NHL Playoff Qualifier Picks

29 07 2020

Here we go folks. 

Nothing quite like the NHL playoffs.  16 teams 24 teams enter and 16 (or 19?) wins later a cup champion is crowned.  The play in round this year adds another few games to what is already one of the hardest tournaments to win in professional sports. 

Let’s look at the play in series and how I read each one.

Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12)

Pittsburgh was one of the most burned teams by the new format just missing out on the safety of passing the play in round.  They now get to face one of the best goaltenders of the past decade in a short 5 game series to determine who moves on.  Luckily Price has not been playing well for the past 12-18 months but that isn’t to say that he thought of him having a hot series isn’t making the Penguins sweat a little.  Under Julien the Habs play a tight and disciplined game so they will by no means be a pushover even though they are outclassed dramatically on both defense and forward positions.  Sullivan is the stronger coach and will be able to adapt quickly should he need to but with a healthy roster for the first time in over a year he should be able to coast on skill alone.  Assuming Murray starts the biggest concern for the Penguins will be if his experience outweighs the fact that Jarry has been significantly better this season.  Murray has two cups and over 40 playoff wins while Jarry has not even dressed for a playoff game so Murray will get the nod but be on a short leash.

Habs win if Price returns to form.  Pens win if he doesn’t.

My pick: Pens in 4, I have a hard time seeing the Habs overcoming the difference in talent on F and D but can’t see the Pens keeping their heads straight enough for a sweep

Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)

The Hurricanes are building an exciting team to watch and have a ton of young talent.  They are well balanced and finished ahead of the Rangers this season.  The Rangers offense is dangerous and they own the Hurricanes lately with a 4-0 record head to head before the pause.  I want to think the Hurricanes are going to get over the hump and push into the playoffs but the difference in goal is drastic.  I would take any of the three Ranger goaltenders before a Hurricanes goalie.  Be it Shesterskin, Lundquvist, or Georgiev they outshine Mrazek or Reimer. Cannot shake the feeling that the Rangers are feeling no pressure and have the Hurricanes number.

Carolina wins if Mrazek plays better than whoever the Rangers start.  He won’t.

My pick: Rangers in 4

New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10)

First thought here is that this is a matchup of offense, which Florida has, and defense, which the Islanders have.  In net Varlamov and Griess do not inspire a ton of confidence but they should be able to perform better than a not-what-he-once-was Bobrovsky. Most interesting matchup here for me is the ‘stache Quennville against Barry Trotz. You never bet against the ‘stache in the playoffs, until you do.  Trotz has the Islanders playing an organized system and the edge in net will make the difference.  Florida couldn’t take advantage of all the opportunities the Leafs gave them to make the original playoff cutoff and I doubt they can take advantage of the play in here.

Florida wins if Quennville can find a way to break the Islander defense.  The Islanders win if they can control the Panthers top two and win the goaltending matchup.

My pick: Islanders in 5, but I don’t love it.

Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

Way too much firepower on the Leafs to even compare the forward groups. Columbus has a distinct advantage with a deep defense, but it will still struggle to control the potent Leaf offense. In goal Andersen needs to be a little better, the Leafs will score so he doesn’t need to be great but better than he was in the paused season.  Torts will outcoach Keefe and to be honest I think the bubble will be more entertaining if Torts can find a way to hang around for a bit. In the end the Jackets will try to play a tight game and hang in there keeping it close to let a great goaltending performance or a timely goal decide the series.  The pressure on the Leafs is immense but I think they can do just enough, even if I am rooting for it to go the other way.

Columbus wins if they can keep the Leafs to under 2.5G a game (they were at 3.4 in season).  Leafs win if they keep regular season scoring pace or if Andersen settles into a groove early.

My pick: Leafs in 5 but I really hope it goes the other way just for the Torts interviews

Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)

After so many years of failure the Oilers finally seem ready to take the next step.  Yes, the power of McDavid and Draisaitl help to hide some concerns on defense and in net but these are not the Blackhawks of 2014.  Kane, Toews, and Crawford could possibly find a way to step up and deliver here but it feels like the window has closed already.  If Crawford doesn’t raise his game to the playoff beast as he has before it won’t even be a long series.

Chicago wins if the hotel hot tub takes them back to 2016 or earlier.

My pick: Oilers in 3

Nashville Predators (6) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (11)

Nashville forwards have been inconsistent and Rinne has been just terrible.  At what point do we start to label Duchene a team killer?  After this series likely.  Phoenix seemed to get worse as the year went on but showed some promise early in the season.  Hall is playing for a contract and Kessel could show up for the playoffs like he did for the Penguins after just 14 goals in season.  Neither team can be relied upon and it will likely be one of the ugly series so I will take the Coyotes goaltender to win in ugly fashion.

Nashville wins if Rinne remembers who he is and actually plays net. Coyotes win if Hall and Kessel have any pride left.

My pick: Coyotes in 4

Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10)

Any time a young team overperforms I like to pick against them that first year since they need to learn to lose before they can really win.  The Canucks are that young upstart team this year and they play a fast paced game that is very entertaining.  Markstrom has proved to be the real deal on the back end and with a rookie of the year candidate they fit in as that team that needs to lose almost a little too well.  The wild pulled it together and had an acceptable season but not a remarkable one.  They have a good group of players up front and on the back end playing a solid if boring style of game.  I would lean towards the wild if they had a consistent goaltender but they do not. Dubnyk will drop a game or two early and they will compete but not be able to fully recover.

My pick: Vancouver in 5

Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)

I really wish these guys weren’t playing one another.  Calgary is fun to watch.  They have big talent in Gaudreau and Tkachuk with a strong defensive core to back them up.  The Jets can be explosive in their own way with Laine, Connor, and Scheifele.  While Calgary maintains a slight edge on defense, and likely up front, in net it is a whole different story.  No matter how well Calgary plays they are likely to be shut down by Hellebuyck on his way to the Vezina trophy. In a short series I will lean toward the goalie when everything else is close to equal as it is in this case. It will be interesting to see if the Jets can go on a run away from their white rush at home.

Calgary wins if Hellebuyck goes down or plays like an average goaltender.  Jets win if he performs even 80% of what he did in the regular season.

My pick: Winnipeg in 4

Good luck to whichever team you are cheering for and enjoy the return! May the power of the bubble prevail.


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