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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 8:00 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

My first-round playoff predictions



Here are my picks for the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Eastern Conference

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators


As it turns out, this is not the matchup we thought we would be getting during the final weeks of the season. For a long time it looked like New York would be facing Washington or Buffalo, but surprisingly it will be Ottawa. The Senators can score and they've got a pretty good power play and some solid young players, but I just think the Rangers are too gritty, too strong and too good defensively. It could be a tougher series than people expect, but I have to think New York will be able to shut down Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson with the smothering defense it has.

In many cases the equalizing factor in these series is goaltending, but Henrik Lundqvist is so good that Craig Anderson will have a challenge matching up. Anderson would have to play like Jaroslav Halak did with Montreal in 2010, and in the end, I think that's the only way Ottawa pulls it out.

Pick: Rangers in five.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals


Washington, if you look at their history in the playoffs, they haven't had much success, so it's not like they're a confident team in the postseason, but they are dangerous this time around. They have nothing to lose and they'll be loose, which is different from coming in as favorites, which they haven't handled well.

All that said, I expect Boston to just have too much experience and grit. I think Zdeno Chara and company will be able to shut down Ovechkin and Backstrom, particularly because Chara proved last year when he went against the opposition's top guys every night that he can negate lines like Washington's. As well, Backstrom may not be 100% healthy, and the Bruins will make his life miserable. Plus, the Capitals will probably have to go with Braden Holtby in net. He's played very well at times, but he's also looked very young at times, and it's pretty tough to expect a kid to walk in there and beat the mighty Boston Bruins.

Pick: Bruins in six.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils


I know how the teams are seeded, but this, to me, isn't a real 3-versus-6 matchup. I think the Panthers are good -- they found a way to win their last game and get that third spot -- but I like the Devils. Jersey is a deep team, and don't forget that the Devils are much better offensively. They have three 30-goal scorers this season, which is a pretty impressive arsenal. They're very good defensively like always, and Martin Brodeur has played well. He isn't the Marty Brodeur of 10 years ago, but he's played well in a rebound year, and I just think the Devils are very solid all around, and I like the way they're playing.

Also, don't forget, the Devils had eight more points than Florida in a tougher division. That's a pretty good indicator. Florida, too, I think will be one of those teams that is just happy to finally be back in the playoffs after so many years. Making the playoffs was their goal and they did it. They may be one of those teams that's just happy to be there, and I don't think the stay will be long.

Pick: Devils in six.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers


This is the one we've been waiting for. I think this is just going to be a great series, and it may be the best one of the entire 2012 postseason. These two teams both hate each other, they're both from Pennsylvania, they both have a bunch of star power and they've both been to the Stanley Cup Final recently.

I think this is a very evenly-matched series. The Flyers don't look quite as good as the Penguins on paper, but the Flyers know how to play Pittsburgh. They know how to get under their skin, they know how to goad them into penalties and they'll goad them into getting too emotional and losing their game plan. A lot of the reasons the Flyers win are intangibles that you don't see on paper. That said, the Penguins have so much scoring and a very deep defense. I see a very hard-fought, emotional, dirty, mean series, but I see Pittsburgh as the team that survives.

Pick: Penguins in seven.

Western Conference

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings


We have a major upset every year in the playoffs so you can't pick chalk all day long. I have a feeling this might be it. Vancouver is a great team again after winning another Presidents' Trophy, but I can see them walking into this series thinking it's going to win and underestimating the Kings. Remember, we don't know what's happening with Daniel Sedin, and that's a huge problem for the Canucks. I actually think L.A.'s goaltending is better than Vancouver's and don't forget, Chicago almost beat Vancouver in the first round last year.

I think L.A. is a much better team now than they were a month ago, I think they're playing better offensively than they have all season and I think Jonathan Quick is good enough to stand on his head and steal a series if he has to. I also think the Kings will remember how the Bruins beat the Canucks a year ago and they'll get in Vancouver's face and play physically, which we've seen them do before. Every year we see a big upset, and something tells me the ingredients are there to make this the one.

Pick: Kings in seven.

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks


Before this season started we might have seen this matchup going the other way, but not now. I really think St. Louis is playing so well that at the moment they just don't have a weakness. The defense is big, young and mobile. Their goaltending tandem is great, and they're just playing great hockey. The Blues never stumbled down the stretch and I just think they've been a great team ever since Ken Hitchcock took over. He brought in accountability and a defensive mindset that really fits the players on the roster, and he also got to take over a team with talent. This is a team that has gotten to draft high picks for several years.

Ken was the right man in the right place at the right time for this team. I do think San Jose will play them well. With the experience and talent the Sharks have they can't be counted out lightly, but I just think St. Louis is too deep and they're playing too well right now.

Pick: Blues in six.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (7) Chicago Blackhawks


I think Phoenix has had a great season. Mike Smith is probably the comeback play of the year, the team is playing great hockey right now going into the playoffs, they finished the season strong and they're just a good team all around. But all that said, I just like Chicago. I like the way the Blackhawks play, I like their speed, and everyone seems to think they'll finally have Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland back so they'll have the full team healthy for the first time in a long time.

The Blackhawks are just a team that knows how to win. They won a Cup a few years ago with this core group, they've added some guys to give them that grit factor and I also like the addition of Johnny Oduya on the blue line. Phoenix has really impressed, no matter what happens, coach Dave Tippett always has the Coyotes competing. But I just like the Blackhawks.

Pick: Blackhawks in seven.

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings


I think this is going to be awesome. This is going to be a very tough series for both of these teams, but a few things stand out. I'm not a big believer in home ice in the playoffs, but Detroit is definitely a different team this season on the road than at home. Nashville is good everywhere. I think the Predators' defense matches up well with the Red Wings' forwards, they're big and tough, I think Alexander Radulov has changed their offense and I think Pekka Rinne is as good a goaltender as there is in hockey.

Nashville's size will definitely be a factor. If you look at that defense with Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Hal Gill, that's a big defense and then add in that they've got Paul Gaustad now and some other big forwards that will grind you. Also, the Predators have played Detroit a lot so they know how to play the Wings. I think Jimmy Howard will be good, but I don't think he'll be as good as Rinne. This will be a great series, but it could also be Nashville's years. They're a team to be reckoned with and if a few things go their way, they could be the team to come out of the West.

Pick: Predators in seven.
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Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Mike Smith

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Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 1:21 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Place: Penguins-Flyers Coaches

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Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 12:28 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Place: Preds a serious Cup contender

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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 3:56 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best of Season: Malkin, Blues, Dineen

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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 3:55 PM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Matchup: Sharks at Kings

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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:58 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mullet of the Week: Brian Rolston

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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:56 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Melrose Mathup: Predators at Blackhawks

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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 10:24 AM

By Barry Melrose -  NHL Network Analyst /NHL.com - Melrose Minute

Barry's Best: Miller, Shattenkirk, Thornton

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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 3:00 AM

NHL.com - Melrose Minute

There are high stakes for No. 1 seeds

I can't remember a year where finishing first has been this important. I've always been a guy that thought how you finish was more important than where you finish as long as it's in the top eight, but this year in both conferences it's just paramount that you finish first.

In the Eastern Conference, whether it's the Penguins or the Rangers, if they don't finish first they get Philly, which arguably, if Ilya Bryzgalov continues to play like this, is as good as Pittsburgh or New York. It's the same thing in the West. Whoever finishes second in the Central is going to get Nashville, Chicago or Detroit in the first round. I've never seen a year where finishing first and avoiding a tough first-round matchup has been this important, and that's going to affect how coaches think and how they coach down the stretch.

If you finish first in the East, you're going to get Buffalo, Washington, Winnipeg, maybe Florida, but definitely one of those teams. That's no comparison to Philadelphia. Those teams can beat you, but if I'm going to take my chances, I'm going to take my chances with Buffalo or one of the teams in the Southeast. I'm not going to take my chances with Philadelphia. If you look in the West, you could get Phoenix, Dallas, Colorado, maybe L.A. Any of those teams are a much better matchup than Chicago, Detroit or Nashville.

This might be a year where the first-place team is going to have to play right to the end, and that changes things because when you clinch and find out where you're going to be, that's when you can rest guys or rest your goalie or do some experimenting with young guys in your lineup. For two weeks, you can really manage your team to determine what matchups and lines might help you in the playoffs that you didn't know about before. I think all of that goes out the window this year. Those teams are going to have to battle for first overall because in both conferences the matchups are too important.

The really interesting thing is you might see teams in the middle of the playoff field also trying to avoid tough first-round matchups by not being so upset if they end up dropping to the sixth seed so they can face the weakest division winner. In the East, facing the winner of the Southeast is different from facing Philadelphia, while in the West, facing the winner of the Pacific is different than facing Detroit or Nashville. Are we going to see teams start to not worry about dropping? Will they start resting players so they can finish sixth?

I think most times, certainly home ice is important, but I'm not really a big believer in home ice in hockey because I've seen the visiting team win a first-round series too many times. Our athletes don't have problems winning on the road, and I don't think home ice is the be all and end all. I truly believe it's more important that your team is playing well heading into the postseason, and considering how strong the middle of each conference is, I would rather finish sixth than fifth this year. If you get the coaches and they can be honest and you look at the scheduling and who you would play, I would think they would much rather finish sixth in that sleeper position and open on the road against a weaker team than have home ice in the 4-5 matchup.

Ultimately though, getting that first seed in both conferences is going to be huge this season. Staying away from Philadelphia will be crucial. That's why I don't see Pittsburgh or the Rangers resting anybody, worrying about ice time or any of those things as the season goes down to the wire. You just don't want to face Philly in the first round. The Flyers have been playing great lately, Bryzgalov is playing his best hockey of the season right now, Briere is starting to score and the young guys are starting to get healthy.

It's going to be very interesting to watch how teams play this out, and don't forget, the Rangers and Penguins play in the second to last game of the season in Pittsburgh on April 5. That game could very easily be for first in the East, and it could be a major factor in who goes deep once the playoffs start.
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— Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid on signing his first professional contract