The most electrifying playoffs in all of sports is upon us. This Wednesday the journey to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup begins. Now even though the Islanders couldn’t clinch a spot, I am still absolutely ecstatic. There is no hockey like Stanley Cup Playoff Hockey.
So for those of you who don’t know, this is what the first round looks like:
This is what the NHL’s sick and twisted playoff system has given us, and by god we are going to work with it. So let’s start with the Eastern Conference eh.
So we are going to start with the #1 Canadiens v. Wild Card #1 (which is bananas) Rangers. This is a series I am not particularly interested in watching. I don’t think either team will get anywhere past the 2nd round but whatever. That is not coming from an Islanders fan who could care less how far the Rangers go (yes it is). So we got the Canadiens who finished off the season atop the Atlantic Division with 103 points and the Rangers who finished 4th in the Metropolitan with 102 points, this is the exact series that shows how much the playoff system doesn’t make sense. But never the less, who’s gonna win? While this series is no where near enthralling I do believe that this is one of the harder ones to pick a winner in. This series disregards all seeding, neither of these teams are exactly heading into the playoffs on a role given they are both only on a 1-game winning streak. I think the stat that is going to make the difference in this game is the offensive strength of the teams. The Rangers have scored an unholy amount of goals this season, averaging 3.1 GPG, ranking them 4th overall in the league (not a numbers guy though). That is what is going to put them over the top in this series. Regardless of how Lundqvist has been performing this season, the offensive pressure will be enough for a series win.
Pick: Rangers in 7
Next, the #2 Senators v. #3 Bruins, another series that isn’t easy to pick a clear winner. Both teams did pretty damn well this season, finishing only 3 points apart from each other. But Boston has superiority in two aspects of the game that are very important. During the season Boston was the best penalty killing team in the league and had the 7th best power play unit. Ottawa has struggled in both of those categories, being in the bottom half of the league for both. But aside from numbers there is something about Boston, they have this ability to grind out goals that you see from few teams in the league. I think they will overwhelm Ottawa’s defense and be able to get those even strength possession goals and move on to the next round.
Pick: Boston in 6
Now the absolutely STACKED side of the bracket. The first series is the Capitals v. Maple Leafs. Who would’ve thought the Maple Leafs could do it. With a team that seems to be in stages of rebuilding and they still have enough in them to make it to the playoffs, I am extremely impressed. I think I speak for myself and many people when I say I knew how talented guys like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander are, but I had no thought in my mind that they would make the playoffs. Well not only did they prove me wrong, but they also beat out my beloved dumpster fire of a team in the playoff race, snagging that last Wild Card spot. But, unfortunately for them they have to play the Capitals in the first round. The Capitals are the best team in the league there is no doubt about that. Every stat that can be measured, they blow every other team away in. For example, probably the scariest of them all, they have a goal differential of +81. That is obscene, just not fair. The next highest is +58 from Minnesota and it isn’t even close. Because of just how much better of a team that the Capitals are, they are going to stuff the Leafs in a locker. Toronto is just far to inexperienced of a team to make a run here. They win one game in the series at best.
Pick: Capitals in 5
To cap off the Eastern Conference we have the #2 Penguins v. #3 Blue Jackets. This series is going to be absolutely electric. I have a ton of respect for the Blue Jackets, coming up from the depths of Hell last season, to being like the 4th best. Biggest rise from a team I’ve ever seen in any sport. Then you look at the reigning champ, they had exactly the year we were expecting from them. Sidney Crosby finishes off with the most goals and second most points in the league…nice. But the Penguins are a very banged up team right now. You got Kris Letang out for 4-6 months with a neck injury, Carl Hagelin who is still dealing with a lower body injury and just got back on the ice for non-contact practice, and Chris Kunitz with a lower body injury. That is the #1 and 2 left wingers and the #1 defenseman. Now knowing the Penguins, they can have a couple of warm bodies suit up and come up big for them, but I still don’t think that is enough for them to win the series. I think the absence of those guys will be too much even for the Pens. Regardless, going to be a great series to watch if you like to watch two teams that put your sorry team to shame, go against each other.
Pick: Blue Jackets in 7
Let’s start in the Central Division, #1 Blackhawks v. Wild Card #2 Predators. Now I’ve said it before, the Blackhawks are my pick to win the cup this year, and it is going to stay that way. But that isn’t saying that this series becomes irrelevant. We saw what the Predators did last year when they sat in the Wild Card spot against the Ducks, embarrassed them and also put my bracket in shambles. The Predators are dealing with another animal this year though. The Blackhawks are the best playoff team in the NHL since 2010, 65 playoff wins. This is a team that is not to be reckoned with once the month of April starts. Jonathan Toews back if not so more than just back in his normal form, Patrick Kane doing Patrick Kane things, solid goaltending in Crawford and Darling. Can’t see the series going any other way. I’ll give Nashville the benefit of the doubt though, they are definitely a good team with a very promising future.
Pick: Blackhawks in 5
So how about the #2 Wild v. #3 Blues. This is a very interesting match up. Two teams who both started and finished off in two different positions. The Wild started off on top of the world, the Blues not so much. The Wild came back to Earth at the end of the season, the Blues finished the season as one of the best teams in the league. I think what tips the series in favor of one of the teams is just straight up offense v. defense. Minnesota had 12 players with double digit goals. You take that offensive power and put it up against a defense who lost Kevin Shattenkirk, I think it is going to be tough. Minnesota’s defense is superior to St. Louis’ with Ryan Suter, Jason Brodin, Matthew Dumba, and Marco Scandella. Not to mention Devin Dubnyk who had a ridiculous season and in my opinion the #2 Vezina candidate behind Holtby. It isn’t going to be easy for them though, they still need to deal with this guy named Tarasenko, if you guys can remember he is good at hockey.
Pick: Wild in 7
Will the Ducks ruin me again this season? Based on my luck with everything else in my life, yeah they probably will. You genuinely don’t know how hard it is for me to not pick them to win the Cup again. I almost want to pick them to win until they actually do. They do the same thing every year. They win the Pacific, come in as the 1 seed, make me believe they are the real deal, convince my brain to think they can win the Cup and never do. I thought about just blogging about how the Ducks look so good the whole season and then when they hit the playoffs their offense becomes as explosive as a piece of white bread, and their defense becomes as soft as applesauce. But they are playing the Flames and they are like pretty good so let’s say, I don’t know, Ducks in 6?
Pick: Ducks in 6?
And for the final series of the Western Conference, the #2 Oilers v. #3 Sharks. Not really excited for this series but it could prove me wrong. So I don’t think it’s going to be hard for anyone to figure out who is going to be the main talk of these games, McJesus Christ himself. 20 years old, 100 points this season, probable MVP of the league, why wouldn’t he be? What really kills me is that he just turned 20 in January and is taking the league by storm, while I am sitting here on the couch in my apartment writing this blog. But this is Edmonton’s first trip to the playoffs since 2006, and they have obviously went through a successful but long rebuild. In terms of the series, the Oilers offensive production is relatively top heavy. Their top 6 scorers all are on the top 2 lines. San Jose is top heavy to an even further extent because of their recent injuries that they have faced. Logan Couture and Joe Thornton are still injured, leaving Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward, and Patrick Marleau to take even more of a work load than they had before. San Jose boasts a stronger defense but in the end I think Edmonton’s speed is going to be too much to handle.
Pick: Edmonton in 6
And that’ll do it. There will be another one of these for the second round and beyond of the playoffs. I will also be on an Islanders Front Office watch for the remainder of my life, so if anything changes you will be damn sure to hear something from me. The clock is ticking Garth.
P.S.- Jon Ledecky (Hopefully) strolling into the Islanders front office real soon: