Some quick previews and picks on the 1st round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Always the most entertaining round and likely the best (and most) hockey you will watch all year. My wife hates this time of year when I refuse to leave the house because “the Islanders just tied it up babe!” Dark times indeed…Let’s start in the Eastern Conference

New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins:

Pens are doing their best Tom Petty impression over the last 6 weeks

While the Rangers have been coasting in 1st place since the all star break. The Rangers blue line is the best in the league (sorry Nashville) and Henrik Lundqvist is rested and ready. Meanwhile the Pens are missing their best 2 puck moving defenceman in Erhoff and Letang. Rangers scoring goes 3 lines deep while the Pens struggle to find depth in their lineup.

Verdict: Rangers in 5

Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders

Neither team is playing their best hockey as the playoffs arrive which makes this series the toughest to predict for me. Both teams are loaded with offense and get contributions from their defence. Really tough series to call, part of me so badly wants to see the Islanders vs Rangers in the 2nd round but I don’t think it will happen. Braden Holtby will be the difference in goal and the Isles will shuffle off to Brooklyn.

Verdict: Capitals in 7

Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators

Ottawa is that young, red hot team riding a hot goalie that nobody wants to see in the first round. But the Canadiens are equipped to handle it. Carey Price was the best goalie in the league this year and it wasn’t really close. The only concern for Montreal is can they score consistently and when it counts. The Sens Andrew “the Hamburgler” Hammond has been excellent, especially late in games (Hammond has only allowed 5 3rd period goals this season). The Senators will push the Habs but not quite to the brink.

Verdict: Canadiens in 6

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings

If you are looking for team speed, highlight reel goals and excellent special teams then this is your series. Both teams can score, Detroit has the edge in experience but Tampa Bay has brought their young players along slowly (wonder where GM Steve Yzerman learned that?) and they are ready for prime time. The Red Wings have 1 massive hole in their squad and unfortunately it’s in goal. That’s kind of important, Lightning will advance and get another shot at the Habs who swept them from the playoffs last year.

Verdict: Lightning in 6

Musical Interlude:

Just a craving, on to the West!

St Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild

Every year the Blues seem like a good bet to take the next step and become a legit Stanley Cup threat and every year I find a reason not to pick them. Tradition continues as I’m just not convinced by Brian Elliott or Jake Allen getting this Blues team out of the first round. The Wild have been the best team in the NHL since January 15th (when they acquired goalie Devan Dubnyk). This series will be extremely tight, lots of 1 goal games, toughest western series to predict for me.

Verdict: Wild in 7

Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Kane drank a ton of milk and healed his collar bone in time for the 1st round. Kane was leading the NHL in scoring and having a career year when he went down with injury, he’s healed and rested. This is not good for the Predators whose offense still features Mike Ribeiro as the number one centre. Nashville has a great blueline but it will not be enough to hold back the Hawks attack.

Verdict: Blackhawks in 6

Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets

You run game on the western conference all year, have yourself comfortably in first, rest your best players and your reward is the Winnipeg Jets? Have you seen how nuts these fans can be? The MTS centre will more likely resemble a hornets nest

Still, the Ducks are ready for this, as long as the Anderson/Gibson pair can provide some decent goaltending the Jets will be in deep. I’m calling this as the series that will be the most physical/dirty

Verdict: Ducks in 6

Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames

So much history between the two teams but really a rivalry that has remained dormant. Don’t expect this to be the physical series that we used to see between these teams. It will really come down to the Flames youth and speed vs the Canucks depth and experience. Goaltending is equal for me in this series, I don’t see a major edge on either side. Flames coach Bob Hartley has always been a thorn in the Canucks side so expect some gamesmanship. Canucks will edge out the Flames but this will take both teams to the edge

Verdict: Canucks in 7