2016 NHL Playoff Preview
By JOSH ROTHSTEIN
The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin with the Chicago Blackhawks looking to defend their title. If the Blackhawks can retain the Stanley Cup, it will be their fourth title in seven years. Fifteen other teams are looking to dethrone Chicago, including the Washington Capitals, who won the President’s Trophy with the best record in the NHL. Read below to see who I think will be advancing past the first round.
Philadelphia Flyers (WC2) vs Washington Capitals (M1)
The Capitals were far and away the best team in the NHL this season; accumulating eleven more points than any other club. Alex Ovechkin scored 50 goals for the fourth time in five seasons and goaltender Braden Holtby was one win away from breaking the all-time regular-season win record. For the Flyers, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds once again led the way. This will be a physical series between two archrivals, but the better team will prevail in a tight series. Washington in 6 games.
New York Rangers (M3) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (M2)
Since a 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders on March 8th, the Penguins have won 14 of 16 games and are the hottest team in the NHL. Goaltending is a question mark, with Marc-Andre Fleury doubtful for the series and backup goalie Matt Murray suffering a concussion during Saturday’s finale against Philadelphia. After winning the President’s trophy last year, the Rangers struggled a bit this season, but Henrik Lundqvist is still in their net, so they will always have a chance. The Rangers have eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and I believe that trend will continue, New York in 7 games.
New York Islanders (WC1) vs Florida Panthers (A1)
Florida took a huge step forward in their rebuilding process, winning the Atlantic division and making the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Jaromir Jagr has proven he still has it and Roberto Luongo has continued his renaissance in Sunrise. The Islanders have improved their goaltending and special teams, two integral parts of success in the NHL playoffs. It would be massive for New York if Travis Hamonic can return for this series. John Tavares is heating up; with 9 points in the last 4 games he has played. If Tavares can stay hot, the Islanders should win their first playoff series since 1993. New York in 6 games.
Detroit Red Wings (A3) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (A2)
Although they have struggled, Detroit has made the playoffs for the 25th straight season. Their stats are not very flattering, as they are 23rd in goals per game and 17th in goals against per game. However, young phenom Dylan Larkin looks like the real deal. Also, since Pavel Datsyuk announced this will be his final season with the Red Wings, Detroit will be playing inspired hockey. The Lightning were heavy favorites before they lost their best players in Steven Stamkos and defenseman Anton Stralman. Tampa Bay’s injuries really hinder their chances, and I think they will struggle against the Red Wings. Detroit in 5 games.
Chicago Blackhawks (C3) vs St. Louis Blues (C2)
Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin put the defending Stanley Cup champions on their backs this year. Kane led the NHL in points, winning the Art Ross Trophy while Panarin has arguably been the front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award the entire year. Both teams have injury problems in goal, however Corey Crawford should be ready to go and for St. Louis, Brian Elliott will start game 1 over the banged-up Jake Allen. Vladimir Tarasenko is the game’s most underrated player in my eyes, and this will lead to the elimination of the defending champions. St. Louis in 7 games.
Minnesota Wild (WC2) vs Dallas Stars (C1)
Dallas won the hotly contested Central division thanks to their high-flying offense led by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. John Klingberg has taken a huge step forward this year and could become an elite offensive defenseman with a few more years like the one he just had. However, keeping goals out of their net has been a problem the entire year. Minnesota accumulated the least amount of points of any NHL playoff team, but still has the solid Devan Dubnyk and defenseman Ryan Suter, so they have what it takes to pull off the upset. As the cliché goes, defense and special teams win in the playoffs, and I believe Minnesota has the advantage. Minnesota in 7 games.
Nashville Predators (WC1) vs Anaheim Ducks (P1)
After a miserable start to the season, the Anaheim Ducks really turned it on since the new year. On December 30th, the Ducks were one point ahead of the last place Edmonton Oilers. When the season ended Sunday, Anaheim finished 33 points ahead of the Oilers and with a Pacific division crown in their back pockets. The Predators are led by arguably the best pair of defenseman in the league. Roman Josi had the second most assists of any defenseman while Shea Weber is regarded as one of the game’s best. Nashville’s downfall will be goaltending, as Pekka Rinne has had a down year. Anaheim will ride their second-half momentum to a comfortable series victory. Anaheim in 4 games.
San Jose (P3) vs Los Angeles Kings (P2)
After both teams missed the playoffs last season, the Kings and Sharks return to face each other in this battle of California. When these teams met in the 2014 playoffs, San Jose took a 3-0 series lead but the Kings won the next four in a comeback for the ages. The Sharks Joe Thornton had a fantastic bounce-back season, becoming a point-per-game player. They also acquired goaltender James Reimer from Toronto who has played fantastically since he has come to San Jose. However, I’ll take the experience in this series with Jonathan Quick once again leading Los Angeles to a series victory. Los Angeles in 7 games.