NHL 2013 playoff preview
Playoff is by far the most exciting kind of hockey. Really, there’s no more coveted trophy than the Stanley Cup. It takes 16 wins to be named the best team in the league and in such a physically demanding sport, only the strongest of the strong deserve the honor.
Starting with the Eastern Conference, here’s a breakdown of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
There is no reason why Pittsburgh shouldn’t come out on top of this matchup. The Penguins were victors in four out of five games against the Islanders this year. Especially if Pittsburgh can get Sidney Crosby back from injury, even the hot-handed and often overlooked John Tavares won’t be able to rack up enough offense for the Isles. While New York can be scrappy and likely won’t go down without a fight, the team is no match for the power and depth of the post-trade deadline Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh in five.
No. 2 Montréal Canadiens vs. No. 7 Ottawa Senators
It’s a battle of the Canadian teams. Of all the Eastern Conference matchups, this one is most likely for an upset. Against the Canadiens this season, the Senators went 2-1-1. While Montréal scored more goals (149 to Ottawa’s 116) and had a greater goal differential (+23 to Ottawa’s +12), it’s Ottawa that has the much stronger goaltender. Craig Anderson leads the league in both goals against average and save percentage with 1.69 and 0.941, respectively. If the Canadiens can solve Anderson they have a chance, but while the Senators’ goal scoring isn’t impressive, their goaltending is. It’ll certainly be a fight to the finish for these two teams.
Ottawa in seven.
No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
Washington and New York are no post-season strangers. In fact, these two teams have faced each other in four of the last five postseasons. New York had a late-season surge that propelled them from borderline eighth to the sixth spot, but Washington has been streaking as well. In their last 10 games, the Capitals are 8-1-1. It’s always best to go into the playoffs with the confidence of a hot streak, but the Rangers have the upper hand based on this season’s previous matchups. New York is 2-0-1 against Washington this season and with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s 0.926 save percentage, it’s no mystery why. However, Washington boasts the offense. With league-leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin and the strong backup play of Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro, all the Capitals need to do is solve Lundqvist and it’ll be somewhat smooth sailing. Braden Holtby is expected to continue his stellar performance in net.
Washington in six.
No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Toronto Maple Leafs
Boston is known for its strong performances, but Toronto shouldn’t be overlooked this year. The Bruins actually scored 14 less goals than the Maple Leafs this year, and while Boston let in fewer goals, this series could go either way. Toronto has been strong and fought hard this season, fighting its customary late-season deflation. Both teams will battle, but it’ll be Boston’s playoff experience and playoff-aged players that will put the Bruins ahead this round.
Boston in five.
Now for the Western Conference’s first round breakdown:
No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 8 Minnesota Wild
First, it’s important to point out that Minnesota got into the playoffs on a tiebreaker with Columbus. That’s only slightly worse than a couple years ago when the Rangers took the eighth seed in the East after a shootout victory. But back to this matchup. This won’t be as easy a series victory as Chicago may think. Minnesota certainly worked hard to get where it is and the Blackhawks’ success is mostly thanks to the long win streak they had to start the season. Just looking at the teams’ first game Tuesday night, it was evident that Minnesota had no problem hanging with Chicago. The Blackhawks had ample opportunity to score, but it took them over 16.5 minutes to do so. And that was with backup Josh Harding in net. Don’t be surprised if there’s an upset here. The President’s Trophy curse will live on.
Minnesota in seven.
No. 2 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 7 Detroit Redwings
Since Bruce Boudreau took over Anaheim, the Ducks have been soaring. They narrowly missed a playoff appearance last season and this year gave Chicago a good run for its money. Anaheim is playing a strong, smart system. With another former-Capital, David Steckel, commanding the faceoff dot and adding some major penalty killing, the Ducks have a strong advantage. Not to mention Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, the always-successful scoring duo scoring when needed. Just watching Tuesday night’s Game One between these two, it was clear that Anaheim made the extra push to seal the victory. Detroit may have playoff experience, but the Red Wings aren’t nearly as good as they used to be, doesn’t mean they’ll go down without a fight, though.
Anaheim in six.
No. 3 Vancover Canucks vs. No. 6 San Jose Sharks
These two teams are virtually the same. Vancouver had a poor 0-2-1 record against San Jose and the Sharks are better than their record suggests. While the team lost key players in Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray at the trade deadline, the strength of Logan Couture has been incredibly important in San Jose’s success. Vancouver has the arguably stronger goaltender in Cory Schneider, who boasts a 0.927 save percentage, but San Jose’s potent offense and veteran leadership will look to lead the way to a trip to the second round.
San Jose in six.
No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings
The reigning Stanley Cup Champions certainly haven’t had a dominant season, and LA’s Game one loss Tuesday night surely showed that. While St. Louis won on a very lucky overtime misplay, the reigning Champs shouldn’t have ever been that out of position. For those who didn’t see, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made a terrible misplay when he fudged the puck behind the net to the Blues’ Alexander Steen who merely had to pop the puck into an empty net. Statistically, these teams are almost identical, despite the Kings taking all three games against the Blues. This matchup could really go either way, but LA isn’t likely to win another Stanley Cup.
St. Louis in six.