Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Stanley Cup Playoff 1st Round Blurbs

Here are short blurbs on each of the 8 First Round playoff series. Take note of the Detroit-Tampa Bay one, you can see that also on the Faceoff Circle.

Eastern Conference:

PIT/NYR: If there was a textbook definition of "backing into the playoffs", this edition of the Pittsburgh Penguins might be given as an example. Part of that has to do with their tremendously depleted blue line (some of it self-enforced because of cap mismanagement), but this edition of the Penguins doesn't strike fear into almost anyone. The Rangers are the deepest team in the Eastern Conference, and without trying to sound insulting to the Penguins, this may even end up being a tune-up series for the Rangers. If they are playing their best hockey, they should easily dispatch the depleted Pens and condemn them to a heck of a summer of uncertainty.

NYI/WSH: When the Capitals are in the playoffs, chances are the series will go the distance. After a one year hiatus, the Caps return to the playoffs looking like a far more assured team at 5 on 5, while still maintaining that incredibly lethal power play. They are playing a "playoff brand of hockey" and it seems like there success is sustainable for once. They face an Islanders team on the rise, and yet one that feels like their window might not be open for too long. They are the best possession team in hockey, and they have John Tavares, who you may remember is pretty good. Their issues come in net, and on special teams (26th ranked PK and 23rd ranked PP). If this series stays at 5 on 5 for a good portion of the time, the Islanders have every shot of advancing. But the Caps have the hot goalie, the hot PP, and just enough at evens to push through. But as per usual, it'll go the distance.

DET/TB (This blurb can also be seen on faceoffcircle.ca): In the playoffs last season, these teams went a combined 1-8. But the first Yzerman Cup in the postseason is going to be a study in contrast. Whereas the Lightning have been consistently impressing all season, the Wings hot start has quickly faded and given way to their massive March malaise, compounded by the one thing no team wants heading into the postseason: goaltending questions. The Lightning were the league's highest scoring team this season, and despite having a power play that is less efficient than you might expect, they can consistently outwork you, especially 5 on 5. Their GF/60 (on-ice goals for per 60 minutes) at evens was 2.77. And even if Steven Stamkos isn't at the top of his game, the Bolts could easily throw out the Triplets, or ride a wave from someone like Alex Killorn or Ryan Callahan. Their scoring depth is second to none. For Detroit, the goaltending questions usurp almost everything else for them this series. Petr Mrazek will start Game 1 but could easily get the hook at any point for Jimmy Howard. Despite the Wing's #1 ranked PP in the league, their scoring touch has been lacking of late due to injuries and line blending. If they are healthy, they could easily find their form again. Their concerns are on the blueline, where AHL call up Alexey Marchenko could be in the lineup for Game 1 and possibly beyond, showing how much that unit has struggled despite the addition of Marek Zidlicky.  Last year the Bolts were swept by Montreal because of their inability to get a save. Even though Ben Bishop might not quite be what some thought he could be, he'll give Tampa Bay enough so Jon Cooper's forwards can get back to doing what they do best: scoring. Their speed, scoring depth and top-end talent are just too much for Detroit in a 7 games series.

OTT/MTL: Those pesky, pesky Sens. Their incredible run through March and April has pushed them into the postseason on the backs of 2 fairly amazing rookies and a goalie who will never have to buy McDonalds ever again. On the other side, the Canadiens come in with a goalie who will win the Hart and Vezina trophy going away, but little else going for them. The little engine that could from the Canadian Capital has the ability to score in bunches, and however ridiculous it might be, get a save from Andrew Hammond. The Habs do not play a sustainable style of hockey, get out-shot and out-possessed almost nightly, and rely so heavily on Carey Price to keep them going that their destiny is most certainly an early playoff exit. If it doesn't happen against the Sens, it will against Tampa. But the Sens magic carpet ride will continue for at least another round.

Western Conference:

CHI/NSH: Patrick Kane is made of tough stuff. The clavicle injury that was supposed to keep him out 12 weeks has kept him out less than half of that. With Kane back in the fold, the Blackhawks are scary deep. The Preds have the ability to steal not only games but the entire series because they have Roman Josi, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne, Unlike past Predators teams, they can also score goals with some frequency. But with the Blackhawks as deep as they are, and with Kane back in the lineup, this Predators team is going to have to take its lumps despite their impressive regular season. They'll be back, but this possible last hurrah for the Hawks will be too much for Nashville.

MIN/STL: This series will be incredibly close. The talk of how good Andrew Hammond has been has somewhat overshadowed another goaltending miracle: The resurrection of Devan Dubnyk's career. He's been absolutely fantastic since he arrived in St. Paul, and getting saves was the tonic that saved Minnesota's season. The Blues on the other hand, would love a goalie like Dubnyk. Maybe their Dubnyk is Jake Allen, who hasn't yet been given the ball full time. The Blues are scary deep up front, punishing on the blue line, and bitterly desperate to finally exercise playoff demons. The Wild have played incredibly well this season, but it feels like Game 82 when the Blues easily dispatched the Wild is an omen of the future.

ANA/WPG: How awesome is it that the Whiteout and playoff hockey in Winnipeg are both returning? They get a chance to write a fairy tale of their own against an Anaheim Ducks teams with plenty of playoff demons of their own, not the least of which lie on the shoulders of their coach. Bruce Boudreau has never been past the second round of the playoffs, but this feels like a good year for him and the Ducks. The Kings and Sharks are both on the golf course, and the path seems fairly straightforward for Anaheim this season. The Jets are going to be incredibly difficult to beat though, especially at the MTS Centre. It's conceivable that this series will have 7 games all won by the home team. Since the Ducks have 4 games at home and not 3, Anaheim will just be able to get out of this series with their blushes.

CGY/VAN: These teams met last 11 years ago in the playoffs, with the Flames taking that series in 7. Those Flames had their owned charmed existence with crazy endings and OT winners, and the Flames that step into their shadow this season feel very similar. But, there is still a Mark Giordano sized hole on their blue line; one that hasn't needed to be filled up until now but may finally catch up with them here. The Canucks have been solid all season long, and their question will be who gives them the saves: Ryan Miller or Eddie Lack? The Sedins are still the Sedins, and Radim Vrbata has been an incredibly underrated signing, but little else stands out about them. And because of that, the Canucks consistency might well be enough to put out the streaking Flames for good, who have yet to have reality hit them square in the face.

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