Stanley Cup Playoff Previews – Part 2
Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild
It seems like every season the Minnesota Wild limp their way into the postseason. This year was no exception, costing head coach Mike Yeo his job halfway through this season. On the other side, Dallas finished with 109 points and the top seed in the Western Conference. The Stars had a torrid offense and led the NHL in goals per game this year. This series will come down to whether Minny’s defense can withstand Dallas’ potent offense and whether the Wild can exploit the Stars weak goaltending.
Stars to Watch
The duo of Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin- They were both heading towards career seasons until Seguin went down with an achilles injury in mid-March. Benn still finished the season with 89 points–good for second in the NHL– but didn’t look the same without his linemate. The Stars do have depth, with Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza being very capable scorers, but with Seguin’s status uncertain, more pressure will be put on Benn. If Benn and Seguin can play together again, especially on the league’s fifth-rated power play, it will be reignite one of the league’s top duos.
Kari Lehtonen/Antti Niemi- The biggest question mark surrounding this Dallas team all season was if they could keep the puck out of the net. The answer to that question for most of the season was no. The Stars allowed 2.78 goals per game, worst for any of the 16 playoff teams. It is anyone’s guess who will be starting, but expect Lindy Ruff to run with whatever goalie gets hot. Luckily for Dallas’ net minders, they get a Minnesota squad that scored four combined goals over their last four games of the regular season.
Wild to Watch
Jason Pominville- We all know that Minnesota needs Ryan Suter to play well. But what about one of the most under performing forwards in the NHL this season? Pominville both has playoff experience both with the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota and needs to perform well if the Wild have any real chance in this series. He can score in big games, and can also be a factor on the power play and penalty kill. The Wild can’t afford to have any disappearing acts this series.
Despite the numerous question marks, the Stars should be able to slug past the Wild with offense. Devan Dubnyk is a capable goaltender for Minnesota, but even the league’s best goaltenders are going to have a hard time with this offense. Dallas in 5.
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings Preview
The ultimate chance for revenge. The Kings knocked the Sharks out of the postseason in both 2013 and 2014, with the latter featuring San Jose blowing a 3-0 series lead. The Kings, of course went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. The Sharks will once again be the underdog in this series, as the Kings have all the makings to once again make a deep run into June.
Sharks to Watch
Martin Jones- Johnathan Quick’s former backup gets the crease in this series, despite nearly getting beat out by James Reimer for the starting role. Because of that, he will be on an especially short leash in his first series as a playoff starter. The Sharks have allowed the second-most shots this season, but Jones posted above average numbers during the season. It will be interesting to see how he fares against a veteran Kings group that knows how to beat goalies in the playoffs.
Brent Burns- The man with the greatest beard in all of sports was second among NHL defensemen in scoring this year with a remarkable 75 points. Burns lit the lamp 27 times and was one of the main reasons that the Sharks had the third-best power play in hockey this year. Burns has struggled in previous trips to the playoffs with San Jose but the Sharks hope this time around is different.
Kings to Watch
Jeff Carter- Carter’s 2015-2016 regular season campaign doesn’t jump off the page as he finished with 62 points in 77 games, but Carter knows how to step out from the crowd in the biggest moments. Carter has 72 points in 111 career playoff games, including 25 in the 26 games it took for the Kings to win the Cup two years ago. San Jose will put most of its focus on the top line of Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli and Milan Lucic which will give Carter the chance to somehow fly under the radar.
I’ve learned to never pick against the Kings in the playoffs. Well, I’m picking against Los Angeles. I think San Jose matches up very well in this series and they are also looking to exercise the demons of the embarrassing playoff loss two years ago. It will be a tough, low scoring series. Sharks in 7.
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers Preview
Washington and Philly split a four-game regular season series, with the Caps taking the two matchups that ended in regulation and the Flyers winning in overtime and a shootout. After a 5-2 Washington win on Nov. 12, the three other matchups were all decided by one goal, making this a potentially closer series than the standings suggest; the Capitals had 56 wins and eight OT losses, giving them 120 points, while Philly posted 96.
Capitals to Watch
Alexander Ovechkin is the best scorer in the league, as he earned his sixth Maurice “Rocket” Richard award for most goals with 50. The only legitimate knock on him is that he hasn’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs thus far in his career. Ovechkin is joined on the first line by center Nicklas Backstrom, who scored 20 goals and tallied 50 assists, and right winger/Olympic hero T.J. Oshie, who was second on the team with 26 goals. Second-line center and leading point-getter Evgeny Kuznetsov may be the most important Capital in their playoff push. With 57 assists, he is the team’s top facilitator. Goalie Braden Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s all-time wins record this season with 48 victories. The two men had identical save percentages in their historic seasons, while Brodeur’s goals against average was 0.02 better.
Flyers to Watch
Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds pack a strong punch on the first line. Many of Giroux’s 45 assists have gone to Simmonds, who leads the team with 32 goals. Winger Brayden Schenn has lit the lamp 26 times on the second line, while defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (nicknamed Ghost Bear) has burst on the scene with 17. Steve Mason will get the start in net. The 27-year-old won 23 games in the regular season and will be counted on more than ever against the Washington attack. He last appeared in the playoffs in the 2013-14 season, when he was 2-2 with a 1.97 goals against average.
The Flyers did a nice job of getting into the postseason, but the Caps’ offensive firepower will be too much for them to overcome. Ovi and Co. will win in five or six games.
Nashville Predators vs Anaheim Ducks Preview
If you told anyone in December that the Anaheim Ducks would be in the playoffs, they would have rightfully laughed you off. Now, the Ducks enter the postseason as one of hockey’s hottest teams and are looking to make a deep run with a solid core of players. The Predators also had a nice turnaround after a slow start and look to build off of a 2-1 regular season series edge against the Ducks. This series features two of the winningest coaches in the league and two veteran rosters, as well.
Ducks to Watch
Frederik Andersen or John Gibson- head coach Bruce Boudreau has a tough choice to make in net, even joking that he may flip a coin to decide who he starts in game one. Gibson has the better regular season numbers, but Andersen would be a sure starter on most other teams. The Ducks are first in the NHL in goals against per game with 2.29,and also have the NHL’s best penalty kill. Whoever starts in net will have a solid defensive corps playing in front of them and great two-way skaters such as Ryan Kesler and Jamie McGinn.
Ryan Getzlaf- Getzlaf had a regular season to forget. He had one goal before Christmas and that was scored on an empty net. He had a much better second half of the season,rebounding with 13 goals and 50 assists for the year. However, Getzlaf becomes a different human come playoff time. In 97 career playoff games, Getzlaf has 94 points. The Ducks will look to carry the success of the number one ranked power play into the postseason and Getzlaf, along with Corey Perry, are the two key catalysts.
Predators to Watch
The other three lines- Yes, the Predators have a strong first line with Filip Forsberg and James Neal, but they need the other forwards to step up if they want any chance to advance. Ryan Johansen, who they acquired mid-season from Columbus, had eight goals with Nashville. Mike Ribeiro only had seven goals this year. Mike Fisher had 13 goals. The list goes on, but the I’m sure Peter Laviolette has gotten the message through to the rest of the locker room. Forsberg and Neal(64 and 57 points, respectively) have also been a force on the power play but will be tested going head-to-head with the league’s top penalty kill.
Most people aren’t giving Nashville a chance to even win more than one game in this series. I think any team that has a goalie like Pekka Rinne can’t be counted out in the playoffs. Rinne will allow the Predators to steal a few games, but ultimately the Ducks’ defense will suffocate the Predators. Anaheim in 7