(1) Washington Capitals (56-18-6-2, 120 pts) vs. (wild card) Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-6-8, 96 pts)
Pick: Washington Capitals in 5
Key Players: WSH- G Braden Holtby, LW Alexander Ovechkin; PHI- RW Wayne Simmonds, D Shayne Gostisbehere
The Flyers story is awesome. From looking like they were not going to make the playoffs, the Flyers have been hot and now find themselves up against the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals. The story is great but the road ends here. Look for this to be a bruising series with the Philadelphia Flyers being one of the teams that hits the most. Braden Holtby will shut down the Flyers forwards who lack multiple goal scorers. Alexander Ovechkin is known for being one of the best regular season scorers, but usually starts out slow in the playoffs. If the Ovechkin heats up, watch out, this game will be over in four if he is ripping one timers for the slot.
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins (48-26-4-4, 104 pts) vs. (3) New York Rangers (46-27-7-2, 101 pts)
Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins in 6
Key Players: PIT- D Kris Letang, C Sidney Crosby; NYR- G Henrik Lundqvist, LW Kris Kreider
Two similar teams facing off with plenty of veteran players on the ice. Kris Kreider shocked a lot of people last year in the playoffs showing off his speed blowing past defenders with ease. If you are going into a game with King Henrik in net you always know you have a chance to win so don’t be surprised if this game goes to game seven. Kris Letang is a great goal scoring defenseman that will come up big for the Penguins power play. Coming off an injury, Evgeni Malkin looks to get back to his usual ways with fresh legs he can be a big contributor for Pittsburgh.
(1) Florida Panthers (47-26-6-3, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) New York Islanders (45-27-5-5, 100 pts)
Pick: Florida Panthers in 7
Key Players: FLA- G Roberto Luongo, RW Jaromir Jagr; NYI- CnJohn Tavares, LW Brock Nelson
One of the harder series to predict, the Islanders can surprise people with some really talented forwards. With probably the best fourth line in the league the Islanders are a serious threat. Roberto Luongo gets to face off against the team that drafted him and has the daunting task of stopping Jonathon Tavares. JT was near the top of the league in scoring last year and is heating up. What is there to say about Jaromir Jagr? At 44 years-old the Czechoslovakian is leading his team in points and is the leader they need to make a playoff run.
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (46-31-2-3 97 pts) vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings (41-30-6-5 93 pts)
Pick: Detroit Red Wings in 7
Key Players: DET- C Pavel Datsyuk, C Dylan Larkin; TB- C Steven Stamkos, G Ben Bishop
It’s Pavel Datsyuk’s final call as he goes for his third Cup, he will return to his home country Russia after the playoffs. Most likely stepping into his 1st line center position next year is rookie Dylan Larkin, who looks to use his speed to launch a successful playoff series. 6′ 7” Ben Bishop is hoping to have another great playoff performance after last year making great saves look easy on a daily basis.
(1) Dallas Stars (50-23-7-2, 109 pts) vs. (wild card) Minnesota Wild (38-33-9-2, 87 pts)
Pick: Dallas Stars in 4
Key Players: DAL- LW- Jaime Benn, D- John Klingberg MIN-LW- Zach Parise, LW- Thomas Vanek
The state of hockey won’t be happy about this one but they are just not quite there yet. The Dallas Stars are an all-around good team, I see the Stars taking care of the Wild quickly. Jaime Benn is an elite offensive player. When Zach Parise gets in the action the Wild can beat good teams and will catch some people’s attention. Thomas Vanek is not the most well-known players but he is a lethal sniper that can score goals with the best of them.
(2) St. Louis Blues (49-24-5-4, 107 pts) vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-7-2, 103 pts)
Pick: Chicago Blackhawks in 7
Key Players: CHI- RW- Patrick Kane, LW- Artemi Panarin, STL- C- David Backes, RW- Vladimir Tarasenko
Growing up in the Chicago area, it is hard for me to root against my Blackhawks. They are going up against a Blues team that was a win away from the lead in points in the Western Conference. The Blues though have struggled in the first round in the past two years. With the best one-two punch of Panarin and Kane the second line of the Blackhawks is deadly and will be the reason why the Hawks advance or lose. A long series is to come for these rivals only separated by 300 miles.
(1) Anaheim Ducks (46-25-7-4, 103 pts) vs. (wild card) Nashville Predators (41-27-12-2, 96 pts)
Pick: Anaheim Ducks in 5
Key Players: ANA-RW Corey Perry, C Ryan Getzlaf; NSH- G Pekka Rinne, D Roman Josi
The best power play, penalty kill, and goals against per game in the league resides in Anaheim. The team I have picked to win it all is the most all-around team. Grinder Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler will be spending most of their playoff time in front of the goalie always in the way making Pekka Rinne’s job as hard as possible. The Predators are lacking an edge, if they go down two goals in a game I would not have the confidence they could come back.
(2) Los Angeles Kings (48-28-3-3, 102 pts) vs. (3) San Jose Sharks (46-30-3-3, 98 pts)
Pick: Los Angeles Kings in 6
Key Players: LA- G Johnathon Quick, LW Milan Lucic; SJS- C Joe Pavelski, D Brent Burns
San Jose has some great players that turned it around this year from a disappointing year in 2014. The caveman look-a-like Brent Burns is a talented left winger turned defenseman. Quick is known for being one of the better goalies in the league and has proved it in prior playoffs. Milan Lucic was acquired by the Kings in the off-season and the locomotive is ready to be roll deep into the playoffs. The Kings have stars in their lineup up and down their roster, and have too much for talent for the Sharks in this California brawl.