Stanley Cup 2017, II: Hand Shoes and Horse Grenades

I II III IV V

This first round was kind of weird.  Like I said in the first post, there were teams like Edmonton and Toronto involved for the first time in a few years.  There were great teams like Minnesota and Columbus, both of whom set franchise record win streaks in the middle of the regular season, both losing with a whimper in five games.  The semi-dynasty Blackhawks: swept.  The 2016 Western Conference Champions: out in six to a team previously without a single playoff appearance in the last decade.  The Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals: pushed hard by a young upstart Toronto team.

But the weird part is, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.  I thought the Wild were overrated.  I knew the Sharks were toast.  My faith in the Jackets wasn’t strong.  A lot of people were already previously on the Preds’ bandwagon.  Delusional Leafs fans and pessimistic Caps fans aside, there were a few who knew Toronto was, in fact, that good.  I don’t know, it all leaves me with this weird feeling inside.  Maybe I should go with my gut more often.

Still looking alright, at least in comparison to the rest of my family in our league.  I feel nervous about St. Louis: see more below.

Canadiens vs Rangers: Well okay.  The New York Rangers pulled off what their cross-town rivals did last year: defeat the Atlantic division champion in round one, then move on to play for the playoff championship of a division they’re not even in.  I didn’t really watch this series too much, since there were often other games on at the same time, and I don’t have a lot to say first-hand.  What happened to Carey Price?  Were the Rangers just that much better?  Was my lack of faith in the Rangers’ misplaced?  I don’t know.  I’m going to have to take a far closer look at New York going into the next round.  No comment on how the P.K. Subban trade is playing out.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; NYR 2, MTL 0
2017-04-14; NYR 3, MTL 4 OT
2017-04-16; MTL 3, NYR 1
2017-04-18; MTL 1, NYR 2
2017-04-20; NYR 3, MTL 2 OT
2017-04-22; MTL 1, NYR 3
NYR defeats MTL: 4-2
Prediction: Canadiens in 5 ☓☓

Senators vs. Bruins:  There are a few things that happened that I didn’t see coming: the complete decimation of the Bruins’ blue line, though that did in fact begin before the series started, and the complete, utter domination of Erik Karlsson.  What I would give to have a defenseman star like that on my team’s blue line… It was a very close series in a first round completely full of them, hence the subtitle of this post.  Four games in OT, one of them in double OT.  A few bounces here and there and the Bruins are headed to Broadway.  Boston had a lot of youngsters up in the mix, which bodes well for their future, even as their stars of yore continue to age.  The Sens just keep chugging along though, despite not being all that exciting.  Clarke MacArthur is a great story, as is Craig Anderson.  I’d be happy to see their success continue.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; BOS 2, OTT 1
2017-04-15; BOS 3, OTT 4 OT
2017-04-17; OTT 4, BOS 3 OT
2017-04-19; OTT 1, BOS 0
2017-04-21; BOS 3, OTT 2 2OT
2017-04-23; OTT 3, BOS 2 OT
OTT defeats BOS: 4-2
Prediction: Bruins in 6

Capitals vs. Maple Leafs:  My goodness!  Did anyone see this coming?  The Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals were supposed to smite the Leafs in a walk.  And yet, the Leafs fought back, taking a quick lead in Game One to set the tone for what ended up being the closest series in what must be years.  Coyotes/Hawks in 2012 comes close, but that one featured a 4-0 blowout in addition to five OT games, whereas these were all one goal games with 4 OTs and a 2OT.  Insanity.  I’m exceptionally jealous of the young Leafs and all of their talent — three of their top 5 scorers in the regular season were rookies — and if they can take this defeat and learn from it, look out NHL.  The future in Toronto is extremely bright.  Meanwhile, as the Leafs took a brief series lead after Three, panic bells rung out in Washington.  Obviously this team has a history of choking, and when faced with this kind of “here we go again” feeling, they often collapse, despite their overwhelming talent.  Well, so far so good.  Thank goodness for the clutch-ness of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, eh?  The Caps live to fight another day.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; TOR 2, WSH 3 OT
2017-04-15; TOR 4, WSH 3 2OT
2017-04-17; WSH 3, TOR 4 OT
2017-04-19; WSH 5, TOR 4
2017-04-21; TOR 1, WSH 2 OT
2017-04-23; WSH 2, TOR 1 OT
WSH defeats TOR: 4-2
Prediction: Capitals in 7 ✓☓

Penguins vs. Blue Jackets:  Well, this was a letdown.  I picked the Penguins to win … and then Matt Murray went down in the opening warmups and I thought, well, maybe the Blue Jackets have a chance of stealing the series from an already banged up Pens squad.  But no, that’s not how this works.  The steady defense and goaltending of Columbus turned porous, letting in 3 goals or more every game.  Evgeni Malkin switched into beast mode — the kind that led him to a Conn Smythe win — and the Jackets were toast.  At least they won a game in their own building, which has a terrific atmosphere in the playoffs, but even that was nearly a blown lead.  Maybe next year Columbus, but for all I know, you’ll be a basement dweller again because this team makes no sense.  Pittsburgh?  I have no love for returning champions, so I hope this is the only success you see this year.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; CBJ 1, PIT 3
2017-04-14; CBJ 1, PIT 4
2017-04-16; PIT 5, CBJ 4 OT
2017-04-18; PIT 4, CBJ 5
2017-04-20; CBJ 2, PIT 5
PIT defeats CBJ: 4-1
Prediction: Penguins in 7 ✓☓

Blackhawks vs. Predators:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Good grief, this was a fun series to watch.  Even though I picked Chicago to win, I don’t regret anything.  The “freakin’ Chicago Blackhawks” were held to a total of three goals this series, shut down by the superior defense of the Nashville Predators and their brick wall of a goalie, Pekka Rinne.  Meanwhile, the Preds top line of Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Johansen has been an absolute killer, putting up 15 points in a four game sweep.  This team is scary good, like many expected them to be even as long ago as the offseason.  I’ve got St. Louis in the Cup Final on my bracket, but with this Preds team in the picture, I may regret that.  Meanwhile, Chicago, what the hell?  What uninspired, lackluster, mediocre nonsense was this?  No goals on home ice?  Coughing up a 2-goal lead in Game Three?  This isn’t the Hawks that won 3 in 6.  Maybe next year, you won’t even make the playoffs and spare yourselves another first round exit.  I keep saying it, but I really hope this is the year the team finally falls back to toiling on the edge of the playoff bubble or even dropping out entirely  Then, maybe the NHL and NBC can stop talking about them like they’re God’s gift to hockey.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; NSH 1, CHI 0
2017-04-15; NSH 5, CHI 0
2017-04-17; CHI 2, NSH 3 OT
2017-04-20; CHI 1, NSH 4
NSH defeats CHI: 4-0
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5 ☓☓

Wild vs. Blues:  Meanwhile, across/on the Mississippi, we had this scrappy series, hopefully the first of many between these clubs.  Minnesota was the favorite, for some reason, and I, in no uncertain terms, picked against them.  I had no faith in the Wild; somehow they exceeded that lack of faith and lost even sooner than I predicted.  What happened?  Jake Allen happened.  The Wild didn’t play badly.  In fact, I’d say they were the better team in most of their losses.  They just couldn’t beat the exceptionally hot goaltending of the Blues.  It was a very low scoring series overall, as Devan Dubnyk held his own on the other end, for the most part.  A pair of long OT games could have flipped the series to Minnesota, but they didn’t.  I put most of my prediction stock in the hotness of these two heading into the playoffs, and looking at what went down, it certainly played out as a continuation of that.  What’s next for Minnesota?  Is Boudreau’s honeymoon over?  Will they achieve greater, less unsustainable success next year?  Are they finally shedding those awful red uniforms for the greens they wear in the playoffs?  We’ll find out soon enough.

Playoff Series
2017-04-12; STL 2, MIN 1 OT
2017-04-14; STL 2, MIN 1
2017-04-16; MIN 1, STL 3
2017-04-19; MIN 2, STL 0
2017-04-22; STL 4, MIN 3 OT
STL defeats MIN: 4-1
Prediction: Blues in 6 ✓☓

Ducks vs. Flames:  Yeah, so, the Flames can’t win in Anaheim.  ’nuff said.

But seriously, this series was far closer than the final count would lead one to believe.  Each game was decided by one goal, save for a late empty-netter in Game Four.  Two of the late game-winning goals, including the OT winner, were fluky bounces.  This was a very even series.  Even flipping four coins, you’re going to get a sweep one way or the other in 1/16 of the results.  This one just happened to favor the Ducks.  These two aren’t really the most convenient or obvious rivalry, but this was probably the most brutal, feisty, and fun-to-watch series from that standpoint.  It helps that both teams are chock full of agitators (Kesler & Tkachuk, to name just two) and had not only recent playoff history, but a controversial regular season series as well.  Calgary: your future is bright.  Don’t do anything stupid this off-season as a response to the sweep.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; CGY 2, ANA 3
2017-04-15; CGY 2, ANA 3
2017-04-17; ANA 5, CGY 4 OT
2017-04-19; ANA 3, CGY 1
ANA defeats CGY: 4-0
Prediction: Ducks in 6 ✓☓

Oilers vs. Sharks:  Welp.  I picked the Oilers to win.  I had no doubt before the series began, and had no doubt after they tied Game Five.  In the middle was a total cluster.  The Sharks improbably won Game One, coming back from a 0-2 deficit to win in OT.  Then Cam Talbot shut down San Jose for two games.  Then San Jose dismantled Edmonton at home in what was the most entertaining (for me) game of the playoffs so far.  After the Sharks coughed up their lead in Game Five, I knew it was over, even before OT started.  I bought a ticket to Game Six before this happened, and I was optimistically expecting the Sharks to have a chance to close-out the series at home.  Instead, I entered the building knowing the Sharks were getting eliminated that night.  It was a slog of a game where the Oilers scored on two breakaways a minute apart in the second.  It got good late in the third after a Sharks goal, but a McDavid empty-netter with 0.3 seconds to go sealed the deal for Edmonton.  It was certainly a new experience getting to see the handshakes live — they’re far more anti-climactic than they appear on TV.  San Jose has an uncertain future.  I hope they retain their greybeards for a few more shots at a Cup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they walk.  That would certainly be the end of an era — and I can say that I was at their last game as a Shark.

Playoff Series
2017-04-13; SJS 3, EDM 2 OT
2017-04-15; SJS 0, EDM 2
2017-04-17; EDM 1, SJS 0
2017-04-19; EDM 0, SJS 7
2017-04-21; SJS 3, EDM 4 OT
2017-04-23; EDM 3, SJS 1
EDM defeats SJS: 4-2
Prediction: Oilers in 5 ✓☓

Not a bad first round.  I’m only really disappointed in Columbus.  Also the Battle of Alberta that we missed out on twice.  It featured the most OT in the first round, ever, as well as a pair of sweeps after an entire postseason without any.  My real rooting interest is gone, so I’m going to have to pick a bandwagon from one of the eight teams remaining to hop onto…


Advanced stats herein are taken from March 1st through the end of the first round, with the rankings being among the eight teams remaining.

 

A2. Ottawa Senators vs M4. New York Rangers:  And, like last year, the New York team from the wrong division will meet the 2nd seed in the Atlantic.  These two have, surprisingly, met once in the playoffs, and not too long ago, when the 1-seeded New York Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators in 7 games in 2012.  I don’t remember that series at all, hence the surprise.  And now I’m left with assessing two teams I’ve barely paid any attention to at all this year…

On the goaltending front, they’re pretty even.  Lundqvist looks good, but he’s on the down-slope of his career; Anderson has been solid, playing well enough to steal a few games from Boston.  Up front, the Rangers have speed and decent depth, whereas the Senators are more heavy up top, but they’ve had more production from unexpected places — Derick Brassard is leading the team in scoring.  Did you know that?  I didn’t.  The key, I believe, to this series is going to be defense.  Guy Boucher is the guy who infamously deployed the 1-3-1 system in Tampa, and the Senators are again the kind of team who can get a lead and sit on it as the game slowly expires.  Add in a superstar defenseman like Erik Karlsson, who has been outstanding this postseason, and New York suddenly looks like they might be in trouble.  Then again, Montréal had a very similar set of skills and that didn’t quite work for them.   I had neither of these teams advancing in my bracket so it really doesn’t matter who I pick.  I’m leaning toward New York, and I think it will be in six.  That means, for the first time in the current playoff format, a team will win a division it’s not even in.

Power Play%
OTT: 17.9%, 6th
NYR: 21.9%, 4th

Penalty Kill%
OTT: 73.6%, 8th
NYR: 78.9%, 5th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
OTT: 50.20%, 5th
NYR: 48.28%, 8th

PDO
OTT: 101.11, 6th
NYR: 100.85, 7th

Notable Injuries
OTT: Mark Borowiecki
NYR: none

Season Series
2016-11-27; OTT 2, NYR 0
2016-12-27; OTT 3, NYR 4
2017-04-08; NYR 1, OTT 3
OTT: 2-1-0
NYR: 1-2-0

 

M1. Washington Capitals vs M2. Pittsburgh Penguins:  For the second year in a row, we’ve got Caps-Pens in the second round.  What more can be said that hasn’t been said already?  The Caps are the perennial playoff disappointment.  The Pens are one the league’s darling franchises, and now they’re the defending champs.  Conventional wisdom this year says that if the Capitals are to win the Cup, they have to go through Pittsburgh to do it.  They’ve yet to beat them in a playoff series in the Ovechkin/Crosby era; hell, they’ve yet to win a second round series either.  I decided the Caps were my Cup pick, probably foolishly, yet I’ve found no reason to unstick myself from it.  I had this matchup in my prediction and went with Washington.  The Pens are banged up; they may still be without their star rookie goaltender.  The Caps are not, yet took what felt like an eternity to beat the kids in Toronto.  Maybe they’re more driven next round.  Maybe they’re somehow not that good.  I don’t know.  I’m still in an “anyone but Pittsburgh” place, so Washington it is.  Capitals in seven.  I don’t want to pick another six game series.  Five would be a surprise either way.  Four is right out!

By the way, this is the last straw.  If this Washington Capitals core doesn’t win this series, I am done picking them to win anything.  Period.

Power Play%
WSH: 26.5%, 2nd
PIT: 29.6%, 1st

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 81.1%, 3rd
PIT: 78.8%, 6th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 54.14%, 1st
PIT: 48.71%, 7th

PDO
WSH:  98.86, 8th
PIT: 101.59, 5th

Notable Injuries
WSH: Karl Alzner
PIT: Matt Murray, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, Carl Hagelin

Season Series
2016-10-13; WSH 2, PIT 3 S/O
2016-11-16; PIT 1, WSH 7
2017-01-11; PIT 2, WSH 5
2017-01-16; WSH 7, PIT 8 OT
ANA: 2-1-2
EDM: 3-2-0

C3. St. Louis Blues vs C4. Nashville Predators:  This will be fun.  In fact, I am planning to make this my most-watched series of the second round.  Both teams are red hot, dispatching their previous challengers in five or fewer.  Their goaltending has been unbelievable.  Nashville has the advantage on top offensive and defensive talent, while St. Louis is more evenly spread across their lines.  The Preds are so fun to watch, while the Blues are boring and steady, but also my Western Conference Champion.  Neither team has met in the playoffs before, so we might be seeing the beginning of another great rivalry, especially given their relative geographic proximity.  Here’s the deal: I have to pick against my bracket and go with my gut and my heart.  I want the Predators to win this series, almost more than any other team left standing.  Given the last few weeks’ results, I think they can.  Predators in seven.  The Blues will give them a fair fight, but Nashville’s just better in nearly every way.  Sure their special teams are worse, but those numbers are so low, I’d expect improvement.  That’s how this works, right?

Power Play%
STL: 16.2%, 7th
NSH: 12.7%, 8th

Penalty Kill%
STL: 86.7%, 1st
NSH: 77.6%, 7th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
STL: 48.82%, 6th
NSH: 51.85%, 2nd

PDO
STL: 104.16, 2nd
NSH: 103.12, 3rd

Notable Injuries
STL: Robby Fabbri
NSH: Colin Wilson, Craig Smith

Season Series
2016-11-10; STL 1, NSH 3
2016-11-19; NSH 1, STL 3
2016-12-13; STL 3, NSH 6
2016-12-30; NSH 4, STL 0
2017-04-02; NSH 1, STL 4
STL: 2-3-0
NSH: 3-2-1

P1. Anaheim Ducks vs P2. Edmonton Oilers:  This is interesting.  In 2006, the Mighty Ducks defeated the Calgary Flames in the first round.  Then the Edmonton Oilers defeated the San Jose Sharks in the second, as the Ducks advanced against Colorado.  These two then met in the Conference Finals, and obviously this is all happening a round earlier this year.  The longer this 2006 repeat goes in the Pacific, the more convinced I am that the Oilers will advance again.  You could say that the under-performing Sharks gave Edmonton more of a challenge than they should have, but you could say the same about Calgary, despite the sweep.  Somehow, both Anaheim and Edmonton look simultaneously powerful and weak, with Anaheim getting the gut advantage.  However, I don’t think this series is as lopsided as these two franchises’ histories suggest.  Thankfully, I predicted this matchup correctly on my bracket, so I will retain my initial pick.  Edmonton will advance in six against the Ducks.  The power of McDavid will carry the Oilers far.  For whatever reason, I just can’t see the Ducks going any further.

Power Play%
ANA: 18.6%, 5th
EDM: 24.0%, 3rd

Penalty Kill%
ANA: 79.5%, 4th
EDM: 83.6%, 2nd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA: 51.04%, 3rd
EDM: 50.50%, 4th

PDO
ANA: 104.72, 1st
EDM: 101.72, 3rd

Notable Injuries
ANA: Cam Fowler
EDM: None

Season Series
2016-11-15; EDM 1, ANA 4
2016-12-03; ANA 2, EDM 3 OT
2017-01-25; EDM 4, ANA 0
2017-03-22; EDM 3, ANA 4
2017-04-01; ANA 2, EDM 3 OT
ANA: 2-1-2
EDM: 3-2-0

It’s a bit more even this year — the number of teams we’ve seen again in the second round recently versus those who are new to winning a series.  I like that Nashville and St. Louis are becoming regulars here.  In the east, we’re down to only one team left that I would root for, and somehow that’s Washington?  Four Cup virgins left and we’re guaranteed to lose one.  If three can make it to the Final Four, I’ll be very happy.

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  4 — CBJ, MIN, NSH, OTT, SJS, STL, WSH
Cup Champions since 2006:  2 — ANA (’07), BOS (’11), CHI (’10, ’13, ’15), PIT (’09, ’16)
Longest Cup drought:  STL — 48 seasons
Returning teams (to the second round):  4 — NSH, PIT, STL, WSH
Fresh blood (in the second round):  4 — ANA, EDM, NYR, OTT

I’m just along for the ride.  Entertain me!

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