Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff First Round Picks- Eastern Conference

The first games of the first round begin Wednesday. That means there isn't much time to submit your picks for the Bracket challenge or for your office pool, or bragging rights.

Let's get right to the Eastern Conference:

Considering the Panthers were top in the Atlantic and the Islanders were a wild card team, it sounds like this would be a mis-match. But consider there was only 3 points separating the two teams (FLA- 103, NYI- 100) and this has a good possibility of a long series.
  • The Panthers have had a spectacular season making the playoffs with a solid team effort with ageless wonders, Jaromir Jagr (44 years old) and Roberto Luongo (37 years old) and young stars, Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov. Their special teams are anything but special, ranked in the bottom third of the league for both the pk and pp.  
  • The Islanders begin and end with most of it's offensive production from John Tavares. He carries this team like no other player in the league. Their defence is slim if they are without Travis Hamonic for any part of the first round with only John Boychuk and Nick Liddy providing experience on the back end. If Halak is out for the start the playoffs, the Isles will rely on Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube in the nets. With or without Halak, the Panthers have a huge edge in goal with Luongo who has much more playoff experience.
For me, in the playoffs goaltending is such a key. With that in mind I don't believe the Isles can hold off the fire-power of the revitalized offensive of the Panthers lead by old man, Jagr. Tough to call, could be 6 or 7.
Panthers in 6

Twenty five years, that's how many years in a row the Detroit Red Wings have participated in the post-season. With that in mind, they only clinched a berth in this year's playoffs on the second last day of the season after their last game they actually lost 3-2 to the Rangers. Fortunately, the Boston Bruins also lost in a 6-1 blowout to the non-playoff bound Sens. Last season, the Lightning eliminated the Wings in the first round after the Wings blew a 3-2 series lead winning in 7.
  • The Lightning will be without key players for at least the first round with Steven Stamkos out with a blood clot and Anton Stralman out with a fractured left fibula. They have a weak pp (28th), but decent pk (7th) and without the aforementioned Stamkos and Stralman, their pp doesn't look promising.
  • The Wings seem to be mediocre in all aspects. Their offence can't score, their defence provides little help offensively, their goaltending has been uneven and their special teams have been low-middle of the pack. They are at least consistent, so they don't have any blaring weaknesses. Zetterberg and Datsyuk will be counted on for their experience and the Wings hope they can stay healthy to aide the Wings popgun offense.
If the Lightning can tighten up defensively and Bishop plays well, the Lightning have a very good chance. This is a tough call, but with the Lightnings injuries I think the Red Wings will somehow pull off the upset, if you can even call it that. This will go the distance.
Red Wings in 7

By Alex Brandon/AP

Stat-wise, this series has the biggest gap in points differential with the Capitals 24 points ahead of the Flyers in the standings. There wouldn't be a bigger upset if the President's trophy winners bowed out in the first round. That's the great thing about the playoffs, anything can happen and anyone can beat anyone if the stars align properly and momentum is on the side of the Flyers.
  • The Flyers did indeed ride on momentum to push themselves into the playoffs. The Flyers went 20-9-6 after the all-star break to capture the second wild card spot in the East. With the unexpected rise of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere on D and career seasons from Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, the Flyers won't be a cakewalk. Of course, Claude Giroux and Jakob Voracek can provide plenty of offensive. Their goaltending is solid enough with both Steve Mason And Michal Neuvirth capable of winning a game or two.
  • The Washington Capitals are probably the deepest and most feared team in the league. They breezed through the regular season with a high powered offense (five players over 50 points), lots of depth on D and possibly the best goalie in the league this year, Braden Holtby.
While an upset of the top-seeded team in the league is a lovely scenario, I think the Caps have too much going for them. The Flyers might win one of the first two games in Washington and maybe win one more at home, but these are high expectations. Apart from the on ice performance of the Caps stars, Barry Trotz is a very shrewd, levelheaded coach. If things go off the rails, I'm confident he'll steer the ship the right way. Oh, and did I mention that Holtby is a very very good goalie.
Capitals in 5

The New York Rangers have eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins from the playoffs the last two seasons. The Rangers seemed comfortably safe near the top of the Met, but a surging Penguins team that had a great March and April squeaked by the Rangers to finish 3 points ahead. Much of this series might come down to the health of key players on both teams.
  • The Penguins have been without Malkin for an extended period of time already and believe it or not their offensive output hasn't been hurt too much. On paper, the Penguins don't have as much depth in key positions, but they have a hot Sidney Crosby and a healthy Kris Letang. Question mark is in goalie with M-A Fleury still feeling the effects of a concussion last month. He might not start the series, and if backup Matthew Murray can't go as well, they could be in trouble.
  • The Rangers might be without their best defenceman, Ryan McDonagh for some of the first round and their forwards are inconsistent., but they have Lundqvist in goal. Will Eric Staal be a factor?
If the series comes down to goaltending, the Pens could be reeling if Fleury can't go. This means the Pens offense has to be in high gear and useful contributions from Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin could help Crosby push this to another gear. The Rangers are solid throughout, but I have a hunch the Penguins will shake the monkey off their back and eliminate the Rangers in a fast paced, interesting series.
Penguins in 6

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