Because It’s the Cup: First Round Playoff Predictions

No matter what team you affiliate yourself with as a fan, the Stanley Cup Playoffs is something that I describe as a party with a show: everyone is invited, whether you’re participating or not. Even if your team isn’t in it, just watching the playoffs can give you chills. For the fans whose favorite teams are taking to the ice in hopes of winning the league championship, the run can be both painful and magical. We experienced that last year, when the Lightning went on that surprise early summer run, beating the Penguins in 7 games, sweeping then cup favorite the Capitals, and then pushing the Bruins to the max, losing in game 7 by the minimal score possible in a hockey game. For us here at Bolts by the Bay, it was a great experience that was both amazing and excruciating at the same time. This year, the Lightning won’t be competing. However, Lightning fans, along with fans of each and every single team will be watching, hoping to experience something out of the ordinary during this early summer party. I made some predictions during the beginning of last week, before the playoffs began. Some of them look to be taking shape, while others have been turned completely upside down.

Western Conference

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 13: Vancouver Canucks' mascot Fin entertains a young fan before Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Arena on April 13, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

#8 Los Angeles vs. #1 Vancouver

Prediction: VAN in 6.

The Canucks have made it seem as if I don’t know what in the world I am talking about thus far. Vancouver has dropped the first two games at home in the series, and faces a 2-0 deficit at the hands of the Kings as the two teams head back to LA. I highly doubt that the Canucks will win four in a row against the Kings, so it looks as though my first prediction may not come true. However, I will still offer my analysis. LA all year has struggled to score goals, and now they face Roberto Luongo. A player as good as Luongo could not possibly have consecutive disappointing playoff years. Vancouver’s speed on the rush will grant them plentiful scoring chances against the best LA player, Jonathan Quick, as supported by the 48 shots on goal by Vancouver. However, that number also supports another one of my claims; the King’s gamebreaker will be the man in goal. If LA has any chance at winning this series, it probably lies at the feet.. or pads.. of Jonathan Quick.

#2 St. Louis vs. #7 San Jose

Prediction: STL in 5

Once again, there is a dent in my predictions. The Sharks went out and stole the first game in St. Louis and currently hold a 1-0 lead in the series. For my prediction to come true, the Blues need to come up with four straight wins in the series. However, I do think this is more likely than would be a similar streak by Vancouver against LA. The unique quality that St. Louis holds is the ability to throw out either of their two goalies and expect a solid game from either of them. The tandem of Halak and Elliot guarding the net for St. Louis is intimidating for the opposing team. Both goalies have 20 plus wins and save percentages higher than 92% in regular season. The Sharks send Niemi out to the crease every night. He’s been solid, but inconsistent at some point during the season. Neither team centers their play around offense, but I think the Blues have more offensive firepower than San Jose, which will win them the series. Hopefully for me, the Blues win the series with 4 straight wins.

#6 Chicago vs. #3 Phoenix

Prediction: CHI in 6

The Blackhawkswent out and promptly dropped the first game of the series in overtime to the Coyotes. As I analyzed these two teams

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 12: Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes in action in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 12, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

before the playoffs, I wanted so badly to chose Phoenix in 6 games. However, it was hard to escape the fact that the Blackhawks have so much offensive talent. After looking at the rosters for each team, it’s pretty easy to see which team has more offensive potential. The Coyotes biggest star on offense, Shane Doan, as greatly underachieved this season. The Blackhawks throw out all too familiar names such as Toews, Hossa, and Kane every night, along with Sharp and up-and-comer Shaw to fire pucks at the opposing goalie Mike Smith.. oh wait, Smitty’s been pretty much awesome this year. The Coyotes hold the gamebreaker this year, and that is Mike Smith. The Coyotes will bust my prediction if Smitty stands on his head and gives his less talented offense a chance to win every night.

#5 Detroit vs #4 Nashville

Prediction: DET in 7

This series was the toughest one to come up with a prediction for. I wanted to pick Nashville, but the cool and collective attitude of Detroit will, in my opinion, decide the series. Both teams have solid goaltending, in Rinne for NSH and Howard for DET. Both offenses match up well, despite the fact that Detroit holds more names that everyone is familiar with, starting with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, along with Holmstrom and Filppula. However, the Preds can fire right back with guys like Fisher and Erat, along with Gaustad and the Kostitsyns. Defensively, the Wings will have big men like Lidstrom and Kronwall stationed in front of Howard, while Nashville can spawn Weber (who probably shouldn’t be playing) and Suter. There is no clear-cut gamebreaker for either team. The team that blinks first will lose this series, it’ll be that close.

Eastern Conference

#8 Ottawa vs. #1 New York

Prediction: NYR in 5

Not much analysis needed here. The Rangers have been stuck at the top of the Eastern Conference for much of the year with little threat of being pulled down. The Sens, as well as they may have performed this year, may have overachieved. I predicted back in December that the Sens would fall out of the playoffs, and that very nearly happened, as they dropped from the 6 seed to the 8 seed between then and the end of the season. The Sens have plenty of offensive starpower with Spezza, Alfie, and Karlsson even on the defensive side of the ice joining the rush when appropriate. However, outside of Karlsson, the defense for the Sens does not seem to be overly impressive. And with a porous defense, you need an above, almost elite, goaltender to stop the pucks flying on net. Anderson, Auld, or Bishop, will not be enough to stop offensive stars like Gaborik and Richards, who will both be weaving in and out of the offensive end with ease. Oh, and the Rangers have Lundqvist and his hair. Enough said I think.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 12: Chris Kelly #23 of the Boston Bruins celebrates a goal in overtime against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 12, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau NHLI via Getty Images)

# 7 Washington vs. #2 Boston

Prediction: BOS in 4

The Bruins are the defending champions and they’re back once again. The Capitals barely made it to the playoffs, and heavily underachieved. I could blame coaching like everyone wants to, but I put it on the players. Players as skilled as Ovechkin and Semin and Backstrom, there definitely shouldn’t be issues playing in the offensive zone. That actually won’t even be the biggest problem for the Caps. The Bruins have size and speed everywhere on the ice, and will easily push the Caps D around. Oh, by the way, in the battle of goalies, I’d say Thomas wins easily. Pull out the brooms.

#6 New Jersey vs. #3 Florida

Prediction: NJD in 5

The Panthers surprised everyone in the Eastern Conference this year by winning the southeast division. Doing so earned them the third seed, but let’s not forget how the Panthers actually performed this season. Their point total was 2 more points than the Caps and Senators had, seeded 7th and 8th. Now, I won’t dump too hard on the Panthers. The Devils have very quietly earned themselves the six seed. In most cases, the Devils point total would have likely gained them a top 3 seed. However, playing in a division where fourth place has a triple digit point total makes it tough to gain 1st place. The Devils overall are just better than Florida. Kovalchuk, Parise, and Elias, along with Hall of Famer Brodeur in net will get them past the Panthers in 5 games.

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts after giving up a goal in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Penguins 7-5. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

#5 Flyers vs. #4 Penguins

Prediction: PHI in 6

All of the Penguins-Flyers drama to close out the regular season makes this series the most intriguing one of the playoffs. Everyone seems to think the Penguins should just be given their ticket to the Cup Finals right now. I strongly disagree, and by that I mean strongly disagree in big bold letters. The Penguins obviously have players like Malkin and Crosby flying around every game, sidekicked by Staal, Dupuis, and Letang. And then there’s Fluery in net too, who seems to get lost in the Sid-Geno starpower. However, people forget that the Flyers too have some top forwards. In Friday night’s 8-5 win for the Flyers, we saw Giroux and 19 year-old rookie phenom (phenom as of Friday anyways) Sean Couturier combine for 6 of Philly’s 8 goals, each scoring a hat trick. Along with Giroux and Couturier, the Flyers have added depth with players like Hartnell, Jagr, and Simmonds heckling at the enemy. Bryzgalov in net isn’t too bad either, as long as the defense is helping out at least a little. All in all, the Flyers have more depth than the Pens (believe it or not) and will win this series. However, the Penguins hold the gamebreaker: Marc-Andre Fluery.

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