It’s that time again! Time for me to look at teams that I haven’t watched at all this season and try to figure out which of them is going to advance in the playoffs. Here are my predictions for the first round.
Washington vs Toronto: This is the year to be scared of overperforming young teams, starting from the World Cup of Hockey with Team North America and continuing through the season with young teams like Toronto and the Edmonton Oilers that did far better than anyone expected them to given where they were in their development. The problem for the Leafs is that they didn’t manage to get a point on Sunday and so have to face Washington, and Washington is certainly a harder opponent than the Senators would be, and I think is a really bad opponent for the Leafs. All season long, the Leafs have had a hard time keeping a lead, as evidenced by blowing a 2 – 0 lead on Sunday. Not being able to hold a lead is not what you want going up against Washington. But the Leafs might be able to cover up their relatively weak defense by playing run and gun, and they have the young talent to do that … but Washington has more than enough firepower to play run and gun with any team and have a pretty good shot at coming out ahead. So I think Washington takes this one.
Montreal vs Rangers: It was almost the case that the team with home ice advantage in this series had less points during the season, but some wins by Montreal and the Rangers struggling a bit meant that things worked out. This one will probably come down to goaltending. If Weber is healthy and Price plays well, Lundqvist will have to stand out for the Rangers to have any chance here, and Lundqvist has been inconsistent this entire season. If both goalies play at the top of their game, this could be a long series, and home ice advantage is a boon in long series.
Pittsburgh vs Columbus: Columbus had a great season, and in fact had a far better season than anyone expected them to. They’re certainly capable of an upset here. But the Penguins are still a very strong team, are playing better than Columbus right now, and have two capable goaltenders who have proven that they can win in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh is just too high a mountain for Columbus to climb this year.
Ottawa vs Boston: These teams are so close that you almost might as well flip a coin to decide who’s going to win. The health of Erik Karlsson is key to the success of the Senators here, but all of the rumblings are that his being out for the last few games of the season was more precautionary than necessary. Ottawa has two relatively reliable goaltenders, but I don’t expect either of them to steal a series, while Rask is more capable of that, but hasn’t had his best year. The key to this series, though, is that Ottawa has faced a lot of adversity throughout the season, with injuries and Anderson leaving the team for long stretches because of his wife’s cancer treatments. You can’t underestimate how important knowing that you can battle through tough circumstances is in the playoffs, as it makes your team hard to demoralize. When bad things happen — and they always do — Ottawa will not think “Oh no!” but instead think “Well, here we go again”, and soldier on. This is going to be a close series, but I give Ottawa the nod here.
Chicago vs Nashville: There’s not much to say here. Nashville is a better team than you might think, but Chicago still has the team that they’ve won Cups with, for the most part. This one should go to Chicago.
Anaheim vs Calgary: Calgary had a bit of and up and down season but again performed better than a lot of people expected them to. Elliot struggled at the start but I think has come around a bit and at least settled in to being mostly reliable. But Anaheim has more experience and a better team, and so will likely win this series.
Minnesota vs St. Louis: The Blues thought that they weren’t going to get very far this season, and so traded away some players in preparation for next season and the expansion draft. And then they made it into the playoffs. Oops. That being said, Jake Allen has been inconsistent and Minnesota has a pretty decent team. While St. Louis could certainly pull off an upset, I’ll have to give this one to Minnesota.
Edmonton vs San Jose: Edmonton is another one of those young teams that are overperforming. Their defense is a bit inexperienced, which goes along with, well, most of the team. That being said, adding Milan Lucic who has lots of playoff experience ought to help settle them down, and talent wise they’re pretty strong. This is likely to be a close series, but I expect that even if San Jose manages to shut down Connor McDavid Lucic will help that second line fill in the gap, and having a productive second line is key to winning playoff series.
Washington vs Toronto Correct
Montreal vs Rangers Incorrect
Pittsburgh vs Columbus Correct
Ottawa vs Boston Correct
Chicago vs Nashville Incorrect
Anaheim vs Calgary Correct
Minnesota vs St. Louis Incorrect
Edmonton vs San Jose Correct
Overall Record: 5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 5 – 3