The opening round of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs begins on Tuesday, April 30. The following is a preview of all of the first round series with a prediction on each.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #8 New York Islanders (Pittsburgh won the season series 4-1-0)
This series reminds me of the one that the Islanders had the last time they made the playoffs in 2007 when they faced the top seeded Buffalo Sabres. I see the Islanders, led by budding superstar John Tavares, putting up a fight and making the Penguins earn it but, ultimately, Pittsburgh just has too much depth (even without Sidney Crosby) for the Islanders to overcome. In the end, Crosby may not necessarily be needed for this series but the Penguins will obviously need him back in order to win the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins in 5
#2 Montreal Canadiens vs. #7 Ottawa Senators (Montreal won the season series 2-1-1)
This could be the best first round series in the East. It should be a lot of fun to see Montreal’s P.K. Subban and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson play in this one. Both players are smooth skating offensive defensemen who are game changers. Goaltending will end up being the key as it always is in the NHL playoffs. Montreal’s Carey Price has struggled too much down the stretch for my liking. I give the edge to Ottawa, as a result.
Prediction: Ottawa Senators in 6
#3 Washington Capitals vs. #6 New York Rangers (New York won the season series 2-0-1)
The Capitals and Rangers will be facing off in the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The Rangers have one series win against the Capitals during that time period and that came last year in the second round. Both of these teams had similar seasons as they each started the year off very slowly before finishing strong. The Rangers will likely be without defenseman Marc Staal which is a big blow considering he usually matches up against Alexander Ovechkin fairly well. I would be shocked if this series ends quickly. I think we are in for a goaltending duel in this one with the Capitals winning as a result of Ovechkin’s heroics.
Prediction: Washington Capitals in 6
#4 Boston Bruins vs. #5 Toronto Maple Leafs (Boston won the season series 3-1-0)
Although I am sure they wanted to win the Northeast Division, this is probably the matchup the Bruins wanted. On that note, the Bruins are probably the worst matchup for the Maple Leafs. Toronto’s Phil Kessel has really struggled against his former team and the Bruins will give him even less time and space during the playoffs. The only way Toronto wins this is if Kessel lights the lamp consistently. Boston’s suffocating style of play ends up being too much for Toronto in the end.
Prediction: Boston Bruins in 5
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #8 Minnesota Wild (Chicago won the season series 2-0-1)
The Blackhawks have been the NHL’s most dominant team all year and I do not see that coming to a halt in the first round. Minnesota just does not have enough depth to match Chicago.
Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks in 4
#2 Anaheim Ducks vs. #7 Detroit Red Wings (Detroit won the season series 2-1-0)
These two teams had very different years as Anaheim sort of coasted toward the playoffs after dominating early whereas Detroit had to win their final games to get in. I think having to play playoff type hockey down the stretch is beneficial to the Red Wings. Therefore, I am going with the upset.
Prediction: Detroit Red Wings in 6
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 San Jose Sharks (San Jose won the season series 3-0-0)
It is somewhat fitting that arguably the two most dominant teams in the West over the last handful of years are facing off in the first round. I think the window has closed on each team’s realistic chance at a Stanley Cup but this could sort of be the final nail in the coffin for the loser. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi has always had success against the Canucks going back to his days with the Blackhawks. He will be the reason why San Jose advances.
Prediction: San Jose Sharks in 6
#4 St. Louis Blues vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings (Los Angeles won the season series 3-0-0)
It is a rematch of last year’s Conference Semi-Finals where the Kings swept the Blues. In fact, the Kings have dominated the Blues over the last few years. The tide could change in this series, though. Both teams are evenly matched with the Kings having the better goaltender but the Blues having more depth at forward and on defense. The Kings won the Stanley Cup last year because their depth players stepped up, in addition to goaltender Jonathan Quick’s dominance. I had the Blues winning the Stanley Cup before the season started because I see them having the same kind of team as last year’s Kings. With that said, it will not be easy. I would be shocked if this series does not have at least a couple of overtime games. It should be a long one.
Prediction: St. Louis Blues in 7
Enjoy the playoffs. Good luck to your favorite team!
Sources: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/ and http://www.hockey-reference.com/