I will give you your pick of the litter, the Super Bowl, March Madness, College Football season, Sunday at the Masters, whatever you want because I’m taking the NHL playoffs over all of it. It is my favorite time of year and I don’t think that any other playoff in sports matches up to the NHL. Roughly 2 months of the most intense, bone crunching, sacrificial hockey you can imagine. Game 7’s, overtime thrillers, crowd silencing saves, and horn blaring goals, the NHL playoffs has it all. It takes 16 wins to claim Lord Stanley as your own, but 4 losses can end your season and your dreams.
Maybe it’s just me but I feel like the first round matchups get better every year. There is a new format which you can see in the bracket below and without making you wait any further, let’s get into the Eastern Conference matchups.
WARNING: THERE WILL BE USE OF ADVANCED STATS, IF YOU ARE UNFAMILIAR, GET FAMILIAR HERE. http://www.secondcityhockey.com/2013/12/4/5167404/nhl-stats-made-simple-part-1-corsi-fenwick
photo credit: cbssports.com
1. Boston vs 4. Detroit
The Red Wings sneak in and play the Presidents trophy winning Boston Bruins. As Wings fans will tell you, the Presidents trophy does not automatically translate to playoff success. The Bruins are the team that many ofthe “experts” are picking to come out of the East and I can’t blame them. Boston has the build of a team prepared to go deep in the playoffs. They are big and physical, play stingy defense, and have what is most likely the 2013-2014 Vezina award winner between the pipes. If there is one thing that can stymie a big and physical, hard hitting team, it’s speed. And boy oh boy do the Red Wings have some speed. As was seen in the last matchup of the regular season between these teams, the speed of the young Wings took advantage of their chances. Chances, however, that didn’t come very often. OK let’s get nerdy. Boston had the 3rd best Corsi % in the league at 55% while the Wings were 12th at 51.3%. The Bruins were also 2nd in PDO (shooting % + save %) while the Wings weren’t far behind in 5th. I would like to use the numbers between the teams when they played this season but it wouldn’t make for a good feel for things because 3 of the 4 games were played before Thanksgiving, 27 injuries ago for the Wings. On April 2nd however, the Wings won 3-2, but were out corsi’d 65% to 35% in nearly every situation in the game. But, they took advantage of their chances and even though they were outplayed, the speed allowed them to get chances. Any guess to the Wings best Corsi % players? If you guessed Tatar, Nyquist, Sheahan in hat order, you would be right and it is no coincidence because if you have eyeballs you could have told me that. If the kids can continue to skate laps around the opposing team, the Wings have a good shot. However, if Tuuka Rask plays like he did in last years postseason, it may be a short series.
X Factor- Jimmy Howard. He is going to have to be spectacular like he was the last time these teams met if the Wings are going to have a shot. Boston is the superior team and if Detroit gets good goaltending, I like their chances.
Picks: Joe- Wings in 6. Bob- Wings in 6. Trev- Wings in 7. Jeremy- Bruins in 6. Trav- Wings in 7. NHL ’14- Bruins in 6.
photo credit: bleacherreport.com
2. Tampa Bay vs 3. Montreal
Big story heading into this series is the health of Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. He went down last week with an apparent leg injury and his status for the beginning of the playoffs is uncertain, which is bad news for the Bolts. Tampa Bay won 43 games, Bishop started 37 of those and backup Anders Lindback has a stat line that consists a save % of .878, yikes. On the other end, the situation in net is much more sound as the Habs have gold medal winning Carey Price who owns the 3rd best save % in the NHL. Montreal surprisingly is 26th in the league in Corsi %, which tells you stats aren’t everything because they have been one of the hottest teams in the league for the past month. Key for the Habs, stay out of the penalty box. Any powerplay consisting of Stamkos waiting for a one timer is not one you want to face often. The Canadiens have a ton of skill up front with leading scorer Max Pacioretty and the trade deadline addition of Thomas Vanek and they also get some help from the back end led by always flashy PK Subban.
X Factor- The Tampa Bay net. Will they get good enough goaltending from Lindback if Bishop can’t go? If Bishop does play will he be 100%? There are a lot of questions there, couple that with the fact that Montreal has a powerful offense and are coming into the playoffs hot, i don’t know if the uncertainty between the pipes can weather the storm.
Picks: Joe- Habs in 5. Bob- Habs in 5. Trev- Habs in 6. Jeremy- Habs in 5. Trav- Bolts in 6. NHL ’14- Habs in 6.
photo credit: cbc.ca
1. Pittsburgh vs 4. Columbus
I usually don’t like to make a big deal out of regular season records against one another when it comes to the playoffs, but it is hard to ignore Pittsburgh going 5-0 vs the Jackets this year. The Penguins outscored the Jackets 16-7 in those 5 games but only out-Corsi’d them in 3 of the 5. The biggest problem when playing the Penguins is the obvious one, you have to stop Crosby and Malkin. Mouth breather Malkin has been out for a few weeks with an injured foot and is expected to be back for the start of the playoffs Wednesday, but to what effectiveness is to be seen. Crosby is undoubtedly winning the Hart trophy, as he should, and always draws defenders. The centermen of the Jackets have a tall task on their hands and Bobrovsky will need to be in last years Vezina form to give his team a chance. It doesn’t stop with those two however, Neal and Kunitz can put the puck in the net and with Letang returning to the blue line, that adds back end offense along with bolstering the defense. The Jackets look like they are overpowered in this series, but there is hope…..
X Factor- Marc-Andre Fleury. If you have followed the playoffs the past couple years, you know that MAF has been atrocious in the pipes. We are talking he is letting guys shove their square pegs all up in his round holes kinda bad. It is really hard to comprehend, after winning the cup in ’09 he’s been just plain stinky. His highest save % in that span is .899, the lowest being .834. He hasn’t looked good this month either with a .904 save %. If the Jackets are going to win, they will need Fleury to get up his sieve ways.
Picks: Joe- Pens in 6. Bob- Jackets in 7. Trev- Pens in 5. Jeremy- Pens in 6. Trav- Pens in 5. NHL ’14- Pens in 4.
photo credit: espn.com
2. Rangers vs 3. Flyers
At the beginning of the season it appeared that Philly was destined to miss the playoffs and the Rangers would struggle to get in. It’s now mid April and these two teams have fought their way to a playoff matchup. If you’re looking for rough n’ tough hockey, look no further. The Rangers play a gritty, grinding style while the Flyers tend to just play like dickbags most of the time. This is a complete toss up in my mind, both these teams have been knocking at the door for years now only to come up short. The Rangers added a little firepower at the deadline bring in St Louis but he hasn’t been everything they hoped but it can’t hurt to have a Cup winner in your locker room. The Rangers also have arguably the best goalie in the game in Lundqvist who keeps this low scoring bunch in many games. The Flyers have resurgent Steve Mason who has had a great comeback year after many years of mediocrity in Columbus. Mason however was hurt last week and is questionable for game 1, he will likely play but there is that slim chance he won’t. Stralman and Stall lead the Rangers in Corsi %, which isn’t surprising that 2 defensemen lead the Rangers in that category. The usual suspects are at the top of the Corsi list for the Flyers, Voracek, Giroux, and Hartnell. Grab a beer, sit back, and enjoy. This series should be fun.
X Factor- Rick Nash. He is supposed to be their big gun, that’s what they traded for him to be and that’s what he hasn’t been in the playoffs. In 16 career playoff games, Nash has 2 goals and 6 assists. Not exactly what you think of when you think $7.8 million per year. The Rangers are going to need offense, the Flyers can score and they can’t rely on Lundqvist to keep it under 2 goals every night. Rick Nash needs to show he is the player everyone thought he was in Columbus, not the player people are forgetting about in New York.
Picks: Joe- Flyers in 7. Bob- Rangers in 7. Trev- Rangers in 6. Jeremy- Flyers in 7. Trav- Flyers in 5. NHL ’14- Rangers in 7.
photo credit: blueshirtsunited.com