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The 2016 NHL playoffs are upon us, but unfortunately the Montreal Canadiens will not be participating this year. The HabsWorld writers weigh in on their predictions on who will progress to the second round and how they’ll do it.

Today is the first article of a two part set of predictions, 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 land with a point system in place for accurately predicting the winners and the correct number of games for each series.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings

Brian La Rose predicts: Lightning in 6
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Red Wings in 6
Craig Scharien predicts: Red Wings in 7
Gordon Black predicts: Red Wings in 5
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Red Wings in 7

(Brian) This is one of the more intriguing series to me. Tampa has underachieved a bit this season and are missing Steven Stamkos. The Wings, meanwhile, has underachieved all season long and haven’t looked like a team worthy of a playoff spot. I expect some of Detroit’s forwards to pick up their play but I don’t really trust either of their goaltenders. Ben Bishop, on the other hand, is a lot more reliable. I could see the Red Wings being the better team overall but goaltending will be what gives the Lightning the series.

(Alex) What was looking like another possible Stanley Cup final run for the Lightning just a month ago has unraveled quite spectacularly with a slew of unfortunate injuries to big time players. While Detroit didn’t exactly storm into the playoffs for the 25th consecutive year, they have an interesting mix of depth with both young and old. Add the news of Pavel Datsyuk’s swan song at the end of the year, I like Detroit’s chances. Tampa Bay will have o dig really deep to pull this one off.

(Craig) If you’re talking about teams that are banged up, the Lightning immediately come to mind. It sounds like Johnson is going to be okay, but a bunch of guys are nursing injuries, including Hedman and obviously no Steven Stamkos is major problem. Tampa bay has the depth to make it interesting, but the Red Wings are a deep club with plenty of experience that will be looking for revenge after last year.

(Gordon) This is the hardest of the first three match-ups. In net, I think Bishop is capable of stealing some games and his puck-handling skills will really help the transition in the tighter-checking playoffs. In the end though I don’t think it’s nearly enough to overcome the significant injuries Tampa has sustained and all credit to Mike Blunden, but he’ll never be Stamkos – and Drouin, while I do beieve he is a star in the making isn’t there yet. Ill take Detroit and have the pleasure of watching Datsyuk do his thing in the playoffs one last time, at least.

(Norm) The Lightning are limping into the playoffs, missing key veterans like Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, with Tyler Johnson questionable for game 1. Add veterans Victor Hedman Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan who are just coming back from injuries, and this team is in terrible position to start the post season. Although they have an advantage in goal, I like the Red Wings balance between their forwards and defencemen, their youth and their veterans. This will be Pavel Datsyuks final playoffs as he announced he will be returning to Russia after the post season is over. Maybe his teammates will push harder to send him off with another Cup ring.


New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Brian La Rose predicts: Rangers in 6
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Penguins in 7
Craig Scharien predicts: Penguins in 6
Gordon Black predicts: Penguins in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Penguins in 5

(Brian) Pittsburgh has been on fire since their midseason coaching change. Their offence is now at the level that many expected it to be and Marc-Andre Fleury appears to be ready to go. And yet I still feel tempted to lean towards New York. Henrik Lundqvist has had plenty of success in the playoffs while the Rangers’ attack is deeper than it seems at first glance. Experience can make a big difference in the postseason and I think it helps the Rangers pull off the upset here.

(Alex) Lots of question marks with the health of the Penguins but the Rangers have their own injury concerns. Sidney Crosby has been red hot during the second half of the season while Henrik Lundqvist has been oddly poor of late. The team that gets through this series will need their best players to be their best players and I think Pittsburgh’s guys will edge it out against a stubborn New York team. If Malkin can get into this series, the Penguins likely wrap it earlier than in the full 7.

(Craig) One of the hottest clubs around – the Pens – run into a tough first round opponent in the Rangers. Even without Malkin in the lineup Pittsburgh has been just about unstoppable. That said, the Rangers have tonnes of experience and Henrik Lundqvist and the Penguins have plenty questions in goal with Fleury banged up. Of course the Rangers have their own injury issues with Ryan McDonagh out and the Penguins have this guy name Crosby

(Gordon) The Penguins look good. They are questionable in nets right now, but the Rags have some questions there as well. In the end, I feel the Rangers may be on a downswing and Crosby & co. are heating up at the right time. An early injury could sway this either way but Pens should take this in a walk with Hank (and Pittsburgh’s habit of dropping a stinker every 4-5 games) making it look closer than it should be.

(Norm) The Penguins have really turned their team around since they fired their head coach. In particular the revival of Sidney Crosby helped increase their scoring, and both goaltenders have been playing well. The Rangers finished the season looking “tired” and they have a few key wounded veterans like Ryan McDonagh [who’s expected to miss at least the first game] along with Henrik Lundqvist (illness) and D-man Dan Girardi [upper body] who may start the series.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks vs St. Louis Blues

Brian La Rose predicts: Blackhawks in 6
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Blackhawks in 6
Craig Scharien predicts: Blackhawks in 7
Gordon Black predicts: Blackhawks in 4
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Blackhawks in 6

(Brian) Is this the year that the Blues finally make it out of the first round? They’ve had strong goaltending all year and their physical style should help them in a playoff series. But it’s hard to pick against a defending champion, one that has shown that skill can trump grit even in the postseason. It’s even harder to pick against them when their opponent is a perennial choker. I’d love to see the Blues move on but history should repeat itself in this series.

(Alex) Going in, the defending champs look out of sorts. I don’t see that lasting. Patrick Kane has been unstoppable this year, Jonathan Toews continues to provide leadership and timely big plays, Artemi Panarin has been a revelation and their depth remains in tact from last year;s triumph. Corey Crawford is back with Scott Darling a very capable backup while the backline will get a boost when Duncan Keith returns from suspension. St-Louis, the notorious underachiever, will put up the good fight but ultimately they won’t be able to dethrone this team as Ken Hitchcock gets shown the door. They don’t have the pieces to compete at the highest level yet and it looks like the coaching staff has taken them as far as they can go. Looking forward to seeing what Tarasenko will bring into the series, he’s a gamebreaker and maybe even a series changer.

(Craig) As much as I would love to see Tarasenko play as many games as possible, once again the Blues are in tough. They look as strong as ever, but of course they draw the defending champs. I guess watching plenty of Panarin and Kane is a pretty good consolation prize. The Blues make it tough, and the series will take a major toll on Chicago moving forward, but the Hawks get the job done.

(Gordon) Though the Blues finished strong, make no mistake – they are still the Blues, and this is still the playoffs. More importantly, Chicago is still Chicago and this is the playoffs. I know a lot of people have this as close, and maybe Tarasenko can be the difference but I can’t in good conscience like the chances of a team that has to announce who their starter is for the first game of the playoffs. Kane and Panarin keep rolling and serve notice to the rest of the West.

(Norm) Here’s another playoff matchup that will be fun to watch. St. Louis has the home ice advantage but against Chicago, can they turn that to their advantage? Little rattles their playoff tested veterans, and their trade deadline acquisitions have helped their depth. If the Blues had faced a different team in the first round, they would likely have beaten them and built up their confidence. I feel like they’re already facing a handicap by starting against last season’s Cup champions, and I don’t predict they’ll get past them.