Every year, each NHL team grinds out a regular season of 82 games in pursuit of a coveted playoff spot. After yet another exciting finish to the regular season, the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs bracket is set.
Starting this Wednesday, the teams that earned playoff spots will begin the grueling quest for the Stanley Cup.
In this slideshow, I will share my predictions for the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The following slides contain my predictions for the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Ottawa Senators have been an exciting team to follow this season, as they have, in my opinion, overachieved. Riding on the solid seasons of Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators managed to nab the eighth seed.
Their first-round opponent is this season's runner-up for the Presidents' Trophy: the New York Rangers. I do not believe the Senators will put up much of a fight against the Rangers. The Senators will lose this series due to their lack of a quality goaltender and will be shutdown by the always incredible Henrik Lundqvist.
Prediction: Rangers in 5
The Boston Bruins are looking to repeat as Stanley Cup champions for the first time since the Detroit Red Wings did it back in 1997 and 1998. Their first-round opponent is the Washington Capitals who barely managed to make the playoffs.
The Capitals are coming into the playoffs relatively hot, as they have gone a solid 6-2-2 in their last 10 games.
However, they will not eliminate the Bruins.
Prediction: Bruins in 5
The Florida Panthers are another team that, in my opinion, overachieved this season, as they have won the Southeast Division this year. They play the red-hot New Jersey Devils in the first round.
Many have been quick to say the Panthers will be quickly ousted in the first round since they have stumbled to conclude the regular season going 2-3-5; however, I believe they will put their recent troubles behind them come playoff time. They have too many veterans on the team to let this dismal stretch carry over into the playoffs.
This series will go seven games with the Devils ultimately winning due to the heroics and clutch ability of goaltender Martin Brodeur.
I believe this will be the most exciting series of the entire Quarterfinals. These cross-state rivals absolutely hate each other. Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell went as far to say that the series would "be a bloodbath."
The Flyers won the season series going 3-2-1 against the Penguins; however I predict the Penguins to win this playoff series in seven games because they have a proven playoff goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, have arguably the two greatest players in the world on their team in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and have home-ice advantage.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
The following slides contain my predictions for the Western Conference quarterfinals.
In the first round, the Los Angeles Kings will face this years Presidents' Trophy winner: the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have really hit their stride as of late going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games; however, I do not believe they will have an easy time ousting the Kings.
The Kings have some great talent in Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter; however, their backbone has been Vezina nominee Jonathan Quick. He will give the Canucks potent offense trouble.
In the end, I believe the Kings will lose in seven games due to their troubles they have had scoring this season. Sorry, but goaltending alone can only get you so far.
Prediction: Canucks in 7
The St. Louis Blues face the San Jose Sharks in this first-round matchup. The Blues have been cold as of late going 4-3-3 in their past 10 games, which is something a team never wants heading into the playoffs. To make matters worse, they are playing a Sharks team that has won seven of their past 10 and have a hot goalie in Antti Niemi who has posted three shutouts during that stretch.
The Blues have been near the top of the standings all season long, unlike the Sharks, and will regroup come playoff time to eliminate the Sharks in six games.
Prediction: Blues in 6
The Phoenix Coyotes will be facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round this year. The Coyotes are easily going to win this series because they have something that the Blackhawks do not: solid goaltending.
The Blackhawks have not had a stable situation in net all season, and it has shown up on the stat sheet. They rank 22nd in goals-against per game. Phoenix is ranked fifth in goals-against per game largely due to the exceptional play of goaltender Mike Smith this season.
Some will argue that the return of Jonathan Toews will take this team to another level; however, his return does not solve the goaltending situation.
In the NFL there's an age old saying that, "defense wins championships." In the NHL I believe goaltending wins championships. I predict Phoenix to win this series in five games.
Prediction: Coyotes in 5
The Nashville Predators will face off against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. This will be another wildly entertaining series because these two clubs are dead even when it comes to talent. The season series between these two clubs is tied at three.
This series will go the distance, but in the end I think Nashville will win because their window for a championship is closing quickly, and they have much more playoff experience now than they did last time they faced the Red Wings in a playoff series.
Prediction: Predators in 7
The following slides contain my predictions for the Eastern Conference semifinals.
In the Eastern Conference semifinals I have the New York Rangers pitted against the New Jersey Devils. This would be one hell of a playoff series, as both of these teams have been at each others throats all season.
In the end, I believe the Rangers would come out on top simply because they are more talented than the Devils offensively, defensively and at the goaltender position.
The Devils only edge the Rangers out in the special teams department, as they are slightly statistically better on the power play and penalty kill.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
If the quarterfinals play out the way I think they will, the Bruins will be playing the Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
These teams play a similar brand of hockey: aggressive and smart. They are comparable in talent and rank near the top of nearly every major statistical category. They also have many players with playoff experience.
Although they are very similar teams, the Penguins dominated the season series three games to one.
In the end, I think the Penguins will win this series due to their ridiculous amount of firepower. The Penguins top three lines are all dangerous offensively, and since Crosby's return on March 15th, they have averaged an unreal 4.5 goals per game.
If Fleury remains solid between the pipes, the Penguins will win this series and advance to the Conference finals.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
The following slides contain my predictions for the Western Conference semifinals.
I believe the Vancouver Canucks will be playing the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference semifinals.
Both of these teams are similar statistically; however, they differ in their playing style. Nashville plays a physical brand of hockey; Vancouver plays a finesse game.
In the end, I think the Predators will upset the Canucks and win the series. They won the season series going 2-1-1 and demonstrated that they can keep up with the Canucks offensively, while still playing more physically.
I also think that the Predators are desperate to win; therefore, they have that extra motivation to advance into the Conference finals.
Prediction: Predators in 6
I believe the Blues will be playing the Coyotes in the Western Conference semifinals.
These two teams are similar in that they rely on a collective team effort to win games. Neither team has a real superstar.
They are also similar in that they have great coaches. The Coyotes have the 2010 Jack Adams trophy recipient Dave Tippett as their coach, while the Blues have this year's probable Jack Adams recipient Ken Hitchcock as their head coach.
I believe the Blues will win this series because they have better goaltending and better defense. The Blues have gotten 15 shutouts between Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak. Elliot also leads the league in goals-against average and save percentage.
The Blues have also proven that they can beat the Coyotes, as they won the season series three games to one.
Prediction: Blues in 5
I believe the Rangers will face off against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. These two teams have some bad blood between them and John Tortorella just added fuel to the fire with his recent comments about the Penguins.
These two teams are very even in terms of talent defensively and at the goaltender position; however, the Penguins get the edge offensively and on special teams. They lead the league at 3.3 goals per game, rank fifth on the power play and rank third in the penalty killing department.
Keep in mind that since Crosby's second return this year, the Penguins have averaged 4.5 goals per game. The Rangers rank 11th in goals per game, 23rd on the power play and fifth in penalty killing.
The Penguins won the season series four to two. Granted, Lundqvist did not play in two of those games, but I believe the Penguins still outplayed the Rangers in those games he did not play in.
In the end, I do not think the Rangers, even with Henrik Lundqvist, will be able to keep up with the Penguins' lethal offense; consequently, they will be ousted from the playoffs.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
I believe the Blues will face the Predators in the Western Conference finals.
Both teams play a physical brand of hockey and are very good as a whole. Both teams also have solid goaltending. The Blues starting goaltender, Brian Elliot, leads the league in goals-against average and save percentage, while the Predators' star goaltender, Pekka Rinne, leads the NHL in wins.
The Predators will eliminate the Blues for three reasons:
- They have the league's best power play
- They have playoff experience
- They are a desperate team
Both teams have stellar goaltending. It will be crucial for each team to cash in on the man advantage. The Blues convert on the power play at a decent 16.7 percent; Nashville scores at an exceptional 21.6 percent.
The Blues also lack playoff experience. They are a young team, and this year's playoffs will prepare them for future playoff runs. Nashville is a perennial playoff team; consequently, they understand what they need to do to win.
Unlike Nashville, the Blues are not desperate to win the Stanley Cup now. Their core players are locked up for next season—the Predators top two defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter could both potentially walk after this season.
Prediction: Predators in 6
I believe the Pittsburgh Penguins will be playing the Nashville Predators in the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.
These teams do not play each other very often; however, it is always exciting when they meet. Both of these teams play smash-mouth hockey, yet they play very intelligently.
They only played each other once this season, and the Penguins won 5 to 1; however, Rinne seemed to have an off night. These two teams are even in talent.
In this series, the Penguins' explosive offense will finally meet a team that can slow it down—but not stop it. I do not think the Predators, no matter how desperate they may be, can contain the Penguins' offense for the entire series. It is simply too good.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
I made these predictions based on the probable lineups each team will employ to start the playoffs. Based on the research I conducted, I believe the Pittsburgh Penguins will win the Stanley Cup this year. They are dominant offensively, defensively and have a great, experienced goaltender.
Do you agree with me? Disagree? Any other questions or comments? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @ryan_tactac.