The first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs will draw to a close on Wednesday night, the same time the second round of the playoffs commences.
On Wednesday, the round one matchup (game 7) is between the Pacific Division winning Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the first wild card team Nashville Predators. The series has been a sea saw battle as these teams are on the same level. The Ducks have two top centers in Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, and another young one in the making in Richard Rakell. The Predators have a veteran center group in Mike Riberio, Mike Fisher, and Paul Gaustad, but have a good young center in Ryan Johansen. The Predators and Ducks have two of the best defensive groups in the entire NHL, with Shea Weber and Roman Josi on Nashville; and Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm on Anaheim. The Ducks and Predators have solid goaltenders, but both starting goaltenders have not been that impressive this series. John Gibson struggled for Anaheim, but Freddrik Andersen has helped them win three straight games; Pekka Rinne stole two games in California, and helped them win game six. The winner of the series plays the San Jose Sharks, who I think stole the series from the Los Angeles Kings early.
If either team gets eliminated, it is the "demons" that surround each team. Ducks' coach Bruce Broudreau has struggled in the postseason his entire coaching career. Broudreau could not get a team with star players including Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom to the Stanley Cup; and he has not been able to get the Ducks past the Chicago Blackhawks. The Predators have not been able to get over the playoff hump for years, and the Preds think the solution is in acquiring a young number one center in Ryan Johasnen, who has only been in the playoffs once in his career.
My prediction is the Ducks take down the Predators tonight as Anaheim is a much deeper and more skilled team. The only reason I see the Predators taking down the Ducks is the exhaustion the Ducks have after a long turnaround season, going from a team near the bottom of the league and not scoring to a team winning the Pacific Division.
Second Round Matchups
P. Washington Capitals v. 2M. Pittsburgh Penguins
2A. Tampa Bay Lightning v. 1WC. New York Islanders
Z. Dallas Stars v. 2C. St. Louis Blues
2P. San Jose Sharks v. 1P. Anaheim Ducks/1WC. Nashville Predators
Eastern Conference Predictions
The Capitals are an all around talented team with skill, size, and depth. The Caps have good, young players in Tom Wilson, Andre Burkavosky, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. They have a experience and finesse in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Justin "Mr. Game 7" Williams. They have young goalies in Braden Holtby and Phillip Grabauer. Pittsburgh has tremendous skill on offense with Sidney Crosby on line one; Evegni "Geno" Malkin on line two; and Phil Kessel on line three. On defense, they have (I think) five offensive defensemen in Oli Maatta, Kris Letang, Derick Pouliot, Justin Schultz, and Trevor Daley. The Pens also have two young goalies in Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry while their number one (Marc-Andre Fleury) is out with a concussion.
Prediction: Hardest matchup to choose for me, but I think the Penguins will beat the Capitals in seven games.
The battle of No. 91 starts in south Florida where the Tampa Bay Lightning host the New York Islanders. The Bolts are a well rested team after knocking off the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games, without one of their best forwards in Steven Stamkos and defensemen in Anton Stralman. The Bolts have a young nucleus in wingers Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat; center men Vladislav Namestikov, Tyler Johnson, and Steven Stamkos; a number one defenseman in Victor Hedman; and talented goalies in Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasleivsky. The Islanders' young group consists of gritty guys in the likes of Andres Lee, Brock Nelson, and Casey Cizkas; junior forwards including Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, and Anthony Beauvillier; and a number one center in John Tavares; young defensemen in Ryan Pullock, Adam Pelech, Matt Finn, Nick Leddy, and Travis Hamonic; however, one of their best guys is veteran Johnny Boychuk. Their goaltending is a veteran duo of Jaroslav Halak (who hasn't played this postseason due to an injury) and Thomas Greiss.
Prediction: Lightning in 7.
The best team in the West takes on a dominant team in their own right. The Dallas Stars finally return to the playoffs, and are an offensive machine. On offense, they have a one-two punch in Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. They have talented wingers in Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp, and Valeri Nichkusin. Their weak defense group has playoff experience in Johnny Oduya and Kris Russell, and a young offensive defenseman in John Klingberg. Their mediocre goaltenders are Finnish teammates Kari Lehtenon and Antti Niemi. The Blues faced adversity and eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games. They have all the skill and talent in the world in year's past to go far, but Brian Elliot was sparingly used until this series. The Blues are ready to win it all, but can they win it all? They have young forwards in Vlaidimir Tarasneko, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabri; talented defensemen in Alex Piteranglo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Jay Bouwmesster; and solid goalies in Elliot and Jake Allen.
Prediction: Blues in 7. Dallas' offense will keep them in the series, but defense wins hockey games, and the Stars do not have enough of it.
The San Jose Sharks play the winner of Anaheim/Nashville. The Sharks will be able to push both teams around with their nuclei. They have a veteran group including Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau, Joel Ward, and Paul Martin; a prime group in Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edourard Vlasic; and a younger group in Logan Couture, Brendan Dillion, and Tomas Hertl. They also have a decent yet inexperienced goalie group in Martin Jones and James Reimer.
If San Jose takes on Anaheim, Ducks in 7.
If San Jose takes takes on Nashville, Sharks in 7.
What are your predictions?
More to come…