Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Round One

April 13, 2016 •

One of sport’s world most exciting post-seasons, the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, starts tonight and 16 teams are readied and matched up, prepared to fight til the whistle blows, and either they move on or they get eliminated.

Here are all of our picks for the first round of the 2015-16 playoffs, take your chances and make a bet, because this year even the experts agree, there is no clear choice, and the winning teams are anybody’s guess.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 4 Philadelphia

The Capitals have had an amazing season, and because they were on top, they decided to coast a little to finish off their season stretch. Everyone knows this year their remarkable season is no fluke. Goalie Braden Holtby is tied Martin Brodeur for the most wins in a season with 48, and Captain Alex Ovechkin got a hat trick on the last day of the season to get his 50 goals. The Flyers did play well in the last part of the season, but barring superhuman efforts by the Flyers and their goalie Steve Mason, they basically have no chance. Our Pick: Caps in 5 games

No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 3 N.Y. Rangers

This should be and exciting match up, because as of right now the Pens are the popular pick to win the Eastern conference even without Evgeni Malkin. There is a good reason for that. They had a 14-1 stretch which was led by a refreshed Sidney Crosby, and add in a resurgent Phil Kessel who had helped the Pens get their home-ice advantage. The Rangers have a secret weapon and equalizer in their goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He’s still looking to win his first Stanley Cup. But this season Lundqvist has not played like the star he is and has been rather ordinary with a 2.48 GAA. Our Pick: Pens in 6

ATLANTIC DIVISION

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 N.Y. Islanders

If you look back to hostory, the Isles haven’t won a playoff series since 1993. But then again, the Panthers haven’t won one since 1996, so it’s been a long time for both teams and it will be even more important to win. The Panthers have a big plus in goal with Roberto Luongo squaring off against Thomas Greiss since Jaroslav Halak is injured. Isles Captain, John Tavares has been so hot lately, and if he plays well he can take the Islanders past the Panthers, who though are good, are a beatable top seed. Our Pick: Isles in 7

No. 2 Tampa Bay vs. No. 3 Detroit

The Lightning are the reigning conference champion, but without Captain Steven Stamkos, and Anton Stralman, and possibly even Tyler Johnson, then it will make this mismatch a more equal battle and possibly a long drawn out one. Tampa Bay does have the experience of last year’s run to the final, and Ben Bishop in net could be stellar, and that will be enough to win this round. Our Pick: Lightning in 7

CENTRAL DIVISION

No. 1 Dallas vs. No. 4 Minnesota

Dallas is number one for a reason, they were an awesome regular-season team, but does that mean it can be a good playoff team? “Rock N’ Roll hockey,” as Niklas Hjalmarsson puts it, doesn’t work in the postseason. You have to play defense. Goaltending has to come through too. The Stars lack a true No. 1 goalie. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen are a one-two duep but both had poor numbers in nearly equal starts. They need a better and more reliable back end. The Wild are without Captain Zach Parise and got into the playoffs after a five-game losing streak, and they only scored six goals in those five. Our Pick: Stars in 5

No. 2 St. Louis vs. No. 3 Chicago

The Blues are a team that dominate the regular-season so winning is nothing new for them. They have finished in either first or second place in five straight seasons but haven’t taken it further than that. They’ve only won one playoff series in that time span, and that was back in 2012 so their fans are hungry. The Blackhawks have won a lot since then, and so they have a massive edge in playoff experience. They are also at full strength, only Duncan Keith’s will be out from being suspended for Game 1. A few players are coming off injuries, and the most important being goalie Corey Crawford. There won’t be a lot of time for them to get in shape for the post-season. A fourth straight first-round loss could be the end of the coaching staff and management of the Blues. They need to win and their rivals the Hawks would love to knock them out and even if they don’t go further themselves. Our Pick: Blues in 6

PACIFIC DIVISION

No. 1 Anaheim vs. No. 4 Nashville

The Ducks had a brutally bad start this season, the same as the last place Toronto Maple Leafs. They were shut out five times in their first eight games. But their coach decided to put an emphasis on defense, and so Bruce Boudreau was able to get an 18-1-1 stretch in February and March out of his them which got them into first place. Right now, the Ducks are one of the best possession teams in the NHL, they have a 52.4 percent Corsi rating. They also have the top power play and the top penalty kill in the league. Nashville is a very good and sneaky good team though that also had a great second half of the season. It’s a tough draw which will hurt for either, but the Ducks will probably have another first-round exit. Our Pick: Preds in 7

No. 2 Los Angeles vs. No. 3 San Jose

No team was able to be seeded 8th, and then go on and win the Stanley Cup. But two years ago, the Kings were able not only to do that, but also erase a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks and come back to win that series and get a championship. Many have high expectations but it won’t be easy, this time it’ll be tough since the Kings not the best possession team in the league, their 56.4 percent Corsi though is far better than the second-place Dallas’ at 52.6. So the Kings are built for the playoffs but they don’t have the power to last. Even with the experience and edge in goal since Jonathan Quick vs. James Reimer and Martin Jones is much better, it won’t be enough to make the difference, it just doesn’t seem like the King’s year. Our Pick: Sharks in 6