Minnesota (4) vs. Colorado (1)
Prediction: Colorado in 6
Why: My biggest question mark with the Wild is in net. They’re heading into the post-season with a plan to lean on Ilya Bryzgalov, who’s been very good for them since they acquired him from Edmonton. Unfortunately, Bryzgalov is a career .913 goaltender (just below average for a starter), and that’s thanks in no small part to three seasons in Phoenix behind a tight defensive system that saw him post a .921, a .920 and another .921. Since then he’s played 101 games and has been borderline awful on the whole, which I tend to think is probably the goalie he actually is. His .908 save percentage in the post-season (38 games) isn’t all that stellar either.
The Colorado Avalanche are the NHL’s 4th highest-scoring team, scoring an average of three goals a game (okay, 2.99, whatever), which doesn’t bode all that well if your team isn’t super-comfortable with who’s between the pipes.
I do believe that the Avs are a gettable team. Certainly their abysmal possession numbers are concerning, and I’m not a huge fan of their d-corps (quite the opposite actually), but if Varlamov can give them the saves they need, I think they’ve got the grit and talent up front to get through the Wild in the first round. I particularly like that their core is so young. When that puck drops Thursday in Colorado, the Wild are going to need to weather what I think is going to be a pretty overwhelming initial storm.
Chicago (3) vs. St. Louis (2)
Prediction: Chicago in 6
Why: The St. Louis Blues are going to be brutal to play in playoffs. They have one of the NHL’s finest d-corps, legitimately good-to-great goaltending, and enough talent up front to make them tough to deal with.
But, they just happened to draw the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues “collapse” down the stretch really hurt their odds of winning the Cup.
Chicago has one of the few d-corps who can claim to be the equivalent of, or better than the Blues. They score the second-most goals of any team in the league (3.18), they get the third-most shots in the league (34.8), they barely give up any shots (27.2), and their possession stats are fantastic. They just have too much top-end talent that can break games open to bet against them, so y’know, I’m not going to.
Dallas (4) vs. Anaheim (1)
Prediction: Dallas in 6
Why: As much as I hate picking the “sexy” upset – I’m not the only one on this train right now, I know – it’s not that hard to justify.
* The Dallas Stars duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn can hang with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They finished a combined six points behind the Ducks duo, with all four players in the top 10 in NHL scoring. That’s pretty cool.
* The Anaheim Ducks aren’t even sure (or aren’t saying) who they’re going to start in net, and there’s a real chance it might be rookie John Gibson, who played three NHL games this season. I’ll take Kari Lehtonen in that head-to-head battle (for now). I’d take him over Jonas Hiller too.
* The Dallas Stars possession stats (Corsi and Fenwick when the score is close) are better than the Ducks’, who had crazy high PDO for the second straight year (and indication of getting “lucky,” to give you a ballpark, short explanation of what that means) . And you know how that went last playoffs.
* And lastly, I just like the Stars mix. Some of their “unknown” depth guys like Ryan Garbutt, Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel and Alex Chiasson are a real pain to play on top of being pretty talented. They have some older spice to the mixture (Whitney, Cole, Gonchar), and just seem to be coming into their own in general.
Los Angeles (3) vs. San Jose (2)
Prediction: San Jose in 7
Why: This series is all but a coin toss (they played four one-goal games this season), and goaltending could determine which side comes up. But given relatively equal goaltending, I’m leaning towards the Sharks.
The return of Tomas Hertl allows the San Jose lines to fall back into their natural order, and boy, what an order it is. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns have all been terrific this year. On their back-end, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Boyle have anchored a great group with Jason Demers, Brad Stuart and Justin Braun. The potential return of Raffi Torres could go a long way for San Jose too.
Home ice mattered when these two teams met last year in playoffs, and it mattered during the regular season this year. In general, I like San Jose’s team a lot, and if they can find a way to sneak by a fantastic hockey team in Los Angeles, who knows what they could do.
Eastern Conference predictions will be up tomorrow!