The second night of the 2014 NHL playoffs is upon us with four more series all starting their postseason battles. Here is the second half of the HabsWorld contributors’ prognostications.
Colorado vs Minnesota
Brian La Rose predicts: Colorado in 5
Matt Macaskill predicts: Colorado in 5
Alex Létourneau predicts: Colorado in 6
Kevin Meldrum predicts: Colorado in 6
Simon Aronson predicts: Colorado in 6 in
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Colorado in 5
(Brian) After waiting all season for the Avs to come back down to Earth, I find myself looking at their postseason aspirations and wondering if now is the time that they will struggle. The Wild have some quality veterans with postseason experience but goaltending will be a huge question mark – Darcy Kuemper didn’t fare well in the 2013 playoffs and Ilya Bryzgalov is an enigma at the best of times. Both teams have shaky defence corps which works to Colorado’s advantage. I have some doubts about Colorado going deep into the postseason but I think they can get by handily here. Though mostly untested, I think their young forwards can make some noise against Kuemper/Bryzgalov.
(Matt) Patrick Roy isn’t going to go out in the first round. It really is as simple as that. He’ll also get his troops ready to have a quick series because the West’s second and third rounds could go the distance.
(Alex) You think Patrick Roy still holds a grudge against the Minnesota Wild after Andrew Brunette ended his NHL career in 2003? I’d say the odds are very likely. What he has done with this team has been nothing short of remarkable, and that momentum will keep going through a pretty good Minnesota squad. While the Wild have somehow managed to keep a revolving door of good to excellent goaltending, I can’t see it lasting. They have some real offensive weapons in Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu and Matt Moulson, along with a top drawer defenseman in Ryan Suter, but I can still see their goaltending being their undoing. Colorado is missing Matt Duchene, among others, but they still boast a pretty solid one-two punch with lines centered around Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny. Semyon Varlamov has had an excellent year, and he’s seen some playoff action before, while Ilya Bryzgalov is simply unpredictable. This series may live on Colorado’s high ranked powerplay and die on Minnesota’s poor penalty kill. Either way you cut it, I don’t see Roy and company faltering this early.
(Kevin) Again you have too evenly matched teams but I believe the Avalanche have a better top 9 and an edge in net. The Wild have very good defensemen and it will be a close battle. But I like Patrick Roy and he knows what it takes to win.
(Simon) People have been underestimating the Avalanche all year and they keep proving people wrong. Their depth up front as well as superior goaltending will give them the edge over the Wild.
(Norm) Colorado’s depth is evident given the loss of injured players like star forward Matt Duchesne, and other regulars up front like John Mitchell, Codby McLeod, along with defencemen Cory Sarich and Tyson Barrie. Despite these losses, coach Patrick Roy’s squad continued to raise their game to advance into the playoffs in his rookie season. Considering the relative youth of the team and the past seasons terrible performances, Roy is likely to be a coach of the year finalist and possibly the winner of that award. Minnesota is also banged up, with forwards Kyle Brodziak and Mikael Granlund, veteran defenceman Keith Ballard, and two goaltenders with Josh harding and Niklas Backstrom. The trade deadline pickup of Ilya Bryzgalov has helped stabilize that position, but look for fellow countryman Semyon Varlamov to outshine him in this series. While Colorado does not have anyone on the blueline to match Wild defenceman Ryan Suter, Colorado’s forwards have bought into the team’s system to skate back deep into their own zone to support their own defencemen effectively. The Avalanche has the edge in this series.
San Jose vs Los Angeles
Brian La Rose predicts: Los Angeles in 6
Matt Macaskill predicts: Los Angeles in 6
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Los Angeles in 7
Kevin Meldrum predicts: San Jose in 7
Simon Aronson predicts: San Jose in 7
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Los Angeles in 7
(Brian) This is the battle of the underachievers – the Sharks who typically struggle in the playoffs and the Kings who didn’t fare too well in the regular season. For me, the key to the series is whether or not Los Angeles can score. Antti Niemi is a quality netminder for the Sharks and the Kings are prone to get into offensive slumps. If that happens, I like San Jose’s chances but if not, the Sharks’ drought will continue. Lately, the Kings have had little issue in the playoffs after a so-so regular season. I don’t see any evidence to suggest that this won’t happen again. It will be a low scoring series but Los Angeles should prevail.
(Matt) It’s cool, San Jose doesn’t need another championship, they have like, what, four in the last decade, right? Right? What do you mean they haven’t won a Cup yet!? *cough* *cough*
(Alex) Frankly, this could be a coin flip. While it’s tough to write off a team as talented as the Sharks, it is, after all, the San Jose Sharks. No one seems to lose in the playoffs after such promising seasons like they do. They’re pretty healthy, they’ve got guys with the pedigree to fill the net, an excellent core of defenseman and a goaltender who’s lifted the cup. Sounds like a contender, but, it’s the Sharks. Maybe this is the year, but I’ve made the mistake of underestimating Jonathan Quick on that Cinderella run, I won’t do it again. That’s not to say Los Angeles will romp to the finals, I just think that the Sharks won’t be able to beat him enough to win the series. The Kings aren’t that far-gone from lifting the cup a few years ago and many players from that win remain on the roster. Again, I’m not sounding the bell for another Stanley Cup win, just enough to get by this San Jose team. Special teams are a tossup as both teams have mediocre to bad powerplays with strong penalty kills. Even played at 5 on 5, this is a tight one. Quick will be the difference.
(Kevin) I believe the Sharks are over due for a long run again. It will be a very close back and forth series where a bounce could determine the winner.
(Simon) After years of disappointment in the playoffs the Sharks are more prepared than ever and will finally break through.
(Norm) Both of these teams could potentially skate their way to the finals, and it almost seems a shame that one will not advance past this round. Comparing the two squads, LA has the edge in goaltending, and most of their players have the experience of a Stanley Cup win two seasons ago. Their defence has a slight edge over San Jose, and a distinct edge in goal. San Jose has better scoring by far, but the playoffs have a way of certain players being neutralized. The coaching is also evenly matched, which is why this series should be the most entertaining and bitterly fought war of the first round, with the Kings triumphing in the end.
St. Louis vs Chicago
Brian La Rose predicts: St. Louis in 7
Matt Macaskill predicts: St. Louis in 7
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Chicago in 5
Kevin Meldrum predicts: Chicago in 7
Simon Aronson predicts: Chicago in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Chicago in 5
(Brian) This is the type of matchup you’d typically expect to see in a Conference Final and not the first round. Both teams are capable of going deep into the postseason and have well-rounded rosters. The Blackhawks have the experience but St. Louis loaded up for this playoff appearance despite losing regularly down the stretch. The series more or less comes down to this, will size and strength (St. Louis) overcome skill (Chicago)? This will be one of those ‘war of attrition’ series and the longer it goes, the more it should be in the Blues’ favour. Ryan Miller struggled down the stretch but I expect he’ll rebound nicely for this series.
(Matt) This might as well be a Conference Final. It’s almost not fair that these teams are meeting in Round 1, unless you’re a fan of the other six Western Conference teams. Honestly, if either of these teams survive the first round, they have a decent shot at the Cup. It’s a toss up, but I’m going with the Blues since it’s about time they make a run with the talent on their club.
(Alex) Talk about a turnaround as St-Louis limped into the postseason. The Blues are a heavily injured team and it sort of brings back memories from when Montréal scraped into the postseason with a skeleton crew lineup only to be dusted by the Bruins in a sweep. It won’t be that bad but I have a hard time believing a team that has looked as poor as they have at such a crucial time of the season can pull off the feat of knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champs. Chicago is getting back some big pieces and this is a team that is largely still intact from last season’s triumph. Much like the Bruins, it’s a pick your poison type deal with the Hawks as they can burn you across the roster. The Blues are so banged up that their threats can be easily identified, and nullified. Corey Crawford just needs to keep the momentum saves out while Ryan Miller needs to play absolutely lights out for St-Louis to have any hope. Too bad, really. It looked like such a promising season for the Blues.
(Kevin) I believe the injuries to the Blue’s top 9 will really hurt their chances but saying that they have a very good team and this series truly will be a tough battle. Chicago knows what it takes and they will be fairly healthy to start the playoffs. The coaching matchup is a wash with two very good coaches.
(Simon) Unfortunately, the Blues picked the worst time of the year to sustain injuries to key players. The championship pedigree of the Blackhawks will shine through.
(Norm) St. Louis had been one of the more dominant teams in the league for most of the season. They were a top candidate for the Presidents trophy but struggled during the end stretch losing their last 6 games. Injuries were a big reason for this skid, considering the team lost key veterans like David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Brenden Morrow, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and youngster Vladimir Tarasenko. Chicago has also lost important leaders like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but their team continued to win most of their games without them. Look for The Blackhawks to dispatch with the Blues.
New York Rangers vs Philadelphia
Brian La Rose predicts: Philadelphia in 7
Matt Macaskill predicts: Philadelphia in 6
Alexander Letourneau predicts: New York in 6
Kevin Meldrum predicts: Philadelphia in 7
Simon Aronson predicts: Philadelphia in 7
Norm Szcyrek predicts: New York in 6
(Brian) This is another pretty even matchup. The Flyers recovered nicely from their rough start to the year and are getting balanced contributions throughout their lineup. The Rangers, however, have the better and more experienced goaltending. New York also has the better defence corps. For me, it comes down to this: If it’s a high scoring series, Philly should win. If it’s a low scoring one, then New York should prevail. I have my doubts about Steve Mason but I also believe that the Flyers are capable of winning some higher scoring (4-3 type) games. I like their offence a lot more than New York and that’s going to be the difference here.
(Matt) Can Mason finally be the playoff goalie the Flyers have been looking for? It’s going to be difficult to best King Lundqvist, but I like Philly’s offense over New York’s. Plus, we all want to see Philly vs Pittsburgh.
(Alex) This is going to be a tough series. Philadelphia has the edge with special teams and can likely bring a higher physical brand of hockey to the table, but with Steve Mason’s health up in the air, I’m not sure they can get by a stubborn Rangers team. We all know the quality of Henrik Lundqvist, and it will take more than the hot line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jake Voracek to beat him regularly. Wayne Simmonds is a menace, and if he brings a disciplined, annoying brand of hockey to the table, he could be a game changer. The addition of Martin St-Louis hasn’t exactly been what people expected, which is confusing as all you have to do is look to Rick Nash’s goal scoring credentials since he arrived in New York. This is a defense first team. Now is the time to gauge the value in that deal and I expect St-Louis and Richards to come alive. Bolstered by the return of Ryan McDonagh, and with the depth the lineup provides Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia will have their hands full. Out of St-Louis, Richards and Lecavalier, the trio from Tampa’s cup winning team in 2004, I think St-Louis will be the best of the three.
(Kevin) This will be a back and forth series with 2 evenly matched teams with close scores every game but I think the Flyers are built for the playoffs.
(Simon) This will be a hard fought series between two very evenly matched teams but I see the Flyers depth up front with player who like to play a playoff style will give them the slight edge over New York’s superior goaltending.
(Norm) The Rangers have a slight edge in goal with netminder Henrik Lundqvist compared to the Flyers, who are missing starter Steve Mason due to injury. Ray Emery will get the nod for game one, and on paper Emery does not compare to Lundqvist, but he has played in a Stanley Cup final with Ottawa, which is farther into the postseason than “King Henrik”. Philadelphia’s defence does not match up as well as New York’s overall. The Flyers do have more offensive firepower than the Rangers, but Martin St. Louis has been an excellent playoff performer during his career, with 68 points in 63 games.