2016 NHL Playoff Preview: Round 1

By April 13, 2016 NHL News No Comments
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It’s the best time of the year as the first round of the National Hockey League playoffs begin today with three games on tap and a wide open field vying for Lord Stanley’s Mug.  The 2016 edition of the Big Dance will be a historic one, as for the first time since 1969-70, there will be no Canadian teams playing for the League Championship.

Not having one of seven Canadian teams in the playoffs is astounding as 14 of the league’s 30 members miss the postseason, for half of the teams out of the tournament to be Canadian is impressive, if not disappointing for Rogers SportsNet and CBC who rely on Canadian viewership for ratings.  But this is hockey, and we live in Canada, so there will be people watching with beer can in hand and I would assume, an adopted team they will be rooting for.

This year’s playoffs are a hard one to gauge as the top teams in the postseason come with red flags, and the lower seeds are quite capable of upsetting the higher ranked teams due to their playoff experience.  It’s a season in which anything could happen, and the Cup Champion could be anyone.  There is no prohibitive favorite this year, and that makes for very exciting viewing.

But if there’s one voice to listen to when it comes to playoff prognostication, it’s right here, as I’ve predicted the last three Stanley Cup Champions correctly.  Special thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings for making me look smarter than I really am.

Since we’re on the East Coast, we’ll start with East Coast bias and begin in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Philadelphia Flyers' Nick Cousins, center, is sent flying after a hit from Washington Capitals' Tom Wilson, right, in front of goalie Braden Holtby during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(1) Washington Capitals v.s (WC2) Philadelphia Flyers

Season Series 2-1-1 for Washington

Preview

The President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals enter this first round series as the heavy favorites against a Flyers team who rode a magnificent second half performance by rookie Shayne Gostisbehere to the Eastern Conference’s second Wild Card spot.

The Flyers are playing with heavy hearts following the passing of Flyers founder, Ed Snider, who passed away from cancer at the age of 83 last weekend.

Washington finished the season with the Maurice Richard trophy winner Alex Ovechkin (50 goals), the best record in the NHL, and the prohibitive Vezina Trophy favorite in Braden Holtby.

Holtby equaled New Jersey Devils legend Martin Brodeur for most wins in a season with 48 in an astounding 68 games played.

Philadelphia will look for more contributions from their core of Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Gostisbehere if they have any chance of advancing past this stiff challenge from their Metro Division mates.

Keys to victory

Washington

For the Capitals to succeed, they have to forget about previous playoff failures and treat this as a fresh start with some playoff experience in the form of three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams in their lineup.  In years past, Ovechkin has faced tremendous scrutiny for not leading extremely talented squads deeper into the playoffs.  The furthest Washington has been in the eleven years since Ovechkin entered the League in 2005-06, is the Eastern Conference Semi-Final where the Capitals have been four times.  Washington has also lost in the first round three times and have failed to qualify for the playoffs three times and like it or not, most of the responsibilities have fallen squarely on the shoulders of The Great Eight.

Ovechkin has put up respectable postseason numbers with 70 points in 72 playoff contests, but that mark of .97 points per game is well off the Russian’s regular season pace of 1.15 PPG, so it’s understandable that people in Washington expect more, as does Ovechkin himself.

The Capitals managed Holtby well in the regular season, dressing him in less than 70 games, so the youngster from Llyodminster Saskatchewan should be fresh to try and lead the Capitals deep into the playoffs.

If Holtby and Ovechkin falter, then the Caps could see themselves stumble in the first round as a top seed yet again.  And if that happens, expect the Capitals to blow up the core and move in a different direction.

Philadelphia

For Philadelphia it comes down to one thing, and one thing every year, since the Flyers last won the Stanley Cup in 1975, and that is goaltending.

Pelle Lindbergh, Ron Hextall, Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche, Brian Boucher, Ilya Bryzgalov, Pete Peeters, Chico Resch, John Vanbiesbrouck, Michael Leighton, Antero Niittymaki, Martin Biron and Ray Emery are just some of the names to suit up come playoff time for Philadelphia in the last 35 years.  While those names found tremendous regular season success, their inability to come up big in the postseason has left Flyers fans dissatisfied and frustrated.

Flyer nation turns to Steve Mason once again after an absence from the playoffs last season.  Mason’s first foray into the playoffs with Philadelphia ended in a seven game loss to eventual Stanley Cup Finalist, the New York Rangers.  Can Mason be the one to bring the Flyers to the Promised Land?  It says here, no.  But, stranger things have happened.  Remember when Michael Leighton almost led the Flyers to a Cup?  You just never know.

Beyond the usual Flyer goaltending debate, the Flyers will lean heavily on the shoulders of rookie defenseman, Shayne Gostisbehere.

The man nicknamed “Ghost” was a vital cog for the Flyers posting 46 points in 64 games including an excellent 17 goals, five of which stood up as game winners when the Flyers needed every win they could muster to punch their postseason ticket.  The Flyers defense is largely suspect outside of Gostisbehere, but they boast excellent depth up front and play that usual rough and tumble style that Philly is known for.

Prediction

Washington in Five.

Washington is deeper, hungrier and far more talented than the Flyers.  The Philly defense and goaltending is just not built for the playoffs and they should prove to be fodder for the Caps.

Jiri Hudler, Thomas Hickey

(1) Florida Panthers v.s (WC1) New York Islanders

Season Series 2-1 for Florida

Preview

The surprising Florida Panthers enter the postseason as the Atlantic Division Champions, a feat never accomplished in the Franchises lackluster 22 year history and for the first time since 1996-97, the Panthers will face a team other than the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Of course, the caveat being that the Panthers have only made the playoffs twice in the past 19 years.

For reference, the Panthers futility has been so lengthy, that the league’s last link to the 1990’s, Jaromir Jagr was only 24 years old and saw his then Pittsburgh Penguins taste defeat to the surprising Panthers in the Eastern Conference Finals that led to Florida’s only appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Now, Jagr is 44 years old and incredibly, is the leader of this extremely inexperienced Florida crew leading the Cats with 66 points in an astonishing 79 games played.  To keep things in perspective about how inexperienced the Panthers are, one looks no further to the Panthers future up front and on defense in Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad.

Ekblad and Barkov have been stars this season, with Ekblad getting his second straight All-Star Game selection at just 20 years old.  Joined by his fellow 20 year old Barkov, the two Panther pups don’t even combine to equal the age of the ageless Jagr.

The Islanders on the other hand, come into the playoffs banged up missing their number one goalie, Jaroslav Halak in addition to defenseman Travis Hamonic, and pesky forward Anders Lee.

This presents itself as an interesting playoff match up as both franchises have not made it to the second round in the past 19 years, with the Islanders futility surpassing that of even Florida.  The Islanders have not seen the second round since they were led by Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov in 1992-93, yikes.   Maybe a move to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn will be a fresh start for the Isles?

Keys to Victory

Florida

As mentioned above, Jaromir Jagr is one of a few Panthers to enjoy playoff success, winning two Stanley Cups in his first two seasons in the league.  Since then?  Nothing.  Jagr has tasted some playoff success, but has not sipped champagne from Lord Stanley’s Mug.  Playoff experience can be overrated, but even the Chicago Blackhawks core of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews had to taste the bitterness of the playoffs before enjoying it’s sweetness.

Beyond Jagr, the Panthers also have Roberto Luongo who folded in the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins in game seven.  Is Luongo the guy to lead the Panthers in the back end?  He’s getting up there, and it will be a tough task to manage.

For Florida to move on to the next round, they’ll have to hope their youngsters grow quickly and will have to keep possession of the puck and make it tough for Thomas Greiss in the New York net.

New York Islanders

For the Isles it’s simple: follow John Tavares.  Tavares is the Islanders leader, and that is undisputed.  One has to figure that Tavares is sick of going home after just one round and that will motivate the Isles Captain to produce his best playoff to date.

New York will have to get secondary scoring outside of Tavares, and that may be tough to do as the Isles lack the depth to get them through to the next round.  They will need secondary scoring and hope that Nik Kulemin, Kyle Okposo and Ryan Strome can be that.

On defense, the Isles will lead on Stanley Cup Champions Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk.  The Islanders made sure their defensive pillars got paid, and it’s now on Leddy and Boychuk to reward Garth Snow’s show of faith.

Prediction

Florida over New York in 7.

This is a tough series to call, as both teams have issues.  As it stands however, the Isles have just a few more issues than the Panthers, and Jagr and Luongo will be enough experience for the Panthers to move on to round two.  Better luck next year, New York.

Alex Killorn, Petr Mrazek

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning v.s (3) Detroit Red Wings

Season Series Tied 2-2

Preview

Well, it’s still cold in Canada, so may as well stay down in Florida, just further up the highway in Tampa Bay.

Think the Islanders have injury troubles?  In Tampa Bay, they laugh at you soft New Yorkers.

Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman and possibly Tyler Johnson are in the Lightning injury ward and those three were key contributors to Tampa Bay’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season that ended in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks.  Stamkos and Stralman are more than likely gone for the playoffs and that may be the end of Stamkos in Tampa as he is staring Unrestricted Free Agency dead in the face come July 1st.

Over in Detroit, the Red Wings needed some help from the Ottawa Senators to extend their playoff streak to 26 years and boy did they get some after the Senators smacked around the Boston Bruins 6-1 in the team’s season finale.

Drama is also unfolding in Motown as Pavel Datsyuk has stated that this will be his last NHL playoff as he will forgo the last year in his contract to return to Russia to be closer to his daughter. How will that play for Detroit in the locker room?  Will they do it for Dats, or has the damage been done?

The Steve Yzerman Bowl, or Brad Richards Bowl, depending on your perspective, provides an interesting first round match up.

Keys to Victory

Tampa Bay

For most teams in the playoffs, the key to success is what the goalie does.  Other than Washington’s Holtby, Tampa’s Ben Bishop is the only goalie worth a Vezina Trophy nomination this season. Bishop finished the season leading the NHL in goals against average with 2.06 and was second in save percentage with a .926.  If Bishop can do that for Tampa in the playoffs, the lack of Stamkos and Stralman could be overcome by one of the league’s top netminders.

The Bolts also face uncertainty surrounding Tyler Johnson.  Johnson was hit by Montreal’s Greg Patteryn after the whistle which drew the ire of Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper.  It was a stupid move from Patteryn that could cost the Lightning one third of their infamous triple line.  Without Johnson and Stamkos, the offense falls on the shoulders of Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat who will have to find chemistry with the prodigal Jonathan Drouin.

The playoffs could become the platform for Drouin to find himself in good standing with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and company.  If Drouin has a solid playoff, the loss of Stamkos, both in the playoffs and perhaps in free agency becomes much more palatable.

Detroit

The Red Wings are a different version of the Winged Wheel from years past as they feature a lot of young players who haven’t seen playoff wars before.  Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Mantha lead a new generation of Red Wings forwards to assume the mantle from Datsyuk and stalwart Henrik Zetterberg.  Luckily for those kids, they have Datsyuk and Zetterberg to lean on when it comes to the challenges of NHL playoff hockey.

In net, the Red Wings could look at Jimmy Howard or at Petr Mrazek.  Either way, going up against the NHL’s leader in GAA will be a daunting task for Detroit’s goalies.  They are going to have to match that, and that’s not exactly an easy task.

Led by Jeff Blashill behind the bench, who knows what the Red Wings can accomplish, but just like last year, I doubt they prove to be fodder for the Lightning.

Prediction

Tampa Bay in 6.  In the end, Tampa’s experience going to the Cup Finals and Bishop are too much for the Wings to overcome.

Keith Yandle, Oscar Lindberg, Carl Hagelin

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins v.s (3) New York Rangers

Season Series 3-1 for Pittsburgh

Preview

YOU AGAIN?  Must be the feeling for Penguins and Rangers fans, broadcasters, players and front offices.  For the third straight season, the Rangers and the Penguins will face one another at the NHL’s big spring dance.  The last two meetings have not gone so well for Pittsburgh as they were ousted by the Rangers in five games last season and seven games the season before.

The Penguins may have the secret weapon in their lineup this year however, as Carl Hagelin made the jump over to Pittsburgh this season after a stopover in Anaheim earlier this season.  Hagelin was on the Rangers roster the past two springs.

Keys to the Series

Pittsburgh

Stay healthy, and keep Chris Kreider away from Marc-Andre Fleury.  Kreider is making a reputation for himself around the league for being the guy who injures goalies.  En route to the Cup Finals in 2013-14, the Rangers forward bowled through Carey Price and Fleury.

The Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup Champion goalie is a delicate Flower coming into the playoffs this season.  Fleury is expected to man the pipes for Pittsburgh after coming back from concussion issues.  When it comes to concussions however, who knows.  It can act up again in a heartbeat.

The Penguins also have a highly motivated Sidney Crosby in the lineup who is looking for some redemption.  After going to the Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, playoff success has eluded Crosby and the Penguins, and this season started off poorly for Crosby as murmurs spread about the Kid’s demise.

Those fears were unfounded however, as Crosby ended up finishing third in NHL point scoring with 85 points and leads a red hot Penguin team to the Spring ball.

New York Rangers

Rely on experience.  The Rangers squad is largely unchanged over the past five seasons, and the Rangers are a team that are ripe with playoff experience.

In the past four seasons, the Rangers have rode Henrik Lundqvist to at least the Eastern Conference Finals in three of those years, losing in the second round in 2012-13 and in the Finals of 2013-14.  The Rangers playoff record however in those four seasons is 39-37.  The Rangers have escaped because Lundqvist has come up huge in game sevens, going 6-1 in those games, earning his place in the NHL’s upper echelon among goaltenders.

The Rangers will also need more from Rick Nash.  Since coming over from Columbus, Nash has been more than underwhelming for New York in April and May accruing 29 points in 56 games.  He simply cannot disappear in the playoffs again this season.  If he does, it may be curtains for the Brampton Native under the bright lights of Broadway.

Prediction

Penguins in seven.  Seven seems to be the minimum the Rangers play in the playoffs, so it won’t be a surprise to see them do it again this round.  The Penguins will topple Lundqvist in game seven with Crosby playing the role of hero and shaking some recent playoff failures off of his back.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Jason Pominville, goalie Kari Lehtonen

(1) Dallas Stars v.s (WC2) Minnesota Wild

Season Series 4-1 for Dallas

Preview

It’s a tale of two cities in this intriguing first round match up.  For the first time since the Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas and became the Dallas Stars, will the fans in Minnesota get to see their new team, the Wild, take on their old heroes.

Dallas won the regular season battle quite easily 4-1 with two of those victories coming in Overtime.  The Stars retooled their roster acquiring Stanley Cup Champions Johnny Oduya (Free Agent) and Patrick Sharp (Trade) from the Chicago Blackhawks over the summer and seem like a far more complete team than they were a year ago after they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Minnesota is filled with an aging and overpaid roster that is showing many cracks.  After firing Head Coach Mike Yeo, the Wild went on a bit of a run to put themselves into a playoff position but come in limping and are now without Zach Parise who is dealing with a severe back injury that could keep him out indefinitely.

Keys to the Series

Dallas

Keep doing what made you successful in the regular season.  Play a tight brand of defense led by the dynamic John Klingberg and the under appreciated Oduya.  Get Tyler Seguin back and let the deep offense run roughshod over the defensively lacking Wild.  The Stars have a Stanley Cup Champion goalie in Antti Niemi and boast depth if Niemi falters with goalie 1B Kari Lehtonen waiting in the wings.

The return of Seguin is imperative for the Stars as the young star adds another dimension completely to the Stars attack.  Boasting names such as Seguin, Jamie Benn, Spezza, Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Antoine Roussel and others, the Stars are a dangerous opponent for anyone.

Minnesota

Play Ryan Suter 60 minutes a game and hope that he can contain every forward the Stars have.  The Wild are bad, they are missing Tomas Vanek and Parise, and aren’t getting the production they envisioned from Jason Pominville.  This is a deeply flawed Minnesota team that should prove to be fodder for the Stars as Dallas marches forward.  Devan Dubnyk and Suter can only do so much for Minnesota.

At the end of the day, this just doesn’t seem like a fair fight in the first round.  Someone needs to play the role of Adrian in Rocky, and throw in the towel on behalf of the Wild.

Prediction

Dallas in four.  Our first sweep prediction of the playoffs is an absolute no brainer.  Dallas boasts multiple Stanley Cup Champions, a deep forward group, a steady defense and better goaltending. This should be a cakewalk for the Stars.

Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Ellis

(1) Anaheim Ducks v.s (WC1) Nashville Predators

Season Series 2-1 Nashville

Preview

The Ducks and Predators faced each other three times in the first month and a half of the season with Nashville taking two of the three match ups.  That stat comes with a tiny caveat though, as the Ducks limped out of the gate with a losing record while Nashville came out guns blazing to start the year.

Since then however, the Ducks rediscovered their goal scoring touch and found stable goaltending in between the pipes with Frederik Andersen and John Gibson sharing the crease.  The Predators suffered a mid-season swoon before rebounding and finishing the season strong.

Both teams feature stellar defenses, with offensive depth and solid goaltending.  This first round match up should be a dandy.

Keys to the Series:

Anaheim

The Ducks will need to have their big strong forwards reek havoc for the Predators defense.  One of the things that makes this match up so intriguing is the fact that Anaheim has one of the best offensive cores in the NHL while the Predators have one of the best defenses.  Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are Stanley Cup Champions, and the Ducks came within a game of eliminating the Chicago Blackhawks and playing for the Stanley Cup last season.

I’d expect the Ducks to have a bitter taste in their mouth following last year and squandering the series against the Hawks and take out that aggression on the Predators.  Another year in the playoffs and again the Ducks have no idea which goalie to go with.  Whether it was Giguere and Bryzgalov, or Andersen and Gibson, the Ducks always face interesting choices with solid goalies come late April.  If I was head coach Bruce Boudreau, I’d be leaning towards Gibson, who has shown his mettle at the World Junior Championships in 2011.

Nashville

The Predators have always been a team that has been offensively challenged.  Maybe that’s inheritance for the Franchise after they tried to poach another offensively inept franchise in New Jersey.

Predators GM David Poile has tried to address the team’s offensive shortcomings in recent years adding Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones and getting James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Perhaps the biggest coup de gras that Poile has pulled off since assuming the GM’s chair in Nashville is the absolute fleecing of former Washington Capitals GM George McPhee when Poile unloaded Martin Erat on the Caps and McPhee for Filip Forsberg.  The second year forward reached 30 goals this season and looked good doing it, while Erat is somewhere in Europe plying his trade.

Will those pieces be enough for the Predators to overcome the Ducks?  Will be an interesting match up regardless.

Prediction

Anaheim in seven.  Another seven game series, this time in the West, and it should be a good one.  Out of all the playoff match ups to look forward to, this might be one of the best ones, along with our next featured series.

San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones, center, falls to the ice as he stops a shot by Los Angeles Kings' Tyler Toffoli, right, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(2) Los Angeles Kings v.s (3) San Jose Sharks

Season Series 2-1-1 for San Jose

Preview

The San Jose Sharks took a playoff sabbatical last season but rebounded this season to regain admission into the playoffs under new bench boss Peter DeBoer.  The last time the Sharks were in the playoffs however, is something to forget for this largely same group of Sharks.

In 2013-14, the Sharks took a commanding 3-0 series lead after a pair of overtime victories, but could not close the deal and pick up that fourth victory, watching the Kings storm all the way back and take the series.

The Sharks, who had been regular season dynamos, but playoff failures for years, had finally hit rock bottom with one of the biggest playoff flops in NHL history.  The Kings would go on to win the whole shebang for the second time in four years.

Keys to the Series

Los Angeles

The Kings are playoff warriors, but like baseball’s San Francisco Giants, that only seems to happen every even year lately.  The Kings would go on to miss the playoffs last season, but rebounded nicely to take the second seed in the NHL’s Pacific Division, losing the division crown on the last day of the year to the Anaheim Ducks.

Los Angeles has a roster rife with playoff experience as 19 of their players have won hockey’s ultimate prize and that should play in huge for the Kings come playoff time.  Justin Williams, who captured the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy now finds himself plying his trade in Washington with the Capitals, and his absence from the Kings lineup this year is a notable one.  Williams tallied 40 points in 46 playoff games for the Kings in their two Stanley Cup Championships so the Kings will have to find those points somewhere else in the lineup.

Could that somewhere else be Vincent Lecavalier?  Lecavalier is big for the Kings this year in that, he has a lot to prove, in what is supposedly his last season in the NHL so he may be able to pick up some of the slack left by Williams.  Lecavalier of course, Captained the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship but that was 12 years ago.  Guys like Vinny will be big in terms of secondary scoring for the Kings and that will be key to get them into the next round.

San Jose

For San Jose, their time is now for this core.  Gone is Todd McLellan who had to pay for the Sharks transgressions over the past nine seasons and in is Peter DeBoer who led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals to face who else but the Kings.

If San Jose can’t do it this year, a whole slew of players are going to be out of the tank, chief among them, long time Shark, Patrick Marleau.  San Jose needs Marleau, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture to be the leaders that they are, and do the things that they do in the regular season.  If the Sharks can get that, they will have a shot at knocking off the Kings.

The Sharks also face questions in goal when it comes to Martin Jones.  Jones, who served an apprenticeship under Jonathan Quick in LA, will get to show the Kings what they gave up when they sent him to Boston, who subsequently flipped him to the Sharks where Jones had a good first season.  If Jones can use his insight on Kings shooters to his advantage, that can only help the Sharks.  At the same time, the Kings will also know Jones’ weaknesses, so it will be an interesting match up to observe.

Prediction

San Jose in 7.  I’m going out on a huge limb here and taking the Sharks.  After enduring the 3-0 comeback and then missing the playoffs entirely, the Sharks deserve some Karma their way.  On the other hand, it’s also an even year, so the Kings could be in line to capture another one.  But I have to give the Sharks one here, they need it.

Brian Elliott, Andrew Desjardins

(2) St. Louis Blues v.s Chicago Blackhawks

Season Series 3-2 for St. Louis.

Preview

Technically, the Blues won three of the five match ups, but by virtue of the loser point, the Hawks actually racked up seven points to St. Louis’ six.  None of that matters however, because even though the Blues have home ice advantage, the Blackhawks are the Blackhawks  and St. Louis has a history of messing it all up come playoff time.

St. Louis has sound goaltending, forwards and defense, but their inexperience could very well do them in.  When they look across the ice, they see a franchise that just knows what it takes come playoff time.  Other than a first round loss to the Vancouver Canucks in 2010-11, the Hawks, from 2009-10 until last season have won the Cup three times, and lost a game seven of the Western Conference Finals in 2013-14.  Will trends continue, or will the Blues finally shake up the foundation of the NHL playoffs?

Keys to the Series

St. Louis

For the Blues it’s easy on paper.  Find a way to shut down Patrick Kane.  Kane has been the NHL’s best offensive player this season.  Kane won the Art Ross Trophy and will be a tough contain for a very good defensive squad in St. Louis.

In goal, the Blues will lean on Jake Allen to start the playoffs but have Brian Elliot lurking, should Allen falter.  One of the Blues biggest downfalls in their history has been the lack of goaltending in the Loo.  Allen has to be sharp and beware of a very deep Hawks team.  David Backes, Alex Steen, Paul Stastny and Alex Pietrangelo will be the feature veterans for St. Louis, while youngster Robby Fabbri is an interesting piece for St. Louis.  Fabbri is the type of guy who thrives in playoff situations, dating back to his time in the Ontario Hockey League with the Guelph Storm.

St. Louis needs to have all wheels in motion to knock off Chicago.

Chicago

The key for the Hawks is fatigue.  How much gas do they have left in the tank after deep playoff runs the past three years?  The core of the Hawks is getting older, and Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp are no longer there, also gone is Brandon Saad and Kris Versteeg.

The Hawks however, have a shiny new toy that they’ve unleashed on the league, in the form of Artemi Panarin.  Panarin came over from Russia in the off-season after being called the Russian Patrick Kane.  So what did the Hawks do?  Put him with the aforementioned Kane and giggled with glee, as they saw Panarin lead all rookies in goals, assists and points, finishing 9th in overall NHL scoring with 77 points in 80 games.

For Chicago to be successful, they’ll need youngsters like Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen to pick up the slack left by the vets.  Also add in the fact that the Hawks brought back Andrew Ladd for another go round and Chicago looks just as deep as years past.  Corey Crawford is a two time Stanley Cup Champion, but questions still remain when it comes to him in net.  In this publication however, we’re not worried about Crawford as he has our respect for the work he has done.

Prediction

Chicago in six. The more things change, the more they stay the same.  The Hawks are battle tested and hardened.  They are elite up front and boast two of the best defenseman in the league in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.  Oduya will be missed, but the Hawks still have some juice left in this dynasty.

So there you have it, if all goes according to plan, the final eight will be:

Florida, Tampa Bay, Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Anaheim, Chicago and Dallas, with Florida, Washington and San Jose looking to capture their first Stanley Cup Crown.  Tune into Ontario Sports Radio following the conclusion of round one to see if our predictions came true.

 

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