No offense to the holiday season, but the NHL playoffs bring the most wonderful time of the year. We started with 30 teams, but are now down to 16. In a couple months, only one team will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Today we’ll start with the Eastern Conference and have the Western Conference tomorrow.
Before we get into a playoff breakdown, I want to let everyone know that I’m running an NHL.com Playoff Bracket Challenge. I will be offering a small prize for the winner all you have to is click this link and enter in the password playoffs to get in.
If you like (or dislike) my predictions, tweet me @DanMountSports or leave comments below. Let’s get to it.
Boston (1) vs. Detroit (2nd Wild Card)
Records: Boston (54-19-9, won top seed in East); Detroit (39-28-15, second Wild Card)
Season series: Detroit won 3-1
Players to watch: Boston, David Krejci (19 goals-50 assists); Detroit, Gustav Nyquist (28 goals-20 assists). Krejci leads a very balanced Bruins scoring attack. Nyquist spent the early part of the season the AHL with Grand Rapids for almost singlehandedly turning around the injury-riddled Wings season.
X-factors: Boston, Dougie Hamilton; Detroit, Jimmy Howard. Hamilton leads an injury-riddled defense corps for Boston. Hamilton took charge last season when the same thing happened. People bag on Jimmy Howard all the time, but he carried the Wings past the Ducks and almost by the Blackhawks. He’s bounced back from injuries and is ready to go.
Prediction: I like the future of the Red Wings team, but they’re running into a stout Bruins team. I’ll take Boston in six games.
Tampa Bay (2) vs. Montreal (3)
Records: Tampa Bay (46-27-9, second in Atlantic); Montreal (46-28-8, third in Atlantic)
Season series: Tampa Bay won 3-1
Players to watch: Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos (25 goals-15 assists); Montreal, Max Pacioretty (39 goals-21 assists). Stamkos missed a good chunk of the season after breaking his leg, but has turned it on as of late. Pacioretty has a team-high 10 goals on the power play. He’ll look to make the Ning in extra-man situations.
X-factors: Tampa Bay, Kirsters Gudlevskis and Anders Lindback; Montreal, PK Subban. Tampa had a solid goaltending situation, but the wrist injury to Ben Bishop has thrown this series into doubt. Bishop could come back later in the series. Not many former Norris Trophy winners don’t know where they may be playing this year, but Subban is in that situation. He is a -4 this season, and is playing for a big contract.
Prediction: Bishop could come back to save the Lightning, but Carey Price and the Habs are carrying all of Canada’s hopes as they are the only playoff team north of the border. Montreal wins this in seven.
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Columbus (1st Wild Card)
Season series: Pittsburgh won 5-0
Players to watch: Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby (36 goals-68 assists); Columbus, Sergei Bobrovsky (32-20-5, 2.38 GAA, 5 shutouts.) Sid the Kid is the MVP of the league hands down. Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy and helped get the Jackets into the postseason.
X-factors: Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury; Columbus, James Wisniewski. Fleury has a Stanley Cup under his belt, but has really struggled the last few seasons. A deep run would silence his critics. Wisniewski will have his hands full dealing with Crosby and the Penguins.
Prediction: The Blue Jackets worked hard to get here, but the Penguins are on a mission. They’ll be wary and win this series in 6.
New York Rangers (2) vs. Philadelphia (3)
Season series: Tied at 2
Players to watch: New York, Henrik Lundqvist (33-24-5, 2.36 GAA, 5 shutouts); Philadelphia, Claude Giroux (28-58). Lundqvist has found his game after getting silver in Sochi. After a slow start, Giroux has willed this team after Craig Berube took.
X-factors: New York, Martin St. Louis; Philadelphia, goalies Steve Mason and Ray Emery. St. Louis came over in the deal that sent Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay. However, the ageless one has found it hard to score in New York. Mason took a shot in the game against Pittsburgh and sat out against the regular season finale Carolina. Goaltending has been a question mark in recent season for the orange and black, but Mason has played well in spots this season. Emery could be pressed into service if Mason can’t suit up.
Prediction: In the words of Mr. T in Rocky 3, PAIN!!! It will be a street fight, but Lundqvist and the Blueshirts will have just enough to top their hated rivals. Rangers in seven.
That’s it for today, but I’ll have the Western Conference playoff predictions tomorrow. Take care and let’s get ready for hockey.
Dan Mount is an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.