The HabsWorld writers weigh in on the second round of the playoffs with their predictions on who will win and why. This is the first part of this article, with the focus on the three series that were determined on Saturday, including the Habs and Flyers.
Montreal Canadiens vs Philadelphia Flyers
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Canadiens in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Flyers in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Flyers in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Canadiens in 7 games
Paul MacLeod predicts: Canadiens in 5 games
(Norm) Facing the Flyers may be the perfect storm for the Canadiens. In terms of regular season rankings, they were the weakest of the four Eastern teams in their round robin seeding tournament. It’s surprising they went undefeated in their three games, but who knows how hard the top teams were actually trying?
During the regular season, Montreal’s record against Philadelphia was one win and two losses. On the surface that’s not encouraging. The first two games were in November and both were close, overtime losses at 3-2 and 4-3. Carey Price was excellent in that first game stopping 40 shots. The second game took place during the team’s first eight-game winless streak and was a decent showing for the Habs. Unfortunately, it was Keith Kinkaid’s first start and loss as a Canadien. In the third game, the Habs won 4-1; Ilya Kovalchuk was their best player with a two-goal performance.
The Flyers finished the regular season strong to rise up in the standings from the early part of the season. During the Qualifying Round, the Habs top defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ben Chariot played exceptionally well when paired against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, limiting their scoring chances significantly. Phillip Danault also played a good defensive shadow game in the series, and Price rose to the occasion. Those players will need to continue that same effort against the Flyers top forwards. The other Habs youngsters who stepped up (Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) will need to keep that up. If all of that happens and the stars in the night sky align just right, this team can defeat Philadelphia.
(Brian) As much as Pittsburgh looked listless for long stretches in the Qualifying Round, the Habs deserve some kudos for knocking them off. But even though the Flyers and the Penguins were really close in the regular season, Philadelphia is the much better team at this point. They have enough firepower to boast three solid offensive lines which will complicate the defensive matchups for Claude Julien and Carter Hart is a better goalie than what Montreal faced from the Pens. A better showing offensively from the Canadiens would go a long way but even if that happens, it’s hard to see Carey Price playing at the same level he did. If he does, the Habs have a chance but unfortunately, I think this is over pretty quickly.
(Kevin) It’s crazy but I really think this is a good matchup for the Canadiens. I like Claude Julien matching up against three coaches he knows and has seen while he holds some younger and newer to the rivalry coaches as his assistants. I like Price vs. Hart for the Habs. I like the experience and physicality that Weber and Chiarot can bring to this matchup. Provorov and Sanheim might be more offensively gifted, but as we saw in the first series, being able to physically punish an opponent so they hesitate to face you in the corner is an important facet to a series. I like the depth of both teams. Montreal is a little disadvantaged here with guys like Weise and Mete drawing in due to the team being sellers at the deadline. I like the matchups at the top of the forward ranks.
Philly clearly has more scoring punch, but we saw the Habs handle that quite well in the opening round. How will the inexperienced Flyers handle that type of coverage and will it lead to some turnovers that their blue line is not the best equipped to handle? Add that to Price stealing a game or two? Philly wants no part of a Game 7 here. I think their skill wins out in the end, but this ends up closer than expected.
(Allan) In the play-in round, one HabsWorld writer (Paul MacLeod) picked Montreal to win. Our reaction might have been, “What was that guy smoking?” The second best choice was by “Moi” who picked Pittsburgh in 5. So this was a gratifying unexpected upset.
This next series is a new animal and it is very intriguing. Common sense dictates Philly in 6 with a great moral victory for the Habs, but digging just a little deeper some interesting concepts arrive to consider.
Both teams’ number one lines did not produce the victory. So either top line could wake up come next game and even if they don’t both teams are designed to have solid players rotate being the stars. At forward, the Flyers have depth galore with a fifth line that is better than Montreal’s fourth line. Domi could change that, but it’s only a guess. Philly has no stars up front, just better, bigger players and more of them. Montreal is an AHL+ team so up front Flyers get the edge but with no stars, it all depends on who sews the needle Petry-style to score unexpected goals.
On defence Philly’s 7th and 8th guys would start ahead of Montreal’s 5 and 6. In net, the Canadiens have an older icon who’s playing great versus a youngster built in the same manner sans experience. Give the edge to Montreal here, but certainly not by a lot with the better Philly defensive depth being the difference. So how could the Habs win? Minimal injuries, new stars every game, Price continues playing THE WALL. How do they not win? Injuries and the first time someone says, “Hey, give Primeau a shot!”
(Paul) Once again, the majority of pundits are predicting a Montreal defeat based on the outstanding talent of the other team. Last series, it was the dynamic duo of Crosby and Malkin. This time it is the depth of the Flyers. Once again, I’m in the vast minority picking the Habs to win on the back of a stellar Carey Price, an improved team defence, and the continued development of our own dynamic duo Suzuki and Kotkaniemi.
Vegas Golden Knights vs Chicago Blackhawks
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Golden Knights in 5 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Golden Knights in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Golden Knights in 6 games
Allan Katz predicts: Golden Knights in 7 games
Paul Macleod predicts: Golden Knights in 6 games
(Norm) Chicago was a huge surprise in the qualifier round, upsetting the Oilers in four games. Although Connor McDavid scored five goals and Edmonton scored 15 goals in the series, their team could not find a way to play defensively when they needed to. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews was outstanding in the Edmonton series, leading his tame with four goals and three assists while playing solid in both ends of the rink.
Rookie forward Dominik Kubalik was dominant in that series and was the Blackhawks second-highest scorer with three goals and three assists. Another rookie forward, Kirby Dach, impressed with four assists and is starting to play up to the promise Chicago saw in him as their top pick in the 2019 draft, and third overall.
Vegas, as a team, continues to follow a team-first strategy, led by former Hab Max Pacioretty with 66 points, followed closely by Mark Stone with 63 points. This team made a surprise move on January 15th, firing head coach (and former Habs assistant coach) Gerard Gallant after leading the team to a .551 winning percentage and five games over .500. With Peter DeBoer taking over the reins, the team finished with a .606 winning percentage and fifteen games over five hundred. Their blueline is a solid group, with Shea Theodore scoring 46 points, followed by Nate Schmidt with 31 points. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to be the starter, but if he stumbles veteran Robin Lehner will get the nod. In the end, I feel Edmonton did more to lose the series to Chicago than the Blackhawks did to defeat them. As such, I do not expect Vegas to face too much adversity in defeating them and moving to the next round.
(Brian) Chicago played well against Edmonton but the Oilers didn’t have their ‘A’ game (or their ‘B’ game for long stretches). I don’t see the Blackhawks benefitting from that same good fortune again in this series. Vegas will be hungry after their collapse in the first round a year ago and they feature a much deeper attack than Edmonton did. I question how long Corey Crawford will hold up playing every game and if he falters even a little bit, they’re in deep trouble. The Blackhawks have enough firepower to squeak out a game but that should be all they’ll get.
(Kevin) Much like the 1-8 in the East, this is not a matchup that I love if I’m the Knights. Chicago may be lacking in terms of lineup depth, but they have more star power than Vegas does. If those big names start getting into a groove, this could really become a pain in the butt series for the Golden Knights real quick. The big advantage for Vegas, I believe, comes down to size and ability to score and defend up and down the lineup. Whoever gets matched up to the Hawks best needs to get physical and wear them down. Whoever Vegas throws out again the bottom lines and pairing from Chicago needs to step up and score repeatedly. I think Vegas has enough depth and experience to get it done, but it won’t be as easy as it may appear on paper.
(Allan) Vegas is not quite as good a team as you might think and likewise, Chicago is not as bad as one would believe. So obviously I have nothing intelligent to say here. I wonder what Kraken fans must be thinking as they look at the journey of this Vegas team. Quite a story. Chicago pulled a 12/5 upset like the Habs did and that in itself is interesting. Chicago just had a convincing win on the Politically Correct wars – winning the day for their name and uniform in honour of the great Chief Black Hawk. I doubt many players on the Hawks could care less. Vegas is just a better team, playing well and should win what will be an entertaining series. Hawks could pull an upset with goaltending and vets coming through but will have a tough time pulling this out over seven games.
(Paul) Knights will continue the franchise’s storybook start and ending Chicago’s post-season surprises. The Knights simply have too much depth and experience for the young Blackhawks to overcome.
Arizona Coyotes vs Colorado Avalanche
Norm Szcyrek Predicts: Avalanche in 5 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Avalance in 5 games
Allan Katz predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
Paul Macleod predicts: Avalanche in 6 games
(Norm) This Coyotes squad is a plucky group of players and there are a few things I like about them. The play of goaltender Darcy Kuemper during the Qualifying Round and regular season has been very good. Taylor Hall has been one of their best up front and Phil Kessel has provided timely scoring on the power play.
However, Colorado has been so dominant during the regular season, and with stars like Nathan MacKinnon and rookie defenceman Cale Makar scoring almost at will, I am leaning towards their team to win this series. Goaltending for the Avalanche has a solid duo of Pavel Francouz and Phillip Grubauer, and I am not sure which netminder will start game one.
(Brian) While I see Colorado having a long playoff run, I think Arizona gives them a bit of a run here. Darcy Kuemper was outstanding against Nashville and he’s the type of goalie that can steal them a game or two when he’s on like this. The Coyotes have a defence corps that can slow the Avs down as well although it won’t be enough to prevent Colorado from moving on; that offence is too strong to be shut down entirely. Cale Makar had quite the playoff debut a year ago and it’ll be quite interesting to see what he has in store for an encore.
(Kevin) Colorado scored almost a full goal per game more than Arizona in the regular season. Arizona allowed a measly four goals less, not much for a team that relies on its defensive structure. I just don’t see how the Coyotes match up with the Avs speed and skill. They don’t have the firepower or the depth. Unless Kuemper steals a few games, this one should be done fairly quickly.
(Allan) The Arizona and Colorado defence are almost equal in terms of talent and results, the offensive comparison is… well… offensive. Colorado had the third-best plus/minus in the league and it was because of their offence. Phoenix was surprisingly +8, which is amazing considering how poorly they did in the standings. Colorado should destroy Arizona, but I think it will be a little tougher than they’re expecting as goaltending will steal up to two games.
(Paul) The Coyotes will give the Avs all that they can handle, but the Avalanche will prevail on talent as long as Nazem Kadri doesn’t lose his mind like he has for the last two consecutive seasons.