In case you missed it, here is my preview for the Western Conference’s first round playoff matchups. Here is the one for the East, and I’ll be posting the predictions from both in my new predictions page, in which I’ll also list the gambling lines for these matchups.
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
I’m starting with our B’s because they’re first in the conference, not because we care about them the most. Fine, there’s some of that too. Anyway, this series will either be remembered far more fondly or far more negatively than a potential series with Columbus, with no in between. Either the Red Wings provide a great matchup to the Bruins in a memorable series that the Bruins win, similar to how they bested the Maple Leafs last year after they were also heavily favored, or they beat the B’s and piss us all off. The B’s would’ve beaten the Horten-less Blue Jackets in no more than 5 games, which would have obviously been more boring than this series with the Wings will be… but man, it would’ve been nice to have an easy first round opponent.
But they drew the Red Wings, who are 11th with a 51.2 FF% despite missing literally everybody from their lineup at some point this year. The B’s are 4th at 54.1%, and I’ve said repeatedly that they’re the best team in the league, but the Wings will test them. Just by nature of being the Red Wings coached by Mike Babcock, their system breeds depth, which is a skill that matches the Bruins. At least 3 of Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Darren Helm, and Daniel Cleary will be on their 3rd or 4th lines, and that’s pretty impressive. That’s why the Paille injury is so important — if the Merlot Line can actually handle some tough matchups, they can neutralize Detroit’s depth a little more.
Jimmy Howard is good, but he’s not Tuukka Rask. Expert analysis. The Bruins have a clear, but not huge, advantage in goal. And on special teams, the Bruins power play/penalty kill rankings are 3rd and 8th, and the Red Wings are 18th and 12th. So the B’s have a definite advantage on the PP, and it’ll be important to see how well both their power play units are clicking. I feel like the Merlot Line – Chara – Krug PP will get theirs, so the Bergeron – Smith – Eriksson – Soderberg – Hamilton combo will be the special teams X-factor.
The Red Wings have the speed that is the Bruins’ weakness, and that’s certainly nothing to overlook. But, if their speed in the game 2 weeks ago is worrying you, just remember that the B’s also outshot the Wings 35-20 in that game, and they didn’t have Iginla.
A lot would say that I’m overlooking the Red Wings’ ability and that I’m overconfident with the Bruins. Maybe, but remember, the Wings are without Zetterberg, and the Bruins are just that complete of a team. The Wings won’t go down easy, but I don’t see the series as being a really long one, either.
Bruins in 5.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Penguins are overrated. That much is true. There is no depth whatsoever for them, and that was true even before the Pascal Dupuis injury. Remember Chuck Kobasew? Yeah, that guy. He has actually received some minutes for the Pens, which is a problem.
But are they better than the Blue Jackets? More specifically, are they better than the Blue Jackets without Nathan Horton? I would say no, but it’s close. The Islanders took the Pens to 6 last year, and the Jackets are better than last year’s Islanders, and the Pens are worse than last year. That’s all true, and so is the Penguins being 16th in FF% at 50.2% compared to the Jackets at 12th and 50.8%. I’d also rather have Sergei Bobrovsky over Marc-Amnesty Fleury (fine, maybe he doesn’t deserve that name now, but it was definitely possible going into last summer), but maybe I’m crazy.
But I just don’t think that the Jackets can take down the Pens without Horton. He’s the only guy with some playoff experience, and I do think that matters some, however overrated it may be (a lot). I don’t see the top level talent or the depth for the Jackets to both take down Crosby and Malkin and take advantage of the Pens’ lack of depth, although it is nice to have 4 centers of Ryan Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Mark Letestu. But Crosby and Malkin will prove too much, but this will be another series where too many old fashioned fans are surprised that it’s close.
Penguins in 6.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
Incredibly enlightening analysis here: This series might just come down to Ben Bishop’s health. The Lightning declared him out for Game 1 earlier today, and any game that he misses is a blow for the Bolts. They are 10th with a of 51.7 FF%, compared to the Habs’ at 22nd and 48.4%. That a definite advantage, but we already know that no advanced possession stat really take goaltending talent into account, and Carey Price vs. Ben Bishop? HA.
So, can the Lightning overcome the deficit in net with the possession advantages? Well, their possession advantages are not the same with Ryan Callahan instead of Martin St. Louis, although they didn’t have Stamkos for a lot of the time this season that made up those possession numbers.
Montreal does have a pretty bad coach, though, as Michel Therrien is… suspect. You’re supposed to have good coaching and depth in the playoffs, and when you can put “Michel Therrien” and “Douglas Murray” in the same sentence, that’s not a good thing.
But the Bishop injury is just too big to overcome. I’m praying for the Lightning to insert Kristers Gudlevskis, the current backup who you may remember as the guy who almost singlehandedly beat Team Canada in February. Gudlevskis vs. Price with roughly even teams? That would be orgasmic. But if it’s Price vs. Lindback for even just one game, I see it being a problem. I’m guessing that Bishop will be out for more than a game, because they determined a day early that he won’t be in Game 1. The Lightning are a slightly better team with Bishop, and I see them playing better through 6 games, with the exception of goaltending. They’ll be tied though 6 games, even if they play better, but I just won’t go against Carey Price in that Game 7, even if it’s in Tampa. After all, he does pretty well under pressure in 2014.
Canadiens in 7.
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Anyone who doesn’t love this series is a communist. That’s a fact. I’ve been debating binge watching the 24/7 from 2011 featuring these teams. They hate each other, and God, it’ll be wonderful.
As for the product on the ice, the Rangers are pretty clearly the better team. They got the better end of the St. Louis-Callahan trade, at least for this year. They also have an advantage in net, and not just because of Henrik Lundqvist, but because a Flyers goalie never plays well in the playoffs under any circumstances. Sure, Steve Mason has been pretty good this year, but fate is fate.
The Rangers are 6th with a 53.6 FF%, and the Flyers are 23rd at 48.2%. Kind of a big difference, and that doesn’t even involve the netminding differences that I need to mention again just because it’s pretty damn important.
You remember when the Miami Heat beat the Chicago Bulls in 5 games last year, but the Bulls were able to take some pride in putting the Heat through one of the hardest 5 game series ever? That’s how this is gonna go. The Flyers will punish the Rangers simply because they hate them, and they’ll probably win a crazy, bloody Game 3 in Philly. But I see the Rangers winning the 4th and then finishing it off in MSG in Game 5, bruises and all. The difference between last year’s Bulls and this year’s Flyers is that the Flyers actually go into the series thinking they have a good chance to win, so it’s gonna be no consolation whatsoever to them when they lose in 5.
Rangers in 5.