New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins: Rangers in 6.
I’ve watched the Rangers quite a bit this season — admittedly, more than I’ve watched the Penguins — and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. They roll four effecttive lines, their defence is stacked and they are so good defensively that it doesn’t even seem to matter which goalie suits up. That’s the sign of a great team that doesn’t give up many quality scoring chances. If the defensive acumen the Rangers have displayed all season holds up in the first-round, I can’t imagine them losing to a squad they drastically outdid in the standings, and eliminated from last year’s playoffs.
Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders: Capitals in 7.
The Capitals allowed the sixth least amount of goals in the NHL this season. Their defensive game is as good as it has ever been and they’ve remained consistent throughout the year. The Islanders, however, have struggled down the stretch, creating doubt about their unexpected strong first half. Tavares aside, the Isles ended the schedule poorly, leaving me and many others wondering if they would’ve even made the playoffs had the season been a few games longer. That being said, they seem like a pesky bunch that’ll play above their heads against a Caps group that has a history of lacking intensity in the postseason. I expect the Islanders to give the Caps a scare, but I can’t see them outclassing Washington; a much deeper, and more defensively responsible club.
Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators: Senators in 7.
The Canadiens aren’t an offensive juggernaut — this is known. For all the success they’ve had this season, they’re a team that has to grind out wins, for the most part. Thanks largely to the legendary season of goaltender Carey Price the Habs have been in cruise control for months. Conversely, their opponent — the Senators — are in battle-mode. Ottawa has been playing meaningful hockey for the last two months, winning 23 of their final 29 games to come from behind and qualify for a playoff spot. And, the Sens quickly disposed of the Canadiens in five games two years ago. Bascially, I’d not be shocked at all if Ottawa upset the Montreal Canadiens in the first-round. Things are going right for the Sens, and I expect that to continue for at least a couple more weeks, but I think this one will go right down to the wire, Game 7, quite possibly overtime.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings: Lightning in 7.
This is possibly the toughest series to predict in the entire playoffs. Similarly matched teams; neither of which plays a heavy game, but can burn you with speed and embarrass you with exceptional work ethic. What sways me Tampa’s way is a mere whim. The Bolts’ top players are younger, and although experience is important, sometimes youthful enthusiasm wins the day.
Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets: Jets in 4.
The Winnipeg Jets were built for the playoffs. Their defence corps is big and mobile, their forwards attack like a streamroller, and they’re prepped — they’ve been playing meaningful hockey for awhile now, having just successfully survived a gruelling push for a playoff spot despite several injuries and suspensions to key players. On top of all that — and I believe this to be important (see Team Canada 2014) — the Jets blue line is stacked on the right side. And good right-handed defencemen are a rare commodity. The Jets are laughing with one of Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba always on the ice. Meanwhile, the Ducks have struggled in recent postseasons, and beyond Getzlaf-Perry, they aren’t overly intimidating. Couple that with a bland final month of the season and I’m not convinced Anaheim has done anything to address their recent lack of postseason success.
Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames: Canucks in 6.
It would be so easy and ballsy to pick the Calgary Flames — they’re probably the most likeable team in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. Plus, you’d be hard pressed to find any expert with high expectations for their first-round opponents, the Canucks. However, Vancouver is a little more structured and experienced than the surprising Flames. And although I would not in the slightest be surprised if Calgary’s will to win propels them to a series victory, I think the Canucks will probably teach the ambitious Flames a lesson that will sting now, but benefit them in the future.
St. Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild: Blues in 7.
This is another very difficult series to assess. The Blues have been posing as a contender for a few years now, without truly proving they’re worthy of such acclaim. Their opponent, the Wild, are no slouch either. Minnesota has posted the best record in the NHL since New Year’s. So, while they may be an underdog on paper, perhaps the Wild aren’t that far away from the Blues in terms of quality. Aside from a slow start — which carries little relevance at this time of year — there isn’t much separating these two defensively prolific hockey clubs. I logically don’t see why Minny can’t beat the Blues. That being said, I don’t think they’ll pull it off, but I believe this series will be a long and hotly contested affair and a very good team will exit the Stanley Cup tournament too early.
Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks: Blackhawks in 5.
Unless the Chicago Blackhawks are lazy because they believe too much of their own hype — which they are not known to do — I expect them to overwhelm the recently mediocre Nashville Predators. I envision a Predators Game 1 win to start the series, followed by Chicago upping the tempo and taking the contest to a place the Preds will not be able to follow — a very fast place, where elite talent and cool nerves prevail. Plus, Patrick Kane has been cleared to play, meaning the Hawks enter this series healthy, with both their Conn Smythe winners in the lineup.