The stage is set; All 16 teams are locked in for the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. There is a diverse group of teams this year, with many familiar faces and a couple new ones all looking to win the coveted Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
Prediction: Blues in 7
Reasons: This is going to be a very exciting and close series. It was hard making a decision for this series. Both teams have very talented rosters and had really impressive regular seasons.The Blues have the edge because of their defense. If a team is going to be able to keep up with the Blackhawks, it is going to need to be able to stop it’s firepower in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Artemi Panarin. If the Blues play the same level of defense they played in the regular season, it should be able to hold off the Hawks. Add on the fact that Blues’ star Vladimir Tarasenko had an incredible year and Chicago’s goalies have been shaky this season to say the least.
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
Prediction: Kings in 7
Reasons: There is some bad blood in this matchup. The Sharks and Kings met up in the 2014 playoffs. The Sharks were up three games to none in the series, and the Kings came back and won four straight to win the series. These two teams had great seasons once again, and the past and present both point to this being a very heated affair — one that will go right down to the wire. The Sharks are the fourth highest scoring team in the league, but the Kings concede the third fewest goals in the league. San Jose has a couple proven stars in Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, but the Kings have a full squad of stars. The Kings have proven season after season that they play their best hockey in the playoffs, and it are a huge threat to any team it comes up against. The San Jose will make this series interesting, but the efficiency and experience of the Kings will help push them into the next round.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators
Prediction: Ducks in 6
Reasons: The Ducks overcame a shaky start to the season by beating out the Kings for the top seed in the Pacific division. The Ducks are too much of a juggernaut for Nashville to overcome. Anaheim is first in the league in three separate categories: goals against, power play percentage, and penalty kill. Basically, it has the best defense in the league. Combine that with the fact that Nashville has a very mediocre offense and defense, and it appears the Predators really do not have much of a chance,. Anaheim also has the star power of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry behind them, so this will be a fairly easy series for the Ducks.
Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars
Prediction: Stars in 5
Reasons: How can you stop the Stars? They are the highest scoring team in the league, and have a really great, young corps. It’a goalies might not be the greatest, but it’s scoring ability will outweigh it’s goalies’ mistakes. With players like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Spezza, how can you bet against the Stars? Only the best goalies in the league stand a chance against this squad, and the Wild do not have that luxury — not to mention that the Wild’s only true star, Zach Parise, is doubtful to start at least the beginning of the series. The odds are completely against the Wild.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Prediction: Lightning in 6
Reasons: The Red Wings are not that good. The squad barely made it into the playoffs in the first place, and only because they beat out the Bruins in Regular/Overtime wins.. In comparison to the Lightning, the Wings do not have the depth to win a series. The reason Detroit will steal two wins in this series is because of the injury to Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos. The Lightning are fifth in the league in goals against and 12th in goals per game, while Detroit is way behind them in those categories. The Lightning have a well-balanced pairing of defense and offense, and that’s why they will win.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Washington Capitals
Prediction: Flyers in 7
Reason: This was a really hard choice. There are some legitimate reasons as to the Flyers could pull out with the victory in this series. The Capitals were the best team in the NHL for pretty much the entire season until the last month. It felt like the Caps did not take a lot of their games seriously since it had already clinched a playoff spot. Washington did not look convincing at all and let many games slip out of their hands. On the other hand, the Flyers have basically been playing playoff hockey since the beginning of March. Players like Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, and Shayne Gostisbehere really showed up and lifted the Flyers into the playoffs in the next to last game of the season. Plus, the owner of the Flyers, Ed Snider, just passed away a day after the Flyers’ last game of the season. The Fleyrs will be playing for Ed as long as they are in the playoffs. The team is really hot while the Capitals have been very lax in their play. Do not let me mislead you, though: the Washington Capitals are the strongest team in the league. The team has Alex Ovechkin, one of the top three players in the league. It also has Niklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov — both fantastic players. Finally, it also has the best goalie in the league in Braden Holtby. This is going to be one of the closest and most entertaining series of the first round so only time will tell.
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Prediction: Penguins in 7
Reason: This is also going to be a very close series. After starting off the season on a very rough note, many people had already marked the Penguins as missing out on the playoffs. Pittsburgh is coming in as the hottest team in the NHL after going 16-5-0 since the beginning of March, though. Stars like Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and quite a few players that are more unknown really picked up the pace. There are, however, quite a few question marks for both sides going into this series. Pittsburgh is missing starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and star Evgeni Malkin, who are out with injuries. Fleury is likely to play, but Malkin has been out since early March with a hand injury so it appears that he will not start at least the beginning of the series. The Rangers also have a number of key injuries. Important defensemen in Ryan McDonaugh and Dan Girardi are both out for the time being. But the reason this game will go to seven is one man: Henrik Lundqvist. He is returning from an illness and is going to be able to stop a lot of Pittsburgh’s firepower, but the Pens will be able to do just enough to get past this series.
Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders
Prediction: Panthers in 6
Reason: This series should be pretty one-sided. The Panthers are a team that no one saw making it this far. Not only that, but it ended the season with the first seed in the Atlantic division. Jaromir Jagr is still playing like he is in his 20’s while actually being in his mid-40’s. The Islanders have some very crushing injuries. Goalie Jaroslav Halak is out for the series, Kyle Okposo, the team leader in assists, is day-to-day with an injury, and Nick Leddy — an important defenseman — is also day-to-day. On the other hand, the Panthers are very healthy. They have a great goaltender in Roberto Luongo, and the Panthers are going to play their hardest for Jagr. To be able to perform at the level he has is truly remarkable at his age. It will be close at times, but Florida has been playing too well for an injured Islanders squad to handle.
Rest of my bracket:
Panthers vs Lightning: Panthers in 7
Flyers vs Penguins: Penguins in 6
Stars vs Blues: Stars in 7
Ducks vs Kings: Kings in 7
Panthers vs Penguins: Panthers in 7
Stars vs Kings: Kings in 6
Stanley Cup Final
Panthers vs Kings: Kings in 6