Five Stanley Cup series begin tonight

April 12, 2018 - 1:50 pm
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(WGR 550) - The other five Stanley Cup Playoff series get started on Thursday with top-seeded Nashville hosting 16th ranked Colorado.

The Preds deserve to be the Presidents Trophy winner with a well balanced offense and the best set of defensemen in the NHL.

The Predators have Roman Josi leading the way on the blue line. The captain had 53 points which was second to P.K. Subban who scored 16 goals and had 59 points.

Ryan Ellis might have beaten them both if he wasn’t held to 44 games. He had nine goals and 32 points.

Mattias Ekholm is solid and Alexei Emelin is another former Montreal Canadien on the blue line.

These guys love being part of the rush, but they are also rock solid in their own end. The breakout passes are always tape-to-tape which gives them quite a bit of time in the offensive zone.

Until last year when he led Nashville to the Stanley Cup Finals, Pekka Rinne had been a playoff failure. He could never make the big save at the big time like he would in the regular season. Last year in 22 playoff games, Rinne had a save percentage of .930 and a goals against of 1.96. That’s compared to his lifetime playoff save percentage of .917.

This season, Rinne was superb stopping 92.5 percent of the shots he faced to go with eight shutouts.

All that is impressive, but so is the offense. First, there’s Viktor Arvidsson with 29 goals. Then you get Filip Forsberg with 26 in just 67 games and Craig Smith with 25. Kevin Fiala had 23 and so it goes.

Nashville got Ryan Hartman from Chicago which gave them even more depth. Kyle Turris rolled in from Ottawa had provided help at center.

I think getting Nick Bonino from Pittsburgh where he won two Stanley Cups was also a great move by the Preds.

Nashville is second in the league on defense and seventh in scoring.

With all this talent, I’m surprised the Preds power play is only 14th. Nashville takes a lot of penalties, so the penalty killing has to be good and it is, it's sixth. 

Colorado went from last place in the NHL to a playoff spot. The Avalanche can thank Nate MacKinnon for that. The Hart Trophy candidate was second in league scoring with 1.31 points per game. Only Connor McDavid was better at 1.32.

In 74 games MacKinnon had 39 goals and 58 assists for 97 points. Mikko Rantanen was next with 84 points in 81 games. The winger was the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Tyson Barrie is a handful joining the play from the defense, but he isn’t that good in his own end. Barrie had 14 goals and 57 points in 68 games.

Erik Johnson is Colorado’s number one defenseman, but he’s injured to start the series. Johnson plays over 25 minutes per game.

Colorado got defenseman Sam Girard from Nashville in the Matt Duchene trade. The 19-year-old really came on once he got some power play time.

Semyon Varlamov’s goals against was not good at 2.68, but his save percentage was a respectable .920. He will miss the first round with an injury so former Leaf Jonathan Bernier gets the crease. He has only played five Stanley Cup playoff games and is 1-2. 

Colorado is fourth in the league on the penalty kill and eighth on the power play.

This is the first time these two teams have met in the playoffs. Nashville won all four games between the two teams in the regular season and I don’t see that changing.

 

The final Western Conference series to get started is number 11 San Jose at number nine Anaheim. Former Sabre Evander Kane is going to get to play in his first ever Stanley Cup playoff game after 574 regular season games with the Sharks, Sabres, Winnipeg and Atlanta.

Kane scored nine goals and 17 points in 19 games with the Sharks after the Sabres traded him. That gave him 29 goals on the season in 78 games. San Jose was 12-6-1 with Kane in the lineup.

Joe Thornton is injured as he’s only played 47 games this season.

None of the Sharks team numbers jump out at you other than the fact that they’re second in the NHL on the penalty kill.

Brent Burns fell back to 12 goals this season after scoring 29 from the blue line last year. He still led the Sharks in scoring with 67 points in 82 games.

San Jose got 34 goals from Logan Couture and 22 each from Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl.

Martin Jones has 32 playoffs games under his belt and has a playoff save percentage of .925.

This season he was inconsistent, but finished strong. In 60 games, he only had a .915 save percentage.

San Jose was 3-0-1 against the Ducks this season.

Former Sabre Ryan Miller hasn’t had a playoff game since 2015 when he played three for Vancouver. His career playoff save percentage is also just .915, but he took over for John Gibson at the end of the regular season.

Miller played 47 playoff games with the Sabres leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals twice. Miller finished the regular season, but it was Gibson in net to start Game 1. He's played 22 playoff games and is 11-9 with a 2.66 goals against and .917 save percentage. 

The Ducks do have trouble scoring as they’re 19th in the NHL. Rickard Rakell had 34 and Adam Henrique had 24 between Anaheim and New Jersey.

Ryan Getzlaf doesn’t score a lot of goals, but he had 50 assists this season in 56 games. That would be 73 assists over a full season.

Corey Perry is 32-years-old and isn’t even close to being what he used to be scoring just 17 and 19 goals the past two seasons.

With all the injuries the Ducks have endured this season, it’s almost amazing that they’re even in this position.

This is only the second time these two teams have played in the playoffs. The Ducks won the first time in six games.

 

In the Eastern Conference, third seeded Tampa Bay is going to try to do something its never done before, beat New Jersey in a playoff series. The Lightning has lost both time they’ve played in 2003 and 2007.

This series features two legitimate MVP candidates. Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov finished third in league scoring netting 39 goals and 61 assists for 100 points. Former first overall pick Taylor Hall showed why this season for the Devils. He amassed 39 goals and 54 assists for 93 points which was sixth overall in scoring.

Kucherov has a much better supporting cast around him as Tampa Bay leads the NHL in goals. Steven Stamkos ended the season hurt, but had 86 points in 78 games.

Brayden Point went from 18 goals to 32 while Yanni Gourde scored 25 in his first full NHL season. The 26-year-old was never drafted and played in the ECHL before Tampa Bay signed him as a free agent in 2014. Point was a third round pick in 2014.

Tampa Bay acquired J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the Rangers and Miller had 23 goals this season.

McDonagh adds to an already solid defense that’s led by one of the best in the league in Victor Hedman. Hedman is big and strong in his own zone and added 63 points to the offense.

Steve Yzerman fleeced the Canadiens acquiring defenseman Mikhail Sergachev for the under achieving Jonathan Drouin. Tim Murray made a huge mistake passing on Sergachev to take Alex Nylander. Buffalo desperately needed defensemen, but Murray passed on Sergachev, Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Chychrun.

Tampa Bay has All-Star Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. He had a .920 save percentage this season. In 12 career playoff games he’s 4-5-0 with a 2.85 goals against and .920 save percentage.

The 15th ranked Devils come in 3-0-0 against the Lightning this season.

If you would’ve told me that New Jersey would make the playoffs and Keith Kincaid would get the nod in goal over Cory Schneider, I would’ve told you that you were wrong.

This is just another example of why you don’t give up number one picks for goalies. In 2013, the Devils traded a number one pick to Vancouver which the Canucks turned into Bo Horvat. Where did it get the Devils? In five seasons, New Jersey didn’t make the playoffs until Kincaid won the job. In 41 games, the 28-year-old college free agent is 26-10-3 with a 2.77 goals against and .913 save percentage. He signed out of Union College.

Another college free agent, Will Butcher got off to a hot start. The defenseman had 44 points in 81 games. Butcher won a National Championship at Denver. 

New Jersey gave up scoring to get defenseman Sami Vatanen from Anaheim. It’s a trade New Jersey had to make as they’re 17th in team defense.

Joining Hall up front is last June’s first overall pick Nico Hischier. He had 20 goals and 52 points which was second on the Devils, but 41 points behind Hall. That is a big reason why there's a push for Hall to win the Hart Trophy. 

Michael Grabner was acquired from the Rangers, but he only had two goals in 21 games with the Devils.

The one place the Devils have an advantage is Tampa Bay finished 28th in the league on the penalty kill.

 

Toronto and Boston meet for the 15th time in the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Leafs holding an 8-6 advantage.

I like the way the Bruins are made up and they’re my upset choice to win the Cup.

Boston has the best two-way player in the game in Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron has won the Selke Trophy four times and has come in second twice. This season, he had 30 goals and 33 assists for 63 points in 64 games.

David Pastrnak was the Bruins first round pick in 2014 and has scored 69 goals in his last two seasons.

Brad Marchand is maybe the dirtiest player in the NHL, but he had 34 goals this year to follow up seasons of 39 and 37 goals. Three years ago, Marchand had a career high 61 points. In the past two seasons, he’s had 85 points in each year. Here’s an example I could use when I say that there is no statistical evidence to back me up, but Ryan O’Reilly should be a consistent 70 point man.

Rick Nash came over from the Bruins and had just three goals in 11 games. Former Sabres captain Brian Gionta signed for the final 20 games and had two goals and five assists for seven points.

The defense still has Zdeno Chara and I mentioned McAvoy earlier who also plays well for them, but he’s had injuries.

Tuukka Rask’s save percentage fell to .917 this season. Rask has performed in 53 playoff games and has a .928 save percentage. I think he’ll be OK.

The Bruins are third on the league on the penalty kill and fourth on the power play.

Toronto comes in second on the PP and fourth overall in goals scored. Freddie Andersen is another goalie where a heavy price was paid for to get him. The Leafs gave Anaheim a first and a second round pick to get him which is horrendous value.

Andersen does come with playoff experience. Between Toronto and Anaheim, Andersen has played 34 playoff games and has an unimpressive .915 save percentage.

For the Leafs it’s all about scoring goals. The defense isn’t that good and if they are to win, it falls to the offense.

The offense is really good led by Auston Matthews. He ripped home 34 goals and 63 points in 62 games.

James van Riemsdyk can’t skate, but he knows where goals are scored. He hit for 36 goals and most of them were probably within 10 feet of the net.

Nazem Kadri is a pain to play against and he can also make you worry more about getting him back than playing your own game. He makes you pay when that happens as he scored 32.

Mitch Marner had a slow start, but he led the Leafs in scoring with 69 points.

Patrick Marleau was a great signing because the 38-year-old is a great mentor for Matthews and Marner. Marleau is exactly the type of player Jason Botterill needs to get to mentor Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart.

Not only is Marleau a great leader, but he chipped in with 27 goals in 82 games. This guy shows up with 177 games of playoff experience.

 

The final series to talk about is 14th rated Columbus against sixth seeded Washington. I of course will get to Alex Ovechkin, but the surprise here is Philipp Grubauer has taken away the goaltending chores from Braden Holtby. The 26-year-old was a fourth round pick in 2010. This season, he’s 15-10-3 with a 2.35 goals against and .923 save percentage. Holtby had slipped down to .907. Grubauer has only started one playoff game which he won giving up three goals.

This is the first time these two teams have met in the playoffs.

Ovechkin is 32-years-old, but still led the NHL with 49 goals. In 1003 games he has 607 goals which rank him 19th in NHL history, one behind Dino Ciccarelli and three in back of Bobby Hull. That is an average of 50 goals per season over 82 games.

Evgeny Kuznetsov had a career year scoring 27 goals. Nick Backstrom was down this year with 50 assists. Yes, that’s crazy to me, but he was over 60 in three of the four seasons before this.

John Carlson helps the power play and the offense with 68 points.

The defense can be weak with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen.

This is only the fourth playoff series in Columbus Blue Jackets history. They’ve lost twice to Pittsburgh and once to Detroit.

Sergei Bobrovsky has won the Vezina twice, but his next good playoff series will be his first good playoff series.In 18 playoff games he’s 3-10 with a 3.63 goals against and .887 save percentage. He is so good in the regular season, but can’t seem to make a big save in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne was able to shake it, so maybe Bobrovsky can too.

Columbus is 17th in the league at scoring goals, but it did acquire former Sabre Thomas Vanek from Vancouver. In 19 games Vanek had seven goals and eight assists for 15 points. Vanek had 24 goals overall.

Before the season started, the Blue Jackets acquired Artemi Panarin from Chicago and he was their leading scorer with 27 goals and 82 points.

Seth Jones is turning into one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League. Jones plays almost 25 minutes per game and had 57 points and made this year's All-Star game. 

Cam Atkinson had a terrible start to the season, but finished with 24 goals.

I think the only way Columbus can win this series is if Bobrovsky figures out the playoffs and steals the series for them. 

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