Stanley Cup 2018, I: Place Your Bets

I II III IV V

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here to today to celebrate and to mourn, for we have come to the end of another long, yet exciting, yet miserable, NHL season.  The playoffs are here, which today will ring in one of my favorite times of the year.  As is tradition, I will go through the matchups and dissect them with my expert analysis and make a prediction on not only each series, but the tournament as a whole.

Hang on.  Predictions.  Why does that ring a bell…

Oh.  Right.  Before the season began, way back in September of 2017, I decided to put my prognostication prowess to the test and calculate out every single teams’ point projection and standings position.  What resulted was this image:

You know, it’s not half bad!  …in that it’s actually straight up half bad.  Let’s have a closer look.  I expected more from Dallas.  Edmonton, what the hell??  Chicago, it was going to happen eventually, but the year after winning the West?  Montréal — meh.  Carolina, I am so sorry.  New York Rangers, I predicted a slide, but not one this bad.

Now, I got the Jets as a playoff team right as a bit of a bold pick.  Nashville should have been higher, obviously.  The Lightning winning the East was right on, though it got hairy at the end of the season there and they didn’t win the Presidents’ Trophy.  Washington & Pittsburgh were perfect and easy, as were Toronto, Minnesota and San Jose.

Boldly, I chose St. Louis to miss the playoffs.  That was a close one.  Colorado, good on you.  Vancouver, that’s about right.  In the east, I correctly foresaw Ottawa’s slide, though severely underestimated it.  Boston is not even close, looking like perhaps the best team in the league right now.  Buffalo… sigh… congrats on being the first ever 31st place team in NHL history.

And that brings us to the elephant in the room: the Vegas Golden Knights.  I am absolutely willing to eat a whole buffet of crow, given that I called them to finish dead last disdainfully with, and I quote, “that roster.”  I am happy to be exceptionally wrong, as the Golden Knights have weaved one of the season’s most compelling stories and becoming the best expansion team in all of major league sports history.  As had been cheekily predicted by many, they were dominant at home, and having attended a game at T-Mobile Arena myself, I can attest to their definite strength on home ice, as well as their fantastically entertaining arena experience.  Additionally, the Golden Knights, despite being a hockey team in the desert, have a ubiquitous presence in and around the Strip.  Las Vegas is proud to have their team, and they’ve shown that it’s well deserved.

Diving a little deeper into the numbers: I correctly predicted the exact point totals for two teams: Philadelphia and St. Louis.  I was within 3 points with Washington, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver.  I mentioned the playoff seeds I got correct above — strangely enough, I missed on all non-playoff seeding positions.  The worst predictions were Buffalo, Montréal, and Edmonton, all being off by exactly 30 points too many.  But of course, I was wrong on Vegas by 44 points too few.  On average, my predictions were off by 15 points.  Yikes.  It’s a good thing I’m not a professional hockey writer.

Naturally, after gambling on preseason picks and finishing quite a bit in the red, it makes complete sense to stay at the table and pray for Lady Luck to come around.  Same shooter.  Coming out:

Bringing the Cup back to Canada, eh?  Bold choice, especially against the Bruins, slayer of northern dreams.  Along the way we’ve got some choice matchups — Jets/Preds, Sharks/Kings, Penguins/Jackets, Bruins/Lightning — as well as upsets galore.  Fun and plausible!  Let’s take a look at the first round, shall we?

Stats herein (Power Play and Penalty Kill percentages, 5v5 Score-Adjusted Corsi [Shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots, a decent measure of possession] & PDO [save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent measure of luck]) are measured from the trade deadline, February 26th, 2018, until the end of the regular season.  This is done in order to portray a more representative sample as teams trend toward their playoff forms.  All numbers are taken from NHL.com, hockey-reference.com, and Corsica.

 

A1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs M5. New Jersey Devils:  For the first time since I’ve been writing playoff predictions, the New Jersey Devils are in.  (Aside: that leaves only Arizona, Buffalo, and Carolina as the teams I’ve never written about on here…)  It’s been five long years, which is crazy since I grew up with the Devils being a playoff mainstay and multi-Cup winning team.  They face the Tampa Bay Lightning, reluctant winners of the Eastern Conference and most recently a playoff rival from back in 2007.  These are two speedy teams, lead by two late 2000s first overall draft picks in Steven Stamkos and Taylor Hall, respectively.  In fact, the Devils are basically just Taylor Hall and friends.  He put up 93 points this season, first on the team by a margin of 41 (!) points.  Holy crap.  Think they won the 2016 trade with Edmonton?  The Devils depth leaves a lot to be desired, and their goaltending tandem is shaky with former number one Cory Schneider performing horribly in limited starts since returning from injury.

Meanwhile, the Lightning, while still the best in the East, had fallen to Earth down the stretch (that negative goal differential since the deadline is a huge red flag).  This is  an incredibly deep team with superstars and solid youngsters, yet their goaltending of late has turned from Vezina quality to just about average.  If Andrei Vasilevskiy is fatigued as rumored, I don’t know that I trust him and Louis Domingue to handle a playoff workload successfully.  Still, their defense is solid, and goal scoring should come in spades given their overwhelming talent.  With the Devils having swept the season series (somehow), I can easily see this being an upset, however I think the Lightning will find a way to shut down Taylor Hall, and therefore, the Devils.  Lightning in six.  Truth be told, I don’t see my confidence in Tampa lasting longer than a round.

Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 113 | 54 [48] - 23 - 3 - 2 | +56
NJD:  97 | 44 [39] - 29 - 2 - 4 |  +3

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
TBL: 26 [0.650] | 12 [ 9] - 6 - 2 - 0 | -2
NJD: 25 [0.625] | 12 [11] - 7 - 1 - 0 | +5

Power Play%
TBL: 20.7%, 14th
NJD: 28.8%,  4th

Penalty Kill%
TBL: 70.8%, 26th
NJD: 79.5%, 14th

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
TBL: 52.69%,  6th
NJD: 47.93%, 24th

PDO
TBL: 100.09, 17th
NJD: 100.86, 13th

Notable Injuries
TBL: Steven Stamkos
NJD: Marcus Johansson

Season Series
2017-10-17; TBL 4, NJD 4 S/O
2018-02-17; NJD 4, TBL 3
2018-03-24; TBL 1, NJD 2
TBL: 0-2-1 [0.167]
NJD: 3-0-0 [1.000]

 

A2. Boston Bruins vs A3. Toronto Maple Leafs:  Ohhhh baby this is what I’ve been hoping for ever since these two seeds were basically locked up back in… November.  Although the Sabres fan in me prefers that both teams missed the playoffs entirely, this will certainly do instead!

Everybody remembers 2013.  I was at a Sara Bareilles concert checking the scores on my phone before it started.  Toronto was up 4-1 in Game 7 and we know how that ended.  Six weeks later, I was in Boston the same night as the deciding game of the Cup Final… in Boston.  The Leafs imploded dramatically, bottoming out in 2016 to win the right to draft phenom Auston Matthews.  In 2014, the B’s won the Presidents’ Trophy, then imploded in a slightly less dramatic fashion over the subsequent two seasons.  Now we’ve got possibly the best matchup of the Eastern Conference, with both teams having something to prove and an age-old rivalry still burning hot.

These two have a lot in common; both are quick, young teams with a handful of incredible rookies, a smattering of dependable vets, and decades upon decades of history.  Toronto has arguably the better forward group, though Boston’s Brad Marchand eclipses all in points by a sizable margin.  Toronto has a higher scoring defensive core, but Boston has a better back end in general, including star goaltender Tuukka Rask, as well as boasting the best possession numbers in the league.  Honestly, I’m sensing a toss up here.  I hope it’s a brutal, seven game war of attrition, and I think that (gag) Boston triumphs over Toronto once again.  Bruins in seven.  It just feels like they’re peaking at the right time.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 112 | 50 [47] - 20 - 9 - 3 | +56
TOR: 105 | 49 [42] - 26 - 5 - 2 | +40

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
BOS: 30 [0.682] | 13 [13] - 5 - 3 - 1 | +13
TOR: 22 [0.611] | 10 [ 9] - 6 - 1 - 1 | +10

Power Play%
BOS: 33.3%, 2nd
TOR: 41.7%, 1st (!)

Penalty Kill%
BOS: 85.3%,  8th
TOR: 74.0%, 23rd

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
BOS: 53.10%, 4th
TOR: 52.75%, 5th

 PDO
BOS: 100.26, 15th
TOR: 101.52, 10th

 Notable Injuries
BOS: Rick Nash, Brandon Carlo
TOR: None

 Season Series
2017-11-10; BOS 2, TOR 3 OT
2017-11-11; TOR 4, BOS 1
2018-02-03; TOR 1, BOS 4
2018-02-24; BOS 3, TOR 3
BOS: 1-2-1 [0.375]
TOR: 3-1-0 [0.750]

 

M1. Washington Capitals vs M4. Columbus Blue Jackets:  Welcome to the club of perennial playoff teams, Columbus.  It’s been a long time coming.  In your first back-to-back appearance, you’ve been rewarded with a team that’s not Pittsburgh.  Hooray!  And I didn’t realize at the time, but Columbus, despite the wild card finish, has been one of the hottest teams of late.  That should terrify the Capitals, who, while winning the division, have fallen noticeably backward since last year.  Perhaps the lack of Presidents’ Trophy pressure will relax Washington into winning three rounds this time around?  I’m not sure.  Alex Ovechkin is always a force, however Columbus too comes equipped this year with a bonafide offensive dynamo in Artemi Panarin.  The Jackets are quite a bit deeper than the top-heavy Capitals but they do stumble significantly on special teams.  On the goaltending front, it’s Braden Holtby versus Sergei Bobrovsky, two of the best in the league, yet both have a bit of a playoff choking reputation, both specifically against the Penguins, funnily enough.  Oy, I have no idea what’s going to happen, so I’m going to do what I promised to do last year: never pick the Capitals to win anything again.  Blue Jackets in five.  Oh yes, I’m going there.

…congrats on your series win, Washington…

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 105 | 49 [46] - 26 - 6 - 1 | +18
CBJ:  97 | 45 [39] - 30 - 3 - 4 | +10

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WSH: 28 [0.700] | 14 [14] - 6 - 0 - 0 | +10
CBJ: 30 [0.750] | 14 [14] - 4 - 2 - 0 | +23

Power Play%
WSH: 25.0%, T6th
CBJ: 25.0%, T6th

Penalty Kill%
WSH: 81.3%, 12th
CBJ: 74.5%, 22nd

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WSH: 48.50%, 22nd
CBJ: 52.47%,  7th

 PDO
WSH: 101.80, 9th
CBJ: 103.67, 3rd

 Notable Injuries
WSH: Jay Beagle
CBJ: Nick Foligno, Markus Nutivaara

 Season Series
2017-12-02; CBJ 3, WSH 4
2018-02-06; WSH 3, CBJ 2
2018-02-09; CBJ 2, WSH 4
2018-02-26; WSH 1, CBJ 5
WSH: 3-1-0 [0.750]
CBJ: 1-3-0 [0.250]

 

M2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs M3. Philadelphia Flyers: Awwwwww yes!  It seems the Penguins keep pulling in teams for series that I absolutely love to see, such as Columbus or Washington of late, but now we’re treated to the real Battle of Pennsylvania.  The last matchup in 2012 was a barnburner and a donnybrook, one of the most memorable series of the last decade, easily.  It featured scores like 8-5 and 10-3, 56 goals in total, and most notably, three suspensions and 258 PIMs in just Games 3 and 4.  So yeah, it was awesome.

Now we have the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, led by the arguably best player in the game and the sidekick who’s flown under the radar with 98 points in Evgeni Malkin, as well as the enigmatic Phil Kessel with 92 of his own.  The defense leaves a little to be desired, but as we know that doesn’t seem to matter, given their success in last year’s playoffs.  Matt Murray is accustomed to winning Cups, having two to his name in his first two seasons — at some point he must come to Earth.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia is an enigma of their own.  Last year they had a ten game winning streak and missed the playoffs; this year, they went on a ten game losing streak and made the playoffs in a divisional spot.  Weird, but not entirely unexpected, given the resurgence of Claude Giroux who put up 102 points — his best year since, you guessed it, 2012.

I don’t think this is a particularly hard choice.  The Penguins have scored 5 goals in each of the four games with Philadelphia this year.  The Flyers’ penalty kill over the course of the season is next to second last, and Pittsburgh’s power play over that time is first.  That alone tips the scales heavily in favor of the Penguins.  Given their feisty history, there should be no shortage of special teams this series, so there’s a clear advantage here.  Penguins in six.  Honestly, it should probably be a sweep, but Philly will make it at least a little interesting.  I would prefer that this went seven though, for obvious reasons.

Notice how I set up a Pittsburgh – Columbus second round matchup?  Calculated.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
PIT: 100 | 47 [45] - 29 - 4 - 2 | +22
PHI:  98 | 42 [40] - 26 - 7 - 7 | +13

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
PIT: 24 [0.632] | 11 [11] - 6 - 2 - 0 | +3
PHI: 22 [0.550] |  9 [ 8] - 7 - 2 - 2 |  0

Power Play%
PIT: 22.4%, 10th
PHI: 18.2%, 21st

Penalty Kill%
PIT: 69.6%, 28th
PHI: 78.3%, 17th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
PIT: 51.78%, 10th
PHI: 50.44%, 14th

 PDO
PIT: 99.31, 18th
PHI: 98.41, 25th

 Notable Injuries
PIT: Derrick Brassard
PHI: Johnny Oduya, Michal Neuvirth

 Season Series
2017-11-27; PHI 4, PIT 5 OT
2018-01-02; PIT 5, PHI 1
2018-03-07; PIT 5, PHI 2
2018-03-25; PHI 4, PIT 5 OT
PIT: 4-0-0 [1.000]
PHI: 0-2-2 [0.250]

 

C1. Nashville Predators vs C4. Colorado Avalanche:  Can you believe this?  The Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs the year after they set a modern record for futility in the regular season.  Well done.  You’ve been rewarded with a date with the best team in hockey, the Nashville Predators.  And you get to go up to seven games potentially without your best veteran defenseman and goaltender.  Welp.  At least Nashville doesn’t have the best D-corps and the Vezina frontrunner to contend with…  Whoops!  Just kidding.  Colorado, if you make it out of this series, I will be damn impressed.  Without even going into Nashville’s offense, which is stellar and balanced, by the way, I don’t see the Avalanche winning a game.  Indeed, in the season series they did not.  The only way the Predators don’t win this series is if they lose a key piece to injury — like a Ryan Johansen or Filip Forsberg.  Otherwise, yeah, not much else to say here.  Predators in four.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 117 | 53 [47] - 18 - 4 - 7 | +57
COL:  95 | 43 [41] - 30 - 8 - 1 | +19

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
NSH: 32 [0.762] | 15 [14] - 4 - 0 - 2 | +17
COL: 26 [0.619] | 11 [10] - 6 - 4 - 0 | +16

Power Play%
NSH: 15.6%, 28th
COL: 27.8%,  5th

Penalty Kill%
NSH: 79.5%, 15th
COL: 86.0%,  6th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
NSH: 51.91%,  9th
COL: 49.14%, 18th

 PDO
NSH: 102.28, 6th
COL: 103.70, 2nd

 Notable Injuries
NSH: Calle Jarnkrok, Yannick Weber
COL: Erik Johnson, Semyon Varlamov

 Season Series
2017-10-17; COL 1, NSH 4
2017-11-18; COL 2, NSH 5
2018-03-04; NSH 4, COL 3 OT
2018-03-16; NSH 4, COL 2
NSH: 4-0-0 [1.000]
COL: 0-3-1 [0.125]

 

C2. Winnipeg Jets vs C3. Minnesota Wild:  Since 2011, the Jets and Wild have been geographic rivals, sort of.  It wasn’t until 2013-14 that the Winnipeg Jets finally moved into the Central Division, and since then they’ve been to the playoffs just once, failing to win a single game.  Minnesota, meanwhile, has been in the show every year since 2013, so I guess it was only a matter of time before these two finally met to consummate their rivalry.  I don’t know what to expect out of this, honestly — I haven’t watched a ton of Wild games this year, and, while the opposite is true of the Jets, they’ve been outright dominant in just about every game I saw.  So, my bias is toward Winnipeg.  In fact, they win in every category below.

That said, Minnesota is a sneaky good team.  Eric Staal has had a hell of a good year, against expectations and recent history.  And for the Wild, that’s where the good news ends.  They’ll be without Ryan Suter, and their defense will suffer greatly as a result.  On the other hand, the Jets have had an outstanding season, blowing away their team records and capturing home ice in the playoffs for the first time (out of their three franchise appearances).  Jets captain Blake Wheeler has had a career year, phenom Patrik Laine continues to make a push for future Rocket Richard trophies, and the older kids, Ehlers and Connor, are alright.  Oh yeah, they have Tyler Myers too.  Remember him?  And they have the winningest American goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck, so that’s pretty nifty I would say.  Jets in five.  A low five — four would not surprise me in the least.  Then we get our perhaps de facto Western Conference Final in Nashville-Winnipeg in the second found.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 114 | 52 [47] - 20 - 8 - 2 | +57
MIN: 101 | 45 [42] - 26 - 8 - 3 | +21

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
WPG: 31 [0.775] | 15 [13] - 4 - 1 - 0 | +11
MIN: 24 [0.600] | 10 [10] - 6 - 3 - 1 |  +9

Power Play%
WPG: 19.3%, T17th
MIN: 19.3%, T17th

Penalty Kill%
WPG: 78.0%, 18th
MIN: 82.5%, 11th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
WPG: 53.90%,  3rd
MIN: 48.80%, 20th

 PDO
WPG: 101.92,  7th
MIN: 100.62, 14th

 Notable Injuries
WPG: Matt Hendricks, Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba
MIN: Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

 Season Series
2017-10-20; MIN 2, WPG 4
2017-10-31; WPG 2, MIN 1
2017-11-27; MIN 2, WPG 7
2018-01-13; WPG 1, MIN 4
WPG: 3-1-0 [0.750]
MIN: 1-3-0 [0.250]

 

P1. Vegas Golden Knights vs P4. Los Angeles Kings:  Yeah, so about those Golden Knights.  They absolutely ran away with the Pacific Division, having led it since late December and finishing, albeit on a bit of slump, eight points up on second place.  The aforementioned game I attended was the night they clinched the division and it. was. awesome.  Now, the Los Angeles Kings are back in the playoffs after a brief hiatus.  I expected them to slide into mediocrity, but with a reborn Anze Kopitar putting up 92 points and the top defensive line in Cup-winning condition, they were right there fighting for the division all along.  The Golden Knights strength lies in their balance.  Due to the Expansion Draft providing no real superstars, the Knights instead have what amounts to a team of second and third liners.  Their weak spots are few, so opponents must compete against talent all game long.  They’ve also established deadly chemistry on offense, with William Karlsson’s unexpected 43 goal breakout demonstrating its effectiveness.

While Las Vegas will be pumped to host the playoffs for the first time, Los Angeles, the Knights’ de facto biggest rival, will be set on ruining their fun.  It is a new era for the Kings, but I learned not to underestimate this core a long time ago.  The Knights on the other hand have been underestimated consistently, yet they’ve always thrived against all odds.  At some point, they have to fall, right?  It’s true they’ve already been slumping for a few weeks (see their recent negative goal differential — thanks, Calgary), so I don’t really know what to expect with them.  The Golden Knights moving on the second round would be the best story, but I think it’s going to be the Kings in seven.  Los Angeles is used to winning, especially as a low seed, and the pressure is rising for Vegas.  Experience wins here.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
VGK: 109 | 51 [47] - 24 - 4 - 3 | +43
LAK:  98 | 45 [43] - 29 - 7 - 1 | +35

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
VGK: 23 [0.548] | 10 [ 8] - 8 - 2 - 1 |  -7
LAK: 27 [0.675] | 12 [12] - 5 - 2 - 1 | +16

Power Play%
VGK: 20.0%, 15th
LAK: 22.6%,  9th

Penalty Kill%
VGK: 83.6%, T9th
LAK: 92.3%,  1st

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
VGK: 49.20%, 17th
LAK: 50.05%, 15th

 PDO
VGK:  99.02, 19th
LAK: 101.87,  8th

 Notable Injuries
VGK: Luca Sbisa, David Perron
LAK: Jake Muzzin, Alex Iafallo

 Season Series
2017-11-19; LAK 2, VGK 4
2017-12-28; VGK 3, LAK 2 OT
2018-02-26; VGK 2, LAK 3 OT
2018-02-27; LAK 4, VGK 1
VGK: 2-1-1 [0.625]
LAK: 2-1-1 [0.625]

P2. Anaheim Ducks vs P3. San Jose Sharks:  Our final matchup of the first round is an old favorite.  The third leg of the Battle of California has been dormant since 2009, when the Ducks upset the Presidents’ Trophy winning Sharks in the first round.  In intrastate rivalries since then, the Ducks and Sharks have played the Kings in the playoffs one and four times, respectively, with the Kings winning three of five series (and two Cups).  That said, there’s never a dull moment between these two.  They really don’t like each other.  And how can you blame them?  The Ducks are horrible.  Just the worst.  They’ve been the bullies of the Western Conference for years and they just never seem to stop.  Unfortunately, they were able to secure home ice on the last day of the season due to the Sharks cooling off down the stretch.

But, seeding doesn’t matter, especially to the Ducks who are prone to losing Games Seven on home ice.  The Sharks, despite being a point behind in the standings, are simply the better team.  They score more, have better special teams, possession stats, and fewer wounded goaltenders.  I just can’t see the Ducks winning this series.  Sharks in six.  Get it done.

Regardless of any result in the Pacific, the second round is sure to be a bloodbath.

 Record (P | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
ANA: 101 | 44 [40] - 25 - 6 - 7 | +22
SJS: 100 | 45 [40] - 27 - 7 - 3 | +21

Record Since Trade Deadline (P [Pts%] | W [ROW] – L – OTL – SOL | GD)
ANA: 27 [0.750] | 13 [13] - 4 - 1 - 0 | +21
SJS: 25 [0.658] | 12 [11] - 6 - 1 - 0 | +15

Power Play%
ANA: 17.5%, 22nd
SJS: 16.7%, 26th

Penalty Kill%
ANA: 86.7%, 5th
SJS: 87.5%, 4th

 5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA: 50.86%, 12th
SJS: 51.45%, 11th

 PDO
ANA: 104.19,  1st
SJS: 101.19, 11th

 Notable Injuries
ANA: John Gibson, Cam Fowler
SJS: Joe Thornton, Eric Fehr

 Season Series
2017-11-04; ANA 1, SJS 2 S/O
2017-11-20; ANA 3, SJS 2 S/O
2018-01-21; SJS 6, ANA 2
2018-02-11; SJS 3, ANA 2 S/O
ANA: 1-2-1 [0.375]
SJS: 3-0-1 [0.875]

We’ve got exactly as much turnover as last year, and somehow despite that, still only seven Cup virgins.  I guess bringing back New Jersey, Colorado, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Tampa will do that.  The rivalries here though might just be the best of the divisional playoff system.  It’s guaranteed to be a good time in the first round.

One other related fun fact to note: not only are there only two Original Arbitrary Six teams in the first round, one of which is guaranteed to go home, but the last five expansion teams, those no older than twenty years, are all in the playoffs together for the first time.  Nashville, Winnipeg (formerly Atlanta), Minnesota, Columbus, and Vegas collectively outnumber their rivals from antiquity five to two.  Pretty neat.  Maybe one of them will win a Cup?

Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  7 — CBJ, MIN, NSH, SJS, VGK, WSH, WPG
Cup Champions since 2006:  4 — ANA (’07), BOS (’11), LAK (’12, ’14), PIT (’09, ’16, ’17)
Longest Cup drought:  TOR — 49 seasons
Returning teams:  9 — ANA, BOS, CBJ, MIN, NSH, PIT, SJS, TOR, WSH
Fresh blood:  7 — COL, LAK, NJD, PHI, TBL, VGK, WPG

Only minor tweaks were made in the offseason — none of them particularly notable.  I like where I’m at with the bracket.  If anything changes, I’ll be sure to let you know when they happen.

Let’s go Sharks!

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Stanley Cup 2017, III: Unlucky Sevens

I II III IV V

Boy, I really am mediocre at predicting things, eh?  1-3 in the last round is worse than a coin flip.  Maybe I’ll go back to doing that next year.

For the first time this year, a series went to seven.  Two, in fact, and these games were played on the same night.  And, well, neither went the way I wanted.  Both were inconsistent in their narratives, which is annoying.   The Capitals, as is tradition, lost to the Penguins in the second round.  The Ducks, on the other hand, didn’t lose in Game 7 at home for the fifth straight year.  I’m really unhappy with the Capitals, but I’ll get into that below.  And what is this strange feeling: I’m sad the Oilers lost?  What?  The team that lucked its way into the best player in the world — the player who was supposed to end up on my hometown team?  The Oilers that I watched stifle my local Sharks to death in their own rink?  Why do I feel bad for them?  I shouldn’t!  Stop messing with my feelings!

Yeah, I need to change something about how I approach the playoffs.  Next year I’m either going full apathetic randomness, with a coin flip bracket, or full rooting interest, where I pick the teams I want to win only.  Rooting for a team I don’t care for and then feeling sad when they lose is making me uneasy.  Luckily, I still have a team to root for this round — and I think most of the remaining independent fans are with me on this one.

RIP Bracket 2017.  Gone too soon.  I picked relatively conservatively and I was punished.  And that’s the way it should be.  What’s bad for the bracket is good for the league.  Mostly.

So what happened?

Senators vs Rangers:  People have some funny ideas about the Senators.  Like they’re boring and slow and sit back on a lead.  *looks around accusingly*

I admit it.  I picked the wrong team here, again.  And of course, just when I feel like I was wrong not to have faith in the Rangers, they do this.  Whatever.  I really enjoyed this series.  Far more than I should have, especially considering I don’t really like either of these teams.  The Sabres played both in 2007 and there’s still some lizard-brain dislike at play here.  But yeah, holy cow this series.  Not once, but twice the Senators overcame a late deficit to win in OT/2OT, including a spectacular three-goal rally in Game 2, which I will affectionately call “The Pageau Show.”  JGP pulls off his playoff magic once again, captain Erik Karlsson is somehow a beast with a broken foot, and before you know it, the Rangers are done.  Did I mention there were a couple massive brawls in the middle of the series?  I love a good feisty playoff series — some matchups this year should have been powder-kegs (*cough*Jackets/Pens*cough*) yet the ones that were seemed most unlikely.  Who knew these two hated each other so much?  I sure didn’t expect this kind of animosity.

Poor Henrik Lundqvist.  I don’t know how many more times I can watch a montage of him being sad at the end of a Rangers’ playoff run.  Maybe he’ll win a Cup somewhere else.  I feel like New York’s window is slamming shut.  Then again, I feel like that’s said every year.

Playoff Series
2017-04-27; NYR 1, OTT 2
2017-04-29; NYR 5, OTT 6 2OT
2017-05-02; OTT 1, NYR 4
2017-05-04; OTT 1, NYR 4
2017-05-06; NYR 4, OTT 5 OT
2017-05-09; OTT 4, NYR 2
OTT defeats NYR: 4-2
Prediction: Rangers in 6 ☓✓

Capitals vs Penguins:  Yep.  That was supposed to happen.  Of course the Penguins went out to a 2-0 series lead.  Of course they pushed the Caps to the brink after four, leading to a flurry of “here we go again” tweets and hot takes.  And, of course, the Capitals rallied just far enough to give DC some hope before they crapped it all away in Game 7.  Look, Capitals, I’m sorry to say I believed in you.  Why do you have to disappoint me, a loyal fan for three weeks, in this way?  Is this what it feels like to be a Capitals fan all the time??  I’m so sorry.  Here’s the thing: your team is rotten.  It’s clearly the best regular season team two seasons running, but you can’t do it in the playoffs, especially against Pittsburgh.  They’re your kryptonite, and if you couldn’t be them this year, when they’re beat up, tired after a long season last year, and you’re even better than before, there’s no hope.  Sorry, but the Capitals are over.  Pittsburgh, go win another Stanley Cup, since it’s clearly your destiny.  Nothing can stop them, it seems.  Except, perhaps, one team…

Playoff Series
2017-04-27; PIT 3, WSH 2
2017-04-29; PIT 6, WSH 2
2017-05-01; WSH 3, PIT 2 OT
2017-05-03; WSH 2, PIT 3
2017-05-06; PIT 2, WSH 4
2017-05-08; WSH 5, PIT 2
2017-05-10; PIT 2, WSH 0
PIT defeats WSH: 4-3
Prediction: Capitals in 7 ☓✓

Blues vs. Predators:  I actually don’t have a lot to say about this series.  The Preds looked incredible.  They overwhelmed the Blues with their incredible depth and stunning goaltending.  Jake Allen, the keeper that carried the Blues past the Wild, didn’t do quite as well, but he wasn’t bad.  I think a two series run for the Blues is about right, maybe even above local expectations.  I had them in the Final, but I’m a dumb-dumb.  Many saw the Predators being this team early on, even before the season.  I’m trusting their gut now; I’m solidly on the Preds bandwagon from here until the end.  Hopefully I don’t have to root for the Ducks, Penguins, or Senators at any point in the next five weeks.  Welcome to the Conference Final, Nashville.  I hope you make the most of your stay.  Your fans deserve it — holy cow is your home crowd terrific.  And you know what?  Those gold helmets are growing on me.  Don’t ever change Nashville.  You’re doing you and it’s working wonderfully.

Playoff Series
2017-04-26; NSH 4, STL 3
2017-04-28; NSH 2, STL 3
2017-04-30; STL 1, NSH 3
2017-05-02; STL 1, NSH 2
2017-05-05; NSH 1, STL 2
2017-05-07; STL 1, NSH 3
NSH defeats STL: 4-2
Prediction: Predators in 7 ✓☓

Ducks vs. Oilers:  Anaheim completes the sweep through Alberta, dispatching the resurgent Death Valley in 11 games total.  They’ve also, as mentioned, exorcised the demon of Game 7, albeit barely.  I’m unreasonably upset at the Oilers misfortune here.  They lost two games in which there was a questionable unchallenged non-call, both in overtime, and the second after a third period three-goal meltdown with three minutes to go.  Granted, the Ducks had their own meltdown in Game 6, but the Oilers were unable to capitalize on that momentum and closeout the series.  I guess the kids just needed to be shown how to win, or something.  I was very impressed with Edmonton throughout these playoffs.  They’ve got a very bright future.  I mean, obviously.  McDavid’s gonna win a Cup or two or five before he gets traded to Toronto.

Playoff Series
2017-04-26; EDM 5, ANA 3
2017-04-28; EDM 2, ANA 1
2017-04-30; ANA 6, EDM 3
2017-05-03; ANA 4, EDM 3 OT
2017-05-05; EDM 3, ANA 4 2OT
2017-05-07; ANA 1, EDM 7
2017-05-10; EDM 1, ANA 2
ANA defeats EDM: 4-3
Prediction: Oilers in 6 ☓☓

I’m glad we’ve got another 75% turnover in the final four.  If this happens every year, we’ll  get a new team a Cup eventually.


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

 

M2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs A2. Ottawa Senators:  This is not ideal.  I’m already sick of the Penguins and, while it doesn’t burn with the fiery passion of a handful of quasars anymore, it would not take a lot to rekindle my dislike of the Ottawa Senators.  These two are meeting for the fourth time since the Great Lockout — Ottawa took the series in 2007, which was Sidney Crosby’s first playoff series, while the Pens took the next three, most recently in 2013.  In some ways, these teams are the inverse of each other.  The Senators are carried on the back of their star defenseman and their top heavy offense, while the Pens have relied heavily on depth scoring and miraculous goaltending.  The Penguins have offensive stars, obviously, and the Senators grounded, solid goaltending as well.  Given the injuries to Pittsburgh, one would have expected them to fold earlier, yet here they are.  It just kind of feels like they’re supposed to win.  On the other hand, there are few who gave the Senators a chance, even in the first round (myself included), yet here they are too.  They keep chugging along, finding ways to pull out wins, especially in OT where they’re 5-1.  It pains me to say it, but I want the Senators to win this series.  I can’t hate Erik Karlsson.  I just can’t.  My brain, however, can’t see these Penguins collapsing.  Not after crushing the hopes of the Capitals.  These guys just know how to win and, well, they’re just better than Ottawa.  Penguins in seven.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the “pesky” Senators make it a series.  I didn’t give them enough credit before and I hope they don’t burn me for giving them a long series now.

Power Play%
PIT: 25.8%, 1st
OTT: 15.7%, 3rd

Penalty Kill%
PIT: 78.7%, 2nd
OTT: 78.1%, 3rd

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
PIT: 47.00%, 4th
OTT: 50.31%, 3rd

PDO
PIT: 101.61, 3rd
OTT: 100.53, 4th

Notable Injuries
PIT: Kris Letang, Trevor Daley
OTT: Erik Karlsson, Mark Borowiecki

Season Series
2016-12-05; OTT 5, PIT 8
2017-01-12; PIT 1, OTT 4
2017-03-23; PIT 1. OTT 2 S/O
PIT: 1-1-1
OTT: 2-1-0

 

P1. Anaheim Ducks vs C4. Nashville Predators:  I am excited for this.  The wildcard Nashville Predators stunned the Pacific division champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round last year.  The Preds were one win away from where they are now, while the Ducks suffered another Game 7 at home collapse.  That narrative is dead, yet the initial condition remains.  For the 12th time in the last 14 seasons, California is represented in the Western Conference Final.  Shame it’s the Ducks, though.  For the first time, Nashville is here.  They’ve been getting closer ever since 2011, and this time it only took them 10 games to do it.  I would argue the Predators are a better team than they were last year — this seems to be common wisdom among insiders — yet I’m feeling like the Ducks aren’t, despite the deeper run.  They swept the Flames, albeit closely, and looked downright awful against the Oilers at times.  Meanwhile, Nashville has been consistently good, losing only close games to an overperforming Blues team.  Last round I mentioned that the Ducks should expect a correction to their luck.  I’m still waiting.  It must be close.  Right?  My gut says the Predators are the better team.  They won last year and they’ll do it again.  Predators in six.  Nashville to the Cup Final.  While it’s still possible to see a repeat of the 2007 Final, I’m expecting the opposite.

Power Play%
ANA: 16.1%, 2nd
NSH: 15.0%, 4th

Penalty Kill%
ANA: 77.9%, 4th
NSH: 80.8%, 1st

5v5 Corsi, Score-Adjusted
ANA: 51.83%, 1st
NSH: 51.75%, 2nd

PDO
ANA: 103.15, 1st
NSH: 102.75, 2nd

Notable Injuries
ANA: Kevin Bieksa, Patrick Eaves
NSH: Kevin Fiala

Season Series
2016-10-26; NSH 1, ANA 6
2016-11-12; ANA 0, NSH 5
2017-03-07; NSH 3, ANA 4 S/O
ANA: 2-1-0
NSH: 1-1-1

As I mentioned above, this is a different final four, to be sure.  Nashville’s here for the first time.  Ottawa hasn’t been here since 2007.  The Ducks are back after a year hiatus, and of course the Penguins are returning.  I’m still waiting for a Cup champion who’s not black or red (Nashville, you’re my only hope), however each of the final four teams does wear some variant of gold/yellow.

Final Four Fun Facts & Frivolity Field
Cup Virgins:  2 — NSH, OTT, WSH
Cup Champions since 2006:  2 — ANA (’07), PIT (’09, ’16)
Longest Cup drought:  OTT — 23 seasons
Returning teams (to the third round):  1 — PIT
Fresh blood (in the third round):  3 — ANA, NSH, OTT

I thought it would be fun to add some brooms to the swept teams.  Sorry guys 😛

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!