The best postseason in all of sports has returned, and with it comes the Ultimate Capper’s annual NHL playoff preview. Allow me some short, quick thoughts on each series, won’t you?
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
What a matchup this should be. Long a traditional Western Conference powerhouse, the Red Wings limped through their first season in the new Atlantic Division, mostly because of injuries and some inconsistent play. When they’re on, they’re as good as anyone, and they will probably take a couple of games from the Bruins in this matchup, but expecting them to pull a Kentucky and suddenly take all of that talent and miraculously put it all together at just the right time is a fool’s errand. Tuuka Rask is better than Jimmy Howard, and the Bruins are just an overall better group than Detroit right now.
Boston 4, Detroit 2
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
Steven Stamkos and the suddenly exciting Tampa Bay Lightning managed to swipe home-ice advantage away from Montreal on the final weekend, and that could prove to be the difference in what should be a thrilling, if under-promoted, series. Montreal is Canada’s lone entrant into the entire postseason and will be looking to end a championship drought that is starting its third decade, and they have a bit more playoff experience, but something in me says this is Tampa’s series. I’m going against the better goalie here, and I don’t really savor that decision, but I always like my first instinct.
Tampa Bay 4, Montreal 3
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The shoulders of Sergei Bobrovsky had better be big and sturdy, because that’s where the hopes of Columbus’ first ever playoff victory lies. No one doubts that the Penguins are the superior team – a quick look at the standings says that quite clearly. But between the stellar play of the Jackets goaltender and the question mark that is Marc-Andre Fleury after last year’s rocky playoff performance, I have to feel like the Blue Jackets will get at least one victory. If Fleury looks like he did against the Islanders last year, they could get more, but for now I’m sticking with Pittsburgh in five.
Pittsburgh 4, Columbus 1
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Yes, the Flyers have better goaltending in Steve Mason, and yes, the Rangers have a bit more offensive freedom with Alain Vigneault and Martin St. Louis in the picture, but let’s be real – this is still Philadelphia offense against New York goaltending. If Henrik Lundqvist is at his peak level, this will go New York’s way – he’s just that good, and the Rangers will find a way to score enough goals to win. I expect this series to be a battle, but ultimately Philadelphia will once again play little brother to New York’s bigger, brighter lights and stage.
New York 4, Philadelphia 3
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
This season’s biggest surprise is easily the Avalanche. Everyone seemed to have the perspective that they had a lot of good, young talent that would help improve the team this year, but I couldn’t find anyone that had them as a preseason winner of the Central Division. Still, here they are, and they’ll get a Wild team that’s playing well heading into the postseason. Minnesota obviously has some studs – Zach Parise and Ryan Suter headline that group – but I just don’t know that they are sturdy enough to handle the young Colorado forwards that come wave after wave. Add to this series the intrigue that always surrounds Ilya Brzygalov, and this one should be a lot of fun – especially if it goes six or seven.
Colorado 4, Minnesota 2
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
The only downside to Colorado winning the Central is that these two powerhouses – my personal selections as the two best teams in the Western Conference – will now meet in round one. I loved the Blackhawks in the preseason, especially coming off of their second Cup in four years, but once the Blues acquired Ryan Miller they became a totally different team. I hardly root for anything that has to do with St. Louis after the Mets-Cardinals NLCS in 2006, but with Miller added to David Backes and T.J. Oshie, I have lifted my ban on all things Gateway City in appreciation for their assembling of American talent. I still think this Blackhawks team is probably one of the best four or five teams in the entire league, but seven games will be all they play this postseason.
St. Louis 4, Chicago 3
Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
The NHL wanted more division matchups in the early postseason rounds, and they got all but one – this one. The irony is that these two teams used to be division foes up until the realignment this season, so they should know each other very well. Anaheim is still loaded offensively with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and Jonas Hiller has been a top five goaltender this entire season, so I can’t figure out a way that Dallas manages to take four of seven in this series. I’m glad the Stars made the postseason – they desperately needed at least two playoff home games to rejuvenate the fanbase – but this will be a short-lived stay.
Anaheim 4, Dallas 0
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
Like the Flyers-Rangers and Blackhawks-Blues series, the byproduct of the new alignment is a great slate of rivalry matchups in the first round, and this one is no different. San Jose continues to dominate the regular season – no team has more regular season points in the last decade than the Sharks – but they just can’t seem to string 16 wins together in April, May, and June when they matter the most. Now, they’ll once again engage Jonathan Quick and the Kings in a No-Cal/So-Cal battle that will most likely go the distance, only this time it will be the Shark Tank that will host game seven. That, to me, makes the difference, and solidifies my decision to take all eight home-ice favorites in the first round.
San Jose 4, Los Angeles 3
Based on my first-round picks, the rest of the playoffs would be…
Boston over Montreal
Pittsburgh over New York
St. Louis over Colorado
San Jose over Anaheim
Pittsburgh over Boston
St. Louis over San Jose
St. Louis over Pittsburgh