Stanley Cup playoff preview
It's like Christmas time for hockey fans as the chase for the Stanley Cup begins tonight, albeit with a new playoff format. amNewYork takes a look at each of the first round matchups aside of the Rangers-Flyers series, which can be found here.
Bruins vs. Red Wings
Boston, the Atlantic Division's top seed and the Presidents' Trophy winner, prides itself on hard-hitting defense and physicality, both of which will be issues for Detroit in the series. The Bruins' defense ranks second in the league with 2.1 goals per game, and their third-ranked power play (21.7%) also is stellar.
Netminder Tuukka Rask will shine against the Wings, whose offense was led by 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson (49 points). The Bruins should have little problem breezing past Detroit.
Prediction: Bruins in five
Penguins vs. Blue Jackets
Nobody wants anything to do with Pittsburgh because facing Sidney Crosby is a nightmare. The league leader in scoring (104 points) and assists (68) this season, "Sid the Kid" proved that his concussion woes are behind him. He and Evgeni Malkin led the Penguins' league-leading power play and both finished in the top-10 in points with the man advantage.
Although the Blue Jackets are a feel-good story, making the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season and just the second time in their existence, they do not stand much of a chance against the Metropolitan Division champs. Although Marc-Andre Fleury can be a liability between the pipes, the Penguins high octane offense will ultimately be too much for the Blue Jackets to handle.
Prediction: Penguins in four
Lightning vs. Canadiens
After missing nearly four months to a broken leg, former Maurice Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos returned on March 6 and netted 11 goals in the final 20 games of the season for the Lightning. Now fully healthy, he will be a force for the Habs to reckon with in this Atlantic Division clash.
The goaltending matchup will be one to keep an eye on, as both Carey Price and Ben Bishop are evenly matched and had excellent campaigns. Price ranked fourth in the league with a .927 save percentage for the Canadiens, and Bishop was right behind him with a .924 mark. The strong defense of the Canadiens, led by blueliners P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, will be the difference in this series.
Prediction: Canadiens in six
Ducks vs. Stars
It's hard to lose four out of seven games when you lose just 20 all season, as the Ducks did. The Pacific Division winners had the best offense in the NHL, scoring 3.2 goals per game, and their fast pace should be too much for the Stars to contend with. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will square off against Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, as young scorers are aplenty in this matchup. The lamp should be regularly lit in this series, as all four players had 79 points or more and the goalie situation is less than reliable for both teams.
The Stars' poor special teams and inexperience in the postseason will ultimately be their downfall. Although they have long-term potential and a bright future, this won't be their year.
Prediction: Ducks in five
Avalanche vs. Wild
The Wild signed winger Zach Parise and blueliner Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts prior to the 2012 season. Although they have made the playoffs in both seasons since, they will be bounced out in the first round for the second consecutive year.
Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov led the NHL in wins (41) and saves (1,867).. He had a heavy 63-game workload this season, but his Russian squad was eliminated early from the Sochi Olympics, so he got an extended midseason break.
The Central Division champion Avalanche have a balanced scoring attack, which is fourth in the league and fifth with the man advantage, and this should be enough to squeak by the Wild, whose goaltending situation is an issue, as they have started five different netminders this season.
Prediction: Avalanche in six
Sharks vs. Kings
This all-California battle in the Pacific Division may be the series to watch out west. Both of these teams play fast, but the Kings have proven winners on their roster after edging the Devils for the Stanley Cup in 2012. They also have bruisers to contend with, such as Dustin Brown, Robyn Regehr and Drew Doughty.
It'll go the distance, but ultimately the Kings will be able to contain the Sharks' high-powered offense through their physicality and league-leading, suffocating defense. It helps that Jonathan Quick has been phenomenal in his last two postseasons, going 25-13 with a .940 save percentage.
Prediction: Kings in seven
Blues vs. Blackhawks
These Central Division teams have been excellent at home this season, with the Blues going 28-9-4 and the Blackhawks going 27-7-7, so home-ice advantage will be big. The main issue with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks is the injury bug, and it has bitten the two most important players on the roster. Patrick Kane is on injured reserve due to a lower body injury, and Jonathan Toews is on the injury report because of an upper body issue. Although both players skated on Monday, it is unknown whether they will be 100% for the first round.
Without them at full strength, Chicago will struggle against U.S. Olympic hero T.J. Oshie and the Blues, who finished in the top-five in the Western Conference for the third consecutive season.
Prediction: Blues in seven