2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1 Preview
This has been one of the most wide open and entertaining NHL seasons in quite some time. I can honestly see eleven teams winning the Stanley Cup. They all have at least a plus 20 goal differential too. I expect the Washington Capitals to finally break through the Eastern Conference. Sadly, I think the Blackhawks will just end up winning it all again. But maybe the ride getting their will be too entertaining to care who wins. I expect a lot of six and seven game series.
A1 Montreal Canadiens vs. W1 New York Rangers
Season Series: 3-0 Canadiens
Playoff Series History: 8-7 Rangers
What We Learned: The Rangers knew their playoff fate for the past couple of months and I think they are grateful to be out of the Metropolitan bracket. The Canadiens won the most inconsistent division by being slightly more consistent.
Stars to Watch: All eyes will be on Max Pacioretty and Shea Weber for the Canadiens. They both need to be on the top of their game if they have any chance of winning this series. The Rangers are more of a committee than a lot of stars. Even though they didn’t have high point totals, I’ll have my eyes on the younger Rangers Michael Grabner, Chris Kreider and Jimmy Vesey. Vesey was the only prominent Ranger to post a negative plus minus though.
X-Factor: Whose going to score those playoff goals for the Canadiens? Pacioretty always seems to disappear when it matters. He has scored playoff goals but not enough. If he disappears again, the Canadiens can’t win the series. If someone else does step up for them, my money is on Alexander Radulov or Alex Galchenyuk.
Goalie Problem: As Carey Price turns so do the Canadiens. He dipped a little bit this season but it’s suffice to say he will be ready for the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist on the other hand is a wildcard. Many are saying he is on the decline of his career, which he’s numbers backup. But I think he usually raises his game to another level during the playoffs. Plus I think he knows he doesn’t have much time left.
Fun Fact: Only one player on either team had over 60 points. That was Pacioretty. Both teams use balance over stars.
Prediction: This should be a long and tight series. Even though Lundqvist is on the decline, he does well in the playoffs and should excel here again. The Canadiens never seem to change. This is basically the same team they’ve had over the last few seasons. They win games and division titles but that’s about it. They did get to the Conference Finals against these very Rangers a few season ago but that was more because the Bruins just blew it. I just don’t see them winning this series. I don’t think they will score when they need to and the Rangers are just a far deeper team. As long as Lundqvist plays well, they should win. Rangers in 7.
A2 Ottawa Senators vs. A3 Boston Bruins
Season Series: 4-0 Senators
Playoff Series History: None, although the Bruins did play the original Senators in the 20’s and lost
What We Learned: Neither of these teams can win games that matter when they need to.
Stars to Watch: Erik Karlsson is the catalyst for the Senators. He pretty much does it all and he might play half the game in this series. Never a good sign when a defenseman leads your team in scoring but that’s what happened this season. Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone are the forwards to watch. Stone didn’t have the greatest playoffs after his phenomenal rookie year. So he’ll be looking to atone. Beyond them, there isn’t much happening on this team. Brad Marchand developed into an MVP candidate and David Pastrnak developed into a pure goal scoring threat this season. Patrice Bergeron literally won all 17 face-offs he took in a game against the Lightning a few days ago and David Krejci can still get it done. An old Zdeno Chara and a banged up Torey Krug highlight the blueline. Krug may not start the series, which would be a huge blow to the Bruins.
X-Factor: I feel like both of these teams would probably have missed the playoffs if the season were a few weeks longer. The Bruins crush the Senators in special team aspects. The Senators are the lowest scoring team in the playoffs and have the second worst powerplay in the playoffs. The Bruins have the best penalty kill and the second most shorthanded goals.
Goalie Problem: Tuukka Rask has played exceptionally well in the playoffs thus far. He had an up and down regular season but he posted a career high in shutouts. Likewise, Craig Anderson has mostly strong playoffs. He had a really decent regular season too. Goaltending is one of the biggest strengths for both these teams.
Fun Fact: The Senators are the only team in the playoffs with a negative goal differential and they have the fewest regulation or overtime wins at 38.
Prediction: Since losing the Stanley Cup to the Ducks, the Senators have been to the playoffs five others times but have only been to the second round once. This team isn’t any better than any of those teams. I honestly feel that the Senators are the worst team in the playoffs. The Bruins usually do well in the playoffs. The only team that beats them is themselves. I don’t have the highest confidence in them but I think they can get it done here. Bruins in 6.
M1 Washington Capitals vs. W2 Toronto Maple Leafs
Season Series: 2-1 Capitals
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Maple Leafs young guns delivered earlier than expected. The Capitals won their third president’s trophy with Alex Ovechkin. Yeah.
Stars to Watch: This will mostly be about Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews scoring goals. Which they both need to do for their team to win. But this series will be won with their supporting casts. T.J Oshie has improved and had one of his best seasons. Nicklas Backstrom had a very underrated season. Evgeny Kuznetsov took a step back but he raises his game in the playoffs. Nazem Kadri had his best season ever. Mitchell Marner and William Nylander are the other Maple Leafs rookies to look out for.
X-Factor: What impact Justin Williams will have on the Capitals? He’s won three Stanley Cups and scores timely goals. He’s a better version of Joel Ward. He should help them tremendously. Kevin Shattenkirk was another great addition to bolster the blueline.
Goalie Problem: Fredrik Andersson had a decent season for the Maple Leafs until he got injured. Curtis McElhinney played admirably in his absence. Andersson is supposed to be ready to go for Game 1. If he is, he’s played well in the playoffs before with the Ducks. If he can’t go and McElhinney needs to play, that might be a problem. Braden Holtby is one of the best goalies in the NHL and he lead the NHL in shutouts this season. He will be ready for this series and he might need to steal a game or two. Something he is capable of doing.
Fun Fact: Auston Matthews had 40 goals as a rookie teenager. Joining the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as one of only six teenagers to score at least 40 goals. Ovechkin had more goals as a rookie (52) but he was 20 at the end of his rookie season.
Prediction: Let’s face it, the Maple Leafs are surprised they are even here. They are extremely young and inexperienced too. This match-up is basically youth vs experience. The Maple Leafs have a lot of talent though. Enough talent to upset the Capitals. A Capitals team prone to big upsets. But this Capitals team seems different. I know that’s been said every year so it’s hard to actually believe it. But just like the Sharks last season, sometimes it eventually does happen. It’s going to happen for the Capitals. Capitals in 6 or 7.
M2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. M3 Columbus Blue Jackets
Season Series: 2-2
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Penguins
What We Learned: The Blue Jackets and Penguins both get screwed by this ridiculous playoff format. The Blue Jackets won 16 games in a row and the Penguins longest streak was seven games.
Stars to Watch: One should always watch Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But particularly watch if the Blue Jackets purposely try and goad and harass Crosby. The HBK line had a big effect last season but only Phil Kessel continued dominating this season. It’ll be interesting to see if they can rekindle their magic. Cam Atkinson had a strong season and All-Star game. He should continue his current play in the playoffs. I’m more interested in seeing what veterans Brandon Saad and Scott Hartnell do than the other younger players on the Blue Jackets. Seth Jones will be tested with the top Penguin scorers.
X-Factor: Those injuries are starting to pile up for the Penguins and the worst time, again. They finally just got Olli Maatta back but will now be without Kris Letang. Up front, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Carl Hagelin are all banged up. It’s likely all will play in this series though. The Penguins weathered the injury bug last playoffs but it seems likely to catch up to them at some point. At least their goalies are healthy this time. If someone else important goes down, I think it will be too much for even them to overcome.
Goalie Problem: Sergei Bobrovsky had a Vezina wining caliber season. Now he gets to face the highest scoring team in the NHL and the team that takes the most shots. He’ll be up to the task but it won’t be easy. Matt Murray gets his second playoff go around. He only had one loss last time. Expect another strong performance but more losses this time around.
Fun Fact: The Penguins were the only team to have three players finish in the top 20 in points this season. The Blue Jackets had none. Cam Atkinson was the only player over 60 points.
Prediction: I can see the upset here, I really can. If the Blue Jackets won, I would not be surprised. Their last time in the playoffs they played the Penguins really well before losing in six. Even though it was awhile ago, you can still build on that. But experience matters and the Blue Jackets don’t have a lot of that. Even though I think they can beat the Penguins, I think it’s a little too early for the champs to go home. Crosby is playing too good to let that happen. Even if their defense will end up being even worse without Letang. Penguins in 7.
C1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. W2 Nashville Predators
Season Series: 4-1 Blackhawks
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Blackhawks
What We Learned: The Blackhawks returned to form and the Predators just hung around with less than 40 regulation or overtime wins.
Stars to Watch: Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith are the usual suspects for Chicago. Toews usually raises his game in the playoffs. The Blackhawks had almost seven players score at least 20 goals. That’s impressive and going to be a problem for other teams. For the Predators, Viktor Arvidsson emerged this season to help take the scoring load off of James Neal and Filip Forsberg. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue his pace. Neal is productive in the playoffs but Forsberg didn’t have a great postseason last year. He’ll be looking to rebound. P.K Subban played really well in the playoffs for the Canadiens and should do so for the Predators. Though he might be under added pressure in his first season with the Predators. He usually makes mistakes in those situations.
X-Factor: The Predators tend to play a lot of overtime playoff games. They were also embarrassed 5-0 by the Sharks in their last playoff game. There’s a good chance they might play with a chip on their shoulder. Also expect at least one game to go into a long overtime and the winner of it to have an advantage.
Goalie Problem: Corey Crawford hasn’t been that great the past few games. But he has a Stanley Cup and he’s struggled before, where Scott Darling filled in well, and rebounded with some big wins. I expect him to play better but if he doesn’t, he’ll get pulled. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Pekka Rinne will need to raise his game even more for the Predators to have a chance. He was just above average in his last couple of playoff appearances.
Fun Fact: With this core, the only other times the Blackhawks finished in first place they won the Stanley Cup. They also beat the Predators in the first round the other time.
Prediction: If you think the Blackhawks will lose to the Predators, you are nuts. Having said that, the Predators will keep the games close. But I don’t think the series will be close. The Blackhawks just have too much firepower and experience. Even losing in the first round, I think the Predators can a learn a lot from this series. Blackhawks in 5.
C2 Minnesota Wild vs. C3 St. Louis Blues
Season Series: 3-2 Blues
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Wild
What We Learned: The Wild were there usually streaky selves, getting hot in the middle of the season, while the Blues canned their coach and got hot at the end.
Stars to Watch: Mikael Granlund has become the Wild’s best player and Eric Staal, still producing at a high level, has been a great addition. Ryan Suter leads the back end, as usual, and logged the 3rd most minutes on the ice this season. What’s surprising to me is the Wild are the 3rd highest scoring team in the NHL. It’s basically Vladimir Tarasenko and then some other guys for the Blues. Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen being the most notable other guys. The Blues still have Alex Pietrangelo on the backend and he logged the 8th most minutes on the ice this season.
X-Factor: The Wild are a Bruce Boudreau team which doesn’t bold well for them. That usually means a great regular season followed by an early first round exit. In his first season in the playoffs with the Capitals and Ducks he lost in the first round. That’s the elephant in the room. The other one is, what happened to Zach Parise? Even though he was non existent most of the season, he’s played really for the Wild in the last two playoffs. If he can deliver again, it will make the Wild tough to beat.
Goalie Problem: Jake Allen had a roller coaster of a season. And now he’s the number one playoff goalie. Something he’s never done well with in the past. So the roller coaster won’t be ending anytime soon. Even though he ended the season well, I think it’s likely he loses his confidence early in the series. With how well Devan Dubnyk plays for the Wild, it’s hard to imagine he had such a hard time fitting in on other teams. He didn’t have the best playoffs against the Stars last season but that team was loaded. I expect him to do much better this time around.
Fun Fact: The top three plus minus leaders were all on the Minnesota Wild. That normally translates to a deep playoff run.
Prediction: Although the Blues managed to finally make the Western Conference Finals last season, this team is a fry cry from that one. The Wild just had their best season in franchise history. These are two teams heading in different directions. Other than Tarasenko, nobody on the Blues scares me. However, there are many times on paper where one team looks a lot better than the other and they find a way to lose anyway. Especially when Boudreau is the coach. But I’m thinking they buck the trend here though. Wild in 6.
P1 Anaheim Ducks vs. W1 Calgary Flames
Season Series: 4-1 Ducks
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Ducks
What We Learned: The Ducks can win a division title, five in a row now, rather easily. Putting that home ice to good use and winning a Game 7 is another story. The Flames finally put it all together in the second half to make the playoffs.
Stars to Watch: This team is slowly becoming not the Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry show anymore. Which is actually a good thing. But still keep an eye on them. Perry didn’t score a goal at all last playoffs so I imagine he’ll want to change that this time around. Rickard Rakell is now the Ducks top scoring threat but Ryan Kesler is still their best defensive weapon. The Ducks are deep on the backend but losing Cam Fowler will test that greatly. Johnny Gaudreau had a bit of a down season but he should be raring to go here. He almost averaged a point a game in his first playoff go around. He might take a lot of punishment though. Sean Monahan and rookie Matthew Tkachuk are other Flames to keep an eye on. It’s worth noting the Flames had 12 players in double digits in goals. Dougie Hamilton leads the defense.
X-Factor: These teams hate each other and I mean they really hate each other. They are also the too most penalized teams in the NHL. The key will be to keep the stars of each team out of the penalty box. Whoever does that, or just keeps their cool, will have an advantage. And don’t forget that the Flames injured Cam Fowler.
Goalie Problem: Brian Elliott has rebounded real nicely for the Flames after an awful start. He also plays well in the playoffs, more so than given credit for by the Blues. The Ducks will probably go with John Gibson, whose had a few great playoff games in his young career already. Jonathan Bernier is more than ready to go though if needed. There’s a good chance goaltending just might decide this match-up.
Fun Fact: The Flames haven’t won in Anaheim since 2004. That probably wont change now either.
Prediction: The Flames are still developing their younger players and Brian Elliott is in his first season with the team. They are progressing but they aren’t there yet. If you are looking for the Ducks to have one of their classic meltdowns, they will. Just not this early. They should win this rather easily. Ducks in 5.
P2 Edmonton Oilers vs. P3 San Jose Sharks
Season Series: 3-2 Oilers
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Oilers
What We Learned: There’s a chance Connor McDavid might be good. So good the Oilers snapped their decade long absence from the playoffs. The Sharks held the division title for most of the season and then imploded down the stretch.
Stars to Watch: Connor McDavid, obviously, but Leon Draisaitl is also pretty good too. As he demonstrated this season and in the World Cup of Hockey. Pat Maroon rounds out their top line nicely. Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic add some depth. I’m intrigued as to how Lucic plays as he’s the only Oiler with a Stanley Cup or much playoff experience. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are the two most important players on the Sharks. They need to play well. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau continue to be phased out but they are still important. Couture and Thornton are banged up though and that might cause a problem.
X-Factor: The Sharks have the significant advantage on the blueline. Brent Burns will win the Norris trophy and he leads the Sharks in goals and points. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin also bring veteran stability. The Oilers defensemen on the other hand are inexperienced and developing. They also tend to turn it over in their own zone. How they do might determine this series. If the Sharks are to win, they will have to capitalize on the the Oilers’ mistakes.
Goalie Problem: Cam Talbot had a great season for the Oilers. Which is saying something because many goalies have tried to and failed. He’s largely unproven in the postseason though. With only two games played in to his credit. But Matt Murray showed last playoffs that doesn’t matter. Martin Jones regressed a bit from last season but he was still decent. He played well in the playoffs this season but I’d imagine fatigue will set in at some point.
Fun Fact: While I did praise the Sharks advantage on the blueline. Brent Burns had the most giveaways in the NHL this season by far at 153. Andrej Sekera of the Oilers was 5th at 95. Pavelski and Couture were also high on the list. So expect turnovers in the series. The Oilers were also dead last in face-off winning percentage.
Prediction: Although this is youth vs experience just like the Capitals and Maple Leafs series, it’s also very different. These teams are going in different directions. Edmonton is a young squad with the best player in the NHL and on a hot streak. San Jose is way cold, injured and running on fumes from making the Stanley Cup finals last postseason. And you just can’t stop McDavid who just happens to be on a 14 game point streak heading into this series. Oilers will take this in 6.