NHL Playoff Predictions – The First Round

 1. Washington Capitals vs. 8. New York Rangers

Did you hear? McDonalds brought back the McRib for a limited time only!

How The Caps Win: After last year’s disappointing loss to the Canadiens, the Capitals will have to prove that their new focus on defensive responsibility can translate into post season success. It’s worth mentioning that once the intensity level of their series with the Habs escalated, the Capitals were only able to muster a single goal in each of the last 3 games. Their offensive players need to show they can produce when counted on.

How The Rangers Win: Meanwhile the Rangers, who are without key players (such as Ryan Callahan) due to injury, will need to rely on their gutsy defensive work ethic to have any chance at an upset. A hard-working, shot-blocking team who can capitalize on their scoring chances is exactly what gave the Capitals fits last year. If Lundqvist can get inside the heads of the Washington players, we could see another 8 over 1 upset.

Prediction: Rangers in 7.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7. Buffalo Sabres

 How The Flyers Win: To everyone’s great surprise the Flyers are once again big, deep and extremely talented but have enormous question marks in-goal. Last year they rose beyond this challenge and found themselves in the Stanley Cup Final. The Flyers will need to find a way to continue to produce offense against a stingy Sabres team, as it’s difficult to make a case for Bobrovsky (or Boucher, or Leighton) over Miller in 2-1 or 1-0 games. Chris Pronger’s return and when that will be is also a huge factor in compensating for their lack of a star in-goal.

How The Sabres Win: Since securing new ownership no one in the league has been hotter than the Buffalo Sabres who went 16-4-4 down the stretch. The Flyers meanwhile sleepwalked through March and April and will be hoping their alarm clocks go off in time. The Sabres will need to keep executing the way they have been and get leads early on in games. If they are forced to open up their offense in search of tying goals they run the risk of exposing Ryan Miller and nullifying their biggest advantage.

Prediction: Flyers in 6.

3. Boston Bruins vs. 6. Montreal Canadiens

 How The Bruins Win: Arguably the most anticipated series of the first round, Boston vs Montreal promises to be hard-hitting, hate-filled, in-the-trenches hockey. If the Bruins can keep the series physical and goad the Canadiens off their game and into playing Bruins hockey they should have no trouble disposing of the diminutive Candiens. The Bruins are offensively deep, rock solid defensively and Tim Thomas set a record for save percentage this year. If they fall into the trap of playing a speed game against the Canadiens, or end up constantly in the penalty box for being overly physical, they will find themselves the victim of a  25th post season defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals.

This stanchion should do the trick...

How The Canadiens Win: Speed, special teams, Carey Price. These 3 factors above any other will determine if this is a short stroll in the park for the Bruins or if the Canadiens can find themselves in the second round for a second consecutive year. They know the Bruins will be physical and they know they can’t compete on that level. They need to frustrate the Bruins by limiting scoring chances and powerplays against. The Bruins style, meanwhile, dictates that the Canadiens will get their own powerplay chances and must continue their special teams success (going 9 for 28 on the man-advantage in the season series) against the Bruins this year. More importantly than all of the above, Carey Price has had a sensational season, but he’s also 0-8 in his last 8 playoff starts. He has to prove that his turnaround is for real or this series will be over very shortly.

Prediction: Bruins in 7

4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lighting

How The Penguins Win: If at the outset of the season someone had said the Pens would lose both Crosby and Malkin for extended periods of time and still finish with 106 points it’s hard to imagine anyone would have believed them. Yet the Pens find themselves with home-ice advantage in the first round despite not having their top two players in the line-up. Their keys are simple, they have to continue to outwork the opposition and capitalize on chances with an under-manned forward group. James Neal and Alex Kovalev will need to be bigger factors (then they have been since being acquired) in this series while Fleury has the hardest job of all: keeping the goals against low enough to give the Pens a chance to win. Crosby continues to practice with the team with no word on whether or not he’ll return in time for this series. If he does return and is fit enough to be effective, then obviously the entire complexion of this series changes.

How The Lightning Win: The Lightning find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in years and have a great opportunity to win a series against a depleted Penguins team. If they can focus on their fast-transition game plan and not let the pressure of post-season play get to them they should be able to overpower their opposition. Leaders like St. Louis, Lecavalier and even Simon Gagne will need to play large roles in case Stamkos’ scoring drought continues. Dwayne Roloson has shown in the past that he can win a goaltending match-up over the course of a series, it’s just a matter of if at this age fatigue becomes a factor.

Prediction: Lighting in 6

Written by Matthew Cutler for Athletes Angle.

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17 responses to “NHL Playoff Predictions – The First Round

  1. Matthew, you just sold me on the Sabres then you took the Flyers in 6. To be honest, I did not follow the end of the season very closely and I was shocked the Sabres somehow found their way into the playoffs. I guess going 16-4-4 down the stretch can do that for a team.

    I’m with you on the Pens-Lightning series. I actually thought this was an easy one to call but with the Pens taking game 1, I’m stumped as to how they’re pulling this off. Any thoughts?

  2. You lost me with the first prediction, you’re lucky we have low standards here on AA. How can the Rangers win this series after all the amazing moves that the Capitals made before the playoffs? Arnott, Wideman, and Boudreau’s new defensive strategy seem like pure genius. I’m so convinced that if the Capitals had one of their goalies get hot, they will win the Cup.

  3. Ryan,

    So… with all those great moves they were still a shot away from losing game 1 and their offense was completely ineffective all game. (Now they have 5 goals in their last 4 playoff games.) I still feel like they will get frustrated, just like last year and eventually move away from their game plan. Also, they got a break with their tying goal. If that’s a regular season game the “intent the blow the whistle” rule calls that one back.

    Dallas,

    The Sabres – Flyers series was the hardest for me to make an actual prediction. I wanted to take the Sabres but I think the depth of the Flyers eventually takes over. I also don’t feel like both the 1 and 2 seeds go out but I really believe the Rangers have a great chance to oust Washington.

    When it comes to Tampa, they looked good early on and had big chances but Fleury kept the Pens tied. Tampa looked uncomfortable being in a scoreless tie late and couldn’t (or were too scared to take chances) generate any offense. I think the trend of 4 shutouts in 8 games will correct itself in the next games (for all the series’) and we’ll get a better indication of if the Pens can handle Tampa’s offense or if they stole one. Sure is impressive what they’ve pulled off so far with that roster.

  4. Good points (Matt, not Henry). The four shut-outs in four games, where have all the goals gone? In my books, it’s never too early to over-react so here it goes: when is the NHL going to pull their head out of their ass and add the two-goal line? It’s been a long time coming and it’s the only way to increase scoring.

    I better follow that up with a “just kidding” before anybody takes that seriously.

  5. I had 4 pages written in response to your 2 point line, all in agreement, before reading your last sentence.

  6. Corinne Cutler

    Matt,
    great article!! Not sure about your #3 prediction what the … Nice comment on the stachion Ryan wow too soon, heartless.

  7. Great article? Your more a homer for family than you are for the Habs!

  8. I’m taking the Capitals because they are just playing playoff hockey rather than trying to be run-and-gun, I’m also taking the Sabres because Bobrovsky is not the answer for Philly, I’m taking the Habs because Carey Price is the answer for Montreal, and I’m taking the Penguins because without a doubt we’ll see Crosby at some point in these playoffs and that team has won more low scoring tight games down the stretch than most teams do in a season.

    But then again what do I know, I’m just right all the time!

  9. There seems to be this assumption that Crosby will make an appearance in the playoffs or they will rush him back when they Penguins go down. I think he would’ve been back by now if he could’ve. This is one hell of a concussion injury and the docs seem bent on not bringing him back until they are 299% sure he has no residual symptoms.

  10. You are right all the time. By the way, way to call a Sabres upset after they sneak out game 1. That’s like dunking on your own head…actually, it’s not even close.

  11. I’m just reading my picks off the office pool I filled out a day prior to game #1 Dallas. Just because you called the Coyotes to win the cup doesn’t mean you should take your anger out on us!

  12. See, you’re lying. You don’t work in an office. How could you possibly take part in an office pool?

  13. Matthew Cutler

    You’re not in trouble till you lose at home… that’s what I’ll keep telling myself about the Rangers.

  14. I know people who work in an office though. Well that’s not true but you could imagine I could know someone.

  15. Funny stuff Matthew. But your kind of right here. Sure the Rangers scored only once in two games on the road. Can you imagine when they get home, maybe they’ll find a way to net two, maybe three goals over the next two games. This is one of those series that has that 5-game-feel to it.

    Don’t worry though, for what you lost in the Rangers tonight you probably gained in the Lightning. Tonight’s game was a lot closer to how I thought the series would unfold. And Roloson, he looks like he’s 36 again taking the Oilers to the Cup final.

  16. Hello! Thanks for the kind words! I just write about what I see and hear in the industry. Keep your ears open and be uiunqe would be 2 hints for writing a blog or newsletter. We use WordPress to manage our site. Its great and easy to navigate. I would recommend it to anyone. If you need help with anything regarding your website or marketing needs we have a Marketing Consultant and he is amazing. I can give you his contact information if you’d like?

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