NHL Playoffs 2011: Dark Horses and First-Round Predictions

Aaron Brouwer@brouwerfhcContributor IIApril 12, 2011

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 14: Andrew Brunette #15 of the Minnesota Wild and Christian Ehrhoff #5 of the Vancouver Canucks look on as goalie Roberto Luongo #1of the Vancouver Canucks makes a save and covers up the puck during the second period in NHL action on March 14, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Rich Lam/Getty Images

NHL Playoffs are just around the corner and hockey fans are deciding who to pick in their playoff pools and which team to get behind.  Fans look all over the internet to see who is being predicted as the teams to beat. 

From the research I have done, four teams stand out the most: Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals.  There are a few out there that feel the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks are the dark horses to win it all this season.

Every postseason we see a player produce offensively higher than their norm (ex. Ville Leino and Johan Franzen).  So along with our predictions, we will name a playoff dark horse player.  Here are my predictions for the first round.

Washington over New York in six.  

Alexander Ovechkin says he has been saving himself for the playoffs, so expect him to explode offensively. Henrik Lundqvist will steal two games for the Rangers, but they don’t have enough offense to compete with a rested Ovie. 

Dark Horse: Marcus Johanson proved this season he can play on any line and showed some chemistry with Ovechkin.  He will start on the third line but should see some playoff time.

Buffalo over Philadelphia in seven. 

The Sabres are no longer a defensive-minded team that relies solely on Ryan Miller to be their hero.  Miller is healthy and ready to go, which spells trouble for the Flyers.  Philly goaltending is going to be a huge issue as Buffalo is just as deep offensively with 12 players scoring 10 or more goals. 

Dark Horse: Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe; these two players may be small, but they have tremendous offensive skills. 

Boston over Montreal in five. 

The Bruins are built for a long playoff run and the Canadiens are just the first victims.  Montreal forwards are too small and all those injuries to the defense will finally take its toll.  Carey Price will steal a game for Montreal but the Bruins can score goals in bunches, just look back at the score on March 24, 2011. 

Dark Horse: Nathan Horton has never scored at a point-a-game pace, but he is playing with David Krejci and Milan Lucic so watch for this to be one of the best lines this postseason.

Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh in six. 

Sidney Crosby will not return this playoff and the Penguins get knocked out first round.  Steven Stamkos will find his scoring touch after going 13 games with just two goals. 

Dark Horse: Teddy Purcell increased his production by eight percent after the All-Star break.  Purcell has scored career-high 17 goals and 51 points.

Vancouver over Chicago in five. 

The Canucks will finally knock out the Blackhawks from the playoffs and after beating their nemesis make a run to the Cup Finals.  Chicago will desperately miss the grittiness and agitation of Dustin Byfuglien, David Bolland and Adam Burish.  Vancouver is too strong and will make short order of their rivals. 

Dark Horse:  Ryan Kesler is my pick to lead the NHL in postseason scoring.  Kesler scored career-high 41 goals and is everything you want in a playoff leader.

San Jose over Los Angeles in four. 

The Sharks are playing great hockey, while the Kings are dealing with a couple injuries to their top players.  No Anze Kopitar and no Justin Williams equals no wins for the Kings this postseason.  The Sharks don’t need to be great in order to win this series.  Look for Joe Pavelski to step up his game again these playoffs like he did last season when he scored 17 points in 15 games. 

Dark Horse: Logan Couture scored the second most goals by a Shark this season with 32 and is a rookie.  He will be counted on big time for similar, if not more, production.

Detroit over Phoenix in six. 

The Red Wings have made the playoffs 20 straight seasons and all the playoff experience will be too much for the Coyotes to handle.  Pavel Datsyuk is simply unreal with the puck. Need proof? Just check the highlights from the final game of the season.  Franzen is a playoff machine, scoring 31 goals and 59 points in 51 games over the last three playoffs. 

Dark Horse: Daniel Cleary is a classic example of late bloomer, scored career-high 26 goals this season and only played 68 games.  His production is vital to the Red Wings moving on.

Nashville over Anaheim in seven. 

Corey Perry may be a 50-goal scorer now but without Jonas Hiller or Ray Emery in net, Perry is going to need to score a ton of goals to move on.  Unfortunately for the Ducks they are facing Pekka Rinne, who is a fantasy stud.  Check out his stats: 33 wins, six shutouts, goals-against average of 2.12 and a save percentage of 0.930. Simply outstanding.  Nashville doesn’t have a strong offensive team, but facing Dan Ellis they should be able score enough and finally move to the second round.  

Dark Horse: Pekka Rinne could pull a Jaroslav Halak and carry the Predators deep into the playoffs.  Rinne is that good!

Remember when drafting your playoff pool, it’s not about drafting the best player available, but players that will still be playing in the third and fourth rounds.

Aaron Brouwer is the co-creator of www.fantasyhockeycoach.com.  FHC is a free fantasy hockey service that developed a ranking system combining post-lockout statistics, current factors and our own hockey knowledge.  Brouwer writes about fantasy hockey on Bleacher Report. You can contact Coach Brouwer at brouwer@fantasyhockeycoach.com.


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