0-5 Blue Jackets

Goaltending: Blue Jackets by a little bit. Sergei Bobrovsky was last year’s Vezina winner as the league’s top goalie and is a little better than Marc-Andre Fleury, but I wouldn’t say significantly.

Forwards: Penguins — With Sidney Crosby leading the way and Evgeni Malkin returning from a foot injury for the start of this series, plus their supporting cast of Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Lee Stempniak, Pittsburgh should prove too much to handle for the Blue Jackets. Columbus is led by Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky, while playoff veteran Nathan Horton is also sidelined with an abdominal injury after only skating in 36 games since returning from shoulder surgery in January.

Defence: The Penguins are a little more solid in this category again, with Kris Letang back in the lineup, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and rookie standout Olli Maatta stacking up nicely against James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin and company from Columbus.

Power play: Penguins 23.4% (1st) vs. Blue Jackets 19.3% (11th)

Penalty kill: Penguins 85% (5th) vs. Blue Jackets 82.1% (15th)

Tampa Bay Lightning (2nd Atlantic, 46-27-9-101 PTS, 240 GF, 215 GA, +35)

vs. Montreal Canadiens (3rd Atlantic, 46-28-8, 100PTS, 215 GF, 204 GA, +11)

Prediction: Canadiens in 7. Really, this series is a toss up. I think Montreal will win on the strength of Carey Price and recently acquired Thomas Vanek. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Steven Stamkos and company came out on top, either. This is a series that should go at least 6 or 7 games.

Season Series: 3-0-1 Lightning, 1-1-2 Canadiens

Goaltending: Honestly, I want to give this one to Montreal because I think Price is without a doubt an elite goaltender, but if Ben Bishop comes back for the Lightning, it is a very even matchup — leaving me to call this one a draw. Both teams have decent secondary options with the Canadiens boasting Peter Budaj, Dustin Tokarski and even veteran Devan Dubnyk as depth. The Lightning counter with Anders Lindback, who is likely to start Wednesday’s opener, and Latvian Olympic standout Kristers Gudlevskis, who had an impressive 38-save win in his first and only NHL start to date.

Forwards: The Canadiens, by a small margin with Vanek, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller and solid playoff performer Daniel Briere stacking up nicely against the Lightning, who will rely on one of the league’s top snipers in Stamkos. Tampa Bay will look to Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, Teddy Purcell, Alex Killorn and former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan to add secondary scoring as needed.

Defence: The Canadiens take this category as well, but not by much. It will be a battle of P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov against Victor Hedman, who had a breakout offensive year, and Matt Carle.

Power play: Lightning 18.5% (14th) vs. Canadiens 17.2% (20th)

Penalty kill: Lightning 80.7% (23rd) vs. Canadiens 85.1% (4th)

 New York Rangers (2nd Metropolitan, 45-31-6-96 PTS, 218 GF, 193 GA, +25)

vs. Philadelphia Flyers (3rd Metro, 42-30-10, 94 PTS, 236 GF, 235 GA, +1)

Prediction: Rangers in 7. This one should be close, but I don’t expect a strong defensive squad like the Rangers to drop a series to the Flyers.

Season Series: 2-2 Rangers, 2-2 Flyers

Goaltending: Rangers win this as Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot are a stronger tandem than Steve Mason and Ray Emery, and the Rangers allowed the league’s fourth-fewest goals against (193) compared to 235 by the Flyers this season.

Forwards: I’ll call this one a draw, with the Rangers bringing Marty St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin to face off with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Vincent Lecavalier. The most interesting story-line could be former linemates St. Louis and Lecavalier pitted against each other in the playoffs for the first time in their first season apart from a Tampa Bay Lightning team that they led to a Stanley Cup a decade ago.

Defence: The Rangers get the nod in this one as well, but not by a wide margin. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Giradi, Marc Staal and crew have been solid all year and should continue to provide excellent support for their goaltenders. The Flyers also have a solid group of defenders in Mark Streit, Kimmo Timonen, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossman and Luke Schenn.

Power play: Rangers 18.2% (15th) vs. Flyers 19.7% (8th)

Penalty kill: Rangers 85.3% (3rd) vs. Flyers 84.8% (7th)

As for the rest of the way, here are my early predictions assuming my first-round picks all come true:

Second Round

West Semifinals

Avalanche vs. Blackhawks — Blackhawks in 7.

Ducks vs. Sharks ­— Ducks in 6.

East Semifinals

Bruins vs. Canadiens — Bruins in 6.

Penguins vs. Rangers — Penguins in 7.

Third Round

West Final

Ducks vs. Blackhawks — Ducks in 6.

East Final

Bruins vs. Penguins — Bruins in 6.

Fourth Round

Stanley Cup Final

Ducks vs. Bruins — Ducks in 7.

Jesse Gill is a former radio broadcaster and colour commentator who dreamed of anchoring TSN, but has since changed careers and now calls Medicine Hat, Alta., home. His passion for hockey has remained strong, as a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan who also enjoys the junior ranks and the rougher side of the sport. Follow him on Twitter: @JesseGill3.

Josh Aldrich

Josh Aldrich

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

Prediction: Ducks in 7

I think the Stars will give the Ducks a heck of a run for their money. Dallas is just a solid, young team and if it can get good-to-great goaltending, the Stars will push it to the max. Plus, the Stars have basically been in playoff mode for the last month, while the Ducks have been able to coast to the finish line.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Prediction: Colorado in 6

There’s a lot to like about the Avalanche. They’re young, exciting, have a ton of firepower, a solid blue-line and Varlamov will be a finalist for the Vezina — or at least he should be. Minnesota has underwhelmed yet again this year. Six games might be generous. Raise your hand if you feel confident with Bryzgalov in net.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Prediction: St. Louis in 7

My heart says Blackhawks, but my mind says St. Louis. The Blues are as complete a team as there is in the league and are primed for a run to the Cup. The Blackhawks will give them a push, but between Crawford’s up-and-down play and injuries to Toews and Kane (they may be playing, but they are not near 100 per cent, don’t kid yourself), I don’t see Chicago coming out on top.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Prediction: Los Angeles in 7

The challenge for any team hitting the playoffs was not to play L.A. in the first round. The Kings are never a great regular-season team, but they are built for the playoffs and the addition of Gaborik has given them that extra game-breaking threat that they’ve seemingly been missing. It will be a fun series, but the Kings will advance.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

Prediction: Boston in 6

The Bruins look more like a Stanley Cup champ right now than any other team (looks like a duck, quacks like a duck . . .) and though it is always tough to give the Red Wings the short end of the stick, I think their season of injuries finally catches up to them.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5

I like the Blue Jackets a lot, I really do, but the loss of Horton to injury will take a lot of the intrigue out of this series. Pens should roll.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens

Prediction: Montreal in 7

This will be the best series of the first round in the East, but I give the edge to the Canadiens for their overall depth and for better goaltending — particularly if Bishop is banged up.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Prediction: Rangers in 6

Very interesting matchup between two teams who had huge second-half turnarounds. Both fairly evenly matched, but again, it will come down to goaltending and Lundqvist >>>>>> Mason.

Josh Aldrich is an award-winning journalist for the Red Deer Advocate, who has more than a decade in the newspaper business, including stints as sports editor for the Nanaimo Daily News and Lloydminster Meridian Booster. Follow him on Twitter: @JoshAldrich03.

 

Larry Fisher

Larry Fisher

Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

Prediction: Anaheim in 5

This will be a watch-and-learn lesson for the Stars as I fully expect Getzlaf and Perry to school Seguin and Benn. Beyond those key players, the Ducks have way more depth up front and on the back end. Kari Lehtonen is Dallas’ only hope and with Anaheim’s uncertainty in goal, I’ll give the Stars one win, but no more.

 Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Prediction: Colorado in 6

The Avs haven’t missed a beat without Duchene in their lineup and have exceeded everybody’s expectations this year. Patrick Roy has them firing on all cylinders and I don’t think Ilya Bryzgalov has any chance of stopping that momentum. I certainly wouldn’t bet on him being a difference-maker in this series, though stranger things have happened come playoff time.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Prediction: Chicago in 7

If Kane and Toews are actually healthy — or let’s say above 75 per cent healthy — then I’ll give the defending champs the benefit of doubt. The Blues were reeling to end the regular season and will need to hit the reset button sooner than later. Miller might be the better goalie, but I like Chicago’s winning experience from Crawford on out. If it comes down to a one-game-winner-takes-all situation, as I fully anticipate it could, then I think the Hawks find a way.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Prediction: San Jose in 7

This will be another lengthy, back-and-forth battle that could go either way. I like the Kings, but something tells me this is the Sharks’ year to win it all. San Jose GM Doug Wilson has been loyal to his core group and to his coach despite past playoff letdowns, and I think they will reward his stick-to-itiveness with a gritty series victory over a regional rival followed by a Cup ring.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

Prediction: Boston in 6

Detroit fought tooth and nail just to make the dance and prolong its incredible playoff streak (23 years and counting), but Boston is on another level from just about everybody else this season. The big, bad Bruins are going to impose their will on the Red Wings, pushing them around and intimidating their young forwards who overachieved in the regular season. Datsyuk, Franzen, Kronwall and Daniel Alfredsson will do their best to give Detroit a fighting chance, but I don’t think it will be nearly enough.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5

The Blue Jackets are just happy to be here, while the Penguins are motivated to make another deep playoff run this spring. Marc-Andre Fleury is determined to rebound between the pipes and I think this series will be a confidence-booster for him. Out of all the first-round series, this is as close as I came to predicting a sweep, but I think Columbus might split at home before Pittsburgh puts on the finishing touches back in Steel Town.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens

Prediction: Montreal in 6

Carey Price will be the difference in this series, stoning Steven Stamkos and Co. more often than not. Stamkos is hitting his stride again and should have lots left in the tank after missing a big chunk of the season with a broken leg. But I think his supporting cast is lacking a little in comparison to Montreal’s overall depth. If Ben Bishop was healthy, this might be a coin-flip, but he’s hurting and Tampa’s backups can’t hold a candle to Price.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Prediction: N.Y. Rangers in 7

Much like Price, King Hank (aka Henrik Lundqvist) should reign supreme in this high-octane matchup. The Flyers might have a physical advantage in this series and may be able to push around the smaller Rangers, but over time, I think New York’s all-star goaltender will propel his team past Philly. I could see lots of bad blood developing in this series and special teams will certainly impact the outcome, but I’m going with the boys from Broadway.

For what it’s worth, I’m predicting a San Jose-Boston final, with the Sharks finally winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history to erase that underachieving, choke-artist label. Or both those teams will get bounced in the first round and I’ll be the real choker. Time will tell . . . now, let the games begin.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

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