King Henrik could be difference maker for Rangers
By Lyle Richardson
The NHL regular season is over, and the real season begins. The new divisional playoff format has resulted in some interesting first-round matchups. Here’s my preview and predictions for the upcoming divisional semifinals.
Boston – Detroit
These Original Six franchises meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1957. The Bruins had the league’s best record but struggled against the Wings, dropping three of their four regular season games. The Bruins remain largely the same club which marched to last year’s Stanley Cup Final. The Wings were hampered by injuries this season, but they’re getting healthier and were bolstered by rising young stars like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser. In steady goaltender Tuukka Rask, the Bruins hold an edge between the pipes.
Bruins in six.
Pittsburgh – Columbus
This is the first time these two clubs have squared off in the postseason. The Blue Jackets are a good young team, featuring rising stars goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and centre Ryan Johansen. The Penguins led the league in man-games lost to injury (426), but their experience and talented depth (led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) tilts the advantage in their favour. The Penguins swept their season series in five games. It should take them around the same number of games to dispatch the Blue Jackets.
Penguins in five.
Tampa Bay - Montreal
This is the only the second time these two clubs have met in playoff action. The Lightning took three of four games from the Canadiens during the regular season. Injuries, however, are piling up for the Bolts. Among the sidelined is goaltender Ben Bishop, who kept them in playoff contention when superstar Steven Stamkos miss half the season to a broken leg. The Canadiens are healthier, trade deadline addition Thomas Vanek has significantly bolstered their offence, and goaltender Carey Price is having his best season to date.
Canadiens in six.
New York – Philadelphia
It’s the first time since 1997 these two clubs have faced off in the playoffs. Given their long history, it shouldn’t take long for these rivals to ramp up the intensity. This series could be the most physical of the divisional semifinals. They split their four-game regular season series (2-2-0). Expect this series to go the distance. Both clubs are evenly matched, but the Rangers hold a distinct advantage in goal with Henrik Lundqvist.
Rangers in seven.
Anaheim – Dallas
These two are meeting in the playoffs for the first time. The Ducks were among the NHL’s dominant teams while the Stars only qualified for the postseason last week. Still, the Stars held the advantage in their season series (2-1-0). Experience, however, works in the Ducks favour, led by superstars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The Stars will need their best players (Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Kari Lehtonen) to step up if they hope to pull off an upset.
Ducks in six.
San Jose – Los Angeles
These two are renewing what’s being called “The Battle of California,” clashing for the third time in four years. The Kings won the previous two playoff series, as well as this season’s series (3-1-1). The Sharks, led by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, have a reputation for falling short in the playoffs. The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, marched to the Western Conference Final last season and can’t be taken lightly this year. Thanks to goaltender Jonathan Quick and the Kings’ tight-checking defensive system, they’re likely to extend the Sharks playoff misery.
Kings in six.
Chicago – St. Louis
It’s a renewal of the old Norris Division rivalry between these two clubs. The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions, but the Blues hold the
edge in their regular season series (3-2-0). The Blues, however, struggled down the stretch. They’re also limping into the playoffs with six key forwards (including David Backes and T.J. Oshie) sidelined by injuries. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, will be getting back former playoff MVPs Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for this series. Their depth and experience should give them the edge.
Blackhawks in five.
Colorado – Minnesota
It’s the third time these two clubs have met in playoff competition. The Avalanche dominated their regular season series (4-0-1). This will be an interesting contest between the Avs’ high-octane offence and the Wild defensive style. Goaltending will be key in this series. Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov was among this season’s top goaltenders, while injuries have forced the Wild to turn to trade deadline acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov.
Avalanche in five.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with The Hockey News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.