After looking at every series and coming to my conclusions for the opening round, I looked at my eight winners and thought to myself: “Nobody else is going to have these eight teams winning, are they?
So, just for my own edification, I thought I’d wait and see. I wanted to gather the predictions from national Websites as well as from my local colleagues to see if anyone would match me pick-for-pick.
I couldn’t find one.
Not on TSN. Not on ESPN (yes, they made picks there. Lots of ‘em.) Not on CSNPhilly.com. Not NHL.com. Not the Toronto Globe And Mail. Not my former employer at the Delaware County Times. Nowhere could I find the same eight selections as I am about to unfurl in this space.
That means one of two things:
1.I’m a peerless prognosticator and no one else can match my picking prowess.
2.I’m a dope.
In fairness to everyone else making these picks – and in fairness to me – it’s likely somewhere in the middle. I’ve had years where I was near flawless in doing this and I’ve had years where I’ve been lucky to get a series or two correct.
But that’s what makes the NHL Playoffs so thrilling. Once you get into the tournament, anything can happen.
We saw it first hand in 2010 when as a No. 7 seed, the Flyers hosted the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals. That was a first in league history.
Then, in 2012, we saw the Los Angeles Kings become the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup.
Those seedings are no longer applicable, as the playoff format has changed this season, but you can still consider the Division winners No. 1 and No. 2 seeds and the Wild Cards No. 7 and No. 8 seeds for the purpose of comparisons.
So, don’t be surprised if there are a few upsets in the first round – which is why I picked a few.
So, here they are. I’ll start with the West. Yes, that’s a dirty trick by me to attempt to get you to read all the picks before the Flyers-Rangers series, but you can just as easily scroll past the rest to get to what you really want to see.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars – A friend of mine who likes to gamble on sports called me and asked me if I had to pick one series in the first round that is as close to a sure thing as possible, which would it be? Although there are two other teams that are heavier favorites based on odds, the Ducks are about as surefire a winner as there is in the opening round. Dallas did a nice job in getting their act together and grabbing the last playoff spot, but the Stars are a little thin after their top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and rookie Valeri Nichushkin. The Ducks, meanwhile, have Ryan Getzlaf, who should be a Hart Trophy finalist, former Hart trophy winner Cory Perry and a group of players who want to win one more title for the great Teemu Selanne before he retires at the end of the playoffs. The Ducks will be an emotional bunch, not to mention they have a superior defense and are going to ride Frederik Andersen in net, which might be a bit of a surprise, but he’s been great for the Ducks. Anaheim in Five.
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings – This may be the best first round matchup in the playoffs. It’s two teams who are good enough to not just reach the Stanley Cup Final, but win the whole darn thing. Both teams are immensely talented in different ways. The Sharks have the firepower, the Kings are a possession team who has great defense and goaltending. In matchups like this I USUALLY (key word because I won’t follow this logic later) side with defense and goaltending. When you have Jonathan Quick and a pack of defensemen led by Drew Doughty and you are the best puck possession team in the NHL, I like your chances. Los Angeles in Six.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild – No one surprised the league as much as the Avalanch did this season and a lot of that credit has to go to first-year coach Patrick Roy. He got a lot out of a very young team. But the Wild suffocate you, and that could be tough for a young team in the playoffs, especially if they are going to be without Matt Duchene. The Wild are sneaky deep up front with Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville. The Wild also don’t give up many shots. That’s a credit to their defense lead by Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon. And another thing – the Wild was 22-7-11 in the regular season in one-goal games. There’ll be a bunch of those in the playoffs and they’ll know how to handle it. Minnesota in Six.
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks – I wish you can ask anyone around the office how long I’ve been championing the St. Louis Blues as potential Stanley Cup team this season. I was parading around the office since September saying “All they need is a goalie, and they’re going to win the Cup.” Then they went out and got Ryan Miller. It seemed destined… Until the final couple weeks of the season happened. Crippling injuries. Terrible offense. Disjointed play. A six-game slide into the playoffs. Meanwhile, the defending champs are getting healthy at just the right time. Chicago will be infused by the return of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Towes. The Blackhawks haven’t won two of the past four Stanley Cups on luck. And they’ll know how to take care of the Blues. I meant next year for St. Louis. Wait, that’s unacceptable? Sigh. Chicago in Six.
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings – The Red Wings were sensational down the stretch to lock up their 23rd straight playoff appearance. Gustav Nyqvist was the unexpected catalyst for a beat up Wings squad. But now, Pavel Datsyuk is back and Detroit is feeling upset-erish. Um. No. The Bruins are the best team in hockey. They play a tight and efficient style – against everyone except Montreal, who seems to have their number much like the Flyers have Pittsburgh’s. That said, the Red Wings could have really used the return of Henrik Zetterberg to have a puncher’s chance. Instead, it looks like he’ll miss this series. Shame. It could’ve been a great one between Original Six franchises. Instead, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and company move on. Boston in 5.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens – This is the one series where I’ve waffled back and forth. I would have probably picked the Lightning if Ben Bishop were healthy. Even though he’s not, I think Anders Lindback is a capable enough backup to fill in against the Habs. But Carey Price has grown a lot since he was crumbling under playoff pressure against the Flyers in 2008. That and the Canadiens have a nice mix of youth and veteran leadership as well as the kind of game that can hang with the speed-oriented Lightning. I think it’s a great series. Canadiens in Seven.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Penguins swept all five games from Columbus in the regular season, which has them listed as a heavy favorite in this series. But, there’s something a little off about this Penguins team. They have the elite players. They have some good secondary scorers. But they seem to lack the usual depth of a great team. Not to mention the defense is just O.K. – although the return of Paul Martin and Kris Letang should help. The wild card is Marc-Andre Fleury. He had a great season, but his recent adventures in the playoffs have been epically bad. Can he rebound back to 2009-form when he won the Cup? Meanwhile, the Jackets are playing with house money making their second playoff appearance in franchise history. They’ve never won a playoff game. But methinks with Ryan Johansen leading the way and Sergei Bobrovsky in net, they’ll taste postseason victory for the first time in this series. Just not four times. They’ll give the Pens all they can handle, but I think Pittsburgh escapes. Pittsburgh in Seven.
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers – Goaltending – advantage New York. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the league’s best and the Flyers situation is in flux with the uncertainty of Steve Mason’s health forcing Ray Emery into duty for Game 1. Defense – advantage New York. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will play half the game and they are an excellent shut down pair who will be on the ice as often as Claude Giroux and his linemates are out there. The Flyers defense has been decent, but lacks a true hammer. They’ll need help from the forward to win a systematic defensive game. Forwards – advantage Flyers. The Rangers struggle to score and the Flyers have seven 20-plus goal scorers, with at least one on each line. The Flyers cause matchup problems and are going to need guys like Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Vinny Lecavalier to be difference makers in this series. Special Teams – advantage Flyers. Yes, the Rangers have the top penalty kill unit, but the Flyers have a top-10 power play and penalty kill and their power play is No. 1 on the road. Discipline is going to be key for both teams, but I think the Flyers will outscore the Rangers on special teams – and that’s a big advantage. In a close series, special teams usually swing the pendulum and I think the Flyers will get one of the first two in New York and take care of business at home and move on to Round 2. Flyers in Six.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers