Playoff Time: A First Round Preview of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (Part One)
So with all the final Sunday games over and our playoff matches are set it’s time to start betting on your playoff round winners, big game players and this year’s Stanley Cup Champions.
I’m not going as far as predicting the champions yet, but I do have my favourites. There are definitely some underdog teams to watch and some big teams that will be big in the playoffs.
I think it’s about time to start breaking down your playoffs. First we’ll compare offense, defense and goaltending. Then discuss the teams themselves. So without any more delay let’s begin your Stanley Cup Playoff Preview!
No. 1 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 8 Colorado Avalanche
Team Breakdown : San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are going into the playoffs as top dogs in the Western Conference. However, that doesn’t usually mean much. Many first place teams face upsets at some point because it’s not about what you did in the regular season, it’s about who can rise to the occasion in the playoffs.
So far, San Jose have proven that they are not a team built for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite numerous high seated finishes in the regular season they have not been able to make the cup final. This resulted in coaches being fired, new players being signed and continuous attempts at improving their playoff struggles.
This year may be the same story when it comes to the playoffs and the San Jose Sharks. I see them once again failing to make the cup finals despite being the second best team in the NHL at the moment.
Team Breakdown : Colorado Avalanche
This year the Colorado Avalanche had to desperately fight for their playoff lives. The Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche were battling for the eighth and final playoff spot with the season wrapping up. The Avalanche were struggling to barely win games while the Flames were getting hot at the right time to win them. In the end a slip up from Calgary allowed Colorado to pick up the wins they needed to make the playoffs.
At one point in time the Avalanche were leading the Northwest Division, but in the end they ended up fighting for their playoff lives which were basically on life support. The season has certainly been full of ups and downs for the Avalanche, but if there was ever a time when they needed to step up it would be now!
Goaltending : San Jose vs. Colorado
Both the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche starting goalie has been terrific this season. They have played at levels teams can only hope for sometimes. Now in my opinion, they weren’t in the best three (Miller, Kiprusoff and Bryzgalov), but they were great.
Evgeni Nabokov finished the season with the second most wins in the NHL, next to Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. Nabokov had a good year with the Sharks. Although I do not think that the wins column reflects who truly was the best goaltender in the NHL, Nabokov did good this season. He should be good and ready to go for the playoffs.
Craig Anderson has really rose to the occasion at many different times this season. He has truly broke out and shown he can be a starting goalie. He has done a great job this season and was in my mind one of the top five goalies this season. Having him on your team come playoff time is a great thing for the Colorado Avalanche.
When it comes to back up goaltending I’ll take Peter Budaj over Thomas Greiss any day.
Advantage : Colorado Avalanche
I like the fact that if the Avalanche need to send in the back up, they’ll do just fine. I’m also liking Craig Anderson in net over Evgeni Nabokov. I think Anderson will once again rise to the occasion and simply out play San Jose’s netminder, Evgeni Nabokov.
Defense : Colorado vs. San Jose
When it comes to the NHL playoffs the defense is always a big part of one team’s success. Especially when we’re talking about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There defense is what you have to fall back on when your offense is having a bad day or your goalie is struggling getting his body in front to stop the puck.
When it comes to defense and these two squads, they’re not too shabby.
San Jose has two superb defenders on their team in Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. These two will obviously carry the defense and the Sharks squad when it comes to the playoffs. The fact that Boyle is an assistant captain and that Blake is captain only puts that much more pressure on them to step up for the playoffs.
Colorado’s defense isn’t too bad itself. Brett Clark and Adam Foote in particular have to play big roles on Colorado’s defensive team. Adam Foote, Colorado’s captain in particular has to be the big man on the defensive line. Levelling players, shooting pucks, and guiding his team throughout a tough series.
Advantage : San Jose Sharks
When it comes down to it, I’m going to take the Sharks defensive crop over the Avalanche’s. I like some of the players they have on their and believe they will do much more in the series. One more thing left to go, offense.
Offense : San Jose vs. Colorado
Now when it comes down to it, the offense is where goals are being produced. So it is an important part of a team’s success when it’s playoff time. Both the teams in this series have to run up the score and get that light on, at the other side of the hockey rink.
When it comes to dangerous offenses San Jose is one to be feared. The first line already sends fear down your spines. San Jose’s first line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley has been arguably the most dangerous line in the NHL this season. There is no doubt in my mind that they are going to be feared once the playoffs commence. Guys like Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, David Setoguchi and others are nothing to shake a stick at either.
Now the Colorado Avalanche offense isn’t too bad, but it’s not exactly the San Jose offense either. Matt Duchene is listed as day to day for the Colorado Avalanche and this is a problem. Duchene is a guy that needs to play a big role this post season. So let’s hope he’ll be in the line up quicker than expected. Assistant captains, Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny have to play big roles in producing for the Avalanche these playoffs. If they don’t, then you can kiss Colorado’s playoff chances good bye.
Advantage : San Jose Sharks
I think it’s clear to everyone that the Sharks offense is much better than Colorado’s any day. It will be a big reason as to why San Jose will have the edge over Colorado for the better part of this series.
Final Prediction: San Jose Sharks win the series 4-2
Good six game series, in my opinion. Nothing to it really, San Jose will have their early playoff success. The question is if they will be able to carry this on with them throughout the playoffs.
No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens
Team Breakdown: Washington Capitals
What’s there to say? They are the best team in the NHL. They dominated teams in the regular season finishing 1st in the Eastern Conference with 121 points and a record of 54-15-13. Led by Captain, Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals are ready to make a run for the Stanley Cup and prove that they are as good as they can get. With players like Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom, Semin, Theodore and others, the Capitals are the team to beat this playoff season.
Team Breakdown: Montreal Canadiens
This year the Montreal Canadiens were struggling to make the playoffs, but with some lucky outcomes they managed to just cling on and get in. A game with the Toronto Maple Leafs would have them losing in OT and evidently picking up that 1 point they needed to clinch. Now the Canadiens are going to be looking on to the post season with dreams of being the team to finally end the Canadian Stanley Cup drought. They have a really tall order in front of them in the first round though.
Goaltending : Washington vs. Montreal
If you think back to last year, Washington originally gave Jose Theodore the call in net for the Capitals. Theodore blew it so they put in, rookie, Semyon Varlamov. Guess what happened? Capitals goaltending got better and the Caps made it out of the first round alive. Could it be the same story this year? Theodore has been playing great, but if he gets taken advantage of again he will find himself watching the game from the bench again.
On the other side of things you have Montreal’s goalie, Jaroslav Halak. Halak really showed what he was made of this year at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics when he helped the Slovaks finish fourth in the tournament. The highest ever in their country’s history. Now Halak has returned to Montreal and is ready to help his team reach for the sky.
When it comes to backups, Washington has the nod because I believe Varlamov is way more capable of taking over on short notice than Carey Price.
Advantage: Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals have a clear goaltending advantage as they have 2 goalies that are capable of guiding their team through the playoffs.
Defense: Washington vs. Montreal
The Capitals have one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL playing for them and that will be a very valuable card to play come playoff time. Mike Green is definitely going to have an impact on this series with his high scoring style of play. Mike Green led all defenders in the points category this regular season putting up an incredible 76 points! If he can carry that over into the playoffs Capitals should have no issues with dominating the opposition. Other key defenders will be Tom Poti, Joe Corvo, Shaone Morrison, etc.
The Montreal defense has some key players too. Assistant captain (well hopefully captain soon enough), Andrei Markov is going to have to lead the Montreal defensive crop into this one. Guys like Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill, etc. have to play big roles in guiding the defense too. We all know how stacked the Washington offense is, so the way the Montreal defense plays in this one will determine a lot.
Advantage: Washington Capitals
I think the Capitals defense is more capable of contributing at both ends of the ice (stopping the puck in their end and scoring it in the other) than the Montreal Canadiens’ defense. Ouch, Capitals up 2-0 and the last category is Washington’s for the taking.
Offense: Washington vs. Montreal
What can you say about the Capitals offense? Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Mike Knuble among others round out the Capitals incredible offense. Their offense is one of the best in the NHL and shutting them down will go a long way to stop the Washington Capitals. However, it’s easier said than done. And by that I mean, it’s easy to say we’re going to shut down the Capitals offense, but it’s another thing to actually go out and do it.
A few guys in the Canadiens’ line up are going to have to step up in order for them to have any chances of beating the Washington Capitals. Guys like Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, the Kostitsyns and others are going to be key in this playoff series. They have to build a lead and then jump back right to defense.
Advantage: Washington Capitals
Obviously the Capitals offense is one of the most feared around the league, they have a clear advantage over the Montreal Canadiens.
Final Prediction: Washington Capitals win the series 4-0
Washington dominance will be the story in this one as the Capitals will sweep the Canadiens and give themselves time to rest up for the next round.
No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 7 Nashville Predators
Team Breakdown: Nashville Predators
The Preds are back in the post season. After missing the playoffs last year, the Preds are back in it ready to make the push for the cup once more. Most would overlook the Predators, but I think they can be one of the underdogs to look out for in the playoffs. They have a balanced squad that can win both on the road and at home.
Team Breakdown: Chicago Blackhawks
Many are calling on the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup this season, will this be so? Possibly. The Chicago Blackhawks have a very solid team that is capable of scoring goals while at the same time keeping them out of their net. So who knows, maybe these guys are your cup champions this year.
Goaltending : Chicago vs. Nashville
Between the pipes for the Chicago Blackhawks will be none other than Cristobal Huet. Huet has had a good year as the Blackhawks starter. He and the Hawks were battling for first place in the Western Conference with the San Jose Sharks, a battle they would eventually lose. Nonetheless, great year all around for the Hawks and their goaltending is ready to go come playoff time.
On the other end of the ice is Nashiville’s Pekka Rinne. Rinne has had a terrific year with the Nashville Predators. At many times the Predators had to rely on him to get the win and he did not disappoint them. Rinne is going to be a big factor in this playoff series and if Nashville wants to pull of the upset against Chicago.
I’m also liking Dan Ellis over Antti Niemi as a backup for the squads. If they needed to call the backup in because of injury, fatigue, etc. then Ellis would be more capable of handling the situation.
Advantage: Nashville Predators
I’m going to be honest with you, I like the Nashville goaltending over Chicago’s. I think in this series Nashville will be better in this area.
Defense: Nashville vs. Chicago
I think it’s safe to say that the Chicago Blackhawks have a very good defensive group. Despite Campbell still injured (broken ribs and clavicle) and that there is no time date for his return, the Blackhawks should still do fine without him. They’ve got guys like Brent Sopel, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, etc. who can easily fill the void. Duncan Keith in particular is going to be the man leading the defense into this one. Keith was one of the best defenseman in the league this season. So he’s going to have to be one of the leaders for the Blackhawks this post season.
The Nashville defense is headlined by one man in particular, Shea Weber. The young, but talented defender will take on a lot of pressure this playoff season to step up and be a leader when his team needs it. Weber is a terrific defender and has a great slap shot to go along with it. Other guys like Denis Grebeshkov, Ryan Suter, etc. have to play big roles too, but none will be bigger than Weber’s.
Advantage: Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks have a great group, especially on defense and once Campbell comes back it will only be better!
Offense: Chicago vs. Nashville
Now when it comes to offense, Chicago’s is young, but very dangerous. Guys like Toews, Kane, and Sharp have to be seriously feared by the opposing defense. They can get behind you so fast you won’t know when it happened. If you don’t shut them down early in the series, it’s going to be a long series.
The Nashville offense isn’t too bad either. With guys like Jason Arnott, David Legwand, J.P. Dumont, Martin Erat, and Steve Sullivan, the Predators should have no problem getting points on the board. Captain, Jason Arnott has to lead the way with the scoring though. He’s got to make an impact and the game and have his team follow. A few good words in the locker room won’t hurt either.
Advantage: Chicago Blackhawks
I like the Blackhawks offense in this one. With guys like Sharp, Kane, Toews, Hossa, Kopecky, Madden, Ladd and others they should dominate this series offensively.
Final Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks win series 4-3
I’m thinking this is going to be the long series in the first round. I like what Nashville brings to the table and I like what Chicago bring too. So I think it’s only fair that these two make it a series to remember.
No. 2 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers
Team Breakdown: New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils come into the playoffs the second best team in the NHL Eastern Conference. Which means until they meet Washington, they will have home advantage. Martin Brodeur comes into the playoffs with the most wins in the regular season. He had a good year with the Devils and with the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, they might be able to make a good run for the cup.
Team Breakdown: Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers found destiny in their own hands at the end of the regular season. They were playing their last game of the regular season against the New York Rangers. They managed to pull off a shootout win and find the playoff light. With a good offense and defense the Flyers want to be playing the underdog roles this year.
Goaltending: New Jersey vs. Philadelphia
Well this is going to be a rather lopsided comparison. Let’s start with New Jersey. Between the pipes for them is one of the greatest goalies to put on hockey equipment, Martin Brodeur. Despite him getting older every day, Martin Brodeur has yet to show any real signs of slowing down his play. The veteran netminder is definitely ready to guide his team to their fourth Stanley Cup. All three previous championship teams also had Martin on them. In Brodeur we trust, eh?
On the other side of things is, Brian Boucher!? You can see what I meant by lopsided. There is no way that Boucher is anywhere near the same level that Martin Brodeur is on. Boucher is going to need a wing and a prayer to get out of this one alive, to be honest.
Advantage : New Jersey Devils
Huge uneven battle of goaltending here. Scales heavily tip in New Jersey’s favour.
Defense: Philadelphia vs. New Jersey
New Jersey’s defense may not be as strong as the days of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer anymore. The big players in this series have to be Paul Martin and Bryce Salvador. The two are probably New Jersey’s best defenders and have to step up to the plate when called upon with a challenge.
Philadelphia’s defense easily tops New Jersey’s, to be honest. Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, among others are just simply better than what New Jersey has to offer. Interesting, goaltending is one sided towards New Jersey and defense is one sided towards Philadelphia. That makes for a great playoff series, if you ask me.
Advantage: Philadelphia Flyers
Obviously Philadelphia has a much better defense than the New Jersey Devils. So far New Jersey has won the goaltending battle and Philadelphia the defensive. One thing left to go.
Offense: Philadelphia vs. New Jersey
Neither team has a weak offense. Both offenses have their key players that are going to rise to the occasion and step up to score goals. Take Philadelphia first. When it comes to offensive contributions you’re going to look for guys like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Daniel Briere as well as others to contribute for their team trying to get the win every time. I don’t know why, but I think an unlikely hero will arise in Ian Laperriere. He’ll be the guy no one expects much from, but when they start playing it’s there.
Now if you’re talking about a great offense then you can’t overlook what the New Jersey Devils have to offer on the offensive end. With guys like Patrick Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Brian Rolston, etc. this offense has to be taken care of early on or they will walk all over you. Captain, Jamie Langenbrunner has to lead his team into these contest. He’s got to make a good example and have his teammates follow it!
Advantage: New Jersey Devils
I think the New Jersey Devils offense has a slim lead over the Philadelphia Flyers’ defense in this series. I think Philadelphia could still turn a lot of head with their scoring, but for now I’m giving the edge to the Devils.
Final Prediction: New Jersey Devils win series 4-3
I think both teams are going to battle it out until the end. However in the end I’m looking for New Jersey to step up and lock up the win. Don’t be surprised if this one goes to OT in the last contest.
This was part 1 of your Stanley Cup Playoff Preview, please check back in due time for Part 2.
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