Complete Predictions for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs
It is time to once again embark on a journey that will hopefully end with my Stanley Cup Playoff predictions going 15-0.
To be clear, there's no rooting interest in individual teams: I just want to go 15-0. Last year, I got painfully, depressingly, infuriatingly close to that goal only to see it fall apart at the very end. Be sure to read the Kings-Blackhawks series prediction to the last line and try to understand how my heart broke over something so silly as sports predictions.
But it's a fresh year, and there's no reason to think I can't build on last year.
Actually, yes there is. This year is way more difficult to predict. I distinctly remember feeling really good about all eight first-round predictions in 2014; I can say I feel that way about maybe two first-round picks this year. If I break even in round one, I will feel good about it.
There are between 10 and 12 teams with legitimate chances to win it all, and not a single one of those squads can't go down hard in the first round. There are five Canadian teams in the postseason, and two are guaranteed to get to the second round. The defending-champion Los Angeles Kings (my preseason pick to win it all, so why are you reading this?) are out and the field is wide open.
Will the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers go all the way? Will the Chicago Blackhawks get their third Cup in six years? Or will one of the seven teams in the postseason that weren't here last year capture a championship?
Oh, were you really asking? I told you, I don't know. But I took my best shot at it, and here are my predictions.
No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins: Rangers in 7
Regular season: The Rangers won three of the four meetings between the teams.
Last 10 games: Rangers 7-3-0; Penguins 3-5-2
Why New York wins: With the way the Penguins finished the season, many are expecting this to be a quick series. And maybe it will be, but if history is any indication, this one will go the distance—the Rangers have won a series in fewer than seven games once since 2008, which covers six playoff wins.
If Pittsburgh's blue line wasn't so ravaged by injury, the Penguins would have a great chance at the upset. Then again, if their blue line wasn't banged up, they wouldn't have been fighting for their playoff lives over the final week. Even with that, they have a chance as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are healthy.
Marc-Andre Fleury will have to steal this one.
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 New York Islanders: Capitals in 6
Regular season: The Islanders and Capitals split their four matchups, with three of the games requiring more than 60 minutes to decide a victor.
Last 10 games: Capitals 6-3-1; Islanders 4-3-3
Why Washington wins: These teams may be the most evenly matched of any squaring off in the first round. The Capitals and Islanders are nearly tied in score-adjusted Fenwick over the final 25 games. Their four games during the season were back-and-forth tussles. They each finished with 101 points.
But three factors make me lean toward the Capitals: They have the league's top-ranked power play while the Islanders are near the bottom in penalty killing; Braden Holtby is having a stronger season than Jaroslav Halak, and Barry Trotz figures to out-coach Jack Capuano over a seven-game series.
No. 1 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 4 Ottawa Senators: Senators in 6
Regular season: Ottawa won three of the four meetings, all four of which were played after the Senators hired Dave Cameron to replace Paul MacLean.
Last 10 games: Canadiens 5-2-3; Senators 6-2-2
Why Ottawa wins: Andrew Hammond, a guy who was rocking an .898 save percentage in the AHL two months ago, is going to win four games out of seven against Carey Price, the presumptive league MVP?
That seems to be what I'm saying. I don't feel great about it.
The Habs have been a mediocre-at-best possession team all season, and over the past 20 games, their score-adjusted Fenwick is worse than that of Edmonton. Price has washed away those flaws all season, but in his final seven starts, he had a .895 save percentage. Add that to Max Pacioretty's tenuous status because of a likely concussion, and the 110-point Habs feel vulnerable.
The Senators have been the NHL's best team for nearly two months, all under Cameron. Consider this the upset special of the first round.
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 3 Detroit Red Wings: Lightning in 5
Regular season: The Lightning went 3-1 in the season series, although the Red Wings won the most recent meeting on March 28, 4-0.
Last 10 games: Lightning 6-3-1; Red Wings 4-4-2
Why Tampa Bay wins: This appears to be the most one-sided first-round series of the eight, but only relatively speaking. The Lightning and Red Wings are pretty close in 5-on-5 shot-attempt differential and goals allowed, but Tampa Bay feels like more of a sure thing in a few key areas.
What will the Red Wings do with their goaltending? How will their defense handle the NHL's top offense? The Red Wings have the second-best power play, but the penalty kill is barely above 80 percent. The Lightning appear to be a little deeper in every area, and that will result in a quick but close series.
No. 1 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 4 Minnesota Wild: Blues in 6
Regular season: The four meetings were split evenly, with the Blues winning the season finale on Saturday as both teams rested many key players.
Last 10 games: Blues 6-3-1; Wild 6-3-1
Why St. Louis wins: Like a few of these first-round matchups, these teams feel like mirror images. Both have goaltending that's solid but unproven in the playoffs. The Blues' goals for/against averages are 2.92/2.40, while the Wild are at 2.77/2.42. The Blues are ranked fourth on the power play, but the Wild are ranked first on the penalty kill.
What's a prognosticator to do?
I'm going to go with the Blues here. They are just a little better at 5-on-5 and have been playing better than the Wild down the stretch. Everyone knows only the Blackhawks and Kings can end a Blues season these days, anyway.
No. 2 Nashville Predators vs. No. 3 Chicago Blackhawks: Blackhawks in 7
Regular season: The Blackhawks took three of four from the Predators.
Last 10 games: Blackhawks 4-6-0; Predators 4-4-2
Why Chicago wins: The reason you'd take Nashville in this series is Pekka Rinne. He can steal a series on his own, and with the Blackhawks (probably) missing Patrick Kane or at the very most getting a rustier version of him back from a broken clavicle, now seems like the time to pick against Chicago.
But Rinne has been subpar since the All-Star break, delivering a .911 save percentage in 27 starts. The Preds themselves haven't great of late, either, going 6-11-3 in their final 20 games. This is not a team at the top of its game as the postseason arrives.
The Blackhawks have gone from superior to ordinary in the possession game without Kane, but they should be good enough to slip by Nashville in a close series even if he doesn't return.
No. 1 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 4 Winnipeg Jets: Ducks in 7
Regular season: The Ducks won all three meetings, although the Jets took two of the games beyond regulation to earn two points.
Last 10 games: Ducks 6-4-0; Jets 6-3-1
Why Anaheim wins: This series feels a lot like the Anaheim-Dallas series of a year ago. There are all these reasons to pick against the Ducks despite them being the favorite, as the opponent is young and fast and fun and just begging for you to cheer them on as a scrappy underdog.
The Ducks and Jets are even in a lot of areas, be it scoring, defense, 5-on-5 play and even special teams. But the Ducks have more group experience in the playoffs and were one win away from beating the Kings in the second round last season.
This will also be Ondrej Pavelec's first taste of the playoffs, and I just can't get behind him in this series, even if he has played very well of late.
No. 2 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 3 Calgary Flames: Flames in 6
Regular season: The four meetings between these teams were split evenly, although the Flames won the two most recent matchups.
Last 10 games: Canucks 6-3-1; Flames 6-3-1
Why Calgary wins: This series may be the toughest to pick, because neither of these teams is what you would consider a possession darling. The Flames ranked 26th in Fenwick this season, per Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, while the Canucks finished 18th. Over the final 25 games, the Flames had a score-adjusted Fenwick of 46.0 percent, while the Canucks were at 48.1 percent.
Someone has to win this series.
That team is the Flames, only because their speed should give the Canucks problems, especially on the counterattack. If the Canucks plan to use an out-of-practice Ryan Miller in net instead of the superior Eddie Lack, that's another plus for the Flames. Call it heart, grit, luck or whatever, the Flames will again find a way to surprise people in this series.
No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 2 Washington Capitals: Capitals in 6
Regular season: The Rangers won three out of four games.
Why Washington wins: There was a time when the Capitals owned the Rangers in the playoffs, but that changed when the Rangers took out the Caps in seven games in the second round in 2012. Behind a strong 5-on-5 game, a deadly power play and Braden Holtby, the Capitals will knock out the Presidents' Trophy winners.
The Capitals aren't a bruising, punishing team, but their ability to play a physical game will also give the Rangers trouble. It'll be close, but Barry Trotz will get his new team to the conference finals.
No. 2 Tampa Bay vs. No. 4 Ottawa: Lightning in 6
Regular season: The Lightning and Senators won two games apiece vs. each other.
Why Tampa Bay wins: This is where the magical run for the Senators ends. The Lightning are too deep and too talented across the board to let the Senators get the best of them in a seven-game series.
The one thing that can derail Tampa Bay is injuries, which have been a problem along the blue line late in the season. That's their one soft spot, and it could be exploited, but that's tough to predict three or four weeks down the road, which makes Tampa Bay the safe bet here.
No. 1 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 3 Chicago Blackhawks: Blues in 7
Regular season: The Blues won three of five meetings, including two by a 2-1 score over the final week of the season.
Why St. Louis wins: After years of torturous losses at the hands of the Blackhawks and Kings, the Blues will exact revenge against the one team that made the playoffs this year. Patrick Kane is likely to be back for the series, if not sooner, but it won't make a difference against the deep, rugged Blues.
The Blues are fifth in scoring and tied for fourth in defense. The Blackhawks are second defensively but just 17th offensively. The Blues are fourth and tied for seventh in power play and penalty killing, respectively, while the Blackhawks are 20th and 10th in those categories.
Even with Kane back, the Blues are still the better team this season. It's up to them to prove it and get the Blackhawks monkey off their backs.
No. 1 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 3 Calgary Flames: Ducks in 5
Regular season: The Ducks won three of the five matchups, and here's a useless piece of information about those games: The final three games ended in 6-3 scores with Anaheim winning twice.
Why Anaheim wins: The Flames' math-defying, Cinderella, gritty season will come to an end at the hands of the Ducks, a team that will be too good at 5-on-5 to be defeated. This will be the first time since Mark Giordano went down with an injury that the Flames will truly miss him.
Jonas Hiller will find himself between the pipes in this series, but the presence of an ex-Duck won't provide any magic. The Ducks are simply the better team and will get to the conference finals.
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning: Lightning in 6
Regular season: The Capitals won two of three, but their last game occurred Dec. 13, making those games about as meaningless as any in the history of playoff predictions.
Why Tampa Bay wins: This is when the workload of Braden Holtby catches up to him—he started a league-high 72 games in the regular season, and the third round will be when that comes back to haunt him. The last 70-start goaltender to win a Stanley Cup was Martin Brodeur in 2003.
Home-ice tends to get overblown, but the Lightning's 32-8-1 record in Tampa will be the difference in the East.
No. 1 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 1 Anaheim Ducks: Blues in 7
Regular season: The Ducks won two of three, although the third win came with Martin Brodeur in net, so that barely counts. Just kidding. It totally counts. But Brodeur won't be playing in this series.
Why St. Louis wins: I've been quietly predicting Blues wins in what will be close series without revealing who I think will be in net for them. Why? Because, I don't know! Brian Elliott? Jake Allen? Either way, the Blues are good enough to take out the Ducks.
The Blues are a little deeper at center, with Paul Stastny acting as the No. 3 of a deep group. The Blues' back end is loaded, so it shouldn't matter which goaltender the Blues use. They will reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970.
No. 1 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning: Blues in 6
Regular season: The Blues beat the Lightning twice over a nine-day span in February.
Why St. Louis wins: Teams that win Stanley Cups are usually loaded in two areas: at center and on defense. The Blues fit that criteria, although the Lightning aren't bad in this regard, either. However, St. Louis is ready to take the next step.
The Blues' one flaw is goaltending, but think about the Kings and the Blackhawks in recent years. Did anyone think Jonathan Quick or Corey Crawford were elite, Cup-worthy goaltenders before they actually won? Of course not. And no one thinks that way about Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, but that can change with a championship.
The Blues will win on the strength of their overall team and keep the Cup in the Western Conference.
All advanced statistics via Puck On Net and current through Saturday, April 11.