May 14, 2015

This week in sports: NHL Playoff Predictions

Western Conference Final:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

How Anaheim got here: Nine games. Nine games are all it took for the California-based team to make it to the Western Conference Finals. A sweep against Winnipeg in the first round followed by a 4–1 series win against Calgary in the second. Star forward Corey Perry leads the postseason with 15 points, and his linemate, center Ryan Getzlaf (12), isn’t too far behind. Getzlaf and Perry were offensive juggernauts against Calgary, combining for 16 points over the five games.

How Chicago got here: Chicago had a sweep of its own—beating the Minnesota Wild 4–0—and, for the fifth time in seven seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks are back in the Western Conference finals. The Blackhawks have been absolutely dominant since 2008-2009, setting up what I would be so bold as to call a modern day dynasty. Statisticians back me up—since 2009, the Blackhawks have posted up the most points (700) in the NHL regular season, as well as the most goals per game (3.09). Whether it’s on general manager Stan Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville, or the elite duo of Kane and Toews, the Blackhawks find themselves in a familiar spot: The Western Conference Finals.

How they match up: In the regular season, the Blackhawks won two out of their three games against the Ducks. The Ducks, who more or less breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, now find themselves facing an elite opponent. Will Getzlaf and Perry be able to outshine Toews and Kane? Fan predictions say no, with 67 percent of fans predicting that Blackhawks will take this one.

Eastern Conference Final:

New York Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

How New York got here: Henrik Lundqvist. Which is synonymous with becoming the first ever NHL team to come back from 3–1 series deficits in back-to-back years. Henrik Lundqvist means you’re grinding out wins in big games since 2012, evidenced by the fact that the Rangers have been 14–3 in games where they face elimination over the past three seasons. New York could not have done any of this without Lundqvist, who’s earned his nickname of “The King.” Appropriately, Lundqvist set an NHL record with a sixth straight Game 7 win against the Capitals, a stretch in which the star goalie has put up a .973 save percentage alongside a 0.81 goals against average (GAA). The Rangers are playing close games, setting a record for 14 straight one-goal playoff games.

How Tampa Bay got here: The scary, all-sophomore line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov has scored 17 of the 34 Lightning goals. More so, Tyler Johnson leads the playoffs with eight goals. Nikita Kucherov, only 21-years-young, scored six goals in the second round against the Montreal Canadiens. Now, let’s not forget about Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, who is finally heating up and coming back to form with seven points in his last five games, after mightily struggling in the first round. Tampa goalie Ben Bishop, in his first postseason run, has done his part with a .931 save percentage and 1.81 GAA.

How they match up: After a captain-swapping mega trade last season, New York rightwing (RW) Martin St. Louis and Tampa Bay RW Ryan Callahan have set the stage for an emotional, dramatic series. Add the fact that former Rangers Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle have chosen to sign with Tampa this past summer, throw in that current Ranger defenseman Dan Boyle won a cup with Tampa in 2004, and we have ourselves a recipe for a thrilling series. Tampa Bay beat the Rangers 3–0 in the regular season, but all three games were played in a 15-day span early in the season. A Tampa Bay team with seemingly endless offensive weapons versus a well balanced, but fast, New York Rangers team that has as solid a back-stopper as you can have in the playoffs in Lundqvist. Either team can take it, but fan predictions are 69 percent in favor of the Rangers.