We asked our OFB Young Guns, Andrew and Alex, to piece together an overview of the first round of the NHL playoffs. It’s an overview not necessarily designed to wager on, but if you do, and if you win with these picks, remember us when next you see us at Clyde’s.
Prediction: Caps in 5; (Alex however has a Caps’ sweep)
The first round matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils is full of questions. Will the goaltending hold up for both teams? Will Ilya Kovalchuk emerge for the Devils? And of course, the inevitable question of whether Daniel Carcillo, also known as the cleanest player in hockey(note sarcasm), will earn himself a suspension.
While there are so many questions in the series, picking the winner is really a no-brainer. Philadelphia is just lucky to be in the playoffs, and they may steal a game or two in the series, but there is no way they will prevail. The boys in orange and black just don’t have enough offense and goaltending is just a wee bit of a question mark.
On the the other end of the ice is the New Jersey Devils, a team filled with All-Stars, Olympic medalists, and some guy named Martin Brodeur. Sure, Marty hasn’t been stellar in all high pressure situations, but he remains a top-5 goalie in the league. Not only that, but he has a solid defensive corps in front of him. By no mean do any of them stand out as a top-5 d-man, but they certainly have the experience and hockey knowledge to take the team a long way.
In short, despite the inevitable antics, the Flyers do not have a snowball’s chance in hell to win this series. Rangers blogger for SNY, Jimmy Hascup, described Philadelphia’s style of play perfectly. He said, “they don’t even play hockey, they should be in the MMA Octagon.” That is exactly why they will not win this series.
Prediction: Devils in 5
Ryan Miller moves from the pressure of the Winter Olympic Games to the pressure of the NHL playoffs. That said, the job should be a little easier for him this time around because he won’t be facing an offensive powerhouse like Team Canada. Instead, Miller and Sabres will be facing the Boston Bruins in a divisional matchup.
Fans will be lucky if Buffalo and Boston combine for more than 20 goals in this series. Both teams are built on their defense and lack a lot in the scoring department. Boston is led by Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman, while Buffalo’s defense features Calder candidate Tyler Myers and Henrick Tallinder.
In all reality though, both team’s live and die with their goalies. Miller is right at the center of discussion for the Vezina Trophy and has even garnered discussion for the Hart. Tuukka Rask will oppose him between the pipes for the B’s. He has had a solid season between the pipes, posting a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage. That said, there was a stretch of time where he did lose nine games in a row.
All in all, the deciding factor of this series will be Ryan Miller. Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy will only have to provide modest offense if the Miller we have seen all year shows up. If he is not on his game though, this could be a longer series, with neither team lighting the lamp more than three times in a game. Sorry Boston fans, I know you were happy you made it, but the worst thing for a team to run into in the playoffs is a hot goalie. And in the case of Ryan Miller, maybe the world’s best.
Prediction: Sabres in 6
This matchup may be one of the most deceiving of all the Eastern Conference first-round pairings. On one side of the ice there is the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup Champion, and one which has been to back-to-back Cup finals. Opposing them is the somewhat undervalued Ottawa Senators. Ottawa flew under the radar for a lot of the season, but the talent and experience is in place to make a deep playoff run.
Pittsburgh has a star-studded lineup, but you don’t need us to tell you that. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar lead a team with high expectations and fans with higher. Anything but a repeat will be unacceptable, and the biggest thing that might prevent them from hoisting the Stanley Cup sat on the bench during the Olympics. Marc-Andre Fleury is a talented but erratic netminder.
If Ottawa’s veterans can knuckle down and play the kind of hockey that once won them a conference title, then they have a fighting chance against Pittsburgh. Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, and Mike Fischer possess the skills needed to steal a game or two in Pittsburgh, and there’s always the human shot-blocking machine, Anton Volchenkov. A huge blow perhaps to Ottawa’s chances was the end of season injury to Alexei Kovalev — a torn ACL.
Still, Ottawa’s goaltending could be one of the more under-reported storylines of the first round. Brian Elliott doesn’t have to stand on his head, but he has to be better than Marc Andre Fleury. And he’s plenty good — one of the best goalies this past season. This is not the same Pens’ Cup-winning club of a year ago — it’s a team whose blueline doesn’t look nearly as strong and stable absent the departed Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill. Pittsburgh should be able to pull it out, but it won’t be without some nail biting in the closest series of the Eastern Conference.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
What’s not to like about the other conference’s first/last first-round series? If people are calling Montreal/Washington the David and Goliath first-round series, then this series might be more in the realm of Sparta versus Persia proportions. San Jose is the perennial second-round flop that everyone expects will do well and Colorado is the little engine that could, a team that wasn’t even supposed to be around right now, and almost wasn’t.
The reason we’ll take San Jose in this matchup is only because they normally lose in the second round (last year against Anaheim was an exception). The season series was even, and Craig Anderson had an outstanding first half but slipped up a bit this calendar year. Not forecasting necessarily that he will, but we’re also not going to be the ones to say he can’t pull off an awesome April turnaround. If Colorado’s young team, led by Matt Duchene and the trade deadline-acquired Peter Mueller, gells and is olivious to postseason pressure by virtue of their collective youth and inexperience, they stand a chance at upsetting San Jose and Dany Heatley. He might realize he should have stayed in Ottawa.
Prediction: Sharks in 7
If Chicago had reliable netminding we’d call this one of the early enders in round one. It still might be — that’s how loaded the Hawks are. But Nashville plays the Western conference’s most physical brand of hockey, and that could pose a challenge to Chicago’s fleet of skilled scoring forwards.
It’s Antti Niemi vs. Pekka Rinne in net — advantage Preds. Still, while Nashville has an unheralded corps of offensive weapons up front, and some terrific bangers on the back end, they’re no match for the elite Hawks.
Prediction: Hawks in 5
After scraping through with the Art Ross Trophy, Henrik Sedin and the Canucks will be at full force in the first round and a force to be reckoned with. But, if there’s one upset that is likely to occur in the first round, it’s gotta be this one. Los Angeles has an amazingly gifted young core, and more than capable goaltending in Jonathan Quick. They also have a great supporting cast in vets like Jeff Halpern and Ryan Smyth, who reignited his scoring touch with Anze Kopitar at center.
Vancouver’s lineup is as deep as they come in the NHL, but we’re not so confident that Roberto Luongo and the British Columbians will be as physical as Los Angeles. The secondary scoring on this team is fantastic, though, with last summer’s acqusition of Michael Samuelsson a clever signing. Alexandre Burrows, Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler all had career years, and it seems they’ll continue their top-five goal production in the postseason. But we’re willing to take a gamble on Los Angeles and say they’ll wear Vancouver’s forwards down physically with the likes of Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi and bone-crusher Jack Johnson on the blueline.
Prediction: Kings in 6
This may be the most intriguing first-round matchup — the Cinderella story Coyotes, owned and managed this season by the league, and flirting with no. 1 overall out West well into March, and the late-surging Wings, who’ve battled through ravenous injuries to earn an underdog-with-an-edge status this postseason.
The Coyotes will need Vezina candidate Ilya Bryzgalov to keep up his backbone backstopping ways in this series. Bryzgalov merely won 42 games in the regular season and posted an eye-popping eight shutouts. Detroit will counter with rookie netminding (and Calder candidate) sensation Jimmy Howard. All the experience in this series is obviously on the side of Detroit. All the MoJo appears to be with the Wings. But wouldn’t it be an amazing feather in the Phoenix cap if they took down the perennial conference power?
Prediction: Wings in 6