A few months ago, the standings were a lot different. The Red Wings weren't in the top eight of the Western Conference, the Avalanche were competing against Vancouver for the division lead, and the Flyers still had their goalies.
All of that has changed. The Red Wings have risen from ninth in the Western Conference, all the way up to fifth. The Avalanche stopped fighting for the division, and started fighting for a playoff spot in general. And the Flyers, suffered injuries to both Michael Leighton and Ray Emery. They are now going to rely on Brian Boucher in the playoffs when they play the Washington Capitals.
For the last month, we have been looking at predictions of who will be in the playoffs. Now, we are going to start looking at predictions of the playoffs themselves. As always, that will be much more entertaining.
Washington is a very offensive team. They have a lot of good players, and they use these players to run up the score. The biggest star is Alex Ovechkin, but the Caps also have Alexander Semin who scored 40 goals this season, and Nicklas Backstrom who scored 33 goals and tallied a team leading 68 assists.
The good thing for Montreal is that they have a great goalie in Jaroslav Halak. Halak tied with Detroit's Jimmy Howard for the fourth best save percentage in the NHL (92.4%).
However, that doesn't change the fact that the Candadiens are only 13th in the NHL in defense (2.66 goals against per game). The bigger statistic is going to be offense. Montreal is tied with Toronto for the fifth worst offense in the NHL (2.56 goals per game). This offense has scored 101 less goals than the Capitals' offense this season.
Montreal is going to have a tough time beating the Caps. They don't play at the same level, and I'd be pretty surprised if the Caps didn't win this series.
Philadelphia has one big problem. They are being forced to play a third string goalie with very little playoff experience because Ray Emery and Michael Leighton are out with injuries.
New Jersey, on the other hand, has the best defense in the NHL. They have only averaged 2.28 goals against per game this season and are the only team in the NHL to allow less than 200 goals.
There really isn't much of a comparison to be made between Martin Brodeur and Brian Boucher. Brodeur is a world class goalie that many look at as the greatest goalie of all time. Boucher is a third string goalie that is going to be facing Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Travis Zajac. The difference is that Brodeur is better able to handle the skilled players Philadelphia throws at him because he's a more talented goaltender.
Both Buffalo and Boston are very defensive. In the six games that these two teams have played against each other this season, the winner has only score more than three goals one time. That was when the Bruins defeated the Sabres 4-2 on November 7th in Boston
I'm going to make this my first upset of the article. Before you start leaving a bunch of comments talking about how I don't know what I'm doing, bear with me for a second.
Like I said, both teams are very defensive. The Bruins have slightly better numbers. They're second in the NHL in defense and the Sabres are fourth.
Both teams are also missing some of their scorers. The Bruins are still missing Savard after his hit from Matt Cooke about a month ago, and the Sabres are missing Tim Connolly, who scored 17 goals and tallied 48 assists this season. According to CBS Sports, Savard is questionable for this series and Connolly is out until at least mid-April.
The biggest challenge for the Bruins to overcome is Buffalo's superior offense. The Sabres are eighth in the NHL in offensive production and the Bruins are dead last.
However, that hasn't been true when the two teams play each other. During the season, Boston has won four of the six games they've played against each other. In the past, the Bruins have been able to contain Buffalo's better offense, and, in fact, the Sabres have only scored more than two goals against the Bruins twice this season. If this continues into the playoffs, Boston will have a great chance of upsetting the Sabres.
Pittsburgh has a couple of problems. The first is that Marc-Andre Fleury has been below average this year. His save percentage is tied with four other goalies for 33rd in the NHL at 90.5%. However, that isn't much lower than what it was last year when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
Defensively, the Penguins have had a little bit of trouble. They are actually tied with the Ottawa Senators for 18th in defense.
The difference comes in the offense. Pittsburgh is fifth in the NHL in offense and has one of the best goal scorers in the NHL in Sidney Crosby. Over the course of the season, the Penguins averaged three goals per game and constantly proved that they can shred apart some of the best defenses in the NHL.
Ottawa is going to have an even bigger problem because they are missing Alexei Kovalev. Kovalev has been a big part of the offense this year with 18 goals and 31 assists.
Pittsburgh's offense is going to be too much for Ottawa to handle, and the Penguins will win the series.
San Jose is looking to redeem themselves for last year's embarrassing first round exit to the Anaheim Ducks. This year, they are once again the number one seed in the Western Conference, and will be facing another number eight seed.
Last year, the Sharks faced a number eight seed that really didn't play like a number eight seed. Last year, the Ducks rose into eighth place. This year, the Avalanche sank into eighth place.
At the beginning of the season, Colorado was the team to beat. They were at the top of the Western Conference. It was very difficult to beat them. As the season wore on, they started to sink. They gave up the division lead to Vancouver, and saw themselves go from fourth, to fifth, to six, and all the way down to eighth.
Finally, at the end of the season, they are fighting with Calgary for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. And although they beat Calgary, they haven't been playing their best hockey recently. They have only won three of their last ten games. Compare that to San Jose who's won eight of their last ten.
San Jose is a better team, that's been playing much better recently. They shouldn't have much trouble defeating the Colordado Avalanche.
Nashville has been playing some great hockey over the last month. Since the beginning of March, they have gone 14-6-1. And although I think that Chicago will win the series, I think that Nashville is going to be tough to beat.
Chicago has two things going for them. The first is that they have a great offense. They have a ton of talented players, including Jonathon Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. Each one of these players has scored a ton of goals for the team. In fact, Chicago has six players that have scored 20 goals or more this season.
Defensively, Chicago is just as solid. With their goaltending trouble, it may be surprising that they have the sixth best defense in the NHL. However, they are able to rely on the players in front of the goalie to stop the puck from getting to the goalie. This has worked very well for them for the entire season.
Nashville does not have the talented offense needed to get around Chicago's defenders, and they don't have the talented defense to stop Chicago's forwards. They do have a lot of heart. They have played very well recently and will come after the Blackhawks with some great plays. But I don't think that it will be enough to win the series.
LA and Vancouver have both had up and down seasons. The beginning of the season did not start out well for Vancouver. Roberto Luongo started the season in a slump, and Daniel Sedin was sidelined with an injury. Both of these factored into a tough start for the Canucks.
LA had one of their best runs at the end of January and into February. At that point, they set a new franchise record with 9 consecutive wins, and propelled themselves up the standings.
The difference in this series is going to be Vancouver's offense. The Canucks finished second in the NHL in offense behind the Washington Capitals. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they have the best line in the NHL in Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Alex Burrows. Together, these three players have scored over a third of the team's goals.
However, they also get you with some great depth players as well. Mikael Samuelsson and Ryan Kesler are the two that come to mind.
Together, this has created the second best offense in the NHL. Vancouver is a chemistry based team, and it's going to be very difficult for any team to defend them. You can expect to see them overrun the Kings' defense with some great plays, and a lot of passing.
I can't think of any team entering the playoffs hotter than the Detroit Red Wings. Over the last month and a half, they have really come together and played great hockey.
The problem for them was injuries. At one point, they had nine of their 18 starting players out with injuries. This forced them to call up a ton of rookies from Grand Rapids. Not only did these rookies perform well, but they played a huge role in keeping Detroit in playoff contention long enough for the injured players to come back and make a difference
With all respect to Phoenix, they are not getting a good break during the first round. With all of the distractions that they have faced, this season has been a minor miracle.
A lot of the success this season has been due to Ilya Bryzgalov. As always, he's been a solid goalie and a huge reason that this team placed as high as they did.
However, I don't think that they're going to be able to overcome the Red Wings. Obviously, the Wings have won a lot of championships. In fact, in the last three years, they have never been eliminated before the third round.
Many of the players that accomplished those feats are on this team as well. More importantly, they have Jimmy Howard who has been phenomenal in goal. In fact, his numbers are actually better than Bryzgalov's. Granted, only slightly. His GAA is .03 lower and his save percentage is .4% higher.
The difference is Detroit's offense. With Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterburg and Johan Franzen, the Wings have a ton of players that Phoenix will need to cover. Not only that, but this team has a bunch of younger players that can make plays as well. Darren Helm is the one that sticks out in my mind.
However, it should be an entertaining series, because both teams should win some games. Eventually though, I think that the Wings are going to come out on top.