Well, it’s that time of the year again – 16 teams get ready to battle for the ultimate prize in hockey, the Stanley Cup.
Things have returned to normal with a Maple Leafs epic collapse, the Flyers making a crazy signing (Andrew MacDonald six years, $30m? What the hell?) and Canada clinging to slim hopes of the Cup returning North of the border.
So without further adieu, here’s my look at the first round of the playoffs:
Boston Bruins v Detroit Red Wings
Detroit switched over to the East, still makes the playoffs for a 23rd time – should provide a tough matchup for the Bruins? Not a chance. The Red Wings were plagued by injuries, sure they made the playoffs, but not sure Babcock can wizard up a series win against a championship calibre Bruins team.
If there is an upset in the first round, it could be in this series – Detroit know how to win against the odds and they managed to do it all season missing key players (Read: Zetterburg, Datsyuk).
Prediction: Bruins win in 6
Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens
It all starts at the back for the lightning and without Ben Bishop in the lineup, it’s going to be all up-hill against the Canadiens. Jon Cooper says the Bolts could have him back sometime in the series, but how much truth is in that? Price got the monkey off his back in Sochii, showing he can handle the pressure, he’s the difference maker in this series.
Heck, maybe it’s my blatant patriotism (Yes, Quebec is still part of Canada Folks), but i’m pulling for the Habs to knock back the bolts and head into the second round, after that all bets are off.
Prediction: Habs win in 7
Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets
One Word: Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
Actually, if we’re honest, it’s a five game series because Fleury is due to throw up at least one duck in this series. Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski will have their hands full with the talent of the top six of Pittsburgh, while Sergei Bobrovsky would need to steal four games for the Blue Jackets to win this series.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Columbus, a team that is heavy on young talent and will look to take the most out of this post season experience.
Prediction: Penguins in 5
New York v Philadelphia
So many story lines in this series from Alain Vigneault, to Brad Richards, to Vincent Lecavalier – where to start? This series could be a bloodbath and home ice advantage could be the edge as the Rangers have owned the Flyers at Madison Square Gardens. For Brad Richards it can’t possibly be worse than last year’s post season, right? Who ended the playoffs firmly scratched from the lineup.
Steve Mason is the biggest question mark for me, can he stand tall between the Flyers pipes, or will he get a master class from his opposing number in Henrik Lundqvist?
Prediction: Rangers in 7
Anaheim Ducks v Dallas Stars
Speed will be the straw that breaks the camels back in this series, with the camel being the Stars. The duo of Getzlaf and Perry tore up the Stars, while this is the final chance for Selanne to win the Cup, providing a dynamic catalyst for the Ducks this post-season.
I’ve always liked Bruce Boudreau’s shit-kicker attitude and this could be a fun team to watch in a very strong Western Conference (What else is new?). I just don’t see a way for the Stars to hang with the big boys in this one, they’ll be lucky to steal a game.
Prediction: Ducks in 5
San Jose Sharks v LA Kings
Last year the Sharks and Kings battled it out in one of the most exciting playoff series’ (We’re not talking about that team from Toronto today), with Jonathan Quick being stellar and home ice being the winner after it was all said and done.
A physical massacre, everything left on the ice and a hobbled team moving forward for whoever wins, a shame really, with these two championship teams, that someone has to go home so early. The Sharks have been so close, so many years to really making a splash – for me – this is their year. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logon Couture and Joe Pavelski provide a high-powered offence, that hopefully Antti Niemi can hide behind.
Prediction: Sharks win in 7.
Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild
There’s no secret that i’m a big fan of Nathan MacKinnon – but the Avs have struggled for consistency up front – and the rookie will need to step up in the playoffs alongside Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly, especially without offence catalyst Matt Duchene.
Bryzgalov has filled in nicely for Harding and will be expected to stand on his head to snuff out the Avs, but the Wild have offence if they can start firing – let’s not forget they have Zach Parise, Matt Moulson, Mikko Koivu and veteran Jason Pominville tucked away in Minnesota. All that without mentioning Ryan Suter and Erik Johnson on the backend.
Prediction: Avs sneak this one in 6
St. Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks
With Ryan Miller in net, more offensive power than last season and the highest wins in Franchise history, the Blues are hoping they can overcome injuries to get past the Blackhawks. TJ Oshie, Vladamir Sobotka, Brenden Morrow, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Tarasenko and David Backes have all been hurt as of late and that doesn’t bode well for the Blues.
The Blackhawks will need their top two to set up, with Kane/Toews not having their usual standout seasons, but the defending Champions have kept their core together and are looking to repeat. Their biggest question mark remains between the pipes, will Corey Crawford return to his playoff form from last year?
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5.
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Henry is a former writer for Sportstream.ca and Host of the The Sports Show on 88.1 in Halifax. Now residing in Ontario, You can follow him on twitter at @HenryWhitfield , where he live tweets about sports far too much.