Everyone’s favourite time of the year, the 2017 playoffs are about to begin! This year the Montreal Canadiens will be taking part in the big show, along with 15 other teams that other people may care about. The HabsWorld experts gaze into their crystal balls to predict who will win their series and how they’ll do it.
Today is the first article of two parts, based on games that begin tonight. Tomorrow’s article will focus on the games starting Thursday night. Bragging rights are on the line in HabsWorld pool land with a point system in place for accurately predicting the winners and the correct number of games for each series.
Montreal Canadiens vs New York Rangers
Brian La Rose predicts: Habs in 7 games
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Habs in 6 games
Hilding Gnanapragasam predicts: Habs in 4 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Habs in 6 games
Gordon Black predicts: Habs in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Habs in 6 games
Dave Woodward predicts: Habs in 6 games
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Habs in 6 games
Paul MacLeod predicts: Habs in 6 games
(Brian) I know the Habs did quite well against New York during the regular season but I can’t see them winning so easily here. Henrik Lundqvist is having an off year and typically doesn’t fare well against Montreal but he’s still capable of stealing a game or two on his own. I also have some concerns about the inconsistent offence from the Canadiens. Can they get enough from the supporting cast? In theory they should be able to but I’ve been saying that for a while now and it’s not happening very often.
While the Rangers lack a pure top-end scorer, they’re one of the deeper teams out there and feature a balanced attack. I don’t want to say that Carey Price will need to stand on his head for Montreal to win but they can’t afford for him to be off his game too much either. I can’t pick against the Canadiens this early but this is far from an easy series to open with.
(Alex) I always thought the Rangers were trending downwards this season. They hit their 100+ points again, but something always looked off. Lundqvist looks like age is catching up to him, that tight defensive curtain isn’t as intimidating and but the offence has been papering over the cracks. The Habs’ offence…not so much, but it does look better and they are better from the back end out. Carey Price has looked incredible since the BYE week, and Claude Julien’s system tweaks has revitalized the team. Montreal was able to rest/mend some key defensive pieces, as did New York, but it’s Montreal that comes into the series with momentum and confidence while the Rangers have been struggling. A few blow outs and the rest are one goal games for the Habs in six.
(Hilding) It’s not too bold to predict a Habs win over the Rangers given how well Montreal has matched up against them, so I will choose to be bold in predicting a sweep. The Canadiens have been trending in the right direction heading into this series and as much as the players deny it, one can’t help but feel as though the Habs will be looking to settle a score and erase the bad taste left in their collective mouth from the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. Finally, factor in Price’s domination over the Rangers, coupled with Lundqvist’s well-documented struggles against Montreal and perhaps a sweep isn’t that bold a prediction after all.
(Craig) Though there are plenty of new faces on both sides, this series represent a chance for the Habs’ to avenge their 2014 Conference Finals loss to the Rangers. I suspect the fans and media are making more of this that the players themselves, but it provides for an interesting story line. In the end, the true match up won’t be Price vs. Kreider, but rather Price vs. Lundquist as goaltending could very well be the difference in the series. For that reason I like the Habs’ chances. Price is clearly the superior goalie to Lundquist, or Antti Raanta if it comes to that, at this point.
The Rangers boasts excellent scoring depth, featuring four 50 point scorers, not including Mika Zibanejad, who missed time with injury. But the Habs, and particularly Price, have owned the Rangers of late, winning all three match ups this season.
(Gordon) This series provides an abundance of narrative to reflect upon and the many changes that have occurred throughout the Habs lineup since these two teams last met post-season will add a whole new level of debate to what is probably only another series or two away from becoming an actual rivalry.
New York is littered with big, and/or speedy forwards and heavy shots, but seem to be lacking in that elusive ‘grit’ quality that guides Bergevin’s hand at every move. Between this year’s additions of Weber, Shaw, Radulov, Ott, King (supposedly), Martinsen, Benn and even Lehkonen – the Habs have stocked up on the kind of players that are supposed to earn half their paycheck in the weeks between April and June.
The goalie matchup has to be viewed as tilted in Montreal’s favour – but not so much that Henrik getting hot or Price having a off night wouldn’t re-balance things in a hurry. Ditto the coaching, as Julien’s recent cup gives him an edge (along with an excellent supporting cast) – but Vigneault is no slouch either.
In the end I think this one comes down the ability to dictate the style of play. New York will want to come out physical and make this about emotions so that it becomes a gunfight – but the stats all season show that if Montreal can be patient, play their high pressure transition style and frustrate the Rangers quick-counter game, they should come out on top without too much trouble by exposing a D-Line that doesn’t have the legs to skate with Montreal for a full series.
(Norm) I expect this will be a close series, perhaps closer than other Habs fans expect. Neither team dominates the other in all offensive and defensive categories. Both teams have fast skating teams with excellent goaltending and defence. The Rangers hold an edge on the power play while Montreal is superior with their penalty killing. Both have experienced and respected head coaches. Montreal swept the Rangers during the regular season games this season. Motivation will be the key to this series. Carey Price will be very motivated to defeat New York, the opponent who defeated them the last time the two teams met in the 2014 post season. The infamous Chris “The Collider” Kreider slide into Price in game 1, whether on purpose or not, was the turning point to the series, due to the injury to Price’s knee. The rest of the Habs who remain from that team should also be very motivated to extract some revenge on the Rangers. It doesn’t hurt that Henrik Lundquist has a terrible record playing in Montreal.
(Dave) The Canadiens additional bulk will help but Carey Price will be the difference.
(Jonathan) Carey Price and the Habs defence are better than the Rangers, Hank Lundquist and his defence. I hope Antti Raanta doesn’t get involved in this series.
(Paul) Montreal will get revenge on the Blue-shirts in style defeating them in six games and pummelling any Ranger player who gets too close to Price. Price will cement his reputation as a money goalie with four solid wins and a miniscule GAA while the Habs scoring by committee will be bolstered by 4th line contributions.
Ottawa Senators vs Boston Bruins
Brian La Rose predicts: Senators in 6 games
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Bruins in 7 games
Hilding Gnanapragasam predicts: Bruins in 7 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Bruins in 7 games
Gordon Black predicts: Senators in 7 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Senators in 7 games
Dave Woodward predicts: Senators in 7 games
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Senators in 6 games
Paul MacLeod predicts: Senators in 7 games
(Brian) I’ve been skeptical about the Senators for a lot of this season but I’ve also been skeptical about Boston’s late season run. The Bruins are heading into this series banged up and while the Sens have also been dealing with injuries, they appear to be getting most of their players back. Craig Anderson has been solid in the playoffs in the past while their late season additions have really lengthened out their lineup. Tuukka Rask is capable of stealing a series but I have some concerns about their offence. That’s why I’m inclined to give the nod to Ottawa here even though it could prevent what would be a very intriguing Julien vs his old team matchup in the second round if the Habs get by New York.
(Alex) I’m not sure what to make of this one. I still don’t know if Ottawa’s a good team, or they just played way over their heads all season. What I do know is when your best player is banged up in a series against an aggressive team, you’re already in trouble before the puck drops in game 1. If you go by the season series, Boston’s doomed as they failed to win a single game against Ottawa. That won’t matter once they batter the Senators in a victory. Tuuka Rask is a question mark. Which Rask shows up? Craig Anderson played some silly good hockey for a portion of the season under some really shit personal stuff at home, and some pretty rotten hockey as well. That’s where I think the difference lies. Both teams have snipers who will get in the right lanes and score. My money’s on Rask being able to keep more of them out.
(Hilding) The Senators have owned the Bruins all season long, but the playoffs are a different animal and the Bruins boast several big game performers in Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Even the impact of an aging Zdeno Chara should not be discounted. The Senators, meanwhile, are a fragile team, both physically and mentally and stumbled their way through the final portion of the schedule. Look for the Bruins to rely on the poise that comes with experience, to lead them past the Sens in what should be a very close, hard-fought series.
(Craig) Both of the clubs are facing some injury issues on the back end. The Bruins are likely to be without both Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo to start and questions about the health of superstar Erik Karlsson for the Sens. I’m interested to see how recently signed rookie d-man Charlie McAvoy performs for the Bruins in his first NHL action – not an easy scenario for a debut. The Senators are scrappy and won’t make it easy on the Bruins, who are one the best possession clubs in the league, but in the end Boston moves on.
(Gordon) I think this is one of several coin-flip series that the first round will provide. Karlsson is a joy to watch and I think Turris is quite seriously under-rated. On the other side – Pastrnak has been a revelation and Marchand has taken both sides of his game to new highs (and low’s) – he provides game-breaking ability and the potential to become a focus of hatred on the part of the Senators.
If the Sens can keep up their solid defensive system and get a few timely saves and contributions on offence the season series says they look good. Burrows will have to provide Marchand with almost constant shade, but with the recent injuries to Carlo and Krug – Ottawa has an opening here, and if nothing else, Karma says they will take advantage of it. Ill go Sens here – but the wild card is going to be McAvoy – he is big, young, talented and highly motivated (and since he hasn’t played a full season – the Bruins haven’t traded him yet).
(Norm) Both teams have similar records, with Ottawa a mere 3 points ahead in the standings. Both teams have banged up blueliners, which makes that component a wash in this series. I believe the Senators 4-0 head to head record is a telling tale. Especially when you factor 3 of those wins covered the months of March and April, under the Bruins new head coach Bruce Cassidy. To me it seems that the Senators style and their coaching will be enough to defeat Boston.
(Dave) There’s not much that separates these two teams. Since they can get big minutes from Erik Karlsson and they enjoy home ice advantage, Ottawa will take this series in seven games.
(Jonathan) Ottawa will beat the Bruins as Chara fades away into the night.
(Paul) This is a tough one to call but I see Ottawa outlasting the Bruins in seven games.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets
Brian La Rose predicts: Penguins in 6 games
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Blue Jackets in 7 games
Hilding Gnanapragasam predicts: Penguins in 7 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Penguins in 6 games
Gordon Black predicts: Penguins in 7 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Penguins in 6 games
Dave Woodward predicts: Penguins in 6 games
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Penguins in 7 games
Paul MacLeod predicts: Penguins in 5 games
(Brian) It’s disappointing that one of these teams that finished top four in the league has to go out in the first round. This is the type of series that could make the league rethink their current playoff alignment down the road.
It’s hard to go against Pittsburgh given that they’re the defending champions and that Columbus struggled badly down the stretch and weren’t that dominant in the second half of the year. John Tortorella could very well be coach of the year but it feels like the Jackets peaked too soon while the Penguins, even though they’re without Kris Letang, should at least be able to get through the first round without him.
(Alex) A third round matchup in the first round. Reformat everything, expand the league to four more cities, raise the salary cap to $100 million. Once you get passed the frothing at the mouth that two of best teams meet in the first round, give thanks it’s these two teams, who are going to put on a show. The most obvious story line will be Dubinsky vs. Crosby, and that’s going to be fun! Ultimately, I think there’s too many question marks due to injuries with the Penguins, which is unfortunate. While Matt Murray has been excellent, Bobrovski has been unreal. John Tortorella is going to have his boys on level 11 intensity while the Penguins will know how to play a rough series. It’ll be a series of inches, and I think Columbus squeaks it out by the slimmest of margins in OT game 7.
(Hilding) The loss of Kris Letang certainly hurts the Penguins, but their wealth of championship experience should be enough to help them squeeze past a very impressive Columbus team. The Blue Jackets have had an amazing season, but their core is relatively inexperienced when it comes to playoff hockey – at least compared to the Penguins. Hell, how many teams have two goalies on their roster who have each won Stanley Cups as starters?
(Craig) Both the Blue Jackets and Penguins stumbled a bit to end the season, winning three and four of their last ten games respectively. In Pittsburgh this can be somewhat attributed to mounting injuries, but the most important play on the club is healthy and as dominant as ever. While Sergei Bobrovsky will be a factor and has the ability to shut teams down, it’ll be the Penguins star players, particularly Crosby, that will get the job done.
(Gordon) If not for the serious injuries that have plagued the Penguins, I would have them taking this one in a walk as they line up particularly well for a series with the Jackets. Letang being out for the playoffs is especially tough as they don’t have anyone that can replace him – despite the resurgence of Schultz and the fantastic season he has put in so far.
You can never discount Crosby, and the Pens are deep at forward with an ability to roll out waves of dangerous skill but Columbus probably has the edge in net and is nicely balanced, despite the health issues of Werenski. If they get their rookie d-man back for the series I think they could make some noise and would be my dark horse for the East. In the end, Torts should provide some good entertainment but Jackets still seem fragile and may have to learn to walk before they can run.
(Norm) A series pitting Sidney Crosby against Brandon Dubinsky is must see hockey. Columbus stumbled into the playoffs cold, but still have one of the best goaltenders this season with Sergei Bobrovsky to rely on. The teams were split during the regular season with a 1-1-2 record, and the Penguins finished only 3 points ahead of the Blue Jackets. Despite missing #1 defenceman Kris Letang for the entire playoffs, I’ll give the edge to Pittsburgh due to their experience.
(Dave) Hard to bet against Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup Champions in Round 1, even if they are playing a talented, physical and much-improved Columbus team.
(Jonathan) The Penguins will get it done despite no Letang. This will be the best series to watch IMO.
(Paul) Pittsburgh will have enough fire power to overcome Columbus much to Torts dismay.
Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks
Brian La Rose predicts: Sharks in 6 games
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Sharks in 6 games
Hilding Gnanapragasam predicts: Oilers in 6 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Oilers in 7 games
Gordon Black predicts: Oilers in 5 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Oilers in 7 games
Dave Woodward predicts: Sharks in 6 games
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Sharks in 6 games
Paul MacLeod predicts: Sharks in 5 games
(Brian) The Oilers seem to be the popular pick among many fans but I don’t think San Jose is getting enough respect here. While they closed the season on a tough note, they are still the defending Western Conference champions and the core of that team is still there and at least mostly healthy. Experience isn’t everything in the playoffs but it is a factor and that certainly favours the Sharks. Edmonton has the firepower to make some noise but I have some concerns about their blueline while I would give the goaltending edge to San Jose as well despite Martin Jones tailing off a bit down the stretch. Edmonton may be the upstart team in the West of the future but I don’t think their playoff debut will go past this round.
(Alex) Just can’t see this most recent Stanley Cup finalist drop a series to a young, albeit talented, group. Connor McDavid will dazzle, but I don’t think his supporting cast is ready. He and Draisatl were responsible for a huge chunk of their points this season. While Eberle, Lucic and Maroon all hit 20 goals, my confidence in them isn’t too high. Eberle got hot at the end of the year and had a hat trick in game 82 which gave him those 20 goals. Lucic for me will likely be their best player, after McDavid. San Jose has a bit of an injury crisis in both Joe Thornton and Logan Couture being hurt, but both appear poised to at the very least be game time decisions for game 1. I would expect some fun, dazzling hockey for portions of the series from the Oilers, but I believe the Sharks will flex their muscles and teach the youngsters what it takes to win in the playoffs.
(Hilding) No city in the league should be more energized than Edmonton going into the playoffs and this energy will help to translate on the ice, as the Oilers will surprise Brent Burns and company in the first round. The Oilers have a strong group of players who are beyond hungry for postseason action. Look for Jordan Eberle to make the most of his first ever playoff appearance, alongside young phenoms Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Yes, the Sharks have the experience, but they also have a penchant for disappearing in the playoffs and the Oilers have had San Jose’s number all season long.
(Craig) The Sharks are a little banged up as they head into the post-season, and though both Joe Thornton and Logan Couture are expected to start the series, that could spell trouble. Likely the bigger problem is that Connor McDavid plays for the Oilers. It may come down to whether Brent Burns and Marc Eduard Vlasic and co. can contain McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (who had a great season as well). It’s a tight one, but the Oilers prevail in their first playoff series in more than a decade.
(Gordon) There are two major questions that will define this series: is Edmonton really as good as they have looked the past month and is San Jose really as bad as they have played over the same period of time? Ill say the answer is yes to the first and blame the second on injuries. Unfortunately for the Sharks, the injuries are still a concern. I’m not sure how much San Jose has left in the Tank (you’re welcome sports headline writers) and if the Oilers can overcome a suspect defence and get the coaching adjustments they will inevitably need against a much more seasoned Sharks squad, they should prevail.
(Norm) Even though the Oilers had the better overall record, some may give the Sharks the edge in this series due to their experience, and the Oilers lack thereof. However San Jose struggled during the last few weeks of the season, while Edmonton played much better. Sharks key forwards (Joe Thornton & Logan Couture) are injured and may not be ready to play the first game. Look for Marc Edouard Vlasic to be his team’s X-factor in the series as a shutdown defender, as he’ll likely get ice time every time Connor McDavid hits the ice. Edmonton has a clear advantage in speed over San Jose, which helped them take a 3-1-1 regular series versus the Sharks this season.
(Dave) While their time will come, the McDavid-lead Oilers will not overcome the seasoned Sharks.
(Jonathan) Although I hope Connor McDavid destroys the Sharks, I think San Jose has too much depth and the Oil won’t be able to compete for 60 minutes.
(Paul) Time for San Jose to reverse the upset trend and teach the young upstarts from Edmonton a playoff lesson.
St. Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild
Brian La Rose predicts: Wild in 6 games
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Wild in 7 games
Hilding Gnanapragasam predicts: Wild in 5 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Blues in 6 games
Gordon Black predicts: Blues in 7 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Blues in 6 games
Dave Woodward predicts: Blues in 6 games
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Blues in 7 games
Paul MacLeod predicts: Wild in 6 games
(Brian) I know that the Wild struggled considerably down the stretch and that Bruce Boudreau’s teams have had a tendency to go out earlier than expected in the postseason but I expect Devan Dubnyk to return to form. Their late season additions have given them one of the deepest forward groups in the league while their back end is also strong. St. Louis has done well under Mike Yeo (and his presence makes this series a bit more interesting) but after all Minnesota did to basically go all-in this year, it’s hard to imagine them going out in the first round.
(Alex) Both teams went through some very rough patches during the season, with Minnesota’s coming troublingly close to the post season. They look to have put their house in order while St-Louis came back from the dead, even after dealing their best defenseman away at the deadline. I like that Sobotka deal, that’s some good business and almost like adding a deadline deal player only a week before the playoffs start. For Minnesota, Devan Dubnyk has to rediscover that unbelievable form from the first half of the season for the Wild to really do any damage. There were some good breakout season’s in their ranks and even though they scored 30 more goals than the Blues, Tarasenko has the game breaking ability that should scare everyone. But, for the simple fact that choking is in this Blues team’s DNA, I tip it to Minny in a tight seven game set.
(Hilding) Despite the Blues holding a slight edge in the season series, I see this being a relatively easy series win for the Wild. The playoffs are a time when goaltenders shine and Devan Dubnyk holds a considerable edge over the much-maligned Jake Allen. The Wild also balance the promising youth of Granlund, Coyle Niederreiter and Dumba, with the sage experience of Koivu, Parise and the reborn Eric Staal. Minnesota likely should have finished much higher in the standings than they did, slipping only due to a disastrous stretch in March. They have since righted the ship and are heating up at the perfect time, as they enter the postseason.
(Craig) This series is a story of two teams heading in different directions. The Blues weren’t very good earlier in the season, costing Ken Hitchcock his job, but have been much better since. On the other hand the Wild were sitting atop of the league for most of the year, but have come back to earth since. I think these trends continue, if only because any opportunity to see Vladimir Tarasenko play more is a good thing.
(Gordon) This is a match-up of two teams I am not nearly as familiar with. Minny is surprisingly deep at most positions and has a nice blend of size, skill, youth and veterans. I think their undoing will be in net where Dubnyk has looked much more like the perennial AHL all-star than the potential Vezina winner over the last couple of months.
St. Louis, on the other hand, has been playing their best hockey of late. They have layers of defence (the kind that can afford to offload a Shattnekirk without blinking) and a good mix of scorers up front. I really like Jaden Schwartz and think he may break out in a big way this spring. Jake Allen has a ton of potential and can steal games when needed. I don’t think Minnesota has a real identity as a team yet, and figuring it out will cost them.
(Norm) Minnesota was a dominant team for the first half of the season, then hit a bad skid and struggled the rest of the way. They still have a huge advantage with their size at center, an excellent goaltender in Devan Dubnyk, and a solid offensive-defensive depth mix overall. St. Louis took a converse approach to the Wild’s, excelling during the second half of the season. The Blues also had the series advantage at 3 games to 2. With the Blues being a solid team in the past few regular seasons but fizzling out in the playoffs, I’m predicting this season to be the one they turn their playoff success around starting with round one.
(Dave) A battle of playoff underachievers. Minnesota was one of the best in the West for much of the year but have faded down the stretch.
(Jonathan) This may be a long series but it may be boring one. Lock down defence on both sides.
(Paul) St. Louis will continue their playoff misery as they will be unable to solve Dubnyk.