HabsWorld.net -- 

The 2014 NHL playoffs have begun, and the Canadiens will begin the quest for their 25th Stanley Cup Wednesday on the road versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Montreal represents Canada’s only team in the playoffs this season, and will likely carry the interest of casual Canadian hockey fans outside a few bitter journalists from Toronto.

Some say that predictions are for Gypsies. With that said, the Habsworld contributors have gazed into their crystal balls to predict the futures of the 16 teams facing off in the first round of the playoffs. Today is the first part of a two part set of predictions, based on games that begin tonight and Friday night. Bragging rights are on the line in HabsWorld land with a point system in place for accurately predicting the winners and the correct number of games for each series.

Western Conference

Anaheim vs Dallas

Brian La Rose predicts: Anaheim in 5
Matt Macaskill predicts: Anaheim in 4
Alex Létourneau predicts: Anaheim in 5
Kevin Meldrum predicts: Anaheim in 6
Simon Aronson predicts: Anaheim in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Anaheim in 5

(Brian) Both teams have dominant top lines but I’m not a big fan of the Stars’ secondary scoring. If Benn and Seguin can be shut down by Anaheim’s defence corps, they’ll have a hard time getting goals, even with the uncertainty surrounding the Ducks’ goaltending situation. Anaheim also plays more of a gritty game which I think will be problematic for Dallas who don’t have much of a power game up front.
Ducks in 5 – For me, this is potentially the easiest of the eight series to pick. I like Anaheim’s offence and defence more (and perhaps their goaltending depending on who plays) and I don’t think this will be that close of a matchup.

(Matt) Saku Koivu Stanley Cup.

(Alex) This is most likely the last hurrah for two Finnish legends and I can’t see the Ducks laying an egg in the first round with that on the line. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu will play bigger roles than expected while the big guns of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will be firing. Goaltending is an issue for Anaheim as Jonas Hiller has decided he hates reliability, opening the door for a likely Frederik Andersen start in game 1. He’s played well enough to earn it, he can play well enough to keep it. Dallas boasts a lethal duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, which are clearly the key for victory. If these two misfire, which I have a sneaking suspicion that they will, there isn’t that much hope in the rest of the lineup. Kari Lehtonen, if he doesn’t get injured, will keep Dallas in these games, but I can’t see him stealing a series. Both teams have pretty bad powerplays with Dallas equally bad on the penalty kill, meaning Dallas will likely look to win this series at 5 on 5. I don’t like their chances.

(Kevin) The Ducks have a solid 4 lines with a good D core. Goaltending is equal though and the Stars with Benn/Seguin will make the series interesting.

(Simon) The power game of Getzlaf and Perry will out duel the speed game of Benn and Seguin. Furthermore, The Ducks will show why they finished first in the West.

(Norm) Dallas took two out of three games against Anaheim during the regular season. Anaheim was a very dominant team through most of the year, but struggled near the end. This could spell a potential upset for Dallas. Goaltending injuries lead the Ducks to call up rookie John Gibson who played well enough. There’s uncertainty who will get the first start in goal. Dallas have a good group of young, dynamic forwards in Seguin, Benn and Nichuskin. Anaheim counters with Getzlaf and Perry up front, and improved forwards like Nick Bonino, Andrew Colgliano and Mathieu Perrault for secondary scoring. The Stars’ defence is not as strong as their forwards, which is an area that Anaheim holds the clear advantage. Anaheim went through their playoff loss in the first round of last season and have learned from it and improved. They are hungry enough to break through the first round this time around.

Eastern Conference

Detroit vs Boston

Brian La Rose predicts: Boston in 6
Matt Macaskill predicts: Detroit in 6
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Boston in 6
Kevin Meldrum predicts: Boston in 6
Simon Aronson predicts: Boston in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Boston in 7

(Brian) While many (myself included) had penciled the Bruins into the second round a while ago, this matchup was probably the worst one they could have got to open their postseason. Detroit’s on fire and getting healthier while Boston has had nothing to play for lately having clinched the division ages ago. That said, it’s impossible to pick against the Bruins who have been the beasts of the East all year long. I think the Red Wings will make this interesting for a 1 vs 8 matchup but in the end, the Bruins should be able to prevail. Their size and strength will prove to be crucial as the series progresses.

(Matt) There’s something about the way the Red Wings finished their season that leads me to believe they’re going to pull the first round upset. Babcock has his rookies playing quality hockey, but they face the biggest challenge of their careers against the stringy Bruins. Detroit almost eliminated the eventual Stanley Cup champs last year, and I think they’re well poised to follow through with Boston this season.

(Alex) Good thing the two teams I’d want to avoid in the East will battle it out, hopefully with every game going to double or triple overtime. Since it’s a fixed bracket, one can only hope they beat the hell out of each other. Boston is looking good, real good. Detroit have been nothing short of impressive, and had it not been for Patrick Roy’s incredible rookie season behind the bench, Mike Babcock fully deserves the Jack Adams. However, this isn’t the regular season anymore and Detroit have demonstrated physical frailty over 82 games, which should leave the Bruins frothing at the mouth with this matchup, at least physically. Goaltending is firmly in Boston’s corner, with Tuuka Rask putting up Vezina numbers. Jimmy Howard has been pedestrian this season and I don’t expect too many heroics from his side. Boston seems to have four perfectly balanced lines, so it’s a pick your poison type deal as to who will bury you. No need to list the players Detroit lost, and hats off to what they accomplished, but aside from squeaking out a few victories, I don’t see much threat coming from the Wings.

(Kevin) I would like to say the Red Wings but the Bruin’s are too deep. Detroit is a very well coached team but Babcock can only salvage a couple of wins in the series.

(Simon) Boston is just too deep, too well rounded and built for the playoffs. I can’t see the Wings upsetting the President trophy winners considering how dominant they were all season.

(Norm) Most predict Boston to breeze through the first round given their overall depth and excellent play this season in all areas. However the Detroit Red Wings are poised to give them all they can handle on the ice. I was at the last game the two teams played against each other in Detroit. Considering the Wings were missing several veterans they were able to defeat the Bruins 3-2, despite being down 2-1 in the third period. That game showed a lot of poise by Detroit, and I expect that to carry forward into this series. If veteran forwards like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can play and contribute in the series, the results may even go against Boston. Much like Detroit took Chicago to 7 games in the 2nd round of the 2013 playoffs only to lose in overtime to the eventual Stanley Cup winner Chicago, I expect the same again for Detroit, with Boston narrowly winning this time.

Columbus vs Pittsburgh

Brian La Rose predicts: Pittsburgh in 5
Matt Macaskill predicts: Pittsburgh in 7
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Pittsburgh in 7
Kevin Meldrum predicts: Pittsburgh in 5
Simon Aronson predicts: Pittsburgh in 5
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Pittsburgh in 6

(Brian) The Blue Jackets have terrible luck drawing playoff opponents. They were swept by Detroit in their first appearance and get an equally tough matchup this time around. For Columbus to have a chance, reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky has to steal the show. Although I have some concerns about Marc-Andre Fleury given last years’ playoff blunders, he shouldn’t cost them too many games at the very least. After getting pushed by the Islanders last year, I don’t think Pittsburgh will take their first round opponent lightly this time. I think Columbus can steal a game but that’s all they’ll get.

(Matt) Credit Sidney Crosby for the victory and Marc-Andre Fleury for the series length. Malkin is the x-factor that ultimately helps the Penguins out-class the the Blue Jackets.

(Alex) I am not sold on this Penguins team. I thought last year was the year for them, and Boston punished them like insolent children. Aside from Sidney Crosby, and his assistant Chris Kunitz, and possibly Evgeni Malkin if he’s healthy, this team is worrisome. Marc-André Fleury simply cannot be trusted, and his play has dipped in the second half of the season. The offense is always a threat, but the defense is suspect with goaltending even more of an issue. Kris Letang has somehow returned to play the game, which is unbelievable, but he doesn’t shore up the backend. Now Columbus, what an incredibly annoying team to play against. This is a playoff team. With Sergei Bobrovski on the case, they have a viable chance at shutting down an explosive offense. Their ability to grind teams down to the bone during the game and then moving in for the kill is something you see on the nature channel. Don’t expect this team to move away from the identity they’ve created. What I would expect are some costly mistakes from Columbus, the kind that cost them games or severely switch momentum. This is a green team in the playoffs, and although I believe they’ll give Pittsburgh a run for their money, I don’t think they have the ability to close out a series.

(Kevin) Pittsburgh is way too deep. This is the Blue Jackets first taste of the playoffs and they will be no match for the Penguins

(Simon) With the Pens getting healthy at the right time I don’t see Columbus being able to win many games against a team with plenty of playoff experience that features the best player on the planet, barring of course a MAF meltdown.

(Norm) Pittsburgh has a big advantage in special teams, leading the league in power play and 5th overall in penalty killing. The Penguins injuries could be a factor, since players returning from them are usually not known to be fully healed nor perform at their optimum levels. Columbus has a young, plucky squad with an exciting goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. They will surprise the Penguins for a few games in the first round, much like the New York Islanders did last season. In the end, the flighless Birds will triumph.

Montreal vs Tampa Bay

Brian La Rose predicts: Montreal in 6
Matt Macaskill predicts: Montreal in 5
Alexander Letourneau predicts: Montreal in 6
Kevin Meldrum predicts: Montreal in 6
Simon Aronson predicts: Montreal in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Montreal in 7

(Brian) There’s a giant wildcard in this series…literally. If Ben Bishop is healthy, this has the potential to be a very low scoring matchup. If not, the Habs may have a small leg up despite only winning once against the Lightning all season. Bishop isn’t ready to go for the start of the series but could still make an appearance before it’s over. Both teams have dangerous top lines but it will likely be the secondary scoring that makes the difference in this one.
This is a very even matchup so it’s doubtful that it ends early, even with Anders Lindback getting the nod early on. Montreal fans are about to get introduced to a very underrated Tampa Bay squad.

(Matt) Starting on the road might be exactly where Montreal wants to be. The pressure to win will be less and the team can concentrate on conservative hockey. Bishop’s injury is disastrous for Tampa Bay. Lindback finished the season strong, but he’ll be hard-pressed to out-play Olympian Carey Price.

(Alex) Yes, yes, a clear bias here but, looking at it objectively, I think the Canadiens can and will win this series, mainly on the back of its goaltending. The Lightning’s Ben Bishop will miss at least the first game of the series and I don’t think Anders Lindback has the chops to carry his team to victory. Carey Price on the other hand has been playing the finest hockey of his career (thank you Stéphane Waite). Obviously it’s not as cut and dry as just goaltending, but having the edge in that department is a massive plus. Special teams will be a factor in this series. Montréal has limped into the postseason with a dreadful powerplay of late, while Tampa Bay can punish you on the advantage. The wild card here is Tyler Johnson, who has had an excellent rookie campaign, with the added ability to burn you shorthanded if he chooses – see the final game between the two clubs. Steven Stamkos will score, but he will see his chances limited. I expect the Canadiens offense to struggle a little, but the first line will find its groove, and, if Alex Galchenyuk is inserted into the lineup, that could be a shift too big for the Lightning to overcome. Outside of Carey Price, watch for Brendan Gallagher to bring a new level to his game. Michel Therrien has the tactical ability to outduel Jon Cooper, Price will steal some games and the Montreal powerplay will find its legs.

(Kevin) I believe if the Canadiens play their game and have solid neutral coverage, with Price being healthy and Bishop questionable for the series, then the HABS have the advantage. P.S let Subban play his game.

(Simon) With the injury to Ben Bishop, that will only further increase the edge the Habs have in goal and with all the character the Canadiens have shown this season, I expect them to play their best when it matters.

(Norm) The Habs and Bolts are two very evenly matched clubs. While Tampa had a 3-1 advantage during the regular season, the Habs have a significant edge in goal. A healthy Carey Price trumps an unproven Anders Lindback or a currently injured Ben Bishop, who may or may not be available. The Habs can counter Tampa’s offence with a stingy defence in a team oriented approach. Experience is much higher on the Habs players than Tampa, who’ve had up to 11 rookies in their lineup this season. The coaching advantage goes to Tampa, with Jon Cooper’s strategic new-NHL approach to running a team compared to Michel Therrien’s old school style. The Habs power play has struggled during the stretch drive of the regular season, so there’s expectations that will need to improve. Montreal’s penalty killing has been excellent this season consistently, which will be a factor for the Habs. Monteal’s 5 on 5 play improved from one of the worst in the league at the trade deadline, to rise up to 16th overall. The addition of Tomas Vanek was the primary reason for that improvement, and as part of the team’s top line, he and David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty will be leaned on to continue scoring for the Habs while keeping the opposition off the board. If Tampa’s speed up front can surprise Montreal’s defencemen, that could be an X-factor in this series.