The 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs are among us. The lockout early in the year left fans everywhere doubtful that players would hit the ice at any point this year. However, hockey is back and so are the playoffs. With the shortened season due to the lockout, every game played was an important one, and should lead to some very exciting playoff matchups. Here are my predictions for how this exciting time will unfold.
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins v. #8 New York Islanders
The New York Islanders are making their first playoff appearance since the 2006/07 season, and John Tavares is having a career year. However, the Islanders couldn’t have worse luck with who they are matched up with. The Penguins have far too much experience for the Isles to stand up against. With late season acquisitions by the Pen’s such as Jerome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Doug Murray, they are playing some of their best hockey coming into these playoffs. As a result, experience wins in this series, and the Penguins will sweep the Islanders.
#2 Montreal Canadiens v. #7 Ottawa Senators
These are two very talented teams who believe in building their team from the net out. Despite Canadiens netminder Carey Price’s recent performance of 2-6 leading up to the playoffs, he is one of the more talented keepers in the playoffs. Price is also backed by his high octane offense, who was 4th in goals scored all season, whereas Ottawa is coming into the playoffs as the lowest scoring team in the regular season ranked 27th. Canadiens win series 4-1
#3 Washington Capitals v. #6 New York Rangers
This is the 4th time in the last 5 seasons that these two teams have met in the playoffs, and should prove to be a good series. Matchups between these two teams have proved to be heavy hitting, defensive minded games. The Capitals will most likely have to start this series without Brooks Laich and Joel Ward, and with Henrik Lundqvist regarded as one of the best netminders in the playoffs, this could be a deal breaker for the Caps. Rick Nash is heading into his first playoff series with the Rangers and is having a very productive season with them. Last season in the playoffs, this game went to 7. This season is a little different, and the Rangers send the Caps home in 6. Rangers win series 4-2
#4 Boston Bruins v. #5 Toronto Maple Leafs
This is a fantastic matchup, and one I’m very excited to watch. The Leafs and Bruins are two original six rivals, who like to play a physical game. The Bruins have won the season series between the two teams 3-0-1, but aren’t coming into this playoff series playing their best hockey. However, Tukka Rask is the B’s biggest asset between the pipes and is likely a Vezina Trophy finalist. This is Leafs goalie James Reimer’s first playoff appearance, and while he has played phenomenally this season, the Bruins are far too experienced in this type of atmosphere. Bruins win the series 4-2.
Western Conference Round 1
#1 Chicago Blackhawks v. #8 Minnesota Wild
The Blackhawks have had a fantastic season. From their 24 game point streak, to finishing the season with their first Presidents Trophy since the ’90/’91 season. The Hawks beat the Wild in the season series 2-0-1, and should do the same here. While this series has the potential to be a very interesting one, the Blackhawks have way too good of an offense for the Wild to stop. The Hawks are the only team in the playoffs to place in the top 3 for both goals for and goals against throughout the season. Backstrom for the Wild will steal them two games but overall, the Blackhawks take this series in 6. Hawks win series 4-2.
#2 Anaheim Ducks v. #7 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are coming into the playoffs hot and, with the help of netminder Jimmy Howard, have the potential to upset the Ducks in this series. While the netminding duo of Hiller and Fasth for the Ducks have been on point for most of the year, Detroit’s experience outmatches them. Detroit has won the season series and proved to play well against Getzlaf and the Ducks, and should do well in this series. It won’t be an easy road for the Wings, though, as it will take them 7 games to dismantle the Ducks. Red Wings take the series 4-3.
#3 Vancouver Canucks v. #6 San Jose Sharks
This is going to be one of the most competitive series in the first round, and was one of the toughest to pick. Cory Schneider is doubtful for this series, leaving it up to Roberto Luongo to help lead his team through this series. Given Luongo’s playoff history, and how well Antti Niemi is playing this season (24-12-6 record, .924 save percentage, 2.16 GAA) I give the Sharks the edge for the upset in this one. San Jose wins series 4-3.
#4 St. Louis Blues v. #5 Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings look to defend their previous Stanley Cup title, and start their run against the St. Louis Blues who they swept in the 2nd round of last years Stanley Cup playoffs. The Kings have played very well this season against the Blues, and with Jonathan Quick and Jeff Carter playing some of their best hockey this season, look for them to continue their success against the Blues. Kings sweep the series, and continue defending their title.
Eastern Conference Round 2
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins v. #6 New York Rangers
The Eastern Conference takes the cake with two of the most interesting matchups of this round. Both have the potential to go 7 games to decide who goes on to the conference finals. In this series, The Pittsburgh Penguins go up against the New York Rangers. Both teams like to play a very physical style of play, and have fantastic blue lines. The deciding factor in this one is the netminders. In this series, Marc Andre Fleury will have to outplay Henrik Lundqvist, which is unlikely. This game is going to go to 6 games to decide it, and the Rangers have the grit and skill to play at their best in every one of those games. The Rangers upset the Pen’s in 6 games.
#2 Montreal Canadiens v. #4 Boston Bruins
This is arguably the best rivalry in hockey, and will be one of the most watched series of this round. These two teams have played some very intense playoff series in the past, and this one should be no different. This game will go the full 7 and should see the Bruins come out on top. This game will come down to strong defense, heavy hits, and a lot of penalties, and if the Bruins maintain their strong penalty kill (2nd in the NHL) they should come out on top of this series 4-3.
Western Conference Round 2
#1 Chicago Blackhawks v. #7 Detroit Red Wings
This one is a simple choice, but should be a good series in it’s own respect. Jimmy Howard, will not be able to keep up with the high scoring, high powered offense the Chicago Blackhawks have, and as a result, the Hawks will continue their success and move on to the Western Conference Finals. Howard has the potential to steal a few games away from the Hawks but look for Chicago to take this one in 5.
#5 Los Angeles Kings v. #6 San Jose Sharks
This will be a very competitive series, with two very talented goaltenders in Jonathan Quick for the Kings and Antti Niemi for the Sharks going up against each other. This game has all the potential to go 7 games, and could be a great upset opportunity for the Sharks. However, Los Angeles has a far better blue line, and with Quick between the pipes, will send the sharks home in 6.
Eastern Conference Finals
#4 Boston Bruins v. #6 New York Rangers
These are two very evenly matched teams who have provided some great hockey this season against each other. Home ice advantage has no effect on the Rangers this series, as they’ve played very well as of late at TD Garden, especially Henrik Lundqvist who has won 11 of his last 15 matches against the B’s. Both teams have very strong defense, including their goaltenders in Tukka Rask for the Bruins and Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers. Both teams, in addition have outstanding forwards, but I give the edge to New York. The Rangers have great depth in scoring with forwards Rick Nash leading the charge with 21 goals this season. In addition Brad Richards is playing some of his best hockey as of late. Both late season acquisitions Ryan Clowe, and Derik Brassard are proving to be more than helpful. In summary, the Rangers have all the tools to match Boston, but netminder Henrik Lundqvist proves to be the deciding factor in the defense and will outplay Tukka Rask who will not be able to stand up to Rick Nash and the Rangers offense. However, The Blue Shirts will have to take the B’s to 7 games to reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993/94.
Western Conference Finals
#1 Chicago Blackhawks v. #5 Los Angeles Kings
High Octane Offense, v. Strong defense. This is going to be a very entertaining series, and should go the full 7. The Kings will be the most difficult opponent the Hawks have faced in the playoffs and are the only true opponent who has the opportunity to put a stop to their high powered offense, and snap their strong defense. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have paced each other throughout the season as far as performance both boasting a 1.94 GAA. While Jonathan Quick is having equally as impressive of a season, Chicago’s forwards will prove to be too much. Over a 7 game series, Toews, Kane, and Hossa will dismantle the kings and put an end to their run to a 2nd consecutive Stanley Cup trophy.
Stanley Cup Finals
#1 Cicago Blackhawks v. #6 New York Rangers
The New York Rangers will make their first Stanley Cup Final appearence since 1993/1994 when Mark Messier helped hoist the cup. However, they have to face a very talented Chicago Blackhawks team to produce a similar result. Both teams have fantastic defenses and some of the best netminders in all of hockey. Lundqvist ended his season with a 1.78 GAA, compared to Crawford and Emery who both boasted a 1.94 GAA. This is a tough series to call because, due to the shortened season, neither of these teams have met at all this season leaving nothing to compare to. However, the Chicago Blackhawks have scored the 2nd most goals this entire season, and have a great defense to boot. While the Rangers also have a great blue line, a great defense and netminder, Chicago will be able to outplay and outscore them in 7 games. Your 2012/2013 Stanley Cup Champions will be the Chicago Blackhawks.