Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012 NHL Playoff Preview

Not much time before the games start, so here's a quick-hitter version of my playoff predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#1 New York Rangers over #8 Ottawa Senators, 5 games

Ottawa's got a potent offense, but the Rangers are built to stuff. When they added Brad Richards in the offseason, they became a much more dynamic team, and Henrik Lundqvist is a superstar. It was a nice run for the Sens, but this is where it ends.

#7 Washington Capitals over #2 Boston Bruins, 7 games

Call it a homer pick if you want, but it feels like the Caps are headed in the right direction, finally. The Bruins were up and down enough, and Tim Thomas isn't what he was last year. Braden Holtby being thrust into the starting goaltender role for Washington could be one of the best stories of the playoffs...assuming he doesn't fall flat.

#6 New Jersey Devils over #3 Florida Panthers, 6 games

Is it possible that the Panthers at #3 actually have a harder opening round matchup than the #7 Capitals? The Devils' offense is explosive, and they have, you know, a pretty solid goalie. One thing Florida has working in their favor is their depth of scoring. They had eleven different players with 20 or more points this season, so you can't gameplan against a particular line. Don't really need to, though.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins over #5 Philadelphia Flyers, 7 games

Based purely on talent and coaching, I'd expect Pittsburgh to win in five or six, but the simple distaste these teams have for each other makes it hard for me to imagine them not playing as many games as possible. Sidney Crosby is back, and he joins Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to make the strongest top three centers in the world. Side note: it should be fun as hell to see Jagr come back to Pittsburgh in a playoff setting.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#1 Vancouver Canucks over #8 Los Angeles Kings, 7 games

The Kings picked up Mike Richards last offseason, and Jeff Carter during the season. Add them to Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown and you've got a pretty solid set of lines. The real matchup here is from crease to crease, Jonathan Quick versus Roberto Luongo, two of the best goalies in hockey. I think in the end, Luongo's got a little more playoff experience and he'll help his team pull out the series, but this will be a nail-biter.

#2 St. Louis Blues over #7 San Jose Sharks, 7 games

The Blues have been playing playoff-style hockey all season, bruising opponents and getting incredible goalie play from Brian Elliott. But the Sharks have a ton of playoff experience (albeit mostly disappointing experience), and they'll give St. Louis all they can handle. I don't know how much the two will match up, but every moment when David Backes is skating against Joe Thornton is precisely what playoff hockey is all about.

#6 Chicago Blackhawks over #3 Phoenix Coyotes, 6 games

I wish I could predict the Coyotes to win their first playoff series since they became the Coyotes, but I just can't. Mike Smith has been incredible for Phoenix, and I'm expecting him to steal two games. In the end, though, unless Jonathan Toews doesn't play at all, the Blackhawks are just too strong top to bottom.

#4 Nashville Predators over #5 Detroit Red Wings, 6 games

The Red Wings were great at home, but decidedly unimpressive on the road, and as most of you know, teams play both at home and on the road during the playoffs. Pavel Datsyuk is one of my favorite players, but with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Preds can counter pretty much any team's best line. The Wings' forward depth doesn't wow me like it used to, so I'm taking Nashville.

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