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NHL Hockey Column: NHL Playoff Previews

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April 11, 2012
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2012 NHL Playoffs Round One Preview

Gates Imbeau
Hockey Writer, Fantrax


2012 NHL Playoffs Round One Preview

Every April, regular playoff poolies state that “this year is as tough as ever” to pick winners. While no match up is a guaranteed win, due to an inevitable upset, will this year's crop of favourites be poised to live up to their entitled fame? 

Let’s take a look :

East :

(1) NYR vs. (8) OTT –

 Why the Rangers will win :
- They have their Vezina-calibre Henrik Lundqvist playing like usual elite self.  
Brad Richards was one of the hottest players in March, finding excellent chemistry with Marian Gaborik andCarl Hagelin.
- Their depth, along with heart and soul players like Ryan Callahan will prove to be efficient. 
- They hold the “trend card” as the last three Stanley Cup winners started their respective season overseas. Fourth time charm?

Flip-side : Ottawa could win if Norris worthy Erik Karlsson and crew can play a good defensive game in front of their workhorse tender Craig Anderson.  There are still several players remaining from the Ottawa team that lost to the Ducks in the Stanley Cup final, so the experience is there. 


(2) BOS vs. (7) WSH –

Why the Bruins will win :
- The defending champs are hungry for another deep playoff run. They may not go all the way, but they won't go down without a fight.
- Like the Rangers, Boston has the depth. Guys like Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley will be very effective.
- Yes the Caps made the dance, but they are as broken as ever. Mind you, they did go 6-2-2 in their last ten. However, Boston edges them out in pretty much any category except for playing against Alexander Ovechkin.

Flip-side : Washington can win if they score early and often. Ovechkin needs to step up and carry the team.  With Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth out, Braden Holtby needs to hold the fort in the biggest test of his career.

(3) FLA vs. (6) NJD –

 Why the Devils will win :
- They have the leadership (Patrik Elias) and firepower (Zach PariseIlya Kovalchuk). They also have the experience in Martin Brodeur. Who knows? It may very well be his last kick at a good run. 
- Even though Florida surpassed many expectations, such as finishing third seed, playoffs are a whole new ball game and the Devils have been in the post season many times before.

Flip-side : Florida can win if they play their hearts out. If guys like Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg can calm the Panthers young core while Jose Theodore continues to play like his former self, they may pull an upset. Isn’t it odd calling the third seed the upset team? Wake up NHL!  


(4) PIT vs. (5) PHI

Why the Penguins will win :
- A healthy Sidney Crosby and a healthy Evgeni Malkin. Enough said. 
- Jokes aside, with a great supporting cast of James Neal and Kris Letang, among others, Pittsburgh is sitting as big time cup contenders. 
- This is going to be a long and physical series, but being PIM heavy may cost the Flyers. Pittsburgh’s speciality teams will take advantage of any slip.

Flip-side : The Flyers will win if they can get into their cross state opponents’ heads. If anybody can shake the Pens, it’s Philly. Fleury has had a couple of rough weeks leading into the playoffs, so if guys like Claude Girouxand Scott Hartnell can scare him early, this series is over.
 
Side Note : Both of the toughest match ups this year have to be the 4th and 5th seeded battles. It is a shame that one of these two teams has to be eliminated so quickly… but c’est la vie!

West

(1) VAN vs. (8) LAK

Why the Canucks will win :

- The President Trophy winners are only a year removed from a deep run that seen them go to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was devastating, but the team learned a great deal from those events. This leaves them hungry with unfinished business to take care of.
- Daniel Sedin should be ready by game one – meaning the offense is on, unlike the lack thereof in Los Angeles.
- Vancouver held the best goal differential in the West, this will match up nicely against Jonathan Quick. While Quick may have been one of the best tenders in the league this year, the Kings relied on him pretty heavily. With little rest, this may be of concern heading into the post season. 
- Last time these two teams met in the playoffs (2010), Vancouver manhandled the Kings. Déjà vu?

Flip-side : Los Angeles will win if they can turn their offensive slump around. They have the firepower in Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty, so something has to give. If they have been saving up for something, let it be this series. Quick can steal a few games, but he can’t win this series alone.


(2) STL vs. (7) SJS

Why the Blues will win :
- Fought through adversity early on (pre-Hitch, Jaroslav Halak) but managed to rise above and battle until the end, nearly clinching the President’s Trophy. The fire still burns.
- Last time Hitchcock had a defensive do-it-all team like this version of the Blues, his team won the Stanley Cup (then Dallas Stars).  His mould clearly works with this group.
- The locker room has a great balance of leadership, experience, firepower, to-be studs and defensive gems. The perfect recipe? 

Flip-side : San Jose will win if they embrace the title of underdogs and let Joe Pavelski alongside Logan Couture take the reins.  If Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle can sum up the years of past playoff experiences and use that to fuel the Shark Tank with confidence - especially Antti Niemi (who won with Chicago) - then this series may see an intense finish.


(3) PHX vs. (6) CHI

Why the Hawks will win :
- Another proven Championship team with the core still intact. 
- Even if Jonathan Toews is a question mark, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are more than capable to fill any gap left. Although, having Toews in the lineup would be icing on the cake for the Hawks.
- Chicago will need to drive the net and pepper Mike Smith with shots and they will. Smith has been stellar for the Coyotes this season so getting him off his game it won’t be easy. 

Flip-side : Phoenix can win if Smith continues to dominate, in turn shutting down Chicago’s attack. It will undoubtedly be a big test as many Hawks can score. Shane Doan, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata have a big workload, but maybe the motivation to give Phoenix fans what could be their last playoff run is as good as any reason to win.

 
(4) NSH vs. (5) DET 

Why the Predators will win :
 - If any team could match up against Detroit, it is Nashville. The Predators consistently meet up with the Red Wings during the regular season, and are familiar playoff foes. This time around though, Nashville will have home ice advantage. 
- This year’s rendition of the Predators is arguably the best crew the franchise has had pre-blow up. (The year they lost Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell etc…) 
- With Alexander Radulov back in the fold, this already deep team got even deeper. You can bet that Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will play their hearts out in front of Pekka Rinne.
  
Flip-side : Detroit can win if they keep Nashville’s shots at a minimum and play a full sixty minutes. Jimmy Howard will need to up his game as recent play (since coming back from finger injury) will get Detroit nowhere. This will be no walk in the park for either team, like stated earlier, both 4/5 seeded match ups are going to be divisional dog fights. 

 

Based on my predictions...

East :
(1) New York Rangers will meet (6) New Jersey Devils
(2) Boston Bruins will meet (4) Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs.

West :
(1) Vancouver Canucks will meet (6) Chicago Blackhawks
(2) St. Louis Blues will meet (4) Nashville Predators in the second round of the playoffs.

Stanley Cup Prediction :
New York over Nashville  
with Pittsburgh and Vancouver filling out the top four.

Let the games begin.

In addition to the Studs and Duds, Gates Imbeau pens the monthly Top 100 Keeper Roto Players at www.DobberHockey.com (every 15th). Catch him on twitter at @GM_Gates or by email at gates@gemcomdesigns.ca.

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