Dallas Stars (CT-1) vs Minnesota Wild (WC-2) (Season Series: 1-3-1-0 Dallas)
The Stars finished with 50 wins and 109 points. Winger Jamie Benn just finished a career season, second in the NHL with 89 points and third with 41 goals. Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza also topped 30 goals, and John Klingberg's 58 points were good for fifth among NHL defencemen. With plenty of puck-moving and possession ability, the Stars have a solid D-corps. Sadly, there are major problems with goaltending. The Stars play high-event hockey, and netminders Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, playing a platoon system, averaged 0.906 and 0.905 Save percentages, respectively. Between a goalie with limited postseason experience and one who's shown to have quite some trouble in the playoffs, the Stars will need to rely on their scoring prowess to carry them through. That they traded for Kris Russell is a telling indictment of their ability to stop pucks. On the injury front, they're pretty okay. Rookie forward Mattias Janmark, callup Brett Ritchie, and depth defenceman Patrik Nemeth are all day-to-day, with upper- and lower-body injuries, and an illness, respectively. Seguin sustained a laceration to his Achilles tendon late in the season, and while it seems he won't be ready to start the series, it isn't out of the question to expect him to return during the series. The Stars enter the series with some momentum, as they won seven of their eight games in the last two weeks of the season. Their 265 goals led the NHL. They had an 11th-most 228 goals against while posting a league-third 52.6 Corsi%.
The Wild finished with 38 wins and 87 points. In Minnesota, things aren't nearly as rosy. Mikko Koivu led the team with 56 points, while the high mark for goals was the 25 Zach Parise contributed. The top defencemen did pretty good though. Ryan Suter's 51 points were a new career-high, while Jared Spurgeon took another step, posting a career-high 29 points in an injury-shortened season. Contrary to their moderately weak offensive output, goaltending served them well. Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper, more of a clear first- and second-string arrangement, posted 0.918 and 0.915 Save percentages, respectively. There's good news and bad news as far as injuries are concerned. While there are only two injuries for the Wild to deal with, it's Parise, day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, and Thomas Vanek, day-to-day with an upper-body injury following a team-seventh 41-point season, that are out. The Wild only won two of seven games during the final two weeks, the five losses all coming in regulation, one after the other, to close the regular season. The Wild's 213 goals placed 18th in the NHL, while their 204 goals against were a decent 22nd-most. Their 47.7 Corsi% was the 23rd-worst in the NHL, second-worst among playoff qualifers.
Minnesota was really mediocre this season. Even if it doesn't get them far, Dallas' offence will surely get them past Minnesota. Dallas will win this series.
St. Louis Blues (CT-2) vs Chicago Blackhawks (CT-3) (Season Series: 0-3-0-2 St. Louis)
The Blues finished with 49 wins and 107 points. The obvious star this season was Vladimir Tarasenko. The budding superstar sniper finished the season with a league-fourth 40 goals and league-tenth 74 points. While at first glance it seems like he was the lone gunman, upon closer inspection we see some solid offence. Alexander Steen, a late-blooming offensive weapon, finished with 52 points, but scored at a 64-point pace. Centre Paul Stastny had one of his best offensive seasons in recent memory, scoring 49-points at a 63-point pace. It's unfortunate that the two missed 18 and 15 games, respectively, with injuries. Also of note were David Backes' 45 point season and a 44-point campaign courtesy of the Blues' chief offensive blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk. The Blues had good goaltending this season, with Jake Allen posting a 0.920 Save% and Brian Elliott a 0.930 Save%. Anders Nilsson was the main stopgap when injuries hit, having a substantial season, playing 29 games as a third-stringer and posting a 0.901 Save%. Elliott lost the starting job last season as Allen received his second All-Rookie honour in three seasons, but regained it late this season and is the no.1 going in. It's a situation to be monitored, as both have had great stretches this season, but with lots of tug-of-war for the top job. The Blues are good on the injury front. Allen finished the regular season on injured reserve but will back up Elliott in Game 1. Steve Ott is the only blip on the injury front. He played only 21 regular season games, broken up by a six-game injured stretch, before missing the rest of the season, 55 games, with an injured hamstring. He was recently diagnosed with colitis, but should be close to recovery. He will be re-evaluated in roughly another week, and even if he isn't ready to return, he only averaged 11:38 last season and 10:55 this season. The Blues won't be hurt by his absence. The Blues were 5-2 in their last two weeks, and despite their last game being a loss, had won three straight. I like where the Blues are, but there's one big black mark. While they've largely escaped the "choker" label while teams like San Jose and Washington have been undeservedly plastered with it year after year, the Blues haven't made it out of the second round since 2000/01, have only made two second-round appearances since then, only one coming since their last non-playoff season in 2011, and missed the playoffs in five of six seasons prior to their current appearance streak. I've expected them to make noise year after year, but I don't expect anything from them until they deliver. The Blues finished 15th with 219 goals, had a 27th-most 197 goals against, and posted a league-seventh 52.0 Corsi%.
The Blackhawks finished with 47 wins and 103 points. The big story to come out of Chicago was Patrick Kane. After some... issues during the summer, he won the Art Ross Trophy with 106 points, obviously a career-high. In addition, he shattered his career-high of 30 goals, set in 2010, with a league-second 46. That's far from the story though. Rookie Artemi Panarin scored 30 goals and 77 points playing opposite Kane, and while centre Artem Anisimov was the weak link, he scored 20 goals and 42 points and clearly wasn't hindering his linemates. Jonathan Toews bounced back from a slow start with 58 points. On the blueline, Brent Seabrook posted a career-high 49 points, while Duncan Keith finished with 43 points, two off of last season's total, despite losing ten games to a knee injury and five to a suspension. Andrew Ladd scored 12 points in 19 games after being reacquired from the Jets. Things are looking good in goal too. Corey Crawford, the man between the pipes for two Cup runs in Chicago, including last year, posted a 0.924 Save%, while native son Scott Darling posted a 0.915 Save% as backup. The Blackhawks are all clear on the injury front, aside from Keith, who will serve the last game of his suspension during Game 1. The Blackhawks went 5-3 in their final weeks, a mixed bag as they won three straight before ending with a two-game skid. Now, the pressure is really on. They've added a bunch of depth as the season has gone on, and are shored up at all positions. They'll strengthen their case for dynasty status by winning a second-straight Cup, but no team has accomplished that since the Red Wings in 1998. The Blackhawks were sixth with 234 goals and had a 21st-most 207 goals against, posting a league-15th 50.7 Corsi%.
In St. Louis, we have a team that just can't get things done in the postseason. In Chicago, we have a team that has done nothing but get things done in the postseason. Chicago will win this series.
Anaheim Ducks (PC-1) vs Nashville Predators (WC-1) (Season Series: 1-0-0-2 Anaheim)
The Ducks finished with 46 wins and 103 points. Who expected the Ducks, after their abysmal start, to finish in the basement? *raises hand* It seems that one team always manages to beat the analysis that teams out of the playoffs by November are out period. This year, that team was Anaheim. While it took a bit of time, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry had the expected star seasons, 63 and 62 points, respectively, with Perry firing 34 goals. Ryan Kesler had a noteworthy year, scoring 53 points, the most since he scored 73 in 2011. Rickard Rakell saw plenty of top-six time, scoring 20 goals and 43 points. Despite slow starts and weak track records, last season's playoff star Jakob Silfverberg, as well as mid-season acquisition from the Sabres Jamie McGinn, finished with 39 points, both reaching the 20-goal mark. Sami Vatanen had his best season yet, with 38 points. While Andrew Cogliano's 32 points were low by his standards, he extended his regular season iron-man streak to 704 games. Goaltending was a big help, with Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, the latter a rookie and All-Star at the same time, platooning and posting 0.919 and 0.920 Save percentages, respectively. The Ducks' injury situation will quickly improve this week. Forwards David Perron, Ryan Kesler, and Rickard Rakell, and defenceman Kevin Bieksa are all day-to-day, with shoulder, lower-body, appendicitis, and upper-body injuries, respectively. They will benefit from the late start of their series, all the way on Friday, and their statuses range from ready at best to probable at worst. The only question is John Gibson, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury after a rough penultimate game. They were a solid 6-3 in their final weeks, following a two-game losing streak with a two-game winning streak to close the year. The Ducks finished 17th with 215 goals, had a league-lowest 188 goals against, and fifth with a 52.5 Corsi%.
The Predators finished with 41 wins and 96 points. It's crazy looking at the complete change the Predators underwent. Only two years ago, the suggestion that the Preds would be such a strong offensive team would only be met with confusion. The transformation is real though, and it's manifested in strong performances from a number of players. Filip Forsberg scored 33 goals and 64 points. Defenceman Roman Josi continued his progression as one of the NHL's top offensive blueliners with an impressive 61 points. Midseason addition Ryan Johansen finished strong, reaching 60 points. James Neal had his best season in a while, with 31 goals and 58 points. Shea Weber rebounded from a bit of a dip last season, with 20 goals and 51 points. Also of note were the performances of the second pairing, with Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis scoring 35 and 32 points, respectively. Sophomore Calle Jarnkrok finished with 30 points after a disappointing rookie year. The goaltending was a bit of an issue, with Pekka Rinne, a little overplayed as usual, posting 0.908 Save% and his understudy Carter Hutton posting 0.918. With the rest between the end of the season and the start of the playoffs, it's a good possibility that Rinne can take the Preds on a solid playoff run. This year they have the offensive firepower to compete with other teams, so the Preds won't have to rely on Rinne as much as they used to. Rookie winger Miikka Salomaki, who averaged 12:00 this season, missed the final three games of the season with a lower-body injury, but other than that the Predators are healthy. The Predators had a weak end to the season, with a 3-5 record in their last two weeks. They did gain some steam towards the end, with two straight wins before the season-ending loss. The Predators finished 13th with 224 goals and a 17th-most 213 goals against. Their 52.5 Corsi% was fourth in the NHL.
Anaheim went to the Conference Finals last season. No matter how improved the Predators are, I just can't see them getting past the Ducks. Anaheim will win this series.
Los Angeles Kings (PC-2) vs San Jose Sharks (PC-3) (Season Series: 1-1-0-3 Los Angeles)
The Kings finished with 48 wins and 102 points. It was an improved year offensively, with Anze Kopitar leading the way with 74 points, the best since his 76-point season in 2012. Centre Jeff Carter matched last season's 62-point total. Third-place scorer Tyler Toffoli exploded offensively, with 58 points in 31 goals. Prototypical power forward Milan Lucic shot up from 44 points in his last season with Boston to 55 in his first with the Kings. Their dynamic duo on defence had a strong year, with Drew Doughty's 51 points being his best season since a 59-point finish in 2010, and Jake Muzzin having a second straight 40-point season. A 36-point year from Tanner Pearson and 31-point season from Alec Martinez also represented notable improvements. Vincent Lecavalier's 18 points don't look impressive, and really they aren't that impressive, but 17 of them came in his time with Los Angeles, and in that time, he scored at a 33-point pace, which is better than anyone would have expected from him. Goaltender Jonathan Quick had another great season, with a 0.918 Save%, and their backup Jhonas Enroth was solid, with a 0.922 Save%. On the injured list are Martinez, who missed the final four games of the season with an undisclosed injury and remains day-to-day, and winger Marian Gaborik, who has been out since February 12 with a knee injury and has no timetable for a return. Winger Jordan Nolan has been out since February 20 with a back injury and defenceman Matt Greene has been out since October 13 with an upper-body injury, but neither play an important enough role that their absence is hurting the Kings. The Kings went 4-4 in their last two weeks, with a two-game winning streak before a loss in their season finale. The Kings were 14th with 223 goals and had a 28th-most with 192 goals against. Their 56.4 Corsi% led the league.
The Sharks finished with 46 wins and 98 points. The big surprise here was that it was Joe Thornton who led the team in scoring. It wasn't a bad year for the Sharks offensively either. Thornton just hammered out a league-fifth 82-point season like he did when he was much younger. Right behind was the captain, Joe Pavelski, with a 37-goal 78-point season. Defenceman Brent Burns had a career-year, with 71-point season, his 27 goals leading all NHL defenceman. Tomas Hertl had his best season yet, with 21 goals and 46 points. Defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a more defence-oriented defenceman, posted a career-high 39 points despite being limited to 67 games. Logan Couture's 36 points were really good considering he played 52 games. I will also mention rookie Joonas Donskoi, who finished with 36 points as well. For arguably the first time in franchise history, the Sharks have truly reliable goaltending. Martin Jones, their starter for the season, posted a 0.918 Save%. James Reimer, acquired late in the season, posted a 0.922 Save%, mostly with the bottom-feeding Toronto Maple Leafs. In his time with the Sharks alone, he posted a 0.938 Save%. Jones is likely to retain the starting job when the postseason starts, but should he falter or get injured, Reimer has proven his skills by carrying said bottom-feeding Leafs to Game 7 of a playoff series in 2012/13. Imagine what these guys will do with a solid team. The Sharks have two players, both defencemen, on injured reserve. Stalwart Paul Martin is day-to-day after missing the last game of the regular season with an undisclosed injury, while depth offensive defenceman Matt Tennyson has been out since February 24 with an upper-body injury. The Sharks finished their last two weeks 5-2, winning three of their last four games, including their regular season finale. The Sharks' 237 goals were fourth in the NHL, while their 207 goals against were the 20th-most in the NHL. The Sharks had a league-ninth 51.7 Corsi%.
Los Angeles has won two Stanley Cups very recently, but I just have a feeling San Jose will push through to the next round. I'm picking them against my better judgement. San Jose will win this series.
Washington Capitals (MT-1) vs Philadelphia Flyers (WC-2) (Season Series: 2-0-2-0 Washington)
The Capitals finished with 56 wins and 120 points. It was a great year offensively for the Capitals, with sophomore Evgeny Kuznetsov enjoying a breakout year with 77 points. Alex Ovechkin scored 71 points, good for only 15th in the NHL, with his usual running mate Nicklas Backstrom right behind with 70, but they were second and third in team scoring, with Ovechkin leading the NHL with 51 goals and Backstrom second on the team with 50 assists. Winger Justin Williams had his strongest season since 2012 with 52 points, while TJ Oshie quietly finished with 51. Winger Jason Chimera's 40-point bounceback was his second-best total. Sophomore Andre Burakovsky improved much over last season with 38 points. The defence had some good offensive years. John Carlson scored 39 points in 56 games, a 57-point full-season pace. Matt Niskanen had another quietly solid offensive year, with 32 points. Dmitry Orlov, after a long stretch of not playing, made a statement with 29 points, and underrated shut-down guy Karl Alzner tied a career-high 21. When we combine Washington's ridiculously potent offence with goaltending, we see why Washington is considered a contender. Braden Holtby posted 0.922 Save% while tying the NHL record for wins in a single season with 48. Backup Philipp Grubauer finally got the NHL spot he deserves and rewarded the Caps with a 0.918 Save% in 22 games. Holtby's definitely in the running for the Vezina, and in the playoffs, where goaltending manages to play an even bigger role than it does, he's probably the Caps' greatest asset. The Caps are completely healthy. The only thing it seems they don't have going for them is momentum going in, as they went 3-6 in the last two weeks of the season, losing four of their last five, including a three-game streak and a loss to end the year. Washington's 248 goals were second in the NHL, while their 191 goals against were 29th-most. Their 51.0 Corsi% was 14th in the NHL.
The Flyers finished with 41 wins and 96 points. Things were just okay for the Flyers on offence. Neither of their big guns, Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek, were anywhere near their 93- or 81-point career-highs, respectively, scoring 67 and 55 points, respectively. Mark Streit, their main blueline weapon last season, fell from 52 to 23 points, the second-lowest of his career, which would still be his second-lowest, even if he'd played the full season and gotten the 30 points he was on pace for. Winger Matt Read not only failed to rebound from an injury-induced off year last season, but got worse, falling from 30 to 26 points. There was good too though. Gritty Wayne Simmonds tied a career-high with 60 points, scoring a career-high and team-leading 32 goals. After some underwhelming years, the addition of a new coach and trading of his brother kickstarted what became a 59-point season for Brayden Schenn. Michael Raffl improved modestly from last season, at least in terms of overall points, with 31. The big story was the rise of rookie defenceman and Calder dark horse Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored 48 points in 64 games after not making the roster until early November. I'll also mention the standout two-way performances of centre Sean Couturier and defenceman Radko Gudas, who were second and third on the team in Corsi% while handling two of the toughest assignments on the team. Couturier was sixth on the team with 39 points. Gudas, while his team-15th 14 points were a far cry from his 22 points two seasons ago, was still a decent run, with 11 coming in a 16-game stretch from February 20 to March 24. The Flyers finally have reliable goaltending, with Steve Mason posting a 0.918 Save%. While Mason spent some time injured, Michal Neuvirth posted an impressive 0.924 Save% in 32 games. The only injury is defenceman Michael Del Zotto, who has been out since late February recovering from wrist surgery. He is inexperienced in the playoffs and had a weak season, so the Flyers may be able to handle the loss. The Flyers were 5-4 to end the season, managing some eleventh-hour magic to win the last two of the season. The Flyers scored a league 22nd 211 goals, while allowing a 19th-highest 210 goals against. Philadelphia was 16th in the league with a 50.6 Corsi%.
Washington won the President's Trophy well before any other Eastern Conference team, and many Western Conference teams, had clinched playoff berths. Philadelphia had to fight through to the end of the season just to make the playoffs. The Capitals are better than the Flyers, plain and simple. Washington will win this series.
Pittsburgh Penguins (MT-2) vs New York Rangers (MT-3) (Season Series 2-1-0-1
The Penguins finished with 48 wins and 104 points. The obvious story offensively was Sidney Crosby. Crosby started with a five-game pointless streak and scored 19 points in the first 28 games. Once Mike Johnston was fired and Mike Sullivan took over, Crosby scored 66 points in 52 games, finishing with a league-third 85 points. Defenceman Kris Letang had one of his healthiest seasons in years and truly showed what he's capable of with a 67-point season. Phil Kessel's 26 goals and 59 points were disappointing, but he scored 42 points in 54 games versus 17 in the 28 games before Johnston's firing. Evgeni Malkin scored only 58 points, but he did so in 57 games. Speedy Carl Hagelin scored 39 points, including 27 in 37 games after his trade to Pittsburgh. While 32 points isn't impressive on its own, that 39-year-old Matt Cullen got that while averaging just under 14 minutes of icetime is. Also of note is rookie Tom Kuhnhackl, who played his way onto the Penguins early in the new year and hasn't been sent down since, with 15 points in 42 games. Marc-Andre Fleury had a really strong regular season, posting a 0.921 Save%. Jeff Zatkoff and Matthew Murray split the games Fleury didn't play, with Zatkoff posting 0.917 in 14 games, and Murray posting 0.930 in 13. The Penguins do have an injury problem on their hands. Malkin has been out since March 13 with an upper-body injury. Rookie Scott Wilson, who has been on the roster since early January, a few brief AHL assignments notwithstanding, has been out since March 13 with a lower-body injury. Depth winger Kevin Porter, who has been with the team since being recalled in mid-December, has been out since March 5 with an ankle injury. Rookie grinder Bryan Rust has been out since March 31 with a lower-body injury. Third-year defenceman Olli Maatta has been out since March 25 with a lower-body injury. Fleury was sidelined April 2 with his second concussion of the season and is confirmed to be out for the start of the series. The glaring omission is Pascal Dupuis, who already unofficially retired with only 18 games on the season due to persistent blood clot issues. The Penguins had a dominant 7-1 run in the final two weeks, losing the final game of the season after a seven-game winning streak. Even with the Malkin injury, the Penguins still finished third with 241 goals. Their 199 goals against were the 25th-most in the league. The Penguins were second only to fancy stat darlings Los Angeles with a 52.7 Corsi%.
The Rangers finished with 46 wins and 101 points. The best offensive performances came from Mats Zuccarello with 61 points, and Derick Brassard with 58. Zuccarello's were a career-high, while Brassard was only two off his career-high, three short of 30 goals. Derek Stepan had his third straight 50-point season, and fourth in as many non-lockout years, with 53. For all the flack he's received and his low TOI average, blueliner Keith Yandle scored 47 points. Sophomore JT Miller shot up from 23 points last season to 43 this season. Oscar Lindberg finished 15th among rookies with 28 points. Henrik Lundqvist is always reliable for a good season, and this year was no different, with a 0.920 Save%. The former Vezina winner and one-time Stanley Cup runner-up will get all the starts. Both Zuccarello and Viktor Stalberg are day-to-day with lower-body injuries, but are expected to be ready for the start of their series. Captain and top blueliner Ryan McDonagh will miss at least the first start of the season with a hand injury, while veteran Dan Girardi is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Zuccarello and McDonagh are massively important to the Rangers, though Stalberg also helps when in the lineup. Given what we know about Girardi, the Rangers won't be hurting because of his absence. The Rangers were 4-4 in the final two weeks, including a win in their final game. The Rangers had a seventh-most 233 goals, and a 15th-most 215 goals against. Their 47.4 Corsi% was 26th in the NHL and worst among playoff qualifiers.
The Pens were the best possession team in the East, while the Rangers were one of the worst. The Rangers did well on offence, but the Pens did better. Relying on a goaltender as the Rangers will do just doesn't seem like a strategy conducive to success. Pittsburgh will win this series.
Florida Panthers (AT-1) vs New York Islanders (WC-1) (Season Series 1-1-0-1 Florida)
The Panthers finished with 47 wins and 103 points. Not only the biggest story of the Panthers, but one of the biggest in the whole NHL, was Jaromir Jagr continuing to pad his Hall of Fame resume. His 27 goals and 66 points were his all-around best season (one off his 67-point season two years ago) since his return in 2011/12 and led the team in scoring. Jussi Jokinen also had his best season in years, with 60 points. Budding stars Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau both finished with 59 points, Barkov's total being a particularly impressive feat given he did it in 66 games. Vincent Trocheck broke out with 53 points, while Reilly Smith returned to 50. Defenceman and 2015 Calder winner Aaron Ekblad suffered from a very minor sophomore slump, with 36 points. Brian Campbell enjoyed a minor rebound with 31 points. Even at age 37, Roberto Luongo is still not only elite, but a workhorse, with a 0.922 Save% in 62 games. The big injury is Trocheck, who is day-to-day with a foot injury. The captain, defenceman Willie Mitchell, has been out since January 21 with an upper-body injury. Depth blueliner Steven Kampfer, who played a career-high 47 games this season, missed the final game and is day-to-day with an ankle injury. Dave Bolland has been out since February 15 with a lower-body injury, and there's the obvious presence of Marc Savard, tacked onto an off-season trade, who once again missed a season due to his concussion problems. Truthfully, Trocheck is the only player who the Panthers will really miss. As mentioned, Kampfer is a depth defenceman, so he is replaceable. Mitchell is well past his prime, and hasn't really been very effective in and of himself. Savard is just under contract, but hasn't played for years. There is no adjustment required, as he never played for them. Bolland was limited to 25 games this season, but only missed 28 games with injury, including 26 to end the season. He was a healthy scratch for 29 games, including 26 immediatley preceding his current stretch on injured reserve. Unlike their last playoff run, when they had a weak end to the regular season, the Panthers were 6-2 in their last two weeks, with a four-game winning streak separated from a season-ending win by one of the losses. The Panthers scored 232 goals, placing eighth, and allowed 200 goals against, the 24th-most. Their 48.1 Corsi% was 20th in the NHL, third-worst among playoff qualifiers.
The Islanders finished with 45 wins and 100 points. John Tavares once again led the team in scoring. While it was a bit of a down season, 33 goals and 70 points was still really good. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen had strong years, with career-second-best marks of 64 and 52 points, respectively. Brock Nelson had another 20-goal 40-point season, and defenceman Nick Leddy broke out offensively with 40 points, well over a previous career-high of 37. Fourth-line centre Casey Cizikas quietly had a season as one of the highest-scoring fourth-liners with 29 points. Jaroslav Halak is the starter going in, with a 0.919 Save%, but "backup" Thomas Greiss posted a 0.925 Save% and 23 wins in 41 games. Greiss has earned the mantle of playoff goalie, and if he performs well and the Isles advance, then he may keep it even once Halak comes back. Centre Mikhail Grabovski missed the last 16 games of the season with an upper-body injury, possibly a concussion. Already enduring the sophomore slump, Anders Lee missed the final two games and will be out for the foreseeable future with a fractured fibula. Defenceman Travis Hamonic, the big minute-muncher and shut-down guy on the blueline, missed the last six games and is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Depth defenceman Brian Strait is out after missing the final three games with an upper-body injury. Halak missed the final 18 games of the season with a groin injury, and has been ruled out for the first-round series. Jean-Francois Berube, who has played a handful of games as the second-string amid the Isles injuries in net, is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but is close to returning. Grabovski has been a solid two-way forward for the Isles, so they hope to get back him and his possession prowess. Hamonic is easily the most important player they need to get back, as their top-four defence has a huge hole without him. Assuming Greiss plays well enough to make up for Halak being out, it is crucial that Berube return, as a team always needs a good relief guy, and Christopher Gibson hasn't been that guy. Strait is the only absence the Isles can take, as his limited role, lackluster play, lack of upside, and weak numbers have all earned him scorn from the Isles fanbase. The Isles closed out their final two weeks 6-3, with two separate three-game streaks, though they lost the last two, causing them to fall to the Wild Card 1 position. The Islanders were 11th with 227 goals, and had an 18th-most 211 goals against. They were 18th with a 49.5 Corsi%, the second-highest Corsi%, highest among playoff qualifiers, below the 50% mark.
Florida has defied every expectation this season. While they're very much like Colorado in 2014 and Calgary in 2015, and I don't expect a championship, I think their momentum will get them past the Islanders. Florida will win this series.
Tampa Bay Lightning (AT-2) vs Detroit Red Wings (AT-3) (Season Series 2-0-0-2 Tampa Bay)
The Lightning finished with 46 wins and 97 points. This season was a real breakout for Nikita Kucherov, who led the team with 66 points and was second with 30 goals. Steven Stamkos had his weakest season since his rookie campaign, but still managed a solid 36 goals and 64 points. Defenceman Victor Hedman finished the season with 47 points, eight short of his career-high. Sophomore Vladislav Namestnikov had a solid year with 35 points. In addition to improving his possession numbers, Andrej Sustr finished with 21 points. Rookie Jonathan Marchessault finally got his NHL opportunity, leading Lightning rookies with 18 points in 41 games, including nine in 13 games in December. While he missed parts of the last two seasons, behemoth Ben Bishop stayed healthy all season and finished with a 0.926 Save%. As he backstopped the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final last season, it would be hard to imagine him not starting for the Lightning during their playoff run. I would have expected a quality run from the Lightning, but they closed the year with some key injuries. Chief among them is Stamkos, who missed the final five games of the season with blood clots. He will be out for roughly one to three months, depending on how soon he can safely be taken off of blood thinners. Anton Stralman, underrated in terms of both ability and role on the team, missed the last nine games with a broken fibula. Of course, there's still Mattias Ohlund, who was forced to unofficially retire after suffering from complications to his knees in 2011 and will miss the team's final playoff with him on the roster. The Lightning, fitting for their injured lineup, hobbled across the finish line with 3-5 record in the last weeks. The Lightning went from first in goals last season to 13th this season with 224 goals. They had the 26th-most goals against with 198. Their 52.2 Corsi% was sixth best in the NHL.
The Red Wings finished with 41 wins and 93 points. It was a disappointing year offensively. Henrik Zetterberg led the NHL with 50 points. Still reliable for a good performance, Pavel Datsyuk scored 49 points in 66 games, a 60-point pace. While he won't get much Calder consideration, Dylan Larkin finished third on the team and sixth among all NHL rookies with 45 points. Justin Abdelkader had another offensively successful year, with 42 points, but averaged considerably less per game than last season. On defence, nobody met expectations. Among their top four, only Mike Green, who scored 35 points, had an over 50 Corsi%, and he was sheltered. Nobody after Green got to 30, the 28 of Brad Richards and 26 of Darren Helm and Niklas Kronwall coming closest. At first glance, it seems Detroit has good goaltending going for it, but even then, the picture is a little muddy. Petr Mrazek played the most games and posted a 0.921 Save%, but the starts became more sporadic as February went on. Jimmy Howard reclaimed the starting role late in the season, and posted a 0.906 Save%. He will get the nod to open the postseason. The only injuries Detroit has are veteran Johan Franzen and fourth-liner Drew Miller. Franzen played only the first two games of the season, before missing one with an illness and the 79 afterward with a concussion. The 36-year-old is unlikely to factor into the playoffs. After missing 14 games with a jaw injury, Miller only played two games before being sidelined for the remainder of the season, 40 games, with a lower-body injury. He could miss at least another month, by which time the Red Wings could be eliminated. The Red Wings were 4-4 to close out the final two weeks, following a three-game winning streak with two straight losses to end the year. It's worth mentioning that this could be Pavel Datsyuk's swan song. He had a solid, though injury-riddled, season, and has stated in interviews that he has wanted since the lockout to return to, and finish his career, close to family in his native Russia. However long the Red Wings are in it, expect to see the last of Datsyuk with the Winged Wheel, or any NHL crest or colours. The Red Wings managed a 25th consecutive playoff appearance, but I don't think there can be a 26th next year. Enjoy it while it lasts. The Red Wings finished 23rd with 209 goals and had a 14th-most 219 goals against. Offensive issues aside, the Red Wings were once again a good possession team, with an eight-best 51.7 Corsi%.
Detroit made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. I think not having Stamkos or Stralman will be too much of a hurdle for the Lightning to overcome through the whole postseason, but they're too good, even without them, to not get past a Red Wings club on its last legs.
NHL on FOX 1996 Playoffs Pregame Game 33 online video cutter com
Enjoy the playoffs everyone!