Who Wins Each Conference Final Game 7? Full Analysis and Predictions

By Pat Pickens and Dave Turner

It doesn’t get more exciting than Game 7 in the NHL Playoffs. Two, in consecutive nights, for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final? That’s nothing short of much-watch TV. We break down both series and predict who’ll come out on top in both winner-take-all Game 7′s.

Make sure to check out the podcast locative above for more in-depth analysis and opinion.

Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers

The series: 3-3 — Blueshirts won Games 1 (2-1), 4 (6-2) and 6 (7-3); Lightning Games 2 (6-2), 3 (6-5) and 5 (2-0)
The site: Madison Square Garden, New York
The history: The Rangers have won seven consecutive home Game 7s dating back to 1992 and have won their last six since 2009. Henrik Lundqvist has been the starting netminder and boasts a 1.00 goals-against average in seven career Game 7s. Like the Rangers, the Lightning are 1-0 in Game 7 this postseason. Ben Bishop pitched a shutout in his lone Game 7 appearance, stopping 31 of 31 in a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.
Players to watch: Tyler Johnson leads all playoff performers with 12 goals and 20 points. His linemate Nikita Kucherov is second with 19 points. Steven Stamkos has seven goals and is one of only two Lightning players to reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals — when he, Victor Hedman and Tampa Bay lost 1-0 to the Boston Bruins in 2011.
For the Rangers, Rick Nash is heating up at the perfect time. The winger posted a playoff career-high four points in the Rangers’ 7-3 win in Game 6 and has seven points in six games this series against Tampa Bay. Derick Brassard leads the Rangers with nine goals, and Derek Stepan has an overtime, game-winning goal in a Game 7 this playoff year already — doing so in the last round against Washington.
Pat’s Pick: Rangers 2, Lightning 1. The Blueshirts don’t lose these games — particularly at home. Lundqvist tends to play really well in Game 7s — he hasn’t given up more than one goal in any one since 2009 — and the Lightning are a little too raw to win this game in New York.
Henrik Lundqvist/(JamesTeterenko- wiki commons)

Henrik Lundqvist/(JamesTeterenko- wiki commons)

The series: 3-3 — Ducks won Games 1 (4-1), 3 (2-1) and 5 (5-4 OT); Blackhawks won Games 2 (3-2 OT), 4 (5-4) and 6 (4-2)
The site: Honda Center, Anaheim CA
The history: Neither team has played a game seven this season, with the Blackhawks winning in six over Nashville and four over Minnesota. The Ducks dispatched the Jets in four and the Flames in five. Despite that, neither team is a stranger to Game 7s. The Hawks have played three Game 7s in the past five seasons, with losses coming to Vancouver in 2011 and Los Angeles in the Western Conference Final last season. Their lone recent victory in the seventh game was over the Red Wings in 2013. As for Anaheim, they haven’t fared well in Game 7′s recently, losing in 2009 and 2013 to the Red Wings and then last year to the Kings in the Conference Semi-Final Round.
Players to watch: Anaheim has had nice depth scoring throughout the playoffs, but it has been the sensational play of Ryan Getzlaf with 19 points (2g, 17a) and Corey Perry with 17 points (9g 8a), who have paced the Ducks offensively. Not to be overlooked is Jakob Silfverberg. The young Swedish winger has tallied 17 points (4g, 13a) in a breakout playoff campaign, playing alongside Ryan Kesler.  The Blackhawks have been paced by none other than Patrick Kane’s 17 points (10g, 7a). Right behind him is do-everything center Jonathan Toews with 16 points (7g, 9a) and perennial Norris contender Duncan Keith with 16 points (2g, 14a) as well.
Though its most of the usual suspects at the top for both of these teams, Chicago and Anaheim have tremendous depth. The game winning goal may very well come from an unlikely source, as is many times the case in Game 7.
The Pick: The Ducks can’t possibly lose at home in Game 7, right? Tell that to the Chicago Blackhawks. After Chicago lost last year at home to the Kings, this team has been on a mission to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. Though the Ducks are a tremendously talented, heavy team to play against, the Blackhawks will show their mettle, winning 3-2 in overtime.

With the latest playoff failure in St. Louis, it’s time for Ken Hitchcock to go


Throughout the course of NHL history, plenty of coaches have paid the price for piloting underachieving teams to disappointing postseason results. Though many franchises have made knee-jerk reactions to can the man behind the bench in the past when it’s not deserved, other times, firing the coach is a measure that has to be taken for a team to reach it’s full potential.

For the St. Louis Blues, another excellent regular season showing with a stacked roster leaves the team desperately searching for answers after their 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild in Game 6.

The question that looms in St. Louis is, what can be done to change the lack of postseason success? With a roster as talented as that of Blues, what more can anyone really do to bolster the lineup itself? Elite defensemen, flashy scorers, grinders and a group that on paper should be able to go up against anyone the league has to offer has now won zero playoff series in the past three seasons. With that amount of talent, in no situation should three straight first-round exits be acceptable.

Something has to change in the Gateway City. That something is the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock.

Despite the shortcomings over the last four years, Hitchcock does have a reputation of being an excellent hockey coach with a pedigree of success. Hitchcock is fourth on the all-time wins list in NHL history and he’s won a Stanley Cup in Dallas. In addition, “Hitch” has piloted four different franchises to the postseason.

All of that is find and dandy, but we live in a sports world where the only thing that matters is what you’ve done lately and past successes can’t be a sticking point for a anyone, coach or player alike.

The Blues came into this postseason on fire, distancing themselves from the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks in the central division, en route to a 109 point regular season. After two straight one and done postseasons, the pressure was on, but the 2014-2015 seemed poised to be different.  With all that talent, it had to be… right?

For St. Louis it was more of the same – a quick exit that leads to yet another offseason full of what-ifs.

Much will be made about Hitchcock’s decision to go with rookie netminder Jake Allen over the veteran Brian Elliot. Allen’s 2.20 goals against wasn’t terrible, but a .904 save percentage leaves a lot to be desired. Would the series have taken a different turn if Elliot was in net? That’s a decision that came down to none other than Hitchcock himself. Considering that Elliot’s 2013 postseason numbers featured a 1.90 goals against and a .919 save percentage, perhaps the 30-year-old was the better option.

In reality, the goalie decision might not have swung the tide, but it’s a decision that falls firmly on the coach. Though Allen battled, we’ll never know what Brian Elliot could have done. Hitchcock went with the rookie in net, only to see Allen pulled in game six. Ultimately, the decision to start Allen in all six games resulted in another lost series.

Though much can be made of the goaltending, we also saw a wildly inconsistent roster that failed to match the intensity of the Wild over the course of the six games. There’s no true metric for the “compete level” of a team, but the eye test showed that Minnesota was the more tenacious team in both ends.

There was some good for the Blues that brings some optimism. Vladimir Taresenko was spectacular at times, but it was far from enough. As of April 26th, when the Blues were eliminated, the Russian-winger’s six goals stand as the best mark in the postseason to date.

As for d0-everything defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, his eight assists were first on the team. Tarasenko and Shattenkirk were excellent, but the herculean efforts of just two players don’t win a playoff series by themselves.  The Blues had only one other player register more than one goal in the series in Patrick Berglund. Meanwhile, T.J Oshie, Paul Stastny, David Backes and Alexander Steen, who make up the “core” of the Blues offense, combined for four goals in six games. Paul Stastny, whom the Blues signed in the offseason to give them more depth down the middle managed just one goal with no helpers, not exactly the kind of effort St. Louis handed him a multi-year deal for.

As the Blues start to pick up the pieces and assess the organization, the search for an answer to their conundrum starts in Northern California.

Let the San Jose Sharks be a reminder of when a coaching change and a quick, on the fly restart may be the right thing to do. The Sharks, as a parallel to the Blues, had plenty of talent but never reached the Stanley Cup Final.  Sharks head coach Todd McLellan’s seven year tenure ended in a tumultuous campaign that saw the Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time under his tutelage. San Jose decided to stick with one man behind the bench through their window of success, without the result they so desired.

Much like the Blues with Hitchcock, the excellent regular season results haven’t resulted in much playoff success. Though the Blues did win a series in 2011-2012, an increasingly talented roster hasn’t even gotten to a game seven in the past three seasons, losing in game six to the Kings, Blackhawks and now the Wild.

The Blues have the chance to hit the reset button and take another shot or two with the current makeup of their roster, which like the Sharks, is loaded with talent and seemingly unlimited potential.  Unlike the Sharks, who stuck with McLellan as the roster degraded and became despondent, the Blues are still in the sweet spot in terms of having the large portion of their roster still within their prime. Throw in the fact that Jake Allen showed signs of becoming a legitimate starting netminder during his rookie year, along with the continued emergence of Vlad Tarasenko, the case can be made that the Blues best years SHOULD be in front of them.

All that potential is great, but unless it’s realized, the Blues are doomed to the same fate as the Sharks; a perennial contender that feels the increasing heat of their past playoff debacles until they finally go down in a heap of flames.

Though Hitchcock’s past is decorated, the current state of the Blues begs for a new voice behind the bench, someone who can get the most out of the roster. With so much raw talent, now is the time to make the change. There is still ample time left for a new system to take hold and perhaps bring the Blues closer to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

As the old saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

After a third straight playoff meltdown, it would be insane to bring back Ken Hitchcock with the same roster and expect a different result.

Scott Darling is the latest unsung hero for the resilient Blackhawks

By Dave Turner

In a flash, the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves down 3-0 in Game 1 on the road in Nashville. After the first twenty minutes, out went the shell shocked Corey Crawford and in came Scott Darling to try and salvage the game. Instead, it was Darling who stole the show.

Darling, with only 14 previous NHL regular season starts to his name stepped onto hostile ice and did the unthinkable. The Lemont, Illinois native stood tall as Nashville poured on the shots in the third period. After 40 minutes of perfect relief, the game headed to overtime tied at three. There’s no way that Darling could hold off the Nashville onslaught in extra time, right?


Darling made save after save, some so brilliant that words can’t do them justice. It was only when Duncan Keith blasted home a shot from the point that the backup netminder got the win he so deserved after a stellar performance.

“It’s all adrenaline right now, that was a lot of fun,” Darling said to the media, following Wednesday’s game. “This is just another thing that i never would have told you would have happened, but it did and it was a great goal by (Duncan Keith) and what an effort by the boys, it was a great game.”

For Chicago, a standout performance from a virtual unknown shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since their 2010 Stanley Cup run, the Hawks have been in so many big games that featured countless big-time performances. It’s not just the likes of Toews, Kane and Hossa that have stepped up for this club in the past. From a grinder like Bryan Bickell to a journeyman defender in Johnny Oduya, The Hawks are used to extraordinary performances by seemingly ordinary players.

So, why not a Herculean effort from a career backup who at one point last year was playing for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL? It’s just the latest moment in what is a trend of unsung players stepping up to shine in the spotlight for the Blackhawks. That’s what it takes to make deep playoff runs and the Hawks certainly know how to do just that.

Chicago’s double overtime victory not only gives the Blackhawks home ice advantage in the series, but the come-from-behind win also reveals a lot about two two clubs.

If this series was a boxing match, the first period was a 10-7 in favor of the Predators, with Darling entering the contest just as it was about to finish in a decision for Nashville. Instead, Chicago weathered what seemed to be the best flurry of punches that the Predators had to offer and somehow came out on top with a twelfth round knockout.

The loss is a tough one to swallow for the Preds. A 3-0 lead with the opposing goaltender chased has to be a win in the playoffs. Especially at home and especially with Pekka Rinne in net. If you can’t protect three-goal leads at home, what can you do then?

“You’d rather be sitting in a different position,” said Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette to the media. Laviolette struggled at first to form a coherent sentence to describe his feelings when asked what he told his team after the loss. Weary, no doubt, after close to 100 minutes of hockey that saw his team put their best foot forward early on, only to fall short.

Nashville needed everything to break right to win this series and after one game, they’ll have an early hole to climb out of. To say that the Preds are finished wouldn’t be doing them any justice as a team that had 104 points in the regular season. But, to come back from a loss of this magnitude is tough, let alone against the seemingly unflappable Blackhawks.

Patrick Kane (2 assists) didn’t miss a beat in his return to the lineup after missing significant time following a fracture to his left clavicle.  If you’re Nashville, seeing Kane play with precision in his first game back is reason for concern. Game one played out as if it was the first chapter of what may be another deep playoff run by the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s a chapter that Scott Darling will not soon forget. Whether or not Darling even plays one minute the rest of the way remains to be seen, but Wednesday night’s thriller proves that sometimes it’s the most unlikely of sources that provides the spark to ignite the engine.

Watch out, the Hawks are about to put that engine into gear.


Series Preview: (2) Nashville Predators vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

(2) Nashville Predators vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

Season Series: Blackhawks win 3-1, Predators 1-1-2 (2-1 OT, 2-3, 3-1, 5-4 SO) 

Patrick Kane wasn’t supposed to be back this soon, right? That’s probably a question that the Nashville Predators are asking themselves as Kane readies himself for the first round series. For the Blackhawks, they’ll get back Kane just in time, hoping to use the extra offense to break the strong Predator blue line anchored by Shea Weber and company, with Pekka Rinne in net.

This series has the feel of one that maybe two months ago would be all Preds, but now seems like it might be heavily tilted in the direction of Chicago. Peter Laviolette’s Nashville bunch were in control of the Central Division for a major part of the season, only to see St. Louis run away with it towards the end. The reward is a playoff series against an ever-dangerous Blackhawks team that simply knows how to get it done in the playoffs. Factor in the lack of home-ice advantage that Nashville will have at home as thousands of Hawks fans descend on Bridgestone Arena and it looks like a tough draw.

Sizing up the Predators: Defense and goaltending are the bread and butter of this team. Shea Weber might be the household name, but Roman Josi is one of the most underrated two way defensemen on the planet. Factor in a young and ever-improving Seth Jones and the Predators boast a back line that is mobile and can change the game on both ends of the ice. Pekka Rinne had a sensational season in net, with a 2.18 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. His play did drop off a bit towards the end of the season, so it’s imperative that Rinne regain some of his form if the Predators hope to stick around in this series. Offensively, the Preds were paced by rookie Filip Forsberg, who finished with 26 goals and 37 assists. Craig Smith, Colin Wilson and James Neal all eclipsed the 20-goal mark, so while there are no real stars offensively, Nashville can find scoring from a plethora of different avenues.

What to expect from the Blackhawks: This is not the same team that we’ve seen in years past – at least now. Absent for most of the season was the type of stifling defense that we’ve seen from this club in the past. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson are the mainstays, but outside of those three, it’s been by committee at times.  Injuries certainly have played a role in that. Chicago is a team that knows when to turn it on. Looking at their regular season for answers wouldn’t be doing them any justice. The Hawks also struggled to score after Patrick Kane went down, even after trading for Antoine Vermette, the former Coyote has struggled. The one mainstay for the Blackhawks all season has been Corey Crawford. Though he may have been perceived as the weak link on this team in years past, his play this season warrants attention. His 2.27 gaa and .924 save percentage speak to the kind of season that Crawford had between the pipes. On paper, this Blackhawks team seems to have questions about their scoring and how well they can defend. This is a veteran group that has been through so many big playoff tests before, expect them to rise to the challenge now that the stakes are raised.

Series X-Factor: Patrick Kane- Whether he comes back for game one or not, he will play in this series and his impact may decide the series. Kane is one of the most skilled offensive players on the planet. He had 64 points in 61 games before injuring his shoulder. His penchant for scoring big late-game goals is a huge difference maker. If he’s able to go out and contribute in this series, it’ll make Chicago that much more dangerous offensively.

The Pick: Blackhawks in 5

Nashville had a great season, but it seems like they’ve peaked too early. Rinne’s numbers were pedestrian down the stretch and the Predators will need him to be really, really solid to stay in this series. The Blackhawks have the experience that many on the Predators lack. With Corey Crawford playing well and the return of Patrick Kane to an already dangerous team, Chicago will be able to dispatch Nashville in five and await the winner of the Blues/Wild series.




Series Preview: (1) St. Louis Blues vs. (4) Minnesota Wild

(1) St. Louis Blues vs. (4) Minnesota Wild 

Season Series: Wild win series 2-1-1, Blues 2-2 (2-3 SO, 3-1, 6-3, 2-4) 

This has the feeling of a long, physical series between two teams that are playing great hockey coming into the playoffs. The Blues won 4-2 over the Wild in what wasn’t a completely meaningless game for the Wild, as they could have taken the three seed in the Central with the win. That might be alarming only for the fact that Devan Dubnyk looked beatable for the first time in a long while.

Dubnyk is the key for the Minnesota. Before his arrival, they were on the outside looking in. Once Dubnyk stepped between the pipes, the Wild have been one of the best teams in hockey. For St. Louis, they’re firing on all cylinders with a roster that is stacked all the way through. They have speedy scorers in Jaden Schwartz and Vlad Tarasenko, but can grind it out with the likes of David Backes down the middle. Defensively, the Blues have the edge as well.

Brian Elliot will be a key in net, as he’ll have to outplay Dubnyk for the Blues to win. He had a strong regular season, but he has to show that he can get it done in the playoffs. The Blues come in to the playoffs with a lot of pressure to win, following series meltdowns against the Kings and Blackhawks in the last two seasons.

These teams know each other well and this has all the makings of a tight series that may even feature a few overtime tilts.

Sizing up the Blues: It’s hard to find a weakness on this team. They can score at evens and on the power play. The offseason acquisition of Paul Stastny from Colorado makes them that much more formidable down the middle, a key to playoff success in the rough and tumble Western Conference. Defensively, the Blues really shine. Kevin Shattenkirk is back from injury and it’s no surprise that the team got on a roll once he returned. Shattenkirk is a wizard on the power play and his two-way game at evens is among the best in the entire league. He can score, distribute and shut down any team’s best line. Throw Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester into the mix and St. Louis is a great defensive team. The Key for the Blues will be Brian Elliot. He has to be strong between the pipes. Goaltending has doomed this team in the past and if they expect to make a deep run, they’ll need to do it from the net out.

What to expect from the Wild: The story of Devan Dubnyk is the reason why they got themselves turned around, but this is a sound team as well. With a first line of Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville, they’ll be dangerous. Considering that they can roll three legitimate scoring lines, even the Blues fantastic defensive depth will be tested. Defensively, it will be a lot of Ryan Suter, who plays both special teams and will most likely log close to 30 minutes every night. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella are also viable two-way defenders for Minnesota who will have their hands full with the Blues offense as well. The question mark is if Dubnyk can keep up his level of play. He started 39 straight games for the Wild, which will certainly test just how much he has left in the tank for a long, grueling series. If he’s able to give the Wild good play in net, they should be able to score enough to make this a highly contested series.

Series X-Factor: Kevin Shattenkirk- His return to the lineup is huge for St. Louis. Not that the Blues have a shortage of elite blue liners or a void at forward, but what Shattenkirk brings to the table is unique. He can log major minutes while being a huge factor at both ends of the ice. If he stays healthy and is able to chip in offensively, he will be the piece that puts the Blues over the top.

The Pick: Blues in 7

This is perhaps the hardest series to pick St. Louis’s playoff failures have to be accounted, but this is just such a deep team this season. Minnesota won a playoff series last year against the Avalanche in seven games before falling to the Blackhawks in round two. They know what it takes to win a long series and if St. Louis lets them stick around, it could be another long offseason for the Blues. That being said, the overall talent of the Blues should put them over the top in a long series, as they have the edge in just about every category, except if Dubnyk is spectacular. It wouldn’t be surprising if this goes the other way, but the Blues will outlast the Wild in seven games.




Series Preview: (1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Winnipeg Jets

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Winnipeg Jets

Season Series: Anaheim won 3-0 (4-3 OT, 4-1, 5-4 SO)

This is an intriguing first round series that features two physical teams. The Duck finished as the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season and the Winnipeg Jets are playing the first playoff game in the city of Winnipeg since the original Jets departed for Arizona in 1996 after reaching as the final wild card team out of the Central Division.

The Ducks won all three games during the regular season, but the two clubs haven’t met since January 11th. The two clubs have never met in the playoffs before.

Though the Ducks are perceived to be the superior offensive team, in reality, the Ducks (2.78 goals per game) only just barely outscore the Jets (2.72 g/g).

This series will most likely come down to the goaltending. Though the Ducks are playing coy with their starter in net for game one, that alone says enough. Both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson have shown signs of promise this season, but both have struggled at times. For Bruce Boudreau, his hope is that whoever goes into game 1 as the starter plays well enough to keep the job. For Winnipeg, Ondrej Pavelec wrestled the job away from rookie Michael Hutchinson and has been one of the hottest goalies in the league heading into the playoffs.

Sizing up the Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry set the tone for the rest of the team. The Ducks have two of the best players in the world on their first line and both bring different things to the table. Perry brings pure goalscoring ability and he sn’t afraid to mix it up in the corners. Getzlaf is a playmaker, a grinder and a sniper all in one. His well-rounded game sees him killing penalties, leading the power play and logging big minutes. Getzlaf is to hockey what a five-tool outfielder is to the game of baseball. When you have Ryan Kesler as your second line center, it bodes well. Kesler was productive in his first season in Anaheim, bringing more grit and size down the middle. Defensively, Anaheim is somewhat of a nascent bunch, with talented young defensemen in Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatenen to go along with mainstay blueliner Francois Beauchemin. In goal, the Ducks seem to have a bit of a conundrum, as expected starter John Gibson is battling an upper body injury. If that’s the case, it’ll be Frederik Andersen to start the series. If he falters, Gibson could certainly get the nod when healthy.

What to expect from the Jets: Winnipeg will bring a fantastic home-ice environment to the playoffs. Ticket prices are through the roof as fans will be excitedly awaiting their first playoff game in decades. On the ice, the Jets had a better Corsi for percentage than the Ducks, with a 52.5% rate as opposed to Anaheim’s 51.2% (source: http://war-on-ice.com/teamtable.html) Blake Wheeler has been on fire for the Jets after returning from injury. The Jets do lack the kind of game-breaking bodies up front that Anaheim has, but they have capable scorers with the likes of Bryan Little, Michael Frolik and Drew Stafford among a host of contributors. Defensively, the Jets have a strong blue line anchored by Dustin Byfuglien. Winnipeg is a physical team that will be able to play the grind-it-out sort of style needed in the playoffs.

Series X-Factor: Ondrej Pavelec – With the Ducks question marks in net, Pavelec has the chance to steal the show. The Jets netminder comes in as hot as any goaltender in the league, posting shutouts in key games against the Wild and Blues to secure a playoff birth. If Pavelec continues that sort of dominance in net, it should tilt the ice in favor of Winnipeg

The Pick: Jets in 6

Great goaltending, possession numbers and a raucous home crowd all serve as major positives for the Jets. Though the Ducks were one of the best teams in the NHL during the regular season, they’re running into a hot team with a hot goaltender and it could spell trouble for Anaheim. The Jets will split the first two in Anaheim before winning three of the next four, culminating with a game six win in front of hte MTS Centre crowd.




Series Preview: (2) Vancouver Canucks vs. (3) Calgary Flames

(2) Vancouver Canucks vs. (3) Calgary Flames

Season Series: Flames win series 2-1-1, Canucks 2-2 (2-4, 2-3 OT, 1-0, 3-2) 

Raise your hand if you had this as the 2-3 matchup in the Pacific coming into the season? Exactly. These two teams surprised many by finishing above both the San Jose Sharks and defending champion LA Kings. But this is no fluke. Both the Canucks and Flames played well all year and are certainly deserving of a series.

These two teams share a heated rivalry that has seen some fantastic finishes. The teams met in the playoffs in 1989, 1994 and 2004, with the winner eventually going on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Though it seems like the historical trend will be bucked this year, these two teams should expect a long, hard fought series.

Vancouver returns to the playoffs on the backs of the Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who have been masterful, once again. The Canucks are getting healthy on defense, but the question mark for Vancouver is in net. Ryan Miller is finally healthy, but Eddie Lack proved over the home stretch that he is plenty capable. Miller will be counted on to be the workhorse in net, but should he falter, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Lack between the pipes.

The cardiac Flames make the playoffs after a sensational season brings them back to the tournament for the first time in six years. Led by young guns Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames are an exciting offensive team. Advanced stats will say that the Flames have no business being in the field, as they didn’t drive play at the rate that some of the other teams did, but, timely goal scoring and solid play from Jonas Hiller in net have the young Flames ready to go.

Sizing up the Canucks: The Sedins get a lot of the credit, but it’s the depth scoring of the Canucks that has paced them all season. The second line of Nick Bonino, Chris Higgins and Radim Vrbata have been strong as well. Throw in Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson and Derek Dorsett on the third line and this is a very deep team offensively, especially when Zack Kassian returns for that line as well. On the back end, the Canucks finally have everyone back.  Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev are a strong, but not overwhelming first pairing, but their depth on D goes all the way down to the third pairing. They have a nice mix of veterans who have been through the rigors of the playoffs, which should bode well against a Flames team that is swimming in uncharted waters. The key will be if Miller can give them consistent goaltending. His numbers, .911 save percentage and 2.53 goals against don’t exactly jump off the page and his health is an issue as well. At least for Vancouver, they do have the option of starting Eddie Lack if things go south for Miller.

What to expect from the Flames: Calgary is one of the feel good stories in the NHL coming into the playoffs, as they stuck around all year and defeated the Los Angeles Kings at home to bounce the defending champs from the playoffs and secure their birth. Though the Flames aren’t a prototypical heavy, polished Western Conference team, their team speed and ability to score is what got them here. Sean Monahan is becoming a stud, but outside of their top line, Calgary doesn’t throw anything too daunting at the Canucks with a second line of Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne and Sam Bennett. The loss of Captain Mark Giordano might not have shown up so much in the regular season, but without him for what looks like at least this first series, the Flames will miss the two-way game that Giordano brings. In net, the Flames feature a netminder in Jonas Hiller who has been in the playoffs. Hiller is 12-12 in the playoffs, but with a .932 save percentage, lifetime while in the playoffs with the Anaheim Ducks.

Series X-Factor: The Sedins- There are plenty of others who could be considered important pieces in this series, but as the Sedins go, Vancouver goes. Teaming up with Alexandre Burrows, the Sedins will play big minutes and will be counted on to score. If they can keep up the type of play that they showed during the regular season, this line will be a struggle for the Calgary defense to deal with and will give Vancouver a major edge in the scoring department.

The Pick: Canucks in 6

The heart says Flames, but logic says the Canucks. Though the Flames did so well to get to where they are, teams generally need to learn how to lose in the playoffs before they learn how to win. The Canucks have a veteran group that has seen all sorts of playoff peaks and valleys and when all is said and done, Vancouver is a deeper team with more experience and it will show.



Ranking the best home ice in the NHL Playoffs this year

With the playoffs now upon us, sixteen teams will go to battle starting Wednesday with one goal in mind:  to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. Home ice advantage certainly plays a role, as the home team benefits from the volume of the crowd, as well as the ability to rattle the opposition. For these rankings both historical information and the team’s current fan engagement level are taken into account to decide which team has the very best home ice advantage in the playoffs this season.  (Note: Seatgeek.com statistics were taken as of late Sunday night and may change)

16. Nashville Predators (Bridgestone Arena)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $80

Nashville fans have really started to embrace hockey. For the Predators, their opening round matchup makes it very tough for them to have a true home-ice advantage with Chicago coming to town. The Blackhawks are notorious for sending thousands of fans to Nashville and though those dressed in yellow and blue will be loud, they’ll have some competition in their own building.

15. Ottawa Senators (Canadian Tire Center)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $117

Don’t be mistaken, Canadian Tire Center will be loud come game three against the Canadiens. Whether it’s the fact that they became a team in 1990 once much of Canada had aligned elsewhere, or because they’re yet to win a title, Ottawa sometimes lacks the type of raucous atmosphere that is synonymous with hockey north of the border.

14. Washington Capitals (Verizon Center)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $64

The Caps at No.14 was a hard one, as fans have packed the Verizon Center with regularity and ticket prices are always high. Despite having a great group of loyal fans, the Caps still seem to lack that hockey pedigree that you see from other places around the league. Even still, Verizon Center will be no easy skating for opponents.

13. St. Louis Blues (Scottrade Center)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $63

Blues fans enter the playoffs with a bit of caution. St. Louis finished off another great regular season, but with their playoff struggles the past two seasons, fans in St. Louis are chomping at the bit for playoff success. With a talented team, Scottrade will explode with every goal, but a poor effort in games one or two might make for some anxious fans.

12. Anaheim Ducks (Honda Center) 

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $43

With their unique bellowing goal horn, Anaheim Ducks fans have grown accustomed to success over the past ten-plus seasons. When the Ducks won their first cup in 2007, fans around Southern California began to catch some of the passion that “traditional” hockey markets have. Though the Honda Center can be plenty loud, they’re not quite as boisterous as some of the other buildings in the field.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning (Amalie Arena)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $59

Tampa Bay might not exactly be known for it’s incredibly passionate fan base, but with a fun and exciting team, they’ve packed Amalie Arena all year. The Lightning finished with the best home record in all of hockey, posting a 32-8-1 mark at home. Now that’s home ice advantage. They do lack a bit of the true passion as some of the more “classical” hockey markets, or they’d be even higher.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (Consol Energy Center)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $75

In another season, the Penguins would most likely be ranked much higher. With the team barely making the playoffs, fans in the Steel City seem to have soured a bit towards this team. With what could be an offseason of big changes following an early exit, a matchup with the Presidents Trophy winning Rangers is tough. Should the Pens go down 2-0 coming into Consol, an early Rangers goal might take the air right out of the building. That being said, if the Penguins surprise and make it a series, Consol will be plenty loud.

9. Vancouver Canucks (Rogers Arena)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $99

Unfortunately, one of the lasting moments for Rogers Arena was the sights after Vancouver lost in the finals in 2011. That being said, if that doesn’t show you the passion of the Vancouver fanbase, then what does? Rogers is a great building that will be incredibly loud against a heated rival in the Calgary Flames. Speaking of which, the last three times those two clubs tangled in the playoffs, the winner went on to the Stanley Cup Finals

8. Calgary Flames (Scotiabank Saddledome)

Cheapest home game No. 1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $209

If you had a chance to watch the Flames clinch the playoffs with a 3-1 win over the defending champion LA Kings, then you know exactly what to expect from the Saddledome in game three. With a young and exciting team, Flames fans are ecstatic to break the six-year playoff drought and will be rocking against a hated rival.

7.  New York Rangers (Madison Square Garden)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $254

Once known as a building filled with far too many corporate seats, MSG has been rejuvenated following the renovations and last year’s run to the finals. Ranger fans expect nothing short of a championship this season and will be an absolutely raucous bunch. The Blue Shirts will also have the benefit of home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, which should make for some ear-splitting late-series games in the Big Apple.

6. New York Islanders (Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $143

Normally the Islanders wouldn’t be ranked this high, but with the Islanders moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season, fans on Long Island will be proudly behind their team during the last hurrah at Nassau Coliseum. With the glory days of the early 80′s in their minds, fans won’t want to see this building close. That makes for what will be a deafening atmosphere on Long Island.

5. Minnesota Wild (Xcel Center)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $177

Wild fans have packed Xcel Center since the team returned to the NHL. Since then, it’s been sellout after sellout in the “State of Hockey.” Minnesotans are long-known for their hockey-rich traditions and following the departure of the North Stars, fans responded to the Wild’s return with one of the best home atmospheres in the sport. With a resurgent second-half of the season that led to a playoff birth, Xcel Center will be primed to go wild with the home team.

4. Detroit Red Wings (Joe Louis Arena)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $53

“The Joe,” with the second biggest seating capacity in the NHL,  is one of the oldest buildings in hockey.  The building is also steeped in rich tradition.  The Red Wings have made the playoffs for the last 24 years. Fans expect postseason hockey and they absolutely eat it up. With knowledgeable, passionate fans, if the Wings are able to make it a series with the Lightning, expect the Joe to explode with every Red Wings goal.

3. Winnipeg Jets (MTS Centre)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $739

Tickets for the smallest building in the NHL are through the roof. Speaking of which, the roof might come off the building when the Jets score their first goal in the playoffs since the franchise departed in 1996. The MTS Centre may be small, but that adds to the sound volume. With the Winnipeg faithful absolutely elated to be watching hometown playoff hockey again, this will be one of the loudest buildings in the NHL this postseason.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (United Center)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $143

Aptly named the Madhouse on Madison, United Center, the United Center is one of the best buildings in all of sports. Since the resurgence of the Blackhawks, fans have been packing the building to cheer on the team. Wth their two recent cup runs, Blackhawks fans have become accustomed to playoff hockey and if Patrick Kane suits up in Game three, expect the crowd to be absolutely electric from the outset.

1. Montreal Canadiens (Bell Centre)

Cheapest home game No.1 ticket via SeatGeek.com – $126

Seeing a game at Bell Centre is something that should be on every sports fan’s bucket list. The atmosphere is incredible, as the fans of Les Habitants live and die with every play. With a league-leading capacity of 21,287, Bell Centre can be deafening at times. When the Canadiens score and the crowd errupts into chants of “Allez Montreal” after their well-known high pitched goal horn, the electricity in the crowd is simply unrivaled. The atmosphere at Bell Centre gives the Canadiens the best home ice advantage in the playoffs this year.

Radio Test

Puck Talk is on Mixlr

Puck Talk 2-5-15

This week, Pat Pickens and Dave Turner talk with Christian Arnold of Islanders Point Blank and with Matt Kalman of NHL.com and TheBruinsBlog.net.

Wtih the playoff races heating up, we take a look around the league, breaking down both conferences.

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