Wednesday night the NHL playoffs will open. This year there will be five Canadian teams ready to dance when the puck drops, two California teams, and only one Original Six matchup.
The Montreal Canadiens vs The New York Rangers
Unlike last year the Canadiens have a playoff berth. Also unlike last year they now have Shea Weber, Carey Price, Alex Radulov, Andrew Shaw and a cup winning coach behind the bench in the person of Claude Julien, The edge in this series is going to belong to which ever team can force the other to play their game. The Canadiens allowed fewer goals, the Rangers scored more. The Rangers aren’t far removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but no one is talking about them. The Rangers head into the playoffs remarkably healthy with no major players on the injury report. The Canadiens have the best pairing of top end number one defenseman and top flight goalie, and no one is talking about them either.
For the Canadiens it is really simple: Can Gallagher, Galchenyuk, and Radulov play in the Rangers end and score?
For the Rangers it is equally simple: Can they shore up the aging and infirm Lundqvist?
- Canadiens: Goaltending
- Rangers: depth of scoring
- Canadiens: goal scoring
- Rangers: coaching
Minnesota Wild vs Saint Louis Blues
This series will get written off by many as “low key” and “boring”, don’t believe it for a minute. Both teams are happy to have avoided the Blackhawks in the first round, and the two central division rivals have been going at it since the Twin Cities reentered the NHL.. Special teams could be where this series is decided. The Blues and Wild each finished the season at over 21% on the powerplay. Expect a good amount of physicality. Vlad Sobotka has returned to the NHL in time to play for the Blues, Charlie Coyle and Nino Neiderietter will be there to deliver hit for hit.
In pure stats, the Wild have a marked advantage on both sides of the puck. That may well be offset by the invigoration former Wild coach Yeo has brought to the Blues who had a strong run to the end of the season.
- Wild: balance
- Blues: momentum
- Wild: Iffy and arguably overplayed Dubnyk in the last six weeks of the season.
- Blues: Scoring depth
Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks
This series can be subtitled A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. The Oilers charged hard and climbed into a home ice advantage in the first round. The Sharks were grabbed by the undertow and yanked from a nine point lead in the division to making people doubt they’d see the second season with their skates on. The Sharks are built around an aging core, the Oilers are a team for whom the oldest members of the core are in their early twenties at the latest. The Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs in a very long time, and the Sharks were within reach of getting their names on the Cup last year.
For the Sharks to move on they have to find scoring. Their bottom six, their defense not named Burns will all need to pitch in.
For the Oilers, they will need to expand their core and learn how to play in the playoffs from the guys who have gone deep.
- Oilers: Offense
- Sharks: Experience
- Oilers: Penalty Kill
- Sharks: Depth
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus BlueJackets
This might just be the best, hardest fought series in the first round series this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be considered the Columbus BlueJackets biggest rivals at this point, and I don’t think the Penguins like the Jackets very much either. It goes beyond Dubinsky versus Crosby. It’s going to be Bobrovski versus Murray, Seth Jones against Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson against Bryan Rust. This series will get personal, and will feature some of the best play in the NHL playoffs.
This is likely the the most evenly matched series in the east. The Penguins are better offensively, the Jackets defensively.
- Jackets: Defense and goaltending
- Penguins: Offense
- Jackets: Inconsistency.
- Penguins: Dinged up defense
Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames
The Ducks and Flames both played strong at the end of the year. The Flames are highlighted by the dynamic Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano on the backend, and Johnny Gaudreau the Boston College alumni. The Flames are a pretty balanced team, they aren’t very good or very bad at anything. The Ducks team needs to find some offense from their best players. The Flames need to be consistent sixty minutes a game. This is likely to be the lowest scoring series in the first round.
- Ducks: John Gibson
- Flames: Balance
- Ducks: Scoring
- Flames: Netminding
Don’t forget to listen to this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and look for part two around noon eastern on Wednesday for the rest of the previews and some predictions for the first round.