NHL Playoffs 2014: Updated Standings and Predictions for Round 1

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NHL Playoffs 2014: Updated Standings and Predictions for Round 1
Uncredited/Associated Press

The NHL playoffs have been an eventful journey, and we aren't even out of the first round yet. There are three Game 7s on Wednesday before we wrap up the first round. 

It doesn't get much better than a Game 7 in hockey, and Wednesday will be a memorable day. The action will get started at Madison Square Garden in New York at 7 p.m. ET when the Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers. 

With the Blackhawks, Ducks, Penguins, Canadiens and Bruins are already through to the second round, have a look at the rest of Round 1's schedule, and then I'll make my picks for the games. 

Wednesday's NHL Playoff Schedule
Date Time (ET) Matchup Series Watch
Wednesday, April 30 7 p.m. Philadelphia at NY Rangers 3-3 NBCSN
Wednesday, April 30 9:30 p.m. Minnesota at Colorado 3-3 CNBC
Wednesday, April 30 10 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose 3-3 NBCSN

Source: NHL.com

 

Updated Bracket

The most up-to-date bracket can be viewed at NHL.com.

 

Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers 

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

The Flyers and Rangers will have a quick turnaround after the Flyers defended home ice on Tuesday to force Game 7.

The Rangers will have to shrug off the scars of the 5-2 loss, but playing at Madison Square Garden will help. The Rangers haven't been ejected from the playoffs on their home ice since 2007, and when it comes to Game 7 at the Garden, the Rangers are 5-0. 

Two of those victories came in the 2012 run. Henrik Lundqvist was in front of the net for that one, and he will be once again. To have a repeat of 2012, Lundqvist will need help slowing down Wayne Simmonds. The right wing netted a hat trick on Tuesday and has been a force all series.

Of course, Lundqvist will have to be much better. Steve Mason came on for Lundqvist after two poor periods from the Swede on Tuesday. Rotoworld's James O'Brien knows Lundqvist is the only man the Rangers should have in net for the decider: 

Look for the veteran to bounce back in Game 7.

Although the Flyers have the momentum, I can't go against the Rangers on their ice. Rick Nash has been notably absent this series, but he can atone for that with a good game on Wednesday. He won't let that opportunity pass by, coming up big for the Rangers. 

Prediction: Rangers win, 4-2

 

Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche 

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Given that the home team has won every game in this series, the Avalanche have to like their chances while hosting Game 7 against Minnesota on Wednesday. 

It's not like the Wild will cower in the face of a road game, however. Minnesota will be carrying the momentum from their late, game-winning goal in Game 6 from Zach Parise into this pivotal showdown. Two empty-net strikes after Parise's effort for a 5-2 win won't hurt their momentum either.

On top of that, the Wild have had a lead in the third period in two of the games played in Colorado in this series.

This will be enough for the Wild to stake an early claim to the lead and hold on for a 2-1 win. The Wild have been the better team in this series, even if the standings show the two teams as even. 

What also has me siding with the Wild is the talented duo of defensemen Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. Colorado is a fast and fun offensive team, but Minnesota has shown it has the defense to contain them. In the tense and tight atmosphere of a Game 7, always give the edge to defense. I'm doing just that with this prediction. 

Prediction: Wild win, 2-1

 

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

Uncredited/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Kings are looking to become just the fourth team to advance in the NHL playoffs after trailing 3-0 in a series. 

That stat seemed entirely all too daunting for the Kings before Game 4. Now that they have leveled the series at three games a piece, it feels almost inevitable. Don't expect the Sharks to crumble under their current circumstance, though. 

It was just in 2011 that they blew a 3-0 series lead over the Detroit Red Wings but won Game 7 at home to advance. 

The Kings were able to force a Game 7 with a huge third period in Game 6, as they scored three for the 4-0 win.

Justin Williams netted the first goal of the third on a puck that the Sharks felt should've been frozen. After the game, Sharks coach Todd McLellan wasn't shy about pointing out the call. 

The Los Angeles Times' Kriston Shilton passed along this quote from McLellan

We got cheated, simple as that. I was told (by the ref) you could see the puck lying behind (goalie Alex Stalock's) feet the whole time and that's why the whistle didn't go. That was obviously the turning point of the game.

The Kings' offense has exploded over the final three games by scoring a combined 13 goals, but it is their defense that will ensure the win in Game 7. The Sharks scored a combined 20 goals over the first four games, but have scored just one in the last two. 

As in the Avalanche-Wild Game 7, I'm siding with defense in this one. 

Prediction: Kings win, 3-1

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