Friday, April 15, 2016

NHL Playoffs 2016 Round 1

Listen, I understand the Chicago Cubs are going to be good this year. And the way they won the home opener on Addison Russell’s three run bomb after being no-hit for the first six plus innings was cool. But April also brings us playoff hockey. Sadly, no Canadian team make it this year after five did last year.  Go America!  As always, I have assembled my panel of hockey experts to weigh in. So here we go.

Eastern Conference

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders
Remember that time the Panthers and the Islanders played each other in the playoffs?  No? Or that time they both made the playoffs? Me neither.  The Panthers got off to a slow start but reeled off a long streak of wins in late November and early December then held off the Lightning to win the Atlantic Division.  The have some young stars like Aleksander Barkow, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad.  They have Roberto Luongo in net. And the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr as well.  The Islanders have a backup goaltender in Thomas Greiss starting for them this series.  The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since the year of the rat in 1996.  They get it done this year.
Panthers in 6

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings kept their playoff streak alive only to be rewarded by getting the Lightning in the first round. The good news for them is Steve Stamkos is injured. The bad news is Ben Bishop has been great for the Lightning in goal all season and the Wings already struggle to score goals.  The Lightning are banged up a bit, so if the Wings can steal a game early, they might have a chance. Might, but not likely
Lightning in 7

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers
This is the third year in a row these two teams will play each other in the playoffs. Pittsburgh is hot, finishing the season 14-2 with Evgeni Malkin b goalie Marc-Andre Fleury both missing a bunch of games due to injury. The Rangers have their own injury problems to deal with including captain Ryan McDonagh’s hand.  Last year’s series featured one goal wins in all five games. This year’s might as well. 
Penguins in 6

Washington Capitals vs Philadelphia Flyers
The Caps won the President’s trophy by amassing 120 points during the regular season.  Ovie hit the 50 goal mark again. They were good all year, with no long slumps. They are the team to beat in the East. The Flyers somehow managed to make the playoffs, but have a tendency to play dumb and take needless penalties. 
Caps in 5

Western Conference (aka The Good Conference)

The Ducks of Anaheim formerly known as Mighty vs Nashville Predators
Remember in December when the Ducks were in last place in the West and couldn’t score? They won the Pacific division by beating the Capitals the final day of the season, getting them a matchup with the Preds instead of San Jose. They were tops in the league on the power play and the penalty kill, and those are pretty important in the playoffs.  And they didn’t give up many goals. Ryan Kesler poured it on the second half of the season. The Preds are deep on the d-line and have Pekka Rinne.  But that’s it for them.
Ducks in 5

Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks

It seems these teams meet every year. Well, except last year when they both failed to qualify for the postseason. Are the Sharks still reeling from losing to the Kings 2 years ago in round one after they lead 3 games to 0? Are the Kings back and is their every other year Cup party going to happen? Will Joe Thornton ever slow down? While Martin Jones backstop his team to victory against his former team? Will any of these games end before midnight central time? This one will be fun to watch.
Kings in 7

Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild
The Stars skate fast, score a lot and are fun to watch. They’ve got a ton of talent on their top line with Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and former Hawk Patrick Sharp. Minnesota can steal this series if Devan Dubnyk plays as well as he did during the last half of 2015.  The Wild will be without Zach Parise, which will hurt.
Stars in 5

Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
The defending Cup champs struggled the last month of the season and dealt with some injury issues. They are not nearly as deep a team as last year, especially on defense. Corey Crawford needs to be as good in the post season as he was during the regular season, and he looked rusty in the regular season finale. Duncan Keith will miss game 1 sitting out the last game of his 6 game suspension. The Blues were consistent all season.  Brian Elliot was fantastic and will get the starts with Jake Allen injured.  Vladimir Tarasanko seems to feast on the Hawks wheneverthe play and the Blues are good at agitating the Hawks. Will this be the year the Blues knock off the Hawks? Sadly, Chicago fans, it is.
Blues in 7

 Our Panel’s picks
Series Mike Jax Jarrett Bob
Panthers vs Islanders Panthers in 6 Panthers in 6 Panthers in 6 Panthers in 4
Lightning vs Red Wings Lightning in 7 Lightning in 6 Lightning in 6 Lightning in 5
Capitals vs Flyers Capitals in 5 Capitals in 6 Capitals in 5 Capitals in 5
Penguins vs Rangers Penguins in 7 Rangers in 7 Penguins in 6 Penguins in 7
Ducks vs Predators Ducks in 5 Ducks in 5 Ducks in 5 Ducks in 5
Kings vs Sharks Kings in 7 Sharks in 7 Sharks in 7 Kings in 6
Stars vs Wild Stars in 5 Stars in 6 Stars in 6 Stars in 4
Blues vs Hawks Blues in 7 Hawks in 6 Hawks in 6 Blues in 7

Last year Bob took the top honors correctly selecting the winner in 13 of the 15 series throughout the playoffs.
Here’s what the ESPN “experts” say.

Good luck to your team, and thanks for reading