Even though the LA Kings officially began their reign as lame duck champions a couple days before Saturday’s 4-1 win against the San Jose Sharks, the fact at hand is that the NHL’s regular season is officially over, the playoff brackets are set, and there is no silver & black logo to be found on the charts, not even in an improbable 8th seed.
2015 will see a new team etched on Lord Stanley’s cup and now that all the regular season action (along with the last minute inclusions/eliminations) has ended, we get to see who will match up in the first round of the 2015 NHL Playoffs and make predictions about who will make it through to the second.
(1) Montreal Canadiens
(W) Ottawa Senators
Prediction: Ottawa in 6
I’ll take this opportunity to address that five Canadian teams made the playoffs this year, a nice showing considering only the Habs had a place last year. Given that hockey is Canada’s national pastime, they’ve made a pretty embarrassing show of Playoff appearances in recent years (2013 had three Canadian teams in the field, up from two in 2012) and it’s almost disappointing that AT LEAST two of the teams from up north will be eliminated in the first round. That said, a minimum of two red & white teams will be in the second round, so all hope is not lost.
As far as this match-up goes, the Senators have the momentum (and one of the most entertaining goalies in the league in Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond), but the Canadiens SHOULD have the edge. They’ve been solid all season, were within a breath of making the finals last year, and SHOULD edge out the Senators in this one. The Habs SHOULD win, but I don’t think they’re going to. The Senators won this same first round pairing in 2013, they’re a spunky squad, and frankly, the more we get to see the Hamburglar with his bucket off, the better.
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning
(3) Detroit Red Wings
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 5
The Bolts had the Red Wings’ number earlier in the season, but they did fall 4-0 to Tampa Bay in their last meeting just a couple weeks ago. This’ll be a fun series to watch, but I’m expecting Lightning to strike first and dispense with the Motor City squad.
(1) New York Rangers
(W) Pittsburgh Penguins
Prediction: New York in 5
This feels like an easy one to call. Pittsburgh BARELY made the final 8 (one of the girls on my hockey team- a HARDCORE Pens fan- was ready to hang up the fan gear for the season the night before they clinched) and the Rangers have GOT to still be pissed off about losing the way they did in the Cup last year. The Penguins won’t go out without a fight, but they also won’t move on to the second round.
(2) Washington Capitals
(3) New York Islanders
Prediction: Washington in 7
Best case scenario for either of these teams would be to wrap up in 4 so they have legs against the Rangers in the next round, but I don’t foresee that happening. These two teams were evenly matched during the season and that’s not gonna change for the playoffs. To the Islanders credit, I had counted them out mid-season when they were still looking good. They’ve been so hot and cold to end the season, however, that it’s hard to have confidence in them moving on.
(1) Anaheim Ducks
(W) Winnipeg Jets
Prediction: Anaheim in 5
The Jets will probably manage to notch one win at home, but without the Kings to get in their way, the Ducks are going to be a force to be reckoned with this postseason. They have a lot of young talent, strong lines, and two solid options between the pipes. Plus, Mighty Ducks, man. You gotta get behind a team rooted in knuckle pucks and the flying V.
(2) Vancouver Canucks
(3) Calgary Flames
Prediction: Vancouver in 6
Okay, let’s put this out there: I WANT CALGARY TO CRASH AND BURN. I was at the two home games where it looked like the Kings had the games all but locked up only to lost in OT. I watched as Quick sent pieces of his blocker into the netting after saving an IMPOSSIBLE 2-1 (or maybe even 2 on none…I forget) and then letting in the game winner seconds later. I sat screaming at the TV just a few nights ago watching the Flames extinguish the Kings’ playoff hopes.
I’m a grumpy girl without a team in this postseason so I’m going to treat the Flames the same way I approach the Lakers and root against whoever’s playing them. I also genuinely think the Canucks have this, so it’s a head & heart call.
(1) St. Louis Blues
(W) Minnesota Wild
Prediction: St. Louis in 5
Unless the Blues, I don’t know, go on a bad LSD trip or something (do hockey players do that? Would get lost in Tijuana with a bus full of hookers be more accurate?), I don’t see the Wild making it out of the first round. They had a strong run going into the end of the season but JUST dropped one to the Blues to end the season. Their chances are dodgy at best.
(2) Nashville Predators
(3) Chicago Blackhawks
Prediction: Chicago in 7
This is easily the toughest one to call. Even though neither team is a #1 seed, EITHER team could go all the way. Going for the Blackhawks is their stellar performance in past two postseasons (one of which was a Stanley Cup winning season), going against them is the four game losing streak they’re carrying into the Playoffs. YES, it was preceded by four game WIN streak, but the Playoffs are a “what have you done for me lately???” situation.
Luckily for the Hawks, the Predators are in a really similar situation. They’re on a SIX GAME slide preceded by a four game win streak. As solid (perhaps even unstoppable) as the Preds looked early in the season, it’s hard to imagine a team that hasn’t made the postseason the last two years being the ones to eliminate Chicago. HARD, but not impossible. If this series had taken place in the first few months of the season, it would be no stretch to imagine Nashville advancing. If THAT squad shows up, anything could happen.
Note: I changed the name of the team that would win three times before finally settling on the Blackhawks (even though my Blackhawks-loving buddy Rob- yeah, I’m calling you out, dick- lost a bet to me last postseason and never paid up because he’s too big a “rhymes with bushy” to have a Kings logo as his Facebook picture) as the team that’ll come out ahead. That said, go Preds.
These are my predictions. I don’t purport to have a magic hockey puck that spits out the results of sporting contests, so take ALL of this with a grain of salt. And some tequila. Shit. Now I need a drink. Go Kings!