Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Round Predictions (Eastern Conference) for the Stanley Cup Playoffs

What's harder than seeing your team lose in the playoffs? Seeing your team miss out on the playoffs despite having the talent to, not only get in, but do some damage.

That's the situation we Caps fans are in right now, as we have three choices now to get our sports fill: watch baseball (not ideal), watch the Washington Wizards in the playoffs (I'm cool with that), or watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs without the Capitals for the first time since 2007 (um, no thank you).

Although I have no plans to watch a single game of the playoffs this year, I'm still going to give my round-by-round picks. Last year, I badly underrated the Boston Bruins, but still went 9-6 overall.

Here are my official picks for the opening round in the Eastern Conference, before I do the West tomorrow. If you don't remember from last year, I compare both teams' offense, defense, goaltending, and special teams before making my decision.

#1 Boston Bruins vs. #4 Detroit Red Wings
Offense: The Bruins were third in the league in goals per game, behind only Anaheim and Chicago. The Red Wings were 16th. This is a no-brainer. Boston.
Defense: The Bruins were one of the best defensive teams in the league throughout the year, allowing just 2.08 goals per game, behind only ultra-defensive Los Angeles. Detroit, meanwhile, was 16th in this category as well. Again, a no-brainer. Boston.
Goaltending: The most probable goaltenders are Tuuka Rask and Jimmy Howard. If they get the starts, this is pretty lopsided. Rask carries a .930 save percentage into the playoffs, whereas Howard has only a .910. Rask's name has come up in Vezina ballots, while Howard has struggled with consistency. Another easy decision. Boston.
Special Teams: Probably the most lopsided of them all. Boston had the 3rd best power play in the regular season, while the Wings had the 18th. Boston had the 8th best penalty kill, while the Wings came in at 12th. Easy call. Boston.
Prediction: Boston in 6. On paper, this isn't even close. However, the Red Wings had some success against the Bruins in the regular season, winning 3 of the 4 matches. Still, I don't see the Bruins losing this series.

#2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #3 Montreal Canadiens
Offense: The Lightning were ninth in the league in goals per game, while Montreal was 21st, being a primarily defense-first team. Tampa Bay, easily.
Defense: The Lightning were 12th in the league in goals against per game, while Montreal was 8th. This is close, but I'll take Montreal.
Goaltending: The closest battle so far, the probable netminders will be Carey Price (Montreal) and Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay). Price had a .927 save percentage during the regular season, while Bishop had a .924. It's a close game, but considering Montreal has a better D, I pick Montreal.
Special Teams: Tampa has the 13th best power play on the circuit, while Montreal is ranked 19th. However, Montreal wins the special battle pretty handily thanks to their top notch PK, which ranks 3rd in the league, while Tampa's PK has struggled all year and is ranked 23rd, behind teams like Carolina, Calgary, and, yes, Washington. Montreal.
Prediction: Montreal in 6. This could easily go the distance, but I don't see the Bolts winning, even with home ice advantage. Montreal is just too good defensively, and Carey Price has been very good, and he'll only continue to do well.

#1 Pittsburgh Penguins (ugh) vs. #4 Columbus Blue Jackets
Offense: I don't even have to look at stats for this. Pittsburgh.
Defense: This is a close one. Pittsburgh finished at 10th in goals against per game, while Columbus finished 13th. Overall, I still have to go with Pittsburgh.
Goaltending: The probable netminders are Marc-Andre Fleury and defending Vezina champion Sergei Bobrovsky. Respectively, their save percentages are .915 and .923. An easy choice, Columbus. Besides, who likes Fleury anyways?
Special Teams: I don't have to look at stats for this either. Every Caps fan already knows the Penguins were the top power play team, beating the Caps by less than a tenth of a percent. However, I did look up the PK numbers, and it just confirmed my suspicions: the Pens were fifth overall at the end of the year. No doubt here, Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5. This isn't close at all. The only chance Columbus has is catching the Pens D on an off-day and shaking Fleury's confidence. However, I don't see that happening 4 times. Pittsburgh will win this one.

#2 New York Rangers vs. #3 Philadelphia Flyers
Offense: The Rangers ended the year 18th in goals per game, while the Flyers were 8th. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering the Rangers have always played a defensive style of hockey. Not much of a contest here. Philadelphia.
Defense: Just as I expected, the Rangers were dominant defensively, ranking 4th, while the Flyers were not, ranking 20th, just one spot above the Caps. Again, not too much of a shock. New York.
Goaltending: Although Ray Emery is getting the start in game 1, Steve Mason will probably be in net for the majority of the games for Philly, while Henrik Lundqvist will have the same honor for the Rangers. Mason had a save percentage of .917, while Lundqvist garnered a .920. Close, but I'll take New York.
Special Teams: An extremely tough decision, I'm going solely based on the special teams indices here, or the combined rank of power play plus penalty kill. For Philly, this is 8 (pp) + 7 (pk) = 15, and for the Rangers this is 15 (pp) + 3 (pk) = 18. Overall, I have to go with Philly.
Prediction: New York in 7. In the end, these two teams are extremely evenly matched. It will come down to if the Philly offense or New York defense will prevail. Home ice, however, will probably play the biggest role, which is why I'm going with the Rangers.

So there you have it. My picks for the first round in the Eastern Conference. Whatever happens, I won't care because I'll be watching the Nationals and Wizards and completely shunning hockey broadcasting until June.

Until then, though, I'll have to content myself with these blog posts.

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