Tomorrow the “third half” — the Stanley Cup Playoffs — of the NHL season begins. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a grueling two-month meat grinder of skill and endurance. With the first round getting underway we decided to share with you our picks. The first round is arguably the most important round of the playoffs because it reveals which teams are built to win a Stanley Cup and which teams were, in actuality, paper tigers over the course of the 82-game season.
Boston vs. Detroit
Give the Red Wings organization some serious credit: For the 23rd consecutive year, there will be playoff action in Hockeytown. Despite the fact that this Detroit team has made a habit of picking off top teams, it is highly unlikely that it will outlast the Bruins. Boston is the NHL’s deepest, strongest and most complete juggernaut — as its scorched-ice march to the President’s Cup demonstrated. Even if Detroit’s Henrik Zetterburg manages to get healthy, the Wings will have a task in trying to tame the B’s on home ice. Boston in six.
Tampa Bay vs. Montreal
The Bolts office recently renewed GM Steve Yzerman’s contract, in a reaffirmation of what we have always known: Yzerman has consistently put competitive teams on the ice despite the odds. This year, after franchise player Martin St. Louis begged off the team, the Lightning stormed into the playoffs and appear to be quick enough to beat Montreal, who lost to Tampa Bay in three of their four regular season meetings. Tampa Bay in seven.
Pittsburgh vs. Columbus
The much-maligned Jackets have finally managed a playoff spot, and coach Todd Richards has put together a legitimate contender, but their inexperience in the postseason will do them no favors. Columbus will need much more than just Ryan Johansen to score despite Pittsburgh’s struggles on the blue line (mostly because of to injuries) and in net: Marc-Andre Fleury had an excellent year, but seems to be allergic to the playoffs lately. With Nathan Horton out because of abdominal surgery following his scary collapse, the equal-opportunity scoring committee that is the Blue Jackets will need to be uncharacteristically efficient. Pittsburgh in five.
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia
Although the teams have not met in the postseason since 1997, the rivalry will be just as vicious and bitter as ever. The Rangers will, as always, turn to Henrik Lundqvist to propel them through the playoffs and, as always, he looks up to the task. The Flyers, on the other hand, will struggle to match up in the crease with the goaltending tandem of Steve Mason and Ray Emery. Both teams have plenty of offensive firepower to make things interesting, but only if they stay out of the penalty box. This could turn into a war of attrition, and New York looks deep enough to survive. Rangers in seven.
Anaheim vs. Dallas
The Ducks came out of the gate strong, winning 20 straight games at home in regulation. The Ducks play a true power game led by their skilled and physically massive forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Containing the Ducks dynamic duo is absolutely essential if Dallas hopes to have any success in the series. After an up-and-down season, Dallas managed to pull it together at the end to sneak in past the Coyotes, who held the final wildcard spot for some time. However, a quick glance down the rosters will show a serious skill and experience gap between these two teams. Ducks in five.
Colorado vs. Minnesota
Here, we are looking at two very different teams. Minnesota is a squad that made some major offseason acquisitions two years ago but is still looking to take the next step. The Avalanche, on the other hand, one an upstart team coached by first-year head coach Patrick Roy. These two teams play different styles, with Minnesota taking care of matters in its own end first, while the Avalanche love to open it up and skate around the ice. We expect a tight series here, as Colorado is built around many young stars that have yet to experience playoff pressure. Avalanche in seven.
Chicago vs. Saint Louis
Buckle your seatbelts folks. These two Midwestern rivals have hated each other for decades, and this year will be no different. Much of the talk heading into this one will be about both teams losing marquee players to injury at the end of the season. However, we don’t buy it. This will be an intense series, and the winner will surely go deep into the playoffs. St. Louis took the season series 3-2, but Chicago managed more goals. It’s hard to defend a cup in today’s NHL, but Chicago has the winning pedigree right now. Hawks in seven.
Los Angeles vs. San Jose
Don’t watch this series if you like seeing goals. These two teams have faced each other in the playoffs three of the past four years and the games tend to be choppy, physical affairs. Last year in the second round, the home team won every game and the Kings won 2-1 in Game 7 in L.A. Remarkably, L.A. was 26th this year in scoring. The key for the Sharks, led offensively by Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, is to play hard at the net against Jonathan Quick and hope that the Kings’ struggles on offense continue. The Kings cannot possibly win every game 1-0, can they? Sharks in six.
Ethan Chess and Drew Cunningham are seniors in the College.