Chicago Blackhawks (CT-1) vs Nashville Predators (WC-2) (Season Series: 4-0-0-1 Chicago)
The Blackhawks finished with 50 wins and 109 points. Patrick Kane led the team in scoring once again. While his 34 goals and 89 points were a far cry from the torrid Art Ross-winning season he had last year, it was still one of the more impressive offensive seasons in the NHL this year. Sophomore Artemi Panarin avoided the sophomore slump, posting 31 goals and 74 points, very similar to last season’s 30 and 77. While Jonathan Toews only scored 20 goals and 58 points on the season, he did so in eight fewer games than last season, setting a pace that got him 66 points the previous season. Staying healthy the whole season, defenceman Duncan Keith jumped to 53 points from 43 the previous year. Goaltending was good again this year as well, with no.1 Corey Crawford posting a 0.918 Save% and no.2 Scott Darling posting a 0.924 Save%. With a number of scoring options, solid goaltending, and a decent, if aging, defence, the Blackhawks are once again considered favourites for the Stanley Cup. Sadly the Blackhawks had a weaker finish to the season. After a five-game winning streak in mid-March, the Blackhawks went 3-7 to end the season, including four straight losses to end the year. The Blackhawks don’t have a lot of key injuries, but one does leave a hole in the lineup. Second-line centre Artem Anisimov has been out since March 14 with a lower-body injury with no timetable for his return. Depth winger Andrew Desjardins and veteran defenceman Michal Rozsival are day-to-day with a lower-body and upper-body injury, respectively, but these are less likely to have much of an impact. Sadly the Blackhawks had a weaker finish to the season. After a five-game winning streak in mid-March, the Blackhawks went 3-7 to end the season, including four straight losses to end the year. The Blackhawks finished ninth in scoring with 240 goals, and their 212 goals against were only 20th most. They posted a league-12th 50.4 CF% at even strength.
The Predators finished with 41 wins and 94 points. It was a pretty good year for the top part of the roster offensively. Both Ryan Johansen and sophomore Viktor Arvidsson finished with 61 points. Arvidsson also tied with Filip Forsberg with the team lead with 31 goals, Forsberg scoring 58 points. Roman Josi’s 49 points were a drop from 61 the year before, but were still solid. Centre and first-year captain Mike Fisher’s 42 points were an improvement over 23 the year before. Both James Neal and PK Subban had worse seasons than last year, finishing with only 41 and 40 points, respectively. The season was a marked improvement in net, with starter Pekka Rinne improving from a 0.908 Save% to 0.918 Save%. Backup Juuse Saros, in his first NHL season, posted a 0.923 Save%. The Predators have six players with injuries. Centre Vernon Fiddler has an upper-body injury, while Fisher, Josi, Calle Jarnkrok, Yannick Weber, and Colin Wilson have lower-body injuries. With the exception of Weber and Fiddler, all are integral cogs of the Preds roster. Thankfully for them that they’re all day-to-day. Nashville had a similarly slow end to the season as Chicago. After a four-game winning streak in late March, the Preds went 2-5 to close out the season. The Preds were 11th in the league with 238 goals and had a 16th-most 220 goals against, the most among playoff qualifiers from the West. Their 51.4 CF% at even strength was the sixth-best in the league, and the best among playoff-bound Western teams.
Chicago finished first in the Western Conference and seems to be to the 2010s as Detroit was to the 1990s. It would be pretty hard to count them out. Chicago will win this series.
Minnesota Wild (CT-2) vs St. Louis Blues (CT-3) (Season Series: 2-0-1-2 St. Louis)
The Wild finished with 49 wins and 106 points. Offensively, the year was better for some, worse for others. Mikael Granlund enjoyed a breakout season, scoring 26 goals and 69 points. Reclamation project Eric Staal proved to be one of the best additions made during the summer, finishing with a team-first 28 goals and 65 points. Mikko Koivu scored 58 points, roughly where he was last season. Nino Niederreiter improved from 43 points to 57. Charlie Coyle improved from 42 points to 56. Winger Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter fell to 42 and 40 points, respectively. Devan Dubnyk had a solid season, posting a 0.923 Save%, but backup Darcy Kuemper only had a 0.902 Save%. The Wild are pretty lucky on the injury front. There are only two injured players with Minnesota. The longer-term injury is defenceman Victor Bartley, who has a triceps, and the only major injured player is defenceman Jared Spurgeon, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Minnesota finished their season very strong. After a four-game losing streak, they went on to close out the year with five wins in six games, including four straight to end it. Minnesota actually finished second with 263 goals and had a 24th-most 206 goals against. Minnesota had a league-20th 49.4 CF% at even strength.
The Blues finished with 46 wins and 99 points. St. Louis had some okay offensive performances, but few players really stood out. Vladimir Tarasenko led the way with 39 goals and 75 points. From there, there was a dropoff to second-place Jaden Schwartz’s 55 points and Alexander Steen’s 51. Defenceman Alex Pietrangelo rebounded from last season with 48 points. St. Louis got decent, but not great, performances in net. Starter Jake Allen posted a 0.915 Save%, but got benched often compared to other starters. Carter Hutton played 30 games as a result, the most since he played 40 in 2013/14, posting a 0.913 Save%. St. Louis has some major injury issues. Sophomore Robby Fabbri was limited to 51 games by a left knee injury, and there is no timetable for his return. Centre Paul Stastny is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Winger Nail Yakupov and defenceman Robert Bortuzzo are day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and an upper-body injury, respectively. St. Louis had a decent end to their year, following up a 3-3 stretch with three straight wins. St. Louis’ 233 goals placed them 12th in the NHL, and their 216 goals against were 19th-most in the NHL. St. Louis came in 15th with a 50.2 CF% at even strength.
St. Louis was better defensively this season, while Minnesota got the better goaltending. Something tells me, however, that the Blues, with more later-round experience, will take advantage of that experience and move on. St. Louis will win this series.
Anaheim Ducks (PC-1-) vs Calgary Flames (WC-1) (Season Series: 4-0-0-1 Anaheim)
The Ducks finished with 46 wins and 105 points. The Ducks enjoyed a number of decent offensive seasons this year. Ryan Getzlaf led the way with 73 points. Centre Ryan Kesler’s 58 points were the most for him since 2011. Corey Perry’s 53 points were good for third on the team despite falling short of past seasons in both goals and assists. Both Rickard Rakell, who joined the team a few weeks into the season, and Patrick Eaves, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Dallas, both had 51 points. Rakell had 33 goals and Eaves had 32. Eaves in particular had a career year, his previous highs being 20 goals and 29 points. Winger Jakob Silfverberg, a strong producer for the Ducks in the playoffs, carried some of that production to the regular season with a 49-point finish. Defenceman Cam Fowler had his best offensive year since he was a rookie with 39 points. Anaheim benefitted from good goaltending. John Gibson, taking the sole starting job, posted a 0.924 Save%. Jonathan Bernier, acquired as a backup, posted a 0.915 Save%. The Ducks are missing some key players. Fowler missed the end of the season with a knee injury. Defenceman Simon Despres is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Defenceman Clayton Stoner is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Winger Nick Ritchie will miss the start of the series serving the remaining one game of his suspension. Anaheim ended their season very strongly. The four-game winning streak they ended the year with was only separated from the previous five-game streak by two losses. Among the four-game streak was a pair of back-to-back wins against series opponent Calgary. Anaheim came in 18th in the NHL with 220 goals and their 197 goals against, in addition to being third-least in the NHL, were also the least in the Western Conference. Anaheim’s 49.7 CF% at even strength was 19th this season.
The Flames finished with 45 wins and 94 points. Calgary had some notable offensive performances, but not to the degree of last season. Johnny Gaudreau led the team in scoring with 61 points. Sean Monahan finished with 58 points. Veteran centre Mikael Backlund and defenceman Dougie Hamilton finished with career-highs of 53 and 50 points, respectively. Rookie winger Matthew Tkachuk scored 48 points. Calgary is light on injuries. Starting goaltender Brian Elliott started off weak and had a better finish to the year, while backup Chad Johnson started off strong and cooled off. Both finished with a 0.910 Save%. Johnson has a lower-body injury, but is only day-to-day. Defenceman Ladislav Smid has a neck injury, but as he hasn’t played since February 2016, the Flames have gotten used to not having him. Calgary had a weak end to the season. They had a two-game winning streak in late March, but went 2-4 after that, including a two-game losing streak. Calgary finished 17th in the league with 222 goals, while allowing a 17th-most 219 goals against. Calgary was tenth with a 50.6 even strength CF%.
Despite the poor Corsi performance, the Ducks are a team with loads of playoff experience, a deep core of defencemen, plenty of offensive weapons, and good goalies. Anaheim will win this series.
Edmonton Oilers (PC-2) vs San Jose Sharks (PC-3) (Season Series 3-0-1-1 Edmonton)
The Oilers finished with 47 wins and 103 points. They had some good offensive seasons, but there are major drop-offs from first to second to third. Connor McDavid scored 100 points, becoming the only player to do so this season and winning the Art Ross Trophy. He also scored 30 goals and led the league with 70 assists. Leon Draisaitl finished second with 29 goals and 77 points. Jordan Eberle scored 20 goals and 51 points. Winger Milan Lucic scored 23 goals and 50 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rebounded from 34 points last season to 43. Patrick Maroon, who joined the team late last season in a trade, scored a career-high 42 points. Defenceman Oscar Klefbom scored a career-high 38 points. Goaltender Cam Talbot posted a 0.919 Save%. The Oilers played two other goalies during the season as second-stringers, with only 15 games between them. Rookie Laurent Brossoit posted a 0.928 Save% and Jonas Gustavsson posted a 0.878 Save%. Edmonton has only a couple of injuries. Forward Tyler Pitlick was limited to 31 games this season by a leg injury, and former captain Andrew Ference, still under contract, missed most of last season and all of this one with a hip injury. Edmonton had a very strong end to their season, with a three-game winning streak and a five-game winning streak before that, a solitary loss between them. Edmonton came in eighth in the league with 243 goals and their 207 goals against were 23rd most in the NHL. Edmonton’s even strength 49.9 CF% was 18th in the league.
The Sharks finished with 46 wins and 99 points. The Sharks had a few notable offensive performances. Brent Burns led the team with 29 goals and 76 points (though he couldn’t scored one more measly goal during the last 20-or-so games to make it an even 30), and Joe Pavelski scored 29 goals and 68 points. Centre Logan Couture scored a decent 52 points for third place. Centre Joe Thornton and winger Patrick Marleau all dropped off from last season. Thornton fell from 19 goals and 82 points to seven goals and 50 points. Marleau fell from 48 points to 46. From there is a huge dropoff to a number of players who fell off from where they were last year. Winger Joel Ward, who scored 21 goals and 43 points last season, finished with 10 goals and 29 points. Defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who seemed to break out offensively last season with a career-high 39 points fell back to a more characteristic 28. Winger Mikkel Boedker tied a career-high 51 points last season, but fell to 26, his lowest full-season total since 2012. Goaltender Martin Jones posted a mediocre 0.912 Save% on the season, while fairly well-used backup Aaron Dell posted a 0.931 Save%. San Jose is in pretty bad shape injury-wise. While their injured players are only day-to-day, the injured players are Thornton, who has a lower-body injury, and Couture, who has a mouth injury, leaving the Sharks without their 1-2-punch at centre. After a six-game losing streak stretching back to mid-March, San Jose went an okay 4-3 to finish their season. San Jose finished the season in 19th with 219 goals and their 200 goals against were 26th-most in the NHL. San Jose had a strong 51.1 CF% at even strength, good for eighth.
Even though San Jose made the Stanley Cup Final last season, my expectation for Tampa Bay these last two seasons has made me hesitant to put too much stock in repeat performances. Edmonton has some weaknesses, including possession, and much ado has been made of their goaltender’s workload, which was 73 games, seven more than the next-most-worked netminder. Despite those weaknesses, they also have Connor McDavid. I know hockey’s a team game and all, but if there’s any one player who can change the complexion of a playoff series, McDavid must be that player. Edmonton will win this series.
Washington Capitals (MT-1) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (WC-1) (Season Series: 1-1-0-1 Washington)
The Capitals finished with 55 wins and 118 points. Washington, as usual, enjoyed standout offensive years from several key players. Leading the way this time was Nicklas Backstrom, who jumped from 70 points last season to 86. Though it wasn’t all that close, Alex Ovechkin came in second on the team, scoring 69 points and a team-leading 33 goals. Though he failed to live up to last season, Evgeny Kuznetsov recovered during the year, finishing third with 59 points. Marcus Johansson set new career-highs of 24 goals and 58 points, his first 50+ point season. In a season abbreviated by injury to 68 games, winger TJ Oshie scored 56 points and tied Ovechkin for the team lead with a career-high 33 goals. Defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, acquired from St. Louis late in the season, bounced back from a weaker 2015/16 season and scored a career-high 56 points. Justin Williams had a comparable season to last year, finishing with 48 points. Goaltender Braden Holtby posted a 0.925 Save% while his backup Philipp Grubauer posted a 0.926 Save%. Holtby won the William M. Jennings Trophy with his performance. The Caps are fortunate with regards to injuries, with nobody injured. They finished very strong. While they ended the season with a loss, they won four straight before that, with a loss following a six-game winning streak before that. Washington finished with a league-third 261 goals while allowing 177 goals against, the fewest in the league. Washington was fourth in the league with a 51.8 CF% at even strength.
The Maple Leafs finished with 40 wins and 95 points. Toronto had a significant number of strong offensive seasons. Rookie centre and Calder Trophy favourite Auston Matthews led the team with 40 goals (tied for second in the league) and 69 points. Winger James van Riemsdyk scored 62 points, placing second on the team. Centre Nazem Kadri and rookies Mitchell Marner and William Nylander each scored 61 points, Kadri’s being a career-high to go along with a career-high 31 goals. Speaking of career-highs, the 55 points scored by Tyler Bozak and the 43 scored by Jake Gardiner were also career-highs. Newly-acquired goaltender Frederik Andersen posted a 0.918 Save% while backup Curtis McElhinney, acquired mid-season, posted a 0.917 Save%. Of their injured list, only three of the six players actually played this season. Winger Eric Fehr, acquired from Pittsburgh mid-season, is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Winger Josh Leivo is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Winger Nikita Soshnikov is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. The rest of their injured list consists of winger Nathan Horton, who hasn’t played since the 2013/14 season due to persistent back problems and was acquired by Toronto after his last game, winger Joffrey Lupul, who missed nearly half of last season with various injuries before sitting this one out with a sports hernia, and defenceman Stephane Robidas, who has missed the last two seasons with a knee injury. Toronto won seven of eight games in late March and early April, only to lose three of the last four games of their season. While their win of the second-last game of the season clinched them their playoff berth, the losses guaranteed their matchup against Washington. Toronto finished with a league-fifth 250 goals, while allowing 234 goals against, ninth most in the league and the most among playoff qualifiers. Toronto had a league-13th 50.4 CF% at even strength.
You have to applaud the Leafs. We all knew with their prospect depth and new coaching, that it was only a matter of time until success started coming, but I doubt many expected a playoff appearance this year. Still, I can’t say I expect them to win. Washington may have seen some offensive slide from key players, but they’re probably as playoff-ready as anyone. Washington will win this series.
Pittsburgh Penguins (MT-2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (WC-2) (Season Series: 1-1-1-1)
The Penguins finished with 50 wins and 111 points. As the NHL’s top offensive team, the Pens got offensive production from a number of players. Sidney Crosby scored a Rocket Richard-winning 44 goals and league-second 89 points. Evgeni Malkin finished second on the team with 33 goals and 72 points. Winger Phil Kessel, despite not returning to his typical sniper form, rebounded overall with 70 points. Winger Conor Sheary and defenceman Justin Schultz broke out with seasons of 53 and 51 points, respectively. Also worth mentioning is the 34 points of Kris Letang, who was limited by injury to 41 games, and the 33 points scored by rookie winger Jake Guentzel, who was an injury callup who played too well to be sent back down. Goaltenders Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were employed in a tandem system. Rookie Murray, who helped win Pittsburgh a Stanley Cup last season, posted a 0.923 Save% while the veteran Fleury posted a 0.908 Save%. Pittsburgh is particularly unlucky in terms of injuries. For starters, Letang, who already missed half the regular season is expected to be out for 4-6 months recovering from surgery for a herniated disk. Wingers Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz are both sidelined indefinitely with lower-body injuries. Depth defenceman Chad Ruhwedel is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Additionally, though he’s retired, winger Pascal Dupuis is still listed on the roster, listed as being on injured reserve with blood clots. Pittsburgh had a down-and-up-and-down end to their season, losing and then winning four games straight, before closing the year with two losses. Pittsburgh led the league with 278 goals and allowed a 14th-most 229 goals against. Pittsburgh’s 50.1 CF% at even strength was 16th in the NHL.
The Blue Jackets finished with 50 wins and 108 points. Befitting their climb in the standings from last season, the Jackets got a number of offensive contributions. Winger Cam Atkinson broke out with a team-leading 35 goals and 62 points. Though he slowed down towards the end of the season, centre Alexander Wennberg jumped to 59 points. Brandon Saad, despite falling to 23 goals, finished third on the team with 53 points, same as where he was the previous season. Captain Nick Foligno enjoyed a partial bounceback season, scoring 26 goals and 51 points. Sam Gagner, acquired before the season, finally reached the 50-point mark, setting a new career-high at 50. Additionally, Zach Werenski led all rookie blueliners with 47 points while Seth Jones, in his first full season with Columbus, broke out with 42 points. Sergei Bobrovsky became this season’s Vezina Trophy favourite by posting a league-leading 0.931 Save%. Joonas Korpisalo, who became the full-time second goalie after the McElhinney trade, posted a 0.905 Save%. Columbus has a few injuries, but nothing major. David Clarkson, like Horton, the player he was traded for, has been out for a back injury, having missed all of this season and most of last. Defenceman Ryan Murray missed the last 15 games of the season with a hand injury, but is only listed as day-to-day going into the playoffs. Rookie centre Lukas Sedlak is day-to-day entering the playoffs with an upper-body injury. For all their success this season, the Blue Jackets still had a weak end to their season. After a two-game winning streak, they lost six straight games before winning just their season finale. Columbus finished sixth in the NHL with 247 goals and allowed 193 goals against, second fewest in the league. Columbus had a league-14th 50.3 CF% at even strength.
Nobody repeats as Stanley Cup champions anymore. Not in the hard cap era. Of course that doesn’t automatically mean Pittsburgh’s bound for a first-round exit. Still, I’m cheering on Columbus as a dark horse pick, and expect them to win the series, against my better judgement. Columbus will win this series.
Montreal Canadiens (AT-1) vs New York Rangers (WC-1) (Season Series: 2-1-0-0 Montreal)
The Canadiens finished with 47 wins and 103 points. Montreal had only a few notable offensive performances. Max Pacioretty bounced back from last season, leading the team with 35 goals and 67 points. New addition Alexander Radulov, back from an extended stay in the KHL, defied his reputation as a scorer to place second on the team 54 points, including a team-leading 32 assists. Alex Galchenyuk, who had a down year and missed a handful of games with injuries, finished third on the team with 44 points. Paul Byron, plucked off waivers at the start of last season, broke out with 22 goals and 43 points. Shea Weber, acquired in the Subban trade, led all team defencemen with 42 points. Back from missing the vast majority of last season with injuries, Carey Price was back, posting a 0.923 Save%, while new backup Al Montoya posted a 0.912 Save%. Montreal is missing a couple of players. Veteran centre Tomas Plekanec and physical defenceman Alexei Emelin, who had a strong year last season, are day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and a lower-body injury, respectively. Montreal had a bit of a disappointing end to the season. While they did have a five-game winning streak late in March and won the last game of the season, they lost two games in between. Montreal finished 15th in the league with 223 goals and allowed 198 goals against, the fourth-fewest in the NHL. Montreal posted a 52.5 CF% at even strength, good for third in the NHL.
The Rangers finished 48 wins and 102 points. The Rangers lacked high-end scoring, benefiting from a score-by-committee system. Mats Zuccarello led the team with 59 points. Winger JT Miller was second with 56. Centre Derek Stepan had 55 points. Winger Chris Kreider had 53 points. Centre Kevin Hayes had 49 points. Captain Ryan McDonagh led the team’s defencmen with 42 points. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had a bit of a down year with a 0.910 Save%, while backup Antti Raanta had a 0.922 Save%. The Rangers are fairly healthy going into the playoffs. The only injuries are Raanta and bottom-six winger Jesper Fast, who are day-to-day with a knee injury and an undisclosed injury, respectively. Though they won the last game of their season, the Rangers had a weak end to the year, winning only three of the last eight. The Rangers finished with a league-fourth 253 goals, allowing 216 goals against, the 18th-most in the league. The Rangers posted a 47.9 CF% at even strength, not only 25th in the NHL, but the worst among playoff qualifiers.
The Rangers will give the Habs a run for their money, and any residual bad blood stemming from the Kreider-Price indicent of ‘14 will surely make things interesting, but I doubt they will win. They had more goals, but also allowed more. Lundqvist had a bad season, leaving me doubtful of his ability to win New York a Cup. Goalies are often game-changers in the playoffs, and Price is as much a game-changer as you can get, if past seasons are any indication. Montreal will win this series.
Ottawa Senators (AT-2) vs Boston Bruins (AT-3) (Season Series: 3-1-0-0 Ottawa)
The Senators finished with 44 wins and 99 points. Overall, Ottawa disappointed on offence. Defenceman Erik Karlsson posted 71 points to lead the team, a strong total despite being down from last season. Though he fell from 29 goals to 26, winger Mike Hoffman posted a career-high 61 points. Centre Kyle Turris and winger Mark Stone were third and fourth, respectively, but their 55 and 54 points, respectively, were down from previous strong seasons. Due to repeated absences in order to be with his ailing wife, goaltender Craig Anderson wound up tandeming with early-season trade addition Mike Condon. Anderson posted a 0.926 Save%, while Condon posted a 0.914 Save% despite a number of bad games. Ottawa only has a couple of injuries. Defenceman Marc Methot is out indefinitely after his finger was messed up in late March. Forward Zack Smith, after a second unexpectedly productive season, is currently listed as having an upper-body injury, but has been practicing as if preparing to return to game action. Ottawa may have won three games straight before losing the last game of the season, but they lost five games before that streak. Ottawa’s 206 goals were 22nd in the NHL, as well as the lowest among all playoff qualifying teams. Their 210 goals against, on the other hand, were 21st-most. Note that with a -4 goal differential, the Senators are the only to have qualified for the postseason with a negative goal differential. Ottawa had a 48.5 CF% at even strength, 22nd overall.
The Bruins finished with 44 wins and 95 points. Boston’s resurgence this season was fuelled by a jump in scoring. Brad Marchand built on his star turn last season with new career-highs of 39 goals and 85 points. David Pastrnak jumped from 15 goals and 26 points to 34 goals and 70 points. There was a bit of a drop off from there. David Krejci was third on the team with 54 points. Patrice Bergeron, despite a very slow start to the season, recovered enough to post a respectable 53 points. Defenceman Torey Krug was fifth on the team with a career-high 51 points. Goaltender Tuukka Rask matched last season’s 0.915 Save%, while Anton Khudobin, in his first season back with Boston, had a 0.904 Save%. Boston has several players out with injuries, but all are day-to-day. Rookie defenceman Brandon Carlo and grinding callup forward Noel Acciari have upper-body injuries, while Krug and winger Jimmy Hayes have lower-body injuries. Though they lost their last two games, the Bruins had a strong end to the season, winning six games straight before said losses. Boston finished the season 13th in scoring with 232 goals. Boston allowed 209 goals against, 22nd-most. Boston’s 54.7 even strength CF% was second-best in the league, as well as the best among playoff qualifiers.
Boston rebounded in every way. They got good goaltending, a much-needed boost in offence, and were the best possession team to make the playoffs. I’m expecting Ottawa to flame out. Boston will win this series.
Enjoy the playoffs everyone!