It`s that time of year where the NHL season REALLY STARTS now!
It`s where the fans get more vocal and rowdier than they do during the whole season, players start to grow the famous playoff beards. The hits are harder andthe players have to show more grit or up it having steely determination for the whole tourney. Teams have have to battle through 4 grueling bests of seven series in order to hold a loft Lord Stanley`s Cup come June time and to be able to call themselves NHL Stanley Cup champions.
The Playoffs start midweek as the Matchups have now been decided in both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference respectively So here is a run down of match ups:
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 1# V MINNESOTA WILD 8#
In the Western Conference side of the draw we have the runaway leaders in the West the Chicago Blackhawks who finished on 77pts and who won the Stanley Cup back in 2010, host the 8th seed Minnesota Wild in the first round of the Cup. Minnesota with the players they signed pre season they would have expected to have been a bit higher up in the standings than where they finished off as they had a mixed season and were in danger of not qualifying for the playoffs going into the final couple of games as it was 2 out of 3 teams that was battling for the last 2 slots available with saw Columbus being the unlucky ones to miss out.
Chicago on the other hand with still a young team as don`t forget they were a very young side when they won the Cup in a hard fought series against the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 Games back in 2010. So they already have the experience of what it takes to win the Cup and that it may help them mentally in the long run should they progress?
As there may be a possible “Original 6″ Semi Final meeting with the Detroit Red Wings if both get through their respective series.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5
ANAHEIM DUCKS 2# V DETROIT RED WINGS 7#
Speaking of Detroit, the Red Wings who have been the surprise team of the year but sadly for them, all for the wrong reasons as they sneaked just into the playoff picture in the last week of the regular season. As they had looked to be out of the playoff picture last weekend but for a run of form in the last couple of games saw them maintain the longest active playoff streak in North American sports, With the Red Wings making it 22 straight years in a row making the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Detroit suffered a lot with players starting out cold as during the lockout not many of the Wings players played elsewhere compared to other teams, Where players ventured to Europe and their farm teams. That seem to hamper their season as only the 2 Stalwarts for the Motor City side made any impression on the season, as it was up to Henrik Zetterberg & Pavel Datsyuk once again to bail them out and they now hope to put the post season out of their minds and move on the playoffs.
Detroits opponents the Anaheim Ducks didn`t have any problems reaching the playoffs as they managed to secure second place thanks mainly to Ryan Getzlaf getting 49 points and Corey Perry putting up 36 points respectively being the standout performers for the Ducks, However with the support from their team mates spreading the points around that was one reason they had a good season.
Only problem for the Ducks in these playoffs may come down to goaltending as their netminding isn`t as strong as the other sides in their conference with only the St Louis Blues behind them in the goalies stats.
Prediction: Red Wings in 7
VANCOUVER CANUCKS 3# V SAN JOSE SHARKS 6#
The other half of the Western conference draw sees the 6th Seed San Jose Sharks up against the 3rd seed Vancouver Canucks. San Jose had the 2nd best goaltender between the pipes in the regular season in Antti Niemi who recorded 4 Shutouts for the Sharks in the shortened season.
Joe Thornton led the way in points for the men from the “Shark Tank” with 40 points as he was the assist machine with 33 in 48 games.
Logan Couture was the Shark main attack threat with 21 goals, with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski scoring 17 & 16 goals themselves in the line up. San Jose also during before the trade deadline wanted that extra Bite for the Sharks line up and they drafted in Raffi Torres who is a player that shall we say, doesn`t mind getting physical at all and loves the gritty hard and that signing could be a good move by them for the playoffs.
Vancouver had a mixed season tinged with bizarreness as nearly all season Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo had been touted to be traded by the Vancouver franchise and was a real stop start story. Yet here we are at the start of the playoffs & remarkably he is still in the blue and green jersey of Vancouver.
However he is no longer first choice now with the newly installed Corey Schneider now donning the no 1 position for the Canucks, As fans of the Canucks will hope he is fit and healthy and can perform like he has this season for Vancouver then they will have a chance of reaching of the Conference finals in my view.
Forwards wise you can`t look pass the Sedin brothers of Henrik & Daniel, they will hope they can repeat their heroics of last 2011 as they helped the Canucks reach the finals. But unfortunately fell at the last hurdle to the Boston Bruins in game 7 where the Canucks had ran out of gas and was destroyed 4-0 on home ice.
Prediction: Vancouver in 6
ST LOUIS BLUES 4# V LOS ANGELES KINGS 5#
The remaining series in the West pits the Defending Stanley Cup Champions the Los Angeles Kings v the St Louis Blues, LA Kings will be looked upon as the favourites in this series as in the regular season they sweeped the series with the Blues 3-0.
LA will look to their to start performers who helped bring them their first Stanley cup in their teams history last season, with Anze Kopitar registering 42 points on the season and with Jeff Carter who led the scoring with 26 for the Kings, The Kings star men in the playoffs last season which included Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown they will still have last season in their minds as to how to win games by grinding out results.
Not forgetting Drew Doughty & Dustin Penner were also big reasons as to why they lifted the cup as well as they had a great series against the New Jersey Devils in the final too and will hope they turn it on again come playoffs.
Los Angeles biggest factor for their cup exploits was that of Jonathon Quick keeping the puck out with scintillating performances by the shot stopper as he was in all honesty the BIGGEST reason they reached the promised lan.
People will point the Kings v Coyotes series when he played out of his skin to get his team their as no netminder in the entire playoff series last year was more dominant than Jonathon Quick between the pipes.
Their opponents the St Louis Blues are the only team in the Western conference to have lost more games than any other team thats reached the playoffs, but would have finished 3rd with the points they gained. However, due to the leaders of the Divisions taking up the top 3 places automatically in the conference, it meant best Blues could finish was in 4th.
St.Louis will hope they can perform better than last year`s playoff series with the Kings as they faced each other in the Semi finals last year the Blues were swept 4-0 by LA. So the Blues will want revenge on their opponents you can bet this year and make sure the same thing doesn`t happen.
Only concern for the Blues is the Netminding situation as they have to decide which goaltender they go with Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak to lead the Blues in to the playoffs it`s more likely it will be Elliott but he isthe lowest ranked netminder on save percentage..
Prediction: Kings in 7
EASTERN CONFERENCE Match ups:
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 1# V NEW YORK ISLANDERS 8#
Top seeds in the Eastern Conference the Pittsburgh Penguins, will face in the first round the re-emerging New York Islanders. Matches between the 2 teams in recent seasons have been extremely physical and some very physical play has resulted in each team having a player being kicked out for Checking from behind in the games this season.
It wasn`t so long ago that the two franchises were involved in 2 games that blew up into bench brawls, So there is still some Bad blood lingering between the two sides, which gives this series a bit of extra bite to it.
However it should make for a great series if the Long Island outfit can keep to their game plan and frustrate the Pens. Pittsburgh are the odds on favourites in the Eastern Conference ,due to their firepower at their disposal with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and recent editions to the Penguins team before trade line like Brenden Morrow and of course Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames.
They possess most lethal attack in the East and arguably whole of the NHL and any team that can stop them, i think will go on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Long Island based outfit are enjoying their post season for 6 seasons as they been outside the playoffs since 2007.
John Tavares will be the key man for the Isles if they want to progress in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they will need their players to step up and support Tavares too, as the likes of Matt Moulson, Brad Boyes Josh Bailey and their other major attacking threat in Michael Grabner will all need to get amongst the points if they are going to stand any chance of knocking the Penguins off.
If they can do that and shock the Penguins, then they will have the confidence to beat anyone else put in front of them and would put them in good stead.
However they`ll need to avoid going 2 or 3 games down or it will be a very short series indeed.
Prediction: Penguins in 5
MONTREAL CANADIENS 2# V OTTAWA SENATORS 6#
The only ALL-Canadian clash in the playoffs features the Montreal Canadiens against the Ottawa Senators in the first round. Both side in the four meetings between the two in this Lockout affected season resulted in 2 wins a piece.
Montreal have a side that when they click they are a very dangerous team to deal with as the standings show with the Canadiens in second place. Montreal have Max Pacioretty,Brendan Gallagher and Brian Gionta in attack and will hope the D can chip in too as most certainly P.K Subban & Andrei Markov will get on the board as on the powerplay unit they are very accomplished on that part.
The Canadiens will try to add a 3rdfellow Canadian scalp in a row after they beat the Winnipeg Jets and beat their arch rivals Toronto Maple Leafs in the final game of the post season. Both games were won on the road and they can use them victories as momentum towards the playoffs, as they`ll try to add Ottawa to their list of Canadian adversaries.
Games between fellow sides up in the North tend to be more competitive as fans are more vocal ,as they want to claim their team is the best in Canada. So with both sides close geographically the series will be contested even more so.
Ottawa on the other hand are not as potent as their opponents as they have only scored 112 goals comapred to 146 for Montreal, The Sens will need to draw on support for Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson who will hope Cory Conacher can get his scoring touch back as they will need their forwards on form if they harbour any hopes of beating the Canadiens, as the only hopes they have is that their defense can be very mean at the back and play out low scoring games as Ottawa are very goal shy compared to the teams in the whole playoffs.
If things were to get a bit rough the Sens have the perfect canidates in Chris Neil who has clocked up 144 Penalty minutes along with Zack Smith 56 penalty minutes and also Matt Kassian who spent a bit of time down at the Houston Aeros who was the farm team of the Minnesota Wild , before being traded to the Senators.
Predictions: Montreal in 7
WASHINGTON CAPITALS 3# V NEW YORK RANGERS #6
This series is a case of We meet once again! As the Caps & Rangers meet each other for the 3rd straight season in yet another 7 game series. Last season’s outcome saw the men from Broadway take the series as they beat the Caps in a thrilling series and with each side having knocked the other out of the playoffs over the past two seasons, this one feels like it will be a decider and will make for another great battle between the two high profile franchises and one I’m looking forward to personally.
For the Washington Capitals they have the top goal scorer in the league with the Russian magician Alexander Ovechkin who notched up 32 goals along with the added fire power from Troy Brouwer, Mike Ribeiro and Mike Green. Nicklas Backstrom leads assists for the Caps with 40 and if he and his team mates hit form like the season before then they could be hard to beat and have a good run in the play offs.
For the Blue shirts their form towards the back end of the post season was perfect timing for the playoffs as they all started to click and find form across the lines. Derek Stepan was the surprise top points scorer for the Rangers with 44 and with forwards Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan and their pre-season season capture of Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets coming in they all managed to pick up points and spread them across the board for the Rangers too. Head Coach John Tortorella picked up Derick Brassard & John Moore from Columbus as well in a 2 player trade with the Slovakian forward Marian Gaborik going in the opposite direction to Ohio.
New York are one of those of teams where they are a bit like a Jekyll and Hyde side, in the way that when their good there very good & when their bad their bad and the Madison Square Garden crowd aren`t a bit shy to voice their disapproval either.
Prediction: Rangers in 7
BOSTON BRUINS #4 V TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS #5
The remaining playoff series in the Eastern Confernce is a Northeast divisional match up as the Boston Bruins take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the only
The Boston Bruins go into these hoping to regain the Stanley Cup they picked up two seasons ago, as the Bruins for the first time in a while aren`t being touted as the favourites in the East or much said abThe remaining playoff series in the Eastern Conference is a Northeast divisional match up as the Boston Bruins take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the only
The Boston Bruins go into these hoping to regain the Stanley Cup they picked up two seasons ago, as the Bruins for the first time in a while aren`t being touted as the favourites in the East or much said about them as in past seasons. The signing of Jaromir Jagr from the Dallas Stars was seen as a good signing with tons of NHL experience and with a Stanley Cup to his name they hope his talents are re found as he has yet to pull up and trees in the famous “B” jersey.
Boston will hope the nucleus of the 2011 Stanley cup winning team which includes Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and top points scorer for the Bruins in regular season Brad Marchand, all rediscover the form they had when they won the cup. Only thing that has been the difference between that side and this season is the netminding. One of the big reasons they won it that season was through fantastic goaltending in the shape of Tim Thomas who was key for Boston back in 2011, Tuukka Rask who was the backup netminder for Thomas during their cup run and is one of 5 goaltenders that have 5 shutouts.
For their Northeast rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs, it`s a Welcome back to the Playoffs after a 9 year hiatus from the post season, They will hope to bring some much long awaited success back to the city of Toronto. As their fans have been starved of success for 46 years when they last won the Stanley Cup back in 1967.
Toronto are currently a side in transition building towards the future, as changes of coaches and people at the top haven`t helped the cause and with the Leafs looking to have found some stability now, The team now looks to be heading in the right direction as reaching the playoffs is one massive success for the them to build on in future seasons. Fans of the Leafs nation in the blue & white side of Ontario, will be glad to seem back where they belong in the playoffs.
Toronto have had a lot of players underperform over many seasons but it looks now like they have got their game together and brought pride back to the Leafs jersey. Phil Kessel has been one who struggled coming into the team but this season he has posted numbers of 20 goals and 32 assists and is the top points leader for Toronto, which shows he found his feet and is happy to share the load instead of taking on all the responsibilities on the ice.
This current crop of Leafs is a team mixed with youth and experience, With the likes of Nazem Kadri making the step up from the AHL side the Toronto Marlies and into the Maple Leafs which he has been a massive plus for the side and kept his performances high. Old heads kind of in the locker room are Dion Phaneuf, Colton Orr, Clarke MacArthur and John-Michael Liles these players have been playoff games and cup finals so they know the situation and can call on experience to help the younger guys too.
Toronto for me are the dark horses in the playoffs for me as not much has been said about them by pundits.
Prediction: Maple leafs in 6