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NHL Playoff Predictions

The NHL playoffs pit experienced teams against underdogs in a fight for victory.

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The NHL playoffs are the most enjoyed out of all the major professional sports as the teams battle it out for the best known trophy in the world: the Stanley Cup. Last year was nothing short of spectacular, with the Pittsburgh Penguins taking down the San Jose Sharks in 6 games. This year will prove to be just as entertaining.

Western Conference:

Chicago Blackhawks vs Nashville Predators

This is bound to be a hard-fought series. These two teams, as they are both in the same division, hate each other. The physical play will wear down both teams. This is where the Blackhawks have the advantage, with the surprise scoring of rookies like Ryan Hartmann and Nick Schamltz. The Blackhawks have also played the last two weeks without second line center Artem Anisimov, who was tied for fourth on the team in goals with 22, despite missing nearly 20 games. The Predators are talented as well offensively with the likes of Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Mike Fisher, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg. Neither team has much advantage on the powerplay as the Predators are only .9% higher. There is a slightly larger gap in the penalty kill, which the Predators have a 3% lead, however that is due mostly to the Hawks’ bad start on the kill. At the end of the day, the Blackhawks should walk away with this series in 6 games.

Minnesota Wild vs St.Louis Blues

This series may be the most disappointing of the first round. The Blues struggle in the postseason, having been knocked out in the first round 3 of the past 4 seasons. The Blues relied heavily on goaltender Jake Allen in their late season turnaround. This may lead to their demise, as Jake Allen has posted just a .902 save percentage in his 3 years of postseason play. The Wild are entering the postseason after winning just 4 of the 16 games in March. A major reason for the struggle is the lack of production of Martin Hanzal, who was brought in by the Wild at the trade deadline for a first round pick. Both of these teams are fairly equal in special teams. When all’s said and done, I expect the Blues to get behind their new head coach, Mike Yeo, and take down his former team in six games.

Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames

The Flames could be the underdog this postseason that sneaks its way through to the conference finals. The team is led by talented forwards Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, and rookie Matthew Tkachuck. With other depth forwards such as Michael Frolik and Kris Versteeg, they should have no problem scoring goals. However, they will be shooting at division rival John Gibson. Although plagued by injuries, the goaltender still managed to record 25 wins, a .924 save percentage, and 6 shutouts. If he had stayed healthy, he very well could have been nominated for goalie of the year. The Ducks are just as talented offensively as the Flames with Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Patrick Eaves, Jakob Siflverberg, and  Corey Perry, just to name a few. The Ducks have struggled on the powerplay this year compared to the Flames, but the penalty kill of the Ducks should limit any chances the Flames do get. Despite the Flames being loaded with talent across the ice, a healthy Ducks team will take this series in 6 or 7 games.

Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks

The Sharks are not the same team that lost in the Stanley Cup last year. They have added valuable pieces up front, Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker, who have both struggled to score. As a result, we may see the same Sharks team that averaged just 2 goals per game in the Cup series last year. Ranked 25th on the powerplay and 18th on the penalty kill, the team has struggled outside of 5 on 5. The Oilers, led by second-year scoring leader Connor McDavid, return to the playoffs after a 10 year drought. The Oilers are ranked 5th on the powerplay and 17th on the penalty kill. A major reason for their success on the powerplay this year is the signing of Milan Lucic, as well as the continued development of young players such as: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and defenseman Oscar Klefbom. The team is back stopped by goalie Cam Talbot, who posted a single season wins record for the Oilers, and young defensemen Adam Larsson. This series could be a rather quick one given the Oilers’ dominant play. A 5 game series can be expected between these Pacific division rivals.  

Eastern Conference:

Montreal Canadiens vs New York Rangers

This is another series that could be rather disappointing; the division winner Canadiens recorded only one more point than the fourth place Metropolitan Rangers. The Canadiens were back to their usual act of limited scoring. The team relied too much on break out Paul Byron, who managed to shoot 22.9% this season, recording 22 goals. The team also relied heavily on defensive star Shea Weber. Weber was tied for fourth on the team with goals scoring 17. On the other hand, the New York Rangers had 8 players with 15 or more goals. In addition to the offense, the team is back stopped by defensemen: Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden, Brendan Smith, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi. The Rangers, who are stuck in the weaker Atlantic bracket could find themselves going far, as they should be able to fly fast the Canadiens in six games.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets

Many are predicting that this series will be the best of the first round. With the new playoff set-up, these teams that would have been the 3rd and 4th seeds are now playing each other. Starting with the Blue Jackets, they are built around super-star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who is favored to win the goalie of the year after leading the league in both save percentage and goals against average. The Jackets, however, have struggled to score. The powerplay at 19.9% has dropped from 25% since the start of 2017. Since the first game in March, the Jackets have averaged just 2.38 goals per game. The physical play of the Jackets gives them a major advantage against the Penguins as their defensemen have struggled with injuries. The Penguins have the leading goal scorer in Sidney Crosby. To provide secondary scoring, they also have forwards Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Conor Sheary, and Patric Hornqvist. They also added depth to their injured blue line by trading for Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit. The Penguins will be eager to repeat their championship, and will be past the Jackets in 6 or 7 games.

Ottawa Senators vs Boston Bruins

The series depends on the play of Tuukka Rask, who in the past few seasons has struggled to stay healthy in stressful games. Both teams are fairly equal on offense and defense. Torey Krug has been battling injuries at the end of the year, but the team has other players such as, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. The team is behind leading scorers David Pastrank and Brad Marchand. While the Senators don’t have one stud scorer, the team is deep in scoring with defenseman Erik Karlsson and forwards Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman, and Mark Stone. The Bruins have a large lead in the regular season special teams, but injuries on the backend could reduce those numbers. With home ice, the Senators should win this series in 7 games.

Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Watch out for the young Leafs. With 40 goal rookie Auston Matthews, the Leafs could make this a series. There are two large concerns with the Leafs. The first is the young players. They will have nine players make their NHL playoff debut in game one. Second, the Leafs relied heavily on one point overtime losses for points. While they can be great in the regular season, in the postseason a loss is a loss. The things most exciting about this series is the battle of two of the top three powerplays. The Capitals will look to end the curse of the Presidents Cup and make it past the second round. The first round is where it all begins, and they will be looking to get off to a quick start and take care of the Maple Leafs. Despite the energy of the young Leafs, the experience of the Capitals will take the Leafs out in 5 games.

Final prediction: Four rounds of playoffs will lead to the Chicago Blackhawks over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

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