By: Luke Johns, KCOU Sports
The NHL playoffs are among us! And with the Bruins not in them, I am in the business of making unbiased predictions. You could make an argument for almost every team winning it all, which is going to make this year’s playoffs extremely exciting. Here’s a look at some of my predictions as well as things to pay attention to over the course of the next two months.
- How long does Ottawa keep up their hot streak? Good question. First of all, Andrew Hammond came out of nowhere, and his NHL success is mind-boggling. In 24 games in the NHL so far, he is 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. That largely attributed to the Senators finishing the regular season 21-6. Considering Hammond is playing out of his mind, I think Ottawa will go deep into the playoffs. They have the hot goaltender and no matter who you’re playing, you can ride a hot goaltender deep into the playoffs.
- The potential Blues-Blackhawks matchup. If both St. Louis and Chicago win their first round matchup, they will indeed face off in the Western Conference semi-finals. Last year it was a very emotional series and who wouldn’t want to see that matchup again? St. Louis is primed to make a run for their first Stanley Cup Championship and I have a gut feeling that if they’re going to represent the west, they have to go through Chicago to do so. If they play each other, I think the Blues will avenge their historic struggles against the Blackhawks. With Vladimir Tarasenko having the best season of his young career and Corey Crawford’s season being as streaky as it was, I think this is the year St. Louis beats Chicago, if they play each other. St. Louis has everything going for them and it’s not likely Chicago will be able to stop them this time.
- The Washington-Islanders series. They split the regular season series two games apiece, and both finished the regular season with 101 points. To me this is the most even series of the playoffs. Some of the things to consider are Alexander Ovechkin vs. John Tavares and Jaroslav Halak vs. Braden Holtby. Ovechkin led the league in goals and Tavares narrowly lost to Jamie Benn for the Art Ross trophy. Expect both head coaches to devise strategies to contain them. Holtby is better than Halak in every significant statistical category, however one could argue that New York’s offense is significantly better than Washington’s so it may even out anyway. All that being said, I like New York to advance. The only reasons are that Washington has a history of choking in the playoffs, and the Islanders will feed off the emotion of their last season in the Nassau Coliseum. Additionally, Braden Holtby’s regular season workload of 73 games could catch up to him.
Lock of the Playoffs: Anaheim beats Winnipeg. I haven’t heard any analyst pick Winnipeg to win. Sure they have an up-and-coming star in Jacob Trouba, and Ondrej Pavelec playing well between the pipes, but in this case you just have to trust the better resume. The Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line who combined for 58 goals, as well as Hampus Lindholm who’s 12th in the league in +/- at +25. On top of all that, the Ducks core actually has playoff experience. To put it bluntly, I’d be shocked if Winnipeg won.
Bold Prediction: The Tampa Bay Lightning will not only beat the Red Wings, they will absolutely humiliate them. The reasoning behind that is Detroit has a goaltender controversy between Jimmy Howard (23-13-11, 2.44 and .910) and Petr Mrazek (15-9-2, 2.48, .914) who have both had their ups and downs throughout the year. Combining the fact that Tampa Bay is the top scoring team in the NHL and considering Detroit’s goaltender situation, that is a recipe for a potential obliteration. The line they call “The triplets” of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov average an absurd +34 among the three of them. Also this time Tampa Bay has a goaltender. Some people may look at this series and think it’ll be a good one, I don’t think Detroit stands a chance.
Even bolder prediction: Andrew Hammond will be the sixth Conn Smythe winner to not win the Stanley Cup. The only way that can happen is if the goaltender has a historic playoff. With the way Hammond and Ottawa are playing, Hammons is very capable of having a history playoff. Why those specific circumstances? Read on.
Who will win it all: It will be the St. Louis Blues against the Ottawa Senators in the final with St. Louis winning in seven games. Like I said before, St. Louis has everything going for them and to me are in the best position to succeed with their potential opponents. Conversely, Ottawa has been hot and the play of Hammond is enough for me to like the Senators coming out of the east. It will be a good series, but ultimately the Blues are just too much for the Senators to handle. St. Louis is loaded at center and defense and those are two positions that teams can sink or swim with. The two teams haven’t played each other since November so both the teams aren’t too familiar with each other, and in that situation I would give the advantage to the higher ranked team. All things considered, the overall strength of the Blues will outlast Ottawa and bring St. Louis its first Stanley Cup Championship.
For full disclosure, here’s how I see the bracket working out.
-Ducks vs. Jets (Ducks in 5)
-Canucks vs. Flames (Flames in 7)
-Blues vs. Wild (Blues in 6)
-Predators vs. Blackhawks (Blackhawks in 7)
-Canadiens vs. Senators (Senators in 5)
-Lighting vs. Red Wings (Lightning in 4)
-Rangers vs. Penguins (Rangers in 6)
-Capitals vs. Islanders (Islanders in 7)
-Ducks vs. Flames (Ducks in 6)
-Blues vs. Blackhawks (Blues in 7)
-Senators vs. Lightning (Senators in 4)
-Rangers vs. Islanders (Rangers in 7)
-Ducks vs. Blues (Blues in 6)
-Rangers vs. Senators (Senators in 5)
-Blues vs. Senators (Blues in 7)