Since we already previewed the Hawks-Preds series in great depth, it’s time to take a look at the other seven first round matchups.
The NHL has to be kicking itself behind closed doors looking at these matchups. They were so close to having both the “Battle of Alberta” and the “Battle of Ontario” in the first round. Talk about a potential ratings boost, something the league desperately needed.
Instead we’ve been subjected to eight relatively “blah” first round matchups. That’s not to say none of them will be exciting on the ice, there just aren’t very many sexy story lines.
Well, let’s go on record (and probably be dead wrong).
2 Minnesota Wild vs. 3 St. Louis Blues
Somehow the Blues found a way to tank themselves into the playoffs. After firing Ken Hitchcock and trading top defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, it looked like St. Louis was ready to blow it up and start over. But interim head coach Mike Yeo found a way to keep this Blues team afloat. It also didn’t hurt that the Kings melted like a Nazi staring at the arc of the covenant in the second half of the season.
Speaking of melting villains, the Blues get to face a reeling Minnesota Wild team that has looked atrocious since the beginning of March. Add in the Mike Yeo revenge factor and this could be an ugly disaster for Minnesota.
There’s also a bit of a revenge factor here for the Blues. Remember two years ago it was the Wild who upset highly touted St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs. I’m sure this time around the Blues would love to return the favor.
Oh yeah, how could I forget about our friend Bruce Boudreau? We’re all aware of his impeccable postseason resume. Will he make it three home Game 7 losses with three different teams? We’ll see. If I’m St. Louis I’m just trying to hang around until a seventh game.
Prediction: Blues in 7
1 Anaheim Ducks vs. WC Calgary Flames
Oh look, it’s another division champion Ducks team with home ice. What could possibly go wrong?
The Ducks were able to weave their way around a fading Sharks team at the end of the season to find themselves with the top seed in the Pacific. All that did was earn them a date with Calgary, one of the hottest teams in the league in the second half.
We all know the Ducks’ resume come playoff time. There’s no need to rehash it here for the millionth time. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that it’s incredibly foolish to have any faith in them. The Ducks have lost a Game 7 at home in FOUR STRAIGHT postseasons. That’s remarkable.
On the other hand… Calgary hasn’t won a game in Anaheim in their last 25 attempts. So obviously something has to give.
This series has the potential to be very fun. The Ducks will be led by their usual cast of cretins: Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf. So you know what to expect there. Between the pipes, goalies Gibson and Bernier have been pretty dang good for the Ducks down the stretch.
There were fireworks when these two teams met late in the regular season. If the Flames can remained disciplined and not fall for any of Anaheim’s shenanigans, they have a real chance of pulling off the “upset.” The Flames have an advantage on the blue line, and if their young guns (Monahan, Bennett, Tkachuk, and Gaudreau) can mature into true playoff form rather quickly, I like Calgary here.
It will be too perfect when the Flames end their streak by winning Game 7 in Anaheim. Symmetry.
Prediction: Flames in 7
2 Edmonton Oilers vs. 3 San Jose Sharks
Here’s a case of two teams heading in complete opposite directions going into the postseason. Edmonton has begun to soar, almost entirely on the wings of Art Ross winner Connor McDavid. And the Sharks have been dead asleep for the past month after pacing the division most of the year.
An obvious key to this series will be San Jose’s ability to slow down McDavid. If they can find a way to stop that line there isn’t really much there for Edmonton behind that. The Oilers fanbase will also be absolutely rabid right out of the gates. They haven’t seen playoff hockey up there in 11 years, so you know they’re more than starving. I wouldn’t be surprised if Edmonton blitzed the Sharks in Games 1 and 2 for that exact reason.
Another interesting tidbit here is Oilers coach Todd McLellan going up against his former team. McLellan’s Sharks teams were known for bungling playoff series time and time again. He’s obviously looking to change that with the Oilers, but I’m sure it would feel just dandy to stick it to his old team.
You have to also feel like the Sharks may be a little tired after last year’s deep postseason run. Their play over the past month would certainly be indicative of that. Maybe age is catching up? Who knows.
It’ll be experience vs. youth in this one. I think it has a chance to be one of the more fun series in the first round. Gotta love those late west coast games. (Also, the Oilers are going with their orange jerseys at home. Definite cause for concern).
Prediction: Oilers in 6
1 Washington Capitals vs. WC Toronto Maple Leafs
This Leafs team has certainly been a lot of fun to watch this season, and given another matchup in the first round would probably be a hot pick to advance. But drawing Washington is an absolute death knell for them.
That’s not to say there won’t be flashes of excitement. Matthews, Marner and Nylander are so much fun to watch and will create a lot of good chances. The problem is that the Leafs’ horrid defense isn’t going to be able to stop Washington from scoring.
There’s always a chance the Caps could Caps the series, however that’s incredibly unlikely this year. This Capitals team has probably the best forward depth in the entire league. Oh, by the way they traded for Kevin Shattenkirk and have Braden Holtby between the pipes to complement that offense. Add Ovechkin to the mix and there could be some real ugly results in this series for the Leafs.
It just isn’t their time yet.
Prediction: Capitals in 5
2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 3 Columbus Blue Jackets
The defending Stanley Cup champions will have a handful in the first round in 2017. It will be even harder now without veteran defenseman Kris Letang, who is out for the rest of the season. So it’s a bit of an uphill battle for Pittsburgh right out of the gate.
These teams have been two of the most consistent teams in the league all season. Both of them had impressive winning streaks early in the year that figuratively cemented their place in the playoffs.
The Blue Jackets are looking for their first playoff series win in franchise history. They pushed the Pens back in 2014 to six games, although they never actually held the lead in that series. So I’m sure the Columbus faithful is looking to get that monkey off their back ASAP, and this may be the year to do it. The Pens are shorthanded on the blue line, and Sergei Bobrovsky is easily talented enough to steal a few games or steal an entire series. It might just be the Jackets’ time to shine.
With that being said, the Penguins have the championship pedigree that matters this time of year. They’ve been through the valleys, risen to the peaks and everywhere in between. Crosby has been a scoring machine this year, (finishing second in the Art Ross race behind McJesus) and Malkin always elevates his game in the playoffs.
The question for Pittsburgh seemingly every single year revolves around the goalie. Are they going to have to play musical goaltenders again? If Murray falls apart can Fleury pick up the pieces and salvage a series? We’ll see.
With all that being said, I have to give the Pens the edge here. I think this will be a scrappy, dogfight of a series that could honestly go either way.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
1 Montreal Canadiens vs. WC New York Rangers
In a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals, we have the Price vs. Lundqvist show once again. This series features two of the league’s best goaltenders, and yet it somehow feels like the least interesting series in the east. Probably because when the Rangers are involved everything’s boring.
I’ve seen the Rangers as a hot first round pick among many pundits across the league. I think Montreal deserves a little more respect than that. They paced their division for nearly the entire season, a division that had many teams hanging around the playoff line near the end of the year. Outside of Detroit the Atlantic was pretty decent this year.
The Habs have looked better since Claude Julien took over mid-season. He’s definitely no stranger to playoff success. Good ole Alain also knows pretty well what to do this time of year. Funny that it’s a coaching rematch of the 2011 Final.
I don’t have a ton to say about this series. It’s pretty cut and dry to me. Whichever star goalie can perform better will most likely win. This is basically Caps-Rangers from recent years except in different sweaters.
Prediction: Canadiens in 7
2 Ottawa Senators vs. 3 Boston Bruins
Speaking of playoff matchups that make you go “meh.” There isn’t much about these two teams that stimulate the senses. Boston was able to turn it around after firing Claude Julien and make the playoffs for the first time in two years. Guy Boucher has turned the Sens back into a playoff team as well.
We saw a Boucher coached Tampa team give the Bruins fits back in the 2011 East final. I’m sure he’ll defensive trap the hell out of Boston, and every other team the Sens possibly come across. Ottawa went 4-0 against Boston in the regular season, but that pretty much means nothing now. Playoff hockey is just different.
The Sens are led by their three-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson. He’s been their pied piper for the last few seasons along with Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris. Ottawa also traded for Tommy Wingels and Alex Burrows this season to aid their forward depth.
Defensively I think the Sens are deeper that Boston and will hold a clear advantage there. Although, I’m not as confident in Craig Anderson as I am in Tuukka Rask between the pipes.
The Bruins counter with usual suspects Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Three guys who know how to win in the postseason, along with the likes of Chara and Rask. David Backes adds a bit to the Bruins, we’re all too familiar with him around these parts.
I look at this series and I see two pretty even rosters, full of some big names, but also an incredibly pedestrian vibe as well. I just don’t see this being a very entertaining series, with Boucher trapping and the Bruins being the Bruins.
I’ll go with my gut here, and my gut has liked the Sens all year for some dumb reason.
Prediction: Senators in 6