Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Playoff Picks: The First Round

That most wonderful time of the year, playoff hockey is here. The excitement among all hockey and especially fans of those teams in the playoffs is palpable.

So who is going to come out of the first round? The View is here with his fearless prognostications. Let's start with the West...

Anaheim vs. Dallas

The Ducks roll into the playoffs having captured the number one seed in the Pacific Division and playing some very good hockey. Led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry up front, the Ducks can score goals in bunches. A solid blue line helps limit scoring opportunities from opponents. This solid squad also is using the emotional fuel of Teemu Selaane's retirement at the end of the season to drive them toward the Cup.

If the Ducks have one chink in their armor, it has been the spotty play of Jonas Hiller. In fact, the Ducks may open with Frederik Andersen in net. While Hiller seems to have lost his mojo, he is still capable and whether it is Hiller or Anderson in net, the Ducks will be hard to beat.

That is not to say the Stars will not give them a tussle. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn lead the way up front; Kari Lehtonen is going to have to be spectacular in net; and the Stars blue liners are going to have to lock down the Ducks forwards.

Think this is just a bit too much to ask of this vastly improved Stars Squad.

Ducks in 6

San Jose vs L.A.

War. This matchup will be an absolute war between two teams that don't like each other. The level of physicality out of this series is going to be amazing.

The Kings have resorted to playing lock down defense andgrinding out goals. They have offensive talent up front with Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Jeff Carter, but have struggled to score. The Sharks have had balanced scoring, and along with the big names of Marlea and Thornton have seen players like Tommy Wingels, Logan Coture, and Tomas Hertl step up the offensive effort.

The difference makers in this series will be in net. We have all seen how Jonathan Quick can turn a series and a Cup run for the Kings. Antii Niemi has shown flashes of brilliance in San Jose but has not had the ultimate success that he had in Chicago. For the Sharks to win this series and make the run to the finals, he is going to have to elevate his game.

Niemi plays solid and the Sharks have too much firepower for the Kings.

Sharks in 7

Colorado vs Minnesota

The Avs are entering this series with some significant injuries, as Matt Duchene is going to miss some time with an injured knee. The Wild have a relatively healthy squad, although the turnover in net for them this season has been significant. Ilya Bryzgalov mans the pipes and the team hopes to get Darcy Keumper back to backstop Bryzgalov.

Even with Duchene out of the lineup, the offensive firepower that the Avs will bring will be too much for the Wild. Lacking the offensive punch of the Avs, the Wild will attempt to rely on a stingy defense and solid goaltending.

It won't be enough.

Avs in 5

St. Louis vs. Chicago

These teams played some ferocious playoff series in their history, and I expect this one to be just as nasty. Both teams have shown that they can score, but the Blues have a bit more nasty in their game than the Hawks. Controlling that edge and emotion will be critical for the Blues, because if they are spending too much time in the box, the Hawks will make them pay.

The Hawks bring Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back into the lineup after sitting out the end of the season with injuries. Expect the Blues to go right after them.

The Blues enter this round on a skid after losing their last 6 games of the season. Ryan Miller, acquired from the Sabres, suddenly looks very average. Miller is going to have to regain his form from his early appearances with the Blues, because the hawks are going to fire a ton of rubber at him.

This is a close call, but I believe the more physical play of the Blues will be disruptive to the Hawks game, and the Blues have enough offensive talent to go along with their bruising style of play.

Blues in 7

And now on to the east...

Boston vs Detroit

The Bruins are probably the best built team in the East, balancing scoring, solid defense, and good goaltending into a President's Trophy season. That said, the Detroit Red Wings are making their 24th consecutive appearance in the playoffs, so they know what it takes to win both in the regular season and after.

The Wings gave the Bruins fits this year, capturing wins in all their matchups. This Wings team is not as explosive offensively as teams past, and this will be even more so with Henrik Zetterberg out of the lineup. This means that the Wings are going to rely on their puck possession game and attempt to limit the Bruins potent and balanced offense.

For the Wings to win this series, he is going to have to outplay Tuuka Rask and steal some games. I think the Bruins attack steps up several levels from their regular season contests and it will overwhelm Howard and the Wings blue line.

Boston in 6

Tampa Bay vs. Montreal

This contest between two surprisingly evenly matched teams will most likely go the full 7 games. For the Lightning, their concern has to be in net as season long starter Ben Bishop is out with an elbow injury and back up Anders Lindback gets the call. Lindy has shown he can play very solidly in net, but this is the playoffs, and the pressure is going to ramp up markedly. How he handles that will go a long way to determining if the Bolts advance.

Carey Price gives the Canadiens a decided edge in the pipes. He better hope that he gets some help in front as he will face not only the prowess of Steven Stamkos, but also the emerging talent of Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson.

This series is going to hinge on the play in net, and I am leaning toward the experience of Price.

Montreal in 6

Pittsburgh vs Columbus

The Pens swept the season series with the Jackets, taking all 5 games. Keep in mind that that Sergei Bobrovsky only played in one of those games for the Jackets. Also keep in mind that there are numerous questions swirling around the play of the Pens Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.

So if you have two teams that have some questions about their netminders, one has to look at the skaters to see who will determine this series. And one has to start with the Penguins and their forwards, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. These two, along with Chris Kunitz and the other Pens forwards are going to put significant pressure on the Jackets throughout the series. Not that the Jackets are going to roll over for the Pens, but I believe there is too much horsepower for the Penguins and it will eventually wear down the Jackets.

Pittsburgh in 6

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia

Steve Mason, who has seen a resurgence of his career in Philadelphia, will not start the first game due to an injury. Ray Emery gets the start, and although he has labored in the role of the backup this season, there isn't much drop off in numbers and performance.

He will be tested as the Rangers have a balanced attack that can score from all lines. Henrik Lundqvist will face challenges in the Ranger net as the Flyers use their size and physical presence to create space for talented scorers like Claude Giroux.

I expect this series to get ugly and nasty fast, and the team that wins will be the one that doesn't make the stupid mistake.

That team will be...

Philadelphia in 7

There you have it friends. Time to let the fun and games begin.

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