By Dave Turner
Unfortunately, as Devils fans, we don’t get to watch our team in the postseason this year, but, I know I will still be glued to my TV for as many games as possible.
My preseason picks to go to the Stanley Cup Final were the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues. Not sure if that’s going to happen, but we’ll see.
This should be another great year of playoff hockey, filled with some upsets and some grueling series. Can’t wait, time to drop the puck!
1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 8) New York Islanders
For a second, I envisioned this series being a tough one for the Penguins, but then I realized that the Islanders are basically an inferior version of the Penguins in almost every way. Whatever the Islanders do, the Penguins can do better.
I think when you also throw in that this is an Islanders team that has a lot of players playing in their first postseason tilt, their lack of playoff experience will hurt them. Compared to the Penguins, who have a ton of experience, you have to give that as a major edge for the Penguins.
The biggest x-factor in this series is Sidney Crosby and to a lesser extent James Neal. If both of them come back soon, and can contribute, The Penguins should be just fine.
The Islanders are going to go down swinging though. They can score in bunches and they have, in my opinion, the league MVP in John Tavares. They’ve had pretty good goaltending from Evgeni Nabakov down the stretch. Though I don’t think they will win, it will be a nice step for this organization, which for years has been the laughing-stock of the league.
The Pick: Penguins in 6
2) Montreal Canadiens vs. 7) Ottawa Senators
Montreal is really flying under the radar. With the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston and New York in the picture, the Habs have had a stellar season. They’ve got goal scoring from just about t heir entire roster, and Carey Price has played well enough to even win a Vezina.
The x-factor in this series is Erik Karlsson. He’s back, and he instantly makes a difference for Ottawa. We know that the Senators can play excellent defense, but add a bit more scoring and this team could be trouble for anyone. Karlsson had two assists in their finale last weekend.
I think this has long series written all over it. The Habs will be tough at home and they’ll score some goals, helped by the tremendous blue-liners they have in P.K Subban, Raphael Diaz and Andrei Markov.
We could be in for a lot of 1-goal 2-1, 3-2 kinds of games. I don’t expect too many goals in this one. Ottawa seems like a team that is built for the playoffs, where they can grind out wins. Montreal, they’re a bit more finesse. I think it’s going to take an excellent effort from Price to win this series.
The Pick: Montreal in 7
3) Washington Capitals vs. 6) New York Rangers
This is a tough one to pick. Both teams have been hot, and both possess weapons that can result in long playoff runs. Last year’s darling, Braden Holtby, is back for some more against the team that knocked them out. He hasn’t been great, but he also struggled when the whole team was struggling.
The series is so interesting, because you have two teams that have been so hot, they went from outside of the playoff picture, to firmly entrenching themselves within it.
The Rangers got back some of that grit that they had from last year, and Rick Nash is definitely an upgrade overall from Marian Gaborik. I think the x-factor for the Rangers in this series is Derek Stepan. He has emerged as a big time player this season. With the Caps trying to take away Nash, it’ll have to be someone like Stepan that comes up big.
As for the Caps, Alex Ovechkin has been excellent. When he goes, the Caps go. If the Rangers aren’t able to reel him in, they could be in for a tough go. In the end, I have to favor Henrik Lundqvist over Holtby in the goaltending matchup, and that makes the difference.
The Pick: Rangers in 6
4) Boston Bruins vs. 5) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Bruins blew a chance at the 2 seed, and they know it. The Maple Leafs have actually made the playoffs, so that should help their rabid fan-base simmer down just a tad. Outside of that, I think that though Toronto made nice strides by getting to this point, this was the worst possible draw for them.
Boston is a physical, grind it out sort of team. They make you work to score against them. Their only downfall, they don’t score a ton themselves. The Maples Leafs aren’t exactly a great defensive team, and James Reimer has had a few games where he just doesn’t seem to have it.
Honestly, I think this one comes down to the Boston forecheck. Can the Maple Leafs play tight, defensive hockey, while the Bruins forecheck is breathing down their neck at every turn. I don’t think they can handle it. Boston will find their way to some big goals off turnovers and they’ll take it.
The Pick: Bruins in 5
1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. 8) Minnesota Wild
I would have given the Columbus Blue Jackets a fighting chance in this series, had they made it. I would have given the Red Wings a glimmer of hope if they had fallen to the 8 spot as well. Minnesota? Enjoy the playoffs now because your time will be short.
Minnesota doesn’t really do anything that well. Sure, their first line can score, but that’s pretty much it. They’re not an overwhelming defensive team and Niklas Backstrom hasn’t been stellar.
When you look at the Hawks, you see everything they do right and you’re almost amazed. They score all the way through their lineup, they play defense and they have two goaltenders that can get the job done.
With that being said, this is a HUGE test for Corey Crawford. He was plagued by inconsistency in the past, but he’s been excellent this year. It needs to continue in the playoffs.
The Pick: Blackhawks in 4
2)Anaheim Ducks vs. 7) Detroit Red Wings
Something tells me that this series is going to be a weird one. Not sure if that means the Red Wings are going to pull an upset, but there’s just something about the Wings that always translates into a good playoff series.
The Ducks were so hot for most of the year, but they have cooled some. They have a TON of scoring though. It doesn’t matter what line you have out there, they can do some damage.
This is definitely not your Red Wings teams of lore. They aren’t exactly an imposing defense, but I like some of the grit they have and their playoff experience. They’ve been there before, they know how to act in tense moments.
Not sure if that will translate to a series win, because I think the Ducks are the more talented team. I think we’re in for a long series though, with both teams showing some offensive firepower at times.
The Pick: Ducks in 7
3) Vancouver Canucks vs. 6) San Jose Sharks
This is the most intriguing series of the first round. These are two veteran teams, who have a lot of talent, but always seem to falter in the playoffs. One of them is going to be gone right away, which will only add to the ire of whichever fanbase it is.
These teams are pretty similar. You have an elite level playmaking center on each side, good goaltending and a solid, but not great defensive corps for each.
The x-factor in this one seems pretty obvious. Who is the better goalie. Is it Cory Schneider or Antti Niemi. Would a bad game one from Schneider awaken Luongo? Probably not, but it’s something to think about.
To me, this will be a series that is won or lost on the power play. Both of these teams are pretty good on the kill, but the Sharks hold the advantage on the power play. It’ll be interesting to see how the move of Brent Burns to wing works out in the playoffs. So far, it’s been pretty successful.
The Pick: Sharks in 6
4) St. Louis Blues vs. 5) Los Angeles Kings
This is a tough one to pick. I keep thinking about reasons why the Blues are a better team, but it keeps coming back to Jonathan Quick. Not because Quick has been so great during the regular season, but more-so because we know what he can do and we know what the St. Louis goaltending hasn’t done.
If you take out goaltending ( I know, the idea sounds stupid) I think the Blues match up with anyone in the field. They can grind, they can play defense and they have enough scoring. Put in the fact that they haven’t had consistent goaltending and that worries me. During the regular season, you can get away with that, but in the playoffs, where every save is magnified, you usually can’t. The Blackhawks and Flyers did make a Stanley Cup Final with the same issue though, so it’s not like you can just count the Blues out.
The Kings sort of glided through most of the regular season before turning it on. You can’t ever knock experience, and they certainly have that. They’ll need Quick to be good though. If he’s as ordinary as he’s looked at times in the regular season, it immediately takes away the advantage they might have over St. Louis.
The Pick: Kings in 7
We’ll be back with picks for the remaining rounds as well.