By: Matt Cohen
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The Caps just finished the greatest season in the team’s history. While the Warriors were getting all the headlines as they dominated the NBA, the Caps have dominated the NHL. The Capitals finished with 120 points this season, one of the top ten highest totals in the history of the NHL. The Caps have superstar Alex Ovechkin who scored 50 goals this season. Goalie Braden Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s single season wins record with 48 wins. Evgeny Kuznetsov has emerged as a star. The Caps have the most depth they have ever had. The Flyers don’t have enough offense to keep up with the Caps.
The Pick: Capitals in 5
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers
The Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL. After a slow start along with a Sydney Crosby injury, the Pens seemed like they were going to miss the playoffs. But then the Penguins got white hot and soared up the standings when Crosby returned. The Penguins now sit at second in the conference with 104 points. The Penguins have one of the top three offenses in the NHL, and will soon get back goalie Marc-Andre Fluery from injury. Then Rangers however are no push-over. Unlike the Penguins, the Rangers have been sitting near the top of the East the whole season. The Ranger have a balanced lineup with great goaltending and great offense. But they won’t be able to keep up with the high powered Penguins, who could also get Evgeni Malkin back later in the series.
The Pick: Penguins in 6
Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders
The Panthers rebounded from a awful 2014-2015 campaign in a big way. The Panthers had a stellar season sitting behind the Caps in second place for most of the season. 44 year old legend Jaromir Jagr has led the way for the Panthers this season, his age never catching up with him. But while solid on the offensive and defensive end, the Panthers are not very good on special teams. The Islanders however are much more proficient on special teams, as well having much more experience than the Panthers. The Islanders have John Tavares who has broken out as one of the best players in the NHL the past few seasons.
The Pick: Islanders in 7
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
The Lightning were the runner up the Blackhawks in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, and they return all of their core. Steven Stamkos is arguably the top goal scorer in the NHL. While being injured for a large portion of the season, Stamkos still led the Lightning in goals scored. Stamkos has fantastic complementary pieces in Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn. Goalie Ben Bishop has been rock solid for the Lightning, who were top five in the NHL in terms of goals against. The Red Wings, led by rookie upstart Dylan Larkin, will not have enough firepower to keep up with the charged up Lightning.
The Pick: Lightning in 5
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
Capitals vs Penguins
Wow, this one will be fun. One of the most heated rivalries in the NHL will take center stage in this Conference semi-finals matchup. The hottest team vs the most dominant team. Both teams have spectacular offenses, both teams have their share of superstars goal scorers in Ovechkin and Crosby. Therefore, this series will come down to goalkeeping, and the Caps have the upperhand in that department with Braden Holtby. The Caps will overcome their second round woes.
The Pick: Capitals in 7
Lightning vs Islanders
Two more strong offenses go at it. Yet again like the Caps and Penguins, it will come down to goaltending. Ben Bishop was so strong throughout the playoffs last year and this regular season, and his experience will help carry the Lightning in this series. His strong goalkeeping will further kickstart the deadly offense of the Lightning.
The Pick: Lightning in 5
Eastern Conference Finals
Capitals vs Lightning
Two really evenly matched teams. Both teams have fast paced, high scoring offenses. Both teams have superstar goalies. Both teams have great coaches. Their are very few advantages to be had in this series. The Caps are much better than the Lightning when on the power play. Also, few teams have the same kind of home ice advantage of the Caps with some of the loudest fans in the NHL. These two things give the Caps an ever so slight advantage. The Caps erase all playoff demons and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals
The Pick: Capitals in 7
Western Conference Quarterfinals
Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild
A clear mismatch. The regular season Western Conference champion Dallas Stars have the best offense in the NHL in terms of goals per game. The Wild are eighteenth in that category. The Stars are fourth in power play percentage in the NHL while the Wild are twenty seventh. Stars cruise.
The Pick: Stars in 4
St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks
By far the most interesting matchup of the first round in both conferences. The best player on the ice clearly is Chicago’s Patrick Kane, the likely NHL MVP. Kane has been a do it all player for the Blackhawks all season, along with some help from rookie star Artemi Panarin. Those two however, will not be enough to break through the solid Blues defense. St. Louis goalie Brian Elliot has been spectacular this season. The Blues are especially sound on special teams, one of the best combos of power play percentage and kill in the NHL. The defending champion Blackhawks will hold their own, but the Blues home ice advantage proves the difference. The Cup defense ends in St. Louis.
The Pick: Blues in 7
Anaheim Ducks vs Nashville Predators
A battle between two very balanced teams. The Predators are in the top half of the NHL in goals for, goals against, power play percentage, and power play kill. But the Ducks are the same way. The Duck however are first in the NHL in goals against, power play percentage, and power play kill. Ducks run away with this one.
The Pick: Ducks in 5
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
Northern Cal vs Southern Cal. Balance wins the day again as both teams have solid offenses and defenses. Both have loads of playoff experience behind them. The Kings started the season slow, but gained fired as the season progressed to move up to the top 4 of the West. The Kings also have won two Stanley Cups in the past 5 years. That momentum and championship pedigree propels them over the Sharks. Southern Cal>Northern Cal.
The Pick: Kings in 6
Western Conference Semi-Finals
Stars vs. Blues
The top two highest points scoring teams in the West go at it. The Stars and Jamie Benn going up against the near impenetrable Blues defense. Something has to give in this matchup of offense vs defense. The Blues will be tired from their seven game series against the extremely physical Blackhawks. But the Blues are just as physical themselves, and they will be able to keep up with the Stars. The Stars defense has been below average, and that let the Blues move on through.
The Pick: Blues in 7
Kings vs Ducks
An all Southern Cal affair when these two meet. The Ducks and Kings spent most of the season battling it out for their division’s crown. The Duck won that battle. But in this round, the hard hitting Kings, who know better than most teams how to get it done in the playoffs have the edge over the Ducks. The Ducks were the better team in terms of goals allowed per game in the regular season, but Kings goalie Jonathan Quick just knows how to get it done when it counts. Quick, without fail, steps up his game for the playoffs, and will help carry the Kings to the upset.
The Pick: Kings in 7
Western Conference Finals
Blues vs. Kings
Both of these rosters are extremely tired. The Kings have played 13 games up to this point and the Blues have played 14. St. Louis has had to travel much more than the Kings, who haven’t left the state of California until this series. Two very evenly matched teams. But the Kings edge in experience, as well as being a speck fresher than than the Blues slides them back into the Stanley Cup Final for the third time since 2012.
The Pick: Kings in 7
Stanley Cup Finals
Capitals vs Kings
East Coast vs West Coast. The Kings who have barely traveled in these predictions, pay the ultimate price with having to play, at most, four games on the other side of the country. The Caps have done a little less traveling than the Kings, but not a large amount. Plus, changing time zones as an east coast team is easier than a west coast team flying east. Advantage, Caps. On the ice, both team are very physical. Both teams have great goalies. Holtby however has been just a little better than Quick in the regular season. The Caps offense is much better than the Kings, who can’t match the firepower the Ovi brings. The Kings already took out one high powered offense, it will be hard to take out another. After having high expectations and failing to meet them time and time again, these Caps have the drive to overcome all the hurdles that have gotten in their way in the past. DC fan’s dreams comes true, Ovi finally gets his Cup (knock on wood).
The Pick: Caps in 7