It’s hard to describe the feeling that overwhelms me during spring. If there is a majesty associated with sport, the Stanley Cup playoffs is the royalty. The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in the world to win and is the oldest trophy in North American professional sports. It creates legends annually and players play through unimaginable pain. It’s just… there are no words.
This will be Part 1 of my playoff preview, and I’ll look at the Eastern Conference today and the Western Conference tomorrow. Let the best damn event in all of sports begin.
#1 Boston Bruins vs #4 Detroit Red Wings
- Season Series: Red Wings 3-1
Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins should slide past the Red Wings.
The Red Wings made the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season and in their first season in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t without question marks, though. The Red Wings set a franchise record for man-games lost to injury, including a significant chunk of time without both captain Henrik Zetterberg and superstar Pavel Datsyuk. It looked very doubtful that they would continue the longest playoff streak in the NHL.
The doubt will continue as they draw the best team of the regular season and last season’s Stanley Cup runners up, the Boston Bruins. Detroit showed masterful depth to overcome their injuries but the Bruins are that much deeper. The Bruins ran away with the season after the Olympic break and Jarome Iginla, considered to be past his prime, is playing excellent hockey along side pivot David Krejci and winger Milan Lucic.
Backing up a strong, two-way Bruins powerhouse is Finnish netminder Tuukka Rask- arguably the best goaltender in the world right now. With Zetterberg already a question for the Red Wings, old reliables like Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson will be expected to carry a bulk of the load.
I just don’t see it happening. The Wings are dotted with players of a championship pedigree, but so are the Bruins, and their’s way more youth in the B’s legs.
Boston in 5
#2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs #3 Montreal Canadiens
- Season Series: Lightning 3-0-1
It’s been a weird season for Tampa Bay. They returned to playoff form with some surprise performances and a new head coach, but
David Desharnais, Vanek and Pacioretty will be too much for Lindback.
a post Olympic break saga saw captain and leading scorer Martin St. Louis shipped to the New York Rangers for their captain, Ryan Callahan. Steven Stamkos, elite goal scorer, was still rehabbing his broken leg and when he finally returned he was without the set up man he had been with his whole career.
Despite this very public rift, last years acquisition of goaltender Ben Bishop from Ottawa was worth every bit of Cory Conacher as the mammoth American goalie amassed 37 wins in 63 games… before he got hurt.
The Lightning’s loss in net is certainly Montreal’s gain. Not only do Habs snipers have Anders Lindback to shoot at for the foreseeable, their own masked man Carey Price is raring to go after an injury shortened second half. Montreal is playing excellent hockey right now and in a match up of aggressive offences the more stingy defense undoubtedly belongs to the pride of Quebec. Montreal led the entire league in blocked shots, meaning a lot of Stamkos bruises but not a lot of goals in this series.
Not only that, Max Pacioeretty and Tomas Vanek are more threatening than Steven Stamkos right now. No St. Louis, no Bishop- no second round for the Bolts.
Montreal in 6
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #4 Columbus Blue Jackets
- Season Series: Penguins 5-0
The Penguins dominated the Blue Jackets all year. The Blue Jackets are making their second playoff appearance in franchise history. Nathan Horton, a proven playoff performer signed by Columbus last summer, is not available. Pittsburgh is offensively led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz. Columbus has first time 30-goal man Ryan Johansen.
Sergei Bobrovsky has the chops to carry Columbus to their first series victory.
It’s really amazing… that Columbus is going to win this series. The Penguins last tasted Cup glory in 2009 and made the Conference Finals last year before being man handled by the Bruins. That word right there is one of two reasons that I think Columbus will win. They’re tougher than the Penguins. By. A. Mile. At season’s end, they are (alongside the Los Angeles Kings) one of the NHL’s highest hitting teams. They have big bodies that are skilled like Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky as well as skill guys like Artem Anisimov. It will be hard for Columbus to play up to Pittsburgh level but far too easy to bring the Penguins down to theirs. They will smother Crosby and Malkin like syrup on cheap Denny’s pancakes- leaving the birds flightless.
Reason #2 that the Jackets will upset the Pens: the crease matchup. Sergei Bobrovsky proved his Vezina season during the lockout year last year was not a fluke and continued his high level of play. He remains the root of any Columbus blossoms. Marc Andre Fleury had an excellent season himself in black and Vegas gold, but his playoff history deserves heavy consideration.
Since backstopping the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009, his following four playoff campaigns have yielded the following save percentages: .891, .899, .834, and .883. In 31 playoff games since the his cup win, Fleury has an average save percentage of .864. That is just terrible and, even worse, consistent. Now, Fleury could turn around this reputation and mop up the Blue Jackets like most people expect… but I don’t see it happening. Congratulations on your first series victory in franchise history, Columbus.
Blue Jackets in 6
#2 New York Rangers vs #3 Philadelphia Flyers
This looks to be one of the closest series of the opening round. The Rangers have shifted their style under new head coach Alain
Giroux and first-year Flyer Steve Mason will be in tough against the Rangers.
Vigneault and the Flyers have a roster dotted with seven 20 goal scorers. The two squads split the season series at two games a piece. This series may be chalked up to various X-Factors.
I believe that this series hinges on the performance of 3 players: Rangers Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist and Flyer captain Claude Giroux. If Lundqvist can be the rock and Nash can elevate his level of play to the levels seen in Olympics and World Championships, the Rangers will win. If Claude Giroux can return to being the temporary best player in the world, as coined by former Flyer coach Peter Laviolette, the Flyers will win.
How do I see this series going? The Flyers prove to be too much for the Broadway Blueshirts.
Flyers in 7.
Western Preview tomorrow. Until then, enjoy a great playoff video.