Monday, May 29, 2017
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Nashville Predators
The Penguins have the offense to spare, with Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin, but they've needed some unsung heroes to get through a tough Eastern Conference, with players such as Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and Carter Rowney getting ice time. The wild card here is in goal, where Matt Murray currently is the guy in goal after taking over due to a bad game four by Marc-Andre Fleury last series.
The Predators beat some of the best in the Western Conference in Chicago and Anaheim to get here, but now, their depth will be tested, as Ryan Johansen is out. The good news is that they've had two games to figure it out, and thus far, they are comfortable trotting out the likes of Fredrick Gaudreau and PA Parenteau to fill the void. Colton Sissons has filled in well as the number one center, and the reshuffling of the lines up front hasn't changed the way the Predators have done business. Defensively, the group is solid, and it's all backed by stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne.
Prediction: Predators in 6
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The host team, the Spitfires had a crash landing during the OHL playoffs, losing in the first round to London, thus having to wait a while before they can play again. Injuries to the likes of Logan Brown and Logan Stanley were seen as culprits, and with the extended rest, the Spitfires boast considerable talent with Mikhail Sergachev, Jeremy Bracco, and assuming they're healthy, the Logans.
SAINT JOHN SEA DOGS
They were the most dominant of the three champions in the tournament, as they lost just twice en route to the QMJHL championship. Their best players are Thomas Chabot, Matthieu Joseph, and overager Callum Booth, though they also have NHL prospects in Julien Gauthier and Nathan Noel.
The OHL champions, the Otters had their share of adversity, needing seven games to dispatch last year's champion London Knights in the Conference semi-finals, but a team that boasts prolific scorers such as Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome always have a chance to do something special. Getting key role players in trade deadline deals such as Anthony Cirelli and OHL playoffs MVP Warren Foegele pushed them over the hump.
League champions for the first time in their 40 year history, the Thunderbirds rode Matt Barzal's play into a fairly dominant start to the playoff run, sweeping top ranked Everett in the Conference semi-finals. That momentum manifested itself into a six game win against the top team in the Canadian Hockey League in the Regina Pats to win the championship. Ethan Bear, Ryan Gropp, and rookie Carl Staniowski have played key roles in addition to Barzal.
Monday, May 15, 2017
This Thunderbirds team was likely the last chance at a championship, as they are going to be losing playoff MVP Matt Barzal, defenseman of the year Ethan Bear, and Ryan Gropp to the pros. Goaltending looks secure with Carl Staniowski still in the fold, as he is not draft-eligible for another year. The big question, as it is with any successful team, is what coach Steve Konowalchuk will do, as he has overseen the transformation from an also-ran when he took over as head coach in 2011 to a championship team now. With many pro teams that could be looking to fill vacancies, as well as a Buffalo Sabres team that still needs a head coach, it may not be long before Konowalchuk moves up in the coaching world.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
(1)Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Nashville Predators
The Ducks had to hold off the Oilers to get here. None have been more important to the team's push than Ryan Getzlaf, who had often been maligned when it came to recent playoff history. Certainly, Randy Carlyle behind the bench has helped, as he was instrumental in settling the team down when they were in numerous holes, but it's been the likes of Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie who have been stepping up when the team has needed them the most. If there is a concern, it is in goal, where things continue to be on rocky ground at times.
The Predators' path may be unprecedented, given their ranking, but having key players at full strength has been a major key to their success. It has helped that Pekka Rinne has played like the world-beater that he's capable of being while the team continues to get contributions up and down the lineup. Playing disciplined has also helped, and it figures to be key again against a physical Ducks team that can capitalize on mistakes at any time.
Prediction: Predators in 6
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2) Ottawa Senators
The Penguins showed their playoff prowess by shaking off a 3-1 series lead loss to eventually close out the Washington Capitals in seven games. As has been the case in every series, it's been the unheralded players that have come up big, with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust playing hero in game seven. That doesn't mean the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby haven't done their part, though, as Malkin leads the team in playoff scoring while Crosby continues to be the engine of the team. Marc-Andre Fleury gives the Penguins a good problem in goal if and when Matt Murray comes back from injury.
The Senators continue to show resiliency, as they played part of the Rangers series without Erik Karlsson. He will be needed, as the Senators didn't fare so well without him. Craig Anderson has been the man in goal while Kyle Turris has become the clutch player that the Sens needed. All hands will be needed if the Sens hope to pull an upset.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (2) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Capitals had all they could handle in a six-game series with Toronto, but in the end, they did manage to pull through. They did so despite Alex Ovechkin providing just three points (all goals). Having a balanced attack that includes TJ Oshie, Niklas Backstrom, and Justin Williams should help offset Ovechkin's struggles, particularly as he is shaking off an injury scare in the last game of the Leafs series. Braden Holtby continues to hold down the for the Capitals.
Pittsburgh had a relatively easy time with the Blue Jackets en route to a five-game series win. In spite of having to go to Marc-Andre Fleury thanks to Matt Murray being injured, the Penguins have shown some resilience, particularly since Kris Letang is out for the playoffs. It helps that their big guns (Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby) all produced in the series.
Prediction: Penguins in 7
(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (4) New York Rangers
The Senators went to overtime in virtually every game of their series against Boston. Like Pittsburgh, they had their share of adversity, and like Pittsburgh, their big name players came up big when it counted the most. Erik Karlsson is still the engine that gets the offense going, and having Bobby Ryan finally show why the Senators traded for him a few years ago have been big factors. Craig Anderson has played well, but it's been Clarke MacArthur that has truly come up clutch after missing most of the season because of concussions.
The Rangers have ridden their defense to a six-game victory over Montreal. Henrik Lundqvist still has a few great games left in him, and the defense in front of him tightened up when it counted the most. Offensively, they may wish to ramp things up a little, as Mika Zibanejad led the team with four points. That means the likes of Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello need to pick things up a little.
Prediction: Senators in 6
(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (2) Edmonton Oilers
The Ducks had little difficulty in disposing of the Flames in a sweep. Their offense was well-balanced, with Shea Theodore emerging as a new option on the blue line. Getting Corey Perry to produce a little more would help, but with everyone bunched into the 3-5 point range, it could also be beneficial in keeping the pressure off of Perry to perform. In goal, John Gibson was healthy, but also rather shaky, as he was pulled from a start in the series. Goaltending bears watching here.
The Oilers are going to go as far as Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot will take them. Other than a game four clunker, Talbot has been as good as he's been in the regular season. McDavid is undoubtedly the man on the Oilers, but it's been the big boys (Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, and Darnell Nurse) that have come up big offensively and defensively.
Prediction: Oilers in 7
(3) St. Louis Blues vs. (4) Nashville Predators
The Blues took care of the Wild in five games thanks to Jake Allen righting his game in time. Despite Vladimir Tarasenko not being much of a factor in the series, the Blues got some production from other players, most notably Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz. Vladimir Sobotka's presence has really helped defensively.
The Predators had their way with the Blackhawks in a sweep, giving up less than a goal per game. Pekka Rinne was on top of his game, and will most likely need to be again this series. Offensively, everything goes through the JOFA line (Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen), but it's been PK Subban that has been a game-changer with his puck-moving skills from the blue line that have made it harder to key in on Roman Josi.
Prediction: Predators in 6