The time is upon us once again to pick some teams to win the Stanley Cup. Of course it’s made easier for a tenth season as the Edmonton Oilers are out of the running for the Cup. 2016 is looking to be as solid as every as nearly every team in the Western Conference could go all the way and win it. The Eastern Conference will feature some great teams going forward without some big names to start the post-season.
So as we do every year, let’s begin by looking at the match-ups in the East and see what shakes out.
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers (Season series 2-0-2 for Caps)
As the league’s regular season champions, the Capitals are firm favourites to win it all but they’ve never been able to make a convincing argument in the playoffs. They’re also going up against a Flyers team that is red hot and a team that will push the Capitals to the edge physically.
Philly on the other hand has a defense that is absolutely brutal apart from uber-rookie Shayne Gostisbehere and you never know what game Steve Mason will bring to the arena. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds are gamers though and don’t forget about Sean Couturier as well. He shut Evgeni Malkin right down a few years ago, in his rookie season if I recall correctly.
I’m picking the Caps in six games because… Braden Holtby. He’s going to be a major factor for the Caps in any series and because the Capitals are just too deep and too good for the Flyers to match-up with.
Not-so-obvious players to look out for: Winger Andre Burakovsky for the Capitals and Shea Weber v2.0 Radko Gudas for the Flyers. Burakovsky can go to Dangle City for Top Shelf Cheddar and Gudas is a killer out there. Literally. He’s probably going to put a guy out for the playoffs in this matchup. Head on a swivel has new meaning when Radko is on the ice.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers (season series 3-1 for the Pens)
I love the way the Penguins have been playing since turfing Mike Johnson. They’re a team re-born and that’s a lot to do with the coaching but it’s also a lot to do with some of the lesser knowns stepping up like Nick Bonino. Surely I’m not alone in thinking he was a throw in when acquired in the Brandon Sutter deal. Carl Hagelin has worked out fabulously since coming over from Anaheim and veterans Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr have proved their worth time and time again. We’re not going to talk about Justin Schultz here…
When Henrik Lundqvist is your goalie, you can never be counted out. He’s one of the top three netminders in the game today and can most definitely steal the Rangers a series on his own. Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Derick Brassard are no laughing matters either. The Rangers are team that can play it anyway you want. They’re big, fast and will punish you in ways only a New Yorker can imagine.
Both teams banged up and I have to wonder what kind of series this is going to be. Malkin, Fleury, the Pens other goalie Matt Murray, Beau Bennet, and Olli Maatta are all in the IR right now. For New York, Eric Staal, Mats Zucarello, Ryan McDonagh, and Dan Girardi are dinged up.
I’ll take the Penguins in five games. I think they’ve come together as a group and as soon as those injured players come back, they’ll be too overpowering for the Rangers to contain and Crosby is back to his Hart Trophy self…
Not-so-obvious players to look out for: JT Miller for the Rangers and Tom Kuhnhackl for the Penguins. A couple of youngsters looking to make their mark. They both play bottom 6 roles for the team but are guys who can put the puck in the net.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings (season series tied 2-2-0)
Man what can you say about this series. No Stamkos, Stralman, or Johnson to start for Tampa. Kucherov, Callahan, and Hedman are also nursing injuries… But they’ve got Ben Bishop who is a fine fine goalie to bail their asses out. But with that said, if those six players I mentioned earlier are out for any extended amount of time, (which Stamkos is) then they’re going to be in tough against a healthy Detroit Red Wings squad.
Can the Red Wings, who JUST got into the playoffs thanks to a serious tank-job from the Boston Bruins, use their veteran experience to pull off a pretty decent upset? Is their defense good enough, what about the sub-par goaltending tandem of Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard? Will one of them show up and give Detroit the boost they need?
I don’t like the Lightning’s chances if those injured players can’t play significant minutes. The Red Wings have still got a very good team but the goaltending concerns me. I’ll take Detroit on the backs of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in 7 games.
Not-so-obvious players to look out for: Anthony Mantha for Detroit has got big potential and often times we see breakouts in the playoffs. For Tampa I’ll say Jonathan Drouin because if he really wants out, he’s going to have to earn it. This is great chance to show the team his value.
*Mantha was returned to Grand Rapids… So throw that name out of the window. Replace it with Tomas Tatar.*
Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders (season series 2-1-0 for Florida)
Well well well, what do we have here? The Florida Panthers are good again. I dig it. I’m cheering for Jaromir Jagr all the way here. I can’t say as I’m a huge fan of Barkov or Huberdeau but Jags, Ekblad, and Gudbranson are my kind of players! And who can forget about Bobby Lu? Luongo is due for a great playoffs and the opportunity to show the Canucks the big middle finger whilst raising Lord Stanley’s cup.
The Islanders are my wildcard team though. Their line of Martin, Czikas, and Clutterbuck is outstanding! John Tavares is no slouch and Kyle Okposo is a bull on the ice. But goaltending will be an issue for the Isles. Halak and Travis Hamonic are out and it’ll take a herculean effort from Thomas Greiss to keep them in this series.
I’m taking the Panthers in four games here. I just think they added some nice pieces in Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell (noted playoff performer), having five 20 goals scorers, and Roberto Luongo is enough to push them over the edge for me. The Isles simply will have to wait another year to make it out of the 1st round.
Not-so-obvious players to look out for: As I mentioned above, Teddy Purcell has a reputation for turning in on in the post-season. For the Islanders, Frans Nielsen. I like his ability to shut down start players effectively and efficiently.
So to recap I’ve got the Panthers, Penguins, Red Wings, and Capitals all moving on to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. My Western Conference predictions are here.