The first round of the NHL playoffs are over. The field is down to eight teams, and already a few favorites to take home the Stanley Cup are emerging.
The Western Conference
Starting in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings go up against the Anaheim Ducks. Even non-hockey sports fans are likely most familiar with the Kings because they came back in the first round from being down three games to zero to win the series in seven. But goalie Jonathan Quick has been inconsistent, as has the L.A. defense, which explains why they had to come back in the opening round of the playoffs in the first place. Against a better team, I don’t see that happening, and Anaheim is a better team.
My Pick: Anaheim wins the series 4-0
The other series in the west is between Minnesota and Chicago. At the start of the playoffs, I picked Chicago to be eliminated because I didn’t think they could hold out while captain Jonathan Toews recovered from injury. But he returned, and Chicago recovered after falling behind St. Louis two games to zero. Chicago came back and ended up winning four-straight games to take the series. The last time they did that was last year, and they won the Stanley Cup. So while Minnesota stands a fighting chance, they are coming off a seven-game series which ended Wednesday night just like the Kings. The combination of fatigue and how Chicago is playing makes me think this will be a short one. I’m thinking Minnesota will steal either game three or four, the first two games scheduled to be played in Minnesota.
My Pick: Chicago wins the series 4-1
The Eastern Conference
The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to face off against the New York Rangers. The Rangers won in seven games against against the Philadelphia Flyers. The teams alternated wins, which to me shows the Rangers have what it takes to move on. Pittsburgh was less impressive. In their series against Columbus, Pittsburgh went up against a young team that had never won a playoff game. While Columbus was good and played with a lot of heart, Pittsburgh had enough talent with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin that they should have been able to easily overpower Columbus.
My Pick: New York wins the series 4-2
Lastly, the Boston Bruins take on the Montreal Canadiens, in a series that started Thursday night. Montreal swept Tampa Bay in the first round, easily winning the series four games to none. However, I’ve watched many Boston Bruins games in the weeks leading up to the playoffs, and they are playing a hard-hitting game unlike any I’ve seen. They seem to intercept every pass in the same zip code as any of their players, and with rare exceptions they outhit who they play. They beat a good Detroit team in the first round as if it were easy, winning that series four games to one. I don’t see this series being any different.
My pick: Boston wins the series 4-1