Previewing the First Round of The Stanley Cup Playoffs

With the new NHL realignment making the NHL playoffs even more interesting this year, the first round features plenty of intriguing matchups.

Atlantic Division:

(1) Boston Bruins vs. (4) Detroit Red Wings: In addition to being a ratings dream for NBC,  this should be a very competitive series. You can never write out Detroit, especially with so many Stanley Cup winning veterans and a talented goalie. However, Boston also has a wealth of experience and went on a wicked stretch after the Olympic Break. If Iginla, Marchard and Bergeron can continue to score at their current pace, the Bruins will have no trouble in this series. It will be up to Jimmy Howard and the Wings D to help extend this series. My pick: Bruins in 6

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3)Montreal Canadiens: In what will be a wide open series, expect many one goal games and a series that may feature one or two overtime games. The Lightning are a very young team and very inexperienced. This issue was made worse with the earlier trade of Martin St. Louis and the loss of Ryan Malone. The strength of the Lightning this year has been on defense,  goalie Ben Bishop has played especially well lately. However, Bishop suffered a wrist injury late in the season and the Lightning will have to turn to Anders Lindback for the first few games of the series. Either goalie will have a tough time with a deep group of Montreal forwards. Montreal also has one of the best goalies in the NHL with Carey Price and it is always a guarantee that he will come to play. Despite the odds being against Tampa, they always find a way to win and have a forward by the name of Steven Stamkos. My pick: Lightning in 7

Metropolitan Division

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Columbus Blue Jackets: While this is not the most intriguing series, it should be a fast paced, fun matchup. Columbus will make their second playoff appearance in NHL history and certainly do not get an easy opponent. While Pittsburgh is not as talented as in previous years, you can never question the goal scoring ability of a team that boasts Sidney Crosby, James Neal, and Evgeni Malkin. Penguin goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury suffered through the playoffs last year, he should be fine in this first round matchup. While Columbus does have an array of savvy scoring veterans such as Brandon Dubinsky and R.J Umberger, they just do not have the firepower to stay even with Pittsburgh. In the crease they have the talents of Sergei Bobvrosky, who is one of the more talented young goalies in the league. Unfortunately Columbus fans, this is just not the group that gets this organization into the second round and they will be golfing early again this year. My pick: Pens in 5

(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Philadelphia Flyers: This will be the grittiest, nastiest and most hard-hitting series of the first round for sure. Although there are plenty of top scorers to go around, such as Nash, Giroux, and Richards, the series will come down to who physically dominates their opponent and who can stop the other’s top line. Philly has had trouble on the back end all year, New York has the advantage of having arguably the best goalie in the league: Henrik Lundqvist. While he will have his hands full with the Flyers’ top line of Hartnell-Giroux-Voracek, he is ready to take his team on a big playoff run. Both teams have a share of hard hitters and grinders that will add even more of a rivalry atmosphere to this series. In the end, Lundqvist and New York’s top snipers will prevail over a weak Flyers’ D and goaltender Steve Mason. My pick: Rangers in 6


Central Division

(1) Colorado Avalanche vs (4) Minnesota Wild:  It is a shock to everyone around the NHL to even be mentioning the Avalanche and the playoffs. This should have been another rebuilding year for them, instead, they will have home ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. Coach Patrick Roy will lead a talented, but inexperienced group against a Wild team that has underachieved this year. With talent such as Jason Pominville and Zach Parise, you would think this team would be the #1 seed. However, goaltending questions have once again hurt the Wild and they will have to ride Ilya Bryzgalov in the playoffs due to injuries. Bryz has had his share of postseason struggles and will have his hands full with the talented group of young Avs forwards. This will be a very tight series and goalie Semyon Varlamov will have to show up for every game this series if the Avs hope to continue their shocking season. My pick: Avs in 6

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks: This is one series that will have the attention of nearly everyone in the hockey world. Will it be a changing of the guard in the west with the Blues advancing far in the playoffs, or will the Blackhawks continue their dominance? The Blues were the Stanley Cup favorite after acquiring Ryan Miller and Steve Ott, but lost 6 straight and suffered a rash of injuries. It isn’t even known who will be ready to go for the Blues in the first round against the defending Cup champs. Chicago will have its usual cast of characters causing trouble including Johnathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Not many teams have figured out how to stop this team in the playoffs and St. Louis doesn’t seem poised to. Ryan Miller desperately wants a Cup and you may see some crazy goaltending play, but the inconsistency in front of him and the injuries to top D man Alex Pietrangelo and sniper Vladimir Sobotka will derail Miller’s plan for at least one more season. My pick: Blackhawks in 6

Pacific Division

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (4)Dallas Stars: The Ducks are trying to rebound from last year’s disappointing playoff result, where they lost as the #2 seed to the Detroit Red Wings. This year, the get an easier opponent in the Dallas Stars, who have talent but are not a deep team. Behind forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn there isn’t much, and the team also had the 5th most giveaways this season. These two factors will be tough to overcome for the Stars, even if they are playing an Anaheim team who still hasn’t decided on a goalie. The battle is between veteran Jonas Hiller and rookies Frederick Andersen and John Gibson. Each has performed very well this year, especially Andersen who went 20-5 in his rookie year. Coach Bruce Boudreau has a tough decision ahead and each goalie will have a quick hook if he performs badly. Anaheim will have no trouble scoring, with Ryan Getzlaf, Cory Perry and the soon to be retired Teemu Selanne leading up front. This is a very hungry Ducks team, and while the Stars will be very good in a few years, it is time for Anaheim to make a deep cup run. My pick: Ducks in 5

(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Los Angeles Kings: Once again the San Jose Sharks had a tremendous regular season, and find themselves with a top seed in the playoffs. It is a familiar scene for the Sharks, who have struggled in the postseason for years, and lost to L.A in a 7 game series last year. Not much has changed for either team since last year’s meeting, and San Jose is hungry to make a deep run. It will be interesting to see if the top San Jose forwards including Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau can step up and get the puck past Johnathan Quick. L.A added a nice weapon earlier in the year with Marian Gaborik to go with Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. Although L.A has the far superior goalie in this series, San Jose is ready for a deep Cup run and will be boosted by the return of rookie winger Tomas Hertl, who has been out since December. My pick: San Jose in 7

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