by Patrick Hoffman on 04/30/13 at 02:50 PM ET
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders
For the Penguins to Win: Simply put, utilize their high-octane offense. Even without Sidney Crosby, this Penguins’ hockey club can put the puck in the net with guys like Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, and Kris Letang. The team’s offense is absolutely lethal and if used the right way, should be able to absolutely pound the Islanders’ young defensive corps.
For the Islanders to Win: Play loose. Going into this series, there is absolutely no pressure on this Islanders’ team. With guys like John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Brad Boyes, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, and Frans Nielsen, the Islanders can score goals, play a high-tempo game and even put a scare into opponents that are greater than them.
Match-up to Watch: The Penguins’ offense vs. the Islanders’ defense. There is a good chance that the young Islanders’ defensive corps will be under siege a lot in this series so it will be interesting to see how they can handle the Penguins’ high-powered offense.
Big Question: Does Sidney Crosby make his return to the ice in this series?
Best Bet: Penguins in five.
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
For the Canadiens to Win: The team must forget about the last few weeks of the season. During this time, the Canadiens were sloppy, struggled to win hockey games and did not look like a playoff hockey game. The Canadiens must remember how they played in their last two regular season games, both wins over the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens have a lot of skilled hockey players that must come together at the right time to produce on a consistent basis to get this team to the second round for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
For the Senators to Win: Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson must continue to play the way he did in the regular season. Anderson finished the regular season with a 12-9-2 record with a 1.69 GAA, a .936 save percentage and three shutouts. He has played well in the playoffs before so there is no reason why he will not be able to do it again. The team also must find ways to put the puck in the net. The Senators were 27th in the league in terms of goals scored this season and come playoff time, goals will be a lot harder to come by.
Match-up to Watch: The match-up between goaltender Carey Price of the Canadiens and the Senators’ Anderson is going to determine who wins this series. When they want to, the Canadiens’ can put a lot of pucks on net and create a lot of pressure on opposing netminders. While the Senators’ offence was quiet in the regular season, they still have guys like Daniel Alfredsson, Kyle Turris, Milan Michaelk and a few others who can create offense and make life tough for Price.
Big Question: Will the Senators’ offence be able to survive without Jason Spezza?
Best Bet: Canadiens in six.
(3) Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers (6)
For the Washington Capitals to Win: Team captain and Rocket Richard winner Alex Ovechkin is going to have to play like he did during the regular season. Ovechkin topped the league with 32 goals, 16 of them coming on the power play. If Ovechkin manages to play with the swagger and man on a mission type attitude in this series, he could make life extremely tough on both the Rangers’ defense and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
For the New York Rangers to Win: Much like he did all regular season, Lundqvist is going to need to be at his absolute best. The Capitals have a lot of offense depth and were a team that finished fourth in the league in goals scored. If Lundqvist can keep the Capitals at bay and the team can get some timely goal scoring from the likes of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Derrick Brassard, the Blueshirts might be able to win this series.
Match-up to Watch: Lundqvist vs. Capitals’ goaltender Braden Holtby. In the second round of the postseason last year, both of these netminders put on a heck of a show. Will they be able to pull off a repeat performance in this year’s playoffs?
Big Question: Which Richards will the Rangers’ have in this series? The one that struggled with confidence for most of the season or the one that played well down the stretch and produced on a consistent basis?
Best Bet: Rangers in seven.
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs
For the Bruins to Win: The team will need to play to their identity. When all is right in the Bruins’ world, the Bruins can score, play a physical brand of hockey and get terrific goaltending from Tuukka Rask. With forwards like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, pucks will be thrown on the net and these guys will crash the net for loose pucks and rebounds. If the team can gets its offense going, it could end up being a relative short series in a good way for Beantown.
For the Leafs to Win: Goaltender James Reimer is going to need to play the best hockey he has ever played. Reimer was terrific for the Leafs in 33 games this season, going 19-8-5 with a 2.46 GAA, a .924 save percentage and four shutouts. Reimer also played well in two appearances against the Bruins this year as he went 1-1 and stopped 64 of 67 shots. If he can play that way against the Bruins on hockey’s biggest stage and the Leafs can get a ton of production from the likes of Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk, the Leafs might be able to steal a series.
Match-up to Watch: Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara vs. Leafs’ defenseman Dion Phaneuf. These two big blue liners can hit, produce and strike fear into their opponents. It will be interesting to see what happens when their respective clubs go head to head in this first round series.
Big Question: What kind of goaltending performance will the Bruins’ get from Rask?
Best Bet: Bruins in five.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
For the Blackhawks to Win: Simply put, the Blackhawks need to be the dominant force that they were in the regular season. With the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and several others, this team’s offense is the most balanced in the entire NHL. The Blackhawks must use it to overpower the Wild.
For the Wild to Win: The Wild must focus on their defensive game and get timely goal scoring. During the season, the Wild were 15th in the league in goals against so against a team like the Blackhawks, that needs to improve. Secondly, they must find a way to get goals against the league’s top defensive club. The Wild may not have the offensive depth that the Blackhawks do but they do have some guys that can put the puck in the net in guys like Zach Parise, Devin Setoguchi, and Mikko Koivu.
Match-up to Watch: In the postseason, getting points from defenseman is always looked at as an added bonus for NHL clubs. The Wild have Ryan Suter, one of their top free agent pickups over the last off-season, and the Blackhawks have Duncan Keith. Suter finished the regular season with 32 points (four goals and 28 assists) while Keith finished with 27 points (three goals and 24 assists). It will be interesting to see which one of these guys has the better series.
Big Question: Will Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom be ready to face the offensive onslaught that will come from the Blackhawks’ high-octane offense?
Best Bet: Blackhawks in five.
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
For the Ducks to Win: The Ducks will be trying to avoid a repeat of their playoff history against the Red Wings as the Red Wings have won four of their six playoff series against the Ducks dating back to their first series in 1997. This time around, however, it is the Ducks with the higher seed as the Ducks were one of the most consistent teams this season. Team head coach Bruce Boudreau has the Ducks’ offense flying with an arsenal in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne and two good goaltenders in Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. If the Ducks can put these two things together, they should be able to win this series.
For the Red Wings to Win: The Red Wings almost missed the playoffs for the first time in 21 years but managed to get the seventh spot thanks to a strong final week of the season. To advance to the second round this year, the Red Wings’ offense must find a way to get going and get going early with the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, and Damien Brunner while the team’s defense must find a way to step up without Nicklas Lidstrom.
Match-up to Watch: Ducks defense vs. Red Wings’ power forward Johan Franzen. Franzen has made a living wreaking havoc on opposing defenses and goaltenders by being a big and annoying presence in front of the net. The Ducks must find a way to keep Franzen away from Hiller/Fasth as well as loose pucks around the net.
Big Question: Who is going to be the man between the pipes for the Ducks? Hiller started 25 games this season while Fasth started 23, both posting very similar numbers.
Best Bet: Ducks in six.
(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
For the Canucks to Win: The team’s offense must wake up. The Canucks finished 19th in the league this season in goals scored despite having players like Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alexandre Burrows, Ryan Kesler (injured for most of the season), and Mason Raymond. The Canucks need must pound pucks at Sharks’ goaltender Antti Niemi and crash the net for rebounds and loose pucks.
For the Sharks to Win: The Sharks, much like they have all season, must get an all-world goaltending performance from Niemi. Niemi was one of the league’s best goaltenders in the regular season as he went 24-12-6 with a 2.16 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and four shutouts. The team also must get consistent offense from the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski. As these four players go, so does the rest of the Sharks’ hockey club.
Match-up to Watch: The goaltending match-up of Niemi vs. Canucks’ masked man Cory Schneider should be a dandy. Both goaltenders were solid in the regular season and both have played well in the postseason in their careers.
Big Question: Will Thornton find a way to get rid of the stigma of just being a good player in the regular season?
Best Bet: Sharks in seven.
(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
For the Blues to Win: For the second straight season, the Blues have found their way into the postseason and once again have home ice advantage thanks to an 11-2-1 stretch to close out the season. To win this series, the Blues must find a way to play much tighter defensively than they did last year in the playoffs and this year in the regular season against the Kings in order to stop the likes of Anze Kopitar, goal-scoring machine Jeff Carter, hard-working Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Justin Williams. If the Blues can find a way to shut these guys down while getting consistent offense from Chris Stewart, David Backes, Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund and Dave Perron, the result of this series can end up being much different than last year’s.
For the Kings to Win: For the first time in franchise history, the Kings will be playing in the playoffs as defending Cup champions. While the Blues may be the higher seed, the Kings definitely have what it takes to win this series. The Kings need to use their 10th ranked offense to take advantage of a Blues’ club that does not score a lot of goals (17th in the league). As can be seen above, the Blues do not have a lot of offensive depth so if the Kings can shut down the Blues’ top scorers this season, it could end up being another short series in the Kings’ favor.
Match-up to Watch: Everyone who follows hockey knows that come playoff time, goaltending matters. That is going to be the case in this series as it will more than likely be Blues’ netminder Brian Elliott vs. Kings’ netminder and Cup winner Jonathan Quick. After struggling for the first two months of the season, Elliott was clearly the league’s best goaltender in the month of April while Quick, like Elliott, has had an up and down season. The key in this match-up is that Quick has already proven he can play well in the postseason when he won the Cup last year. To win this series, Elliott must a find a way to do the same.
Big Question: Which Brian Elliott will be present in this series? Will it be the one that got off to a 3-6-1 start with terrible numbers or will it be the one that played some of his best hockey in his career to solidify the fourth spot in the Western Conference for his hockey club?
Best Bet: Kings in six.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.