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2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Predictions

Graham Jenkins |
May 1, 2013 | 1:52 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

It is officially my favorite time of the year: the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There is nothing like the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sure, there is the Super Bowl, and that may have its own unofficial holiday because of how big it is here, but that does not match how intense and insane the Stanley Cup Playoffs are.

Perhaps one of the most fun aspects of the playoffs are series predictions, because they are either right on the money or dead wrong. At this time, I will now list my predictions for the first-round matchups of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Western Conference

No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 8 Minnesota Wild

Season Series

Chicago: 2-0-1

Key Players

Just like they would be for everybody else, the Blackhawks are a matchup nightmare for the Minnesota Wild. From top to bottom, Chicago is a much deeper, more talented team than Minnesota, even though the Wild signed the two biggest free agents last offseason in Parise and Suter.

Chicago is one of the best puck-possession teams in the NHL today and will spend a lot more time in the offensive zone than its own zone. In all three games they played against Minnesota, they outshot the Wild each game. If one looks at advanced hockey metrics for each game between the Wild and Blackhawks, (s)he will see that Chicago controlled the puck in Minnesota's zone a lot more than Minnesota controlled the puck in Chicago's zone.

Patrick Kane would like to do this again this summer. (Pete/Creative Commons)
Patrick Kane would like to do this again this summer. (Pete/Creative Commons)
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are going to be called upon to lead the way, although Chicago can also get goals from the likes of Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, and Patrick Shaw, just to name a few.

While the team in front of him is certainly stacked, Corey Crawford will have to replicate his regular-season performance this year and not the .893 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average performance he turned in last year in the first round against Phoenix. 

For the Wild, they may not have newly-acquired Jason Pominville to start this series, as he sustained a concussion courtesy of a Dustin Brown elbow to the face on April 23. He has been pretty solid for the Wild, too, scoring four goals and five assists in 10 games for them. Not having him for at least one game could prove very troublesome.

Expect to see Ryan Suter out on the ice for over 30 minutes a game each game this series, as he will be Minnesota's best answer to stopping the Blackhawks' offense. However, one man does not make an entire defense, and while Suter is very good, he cannot stop Chicago all by himself. In order for Minnesota to compete in this series, it is going to have to control the puck in Chicago's zone at even strength more than Chicago will in Minnesota's zone. However, I believe the Blachkawks are too talented and deep to let that happen. They will move on.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 5.

No. 2 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 7 Detroit Red Wings

Season Series

Detroit won: 2-1-0

Key Players

Detroit had to steamroll its way into the playoffs this year, going 4-0-1 in its last five games. Not having Nicklas Lidstrom was the biggest concern for the Red Wings this season. The fact they made the playoffs without Lidstrom shows that Detroit still has good coaching, good goaltending and reliable forwards in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and the Wings are going to lean heavily on those two to provide offense for them.
The Ducks hope Jonas Hiller can continue to be solid in net. (Burns!/Creative Commons)
The Ducks hope Jonas Hiller can continue to be solid in net. (Burns!/Creative Commons)
Anaheim has gotten good goaltending all season from Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller. They combined for a .917 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average for the season. The edge in goaltending goes to Anaheim.
If this series becomes dictated by special teams play, Anaheim has that edge, as well. While Detroit draws a lot of penalties, its power play this season has produced at an 18.4 percent efficiency, exactly middle-of-the-pack in the NHL at 15th. Conversely, Anaheim went on the power play 135 times this season, second-fewest in the NHL, but they converted on 21.5 percent of its chances, fourth-best in the league. While Anaheim's penalty kill finished at 81.5 percent overall, it was lights-out in April, as it allowed four power play goals all month. 
If Detroit plays like it did the last five games of the season, it can be a dangerous team. Now, they didn't face anybody like Anaheim in those five games with the exception of Vancouver, but they thoroughly dominated everybody else they played. I don't see them dominating the Ducks, but I do see them competing very well with Anaheim. They're not heavily reliant on special teams, and Pavel Datsyuk is one of the best puck-handlers in the game. If the Ducks can't knock Datsyuk off the puck for the majority of this series, they will spend too much time in their own zone, because Datsyuk is going to quarterback a lot of Detroit's offense, otherwise.
Detroit possessed the puck in Anaheim's zone more than the Ducks did in Detroit's zone in two of the three games they played against each other. They also dominated possession in the last five games they played this season. I expect this trend to continue against Anaheim, which means fewer pucks will be directed towards Jimmy Howard, and if he remains sharp, I see the Wings moving on.
Prediction: Red Wings in 6.
Season Series
Sharks won 3-0-0
Key Players
Both teams have solid net-minding, with Cory Schneider backstopping the Canucks and Antii Niemi playing extremely well for the Sharks. Schneider played 30 games this season, going 17-9-4 and posting a 2.11 GAA and a .927 save percentage. He had a well-documented rough start this season, but as the season carried on he recovered nicely and performed very well down the stretch

Antii Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, will look to get another one this summer. (schmeeve/Creative Commons)
Antii Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, will look to get another one this summer. (schmeeve/Creative Commons)
People can argue that Antii Niemi's season is Vezina-worthy, and they have a pretty solid case. Niemi played 43 of the 48 games this season, earning a 24-12-6 record, and a 2.16 GAA and a .924 save percentage. In February, where the Sharks went 2-6-3, Niemi sported a 1,84 GAA and a .934 save percentage in a month where the Sharks could not score. Niemi has not had to be superhuman in the last two months of the season since his teammates in front of him started scoring again. It doesn't look like goaltending will be an issue for the Sharks.
Schneider's status for Game 1 is questionable, and that will mean the Canucks will have to turn to Roberto Luongo, who has been decent, but not as good as Schneider this season. If Luongo performs like he did last year in the playoffs, when he posted a 3.59 GAA and an .893 save percentage and didn't play again after two games, the Canucks will obviously be in trouble. Should Luongo get the start in Game 1, Canucks fans will hope good Luongo shows up and not the goalie who appeared in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings last year.
Both teams also have a solid penalty-killing unit, with the Canucks killing 84 percent of penalties (eighth in the NHL) and the Sharks killing 85 percent of penalties (sixth in the NHL). 
The Sharks, however, have the much better power play between the two, and it's scary. They produce at a 20.1 percent efficiency, and against Vancouver's penalty killing, it might push them over the edge by buying them a few goals. The Sharks also went on the power play 169 times this year, so they can draw a lot of penalties on opponents.
Despite the talent on both squads, for some reason neither team was high-scoring, as the Sharks scored 2.4 goals per game (24th in the NHL, although, a lot can be blamed on their February woes), and the Canucks scored 2.5 goals per game (19th in the NHL). With the goaltending both squads have, we could see a lot of low-scoring games this series.
San Jose relied quite a bit on the shootout this year, as eight of its 25 wins came courtesy of the skills competition, two in April. The Sharks did not win a single game in the five-minute overtime period.
As I stated earlier, if the Canucks get into penalty trouble this series, the Sharks will make them pay. It is in Vancouver's best interest to play during even strength as long as they can, because they outpossessed the Sharks in two of the three games they played against each other. The power play is designed to take teams that tiny step further, to push them over the edge, and I believe the Sharks' power play is too good to be shut out. They will utilize the power play to take the series.
Prediction: Sharks in 6.
Season Series
Kings won 3-0-0
Key Players
This will certainly be the most intriguing first-round series in the Western Conference. In fact, I see this series going the distance.
The Blues had a very strong April, going 12-3-0 (11-3-0 after the trade deadline) and that catapulted them to a fourth-place finish. One key contributor to the Blues' surge was Brian Elliott, who had a strong resurgence in April, as he posted a .948 save percentage and a 1.28 GAA. He was a brick wall in April.
The Kings won all three games they played against St. Louis, and dominated even-strength possession in each game, but they have not faced this edition of the Blues. The new Blues added two new members, Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold, to what was a deep defensive corps.
Alex Pietrangelo is part of a very deep defensive corp for the St. Louis Blues, and one of the best puck-moving defenseman in today's game. (bridgetds/Creative Commons)
Alex Pietrangelo is part of a very deep defensive corp for the St. Louis Blues, and one of the best puck-moving defenseman in today's game. (bridgetds/Creative Commons)
The new Blues defense would like to prevent what happened to it against the Kings on March 5, 2013, in which the Blues led 4-1, but then the Kings came roaring back to score five unanswered goals to win 6-4. The Kings outshot the Blues 29-14 in that game, but when one looks at the hockey metrics from that night, (s)he will see that the Kings destroyed the Blues at even strength in terms of possession at even strength. That is the type of offense that the Blues will face in this series.
The Kings did not have as much of a crazy April as the Blues did, but they are a huge team who will be difficult to knock off the puck and will spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. In fact, Mike Richards is the only player on the Kings roster who is listed below 6-feet tall. Jeff Carter led the team with 26 goals this season, and Anze Kopitar led the team with 42 points, including 32 assists. The Brown-Kopiter-Williams line and the Richards-Carter-Penner line will be a lot to handle for the Blues, as both are capable of generating ample offense for the Kings.
If Brian Elliott keeps up his April play in this series, the Blues will enjoy success. If they let the Kings spend more time in their own zone, however, the Kings will light them up. The new Blues defensive corps will likely prevent the Kings from dominating possession in their zone, but ultimately, I believe the Kings will hold on to the puck more as the series plays out, therefore reducing the amount of shots Jonathan Quick will face. For that reason, they will advance.
Prediction: Kings in 7.
Eastern Conference
Season Series 
Penguins won 4-1-0
Key Players
The Penguins may have won four games in the season series, and ultimately that's what matters, but they also allowed the Islanders to spend ample time in their own zone in each game. Don't expect the Islanders to just roll over against the Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury has to be better this series than he was last postseason against the Philadelphia Flyers, when he went 2-4 with an abysmal 4.63 GAA and .834 save percentage. He was comically bad.
Another big question mark for the Penguins is Sidney Crosby's status, as he hasn't played since Brooks Orpik's deflected slap shot broke his jaw on March 30, 2013.
John Tavares will play in his first career playoff series against the Penguins. (Robert Kowal/Creative Commons)
John Tavares will play in his first career playoff series against the Penguins. (Robert Kowal/Creative Commons)
For the Islanders, this is the first playoff appearance since 2007. They had a strong month of April, earning points in almost every game they played, going 8-1-4. The second half of the season was much better than the first half. From Jan. 19-March 7, they went 10-11-3, but after March 9, they went 14-6-4. Clearly a tale of two seasons for New York. The Islanders have the seventh-best offense in the NHL, scoring 2.8 goals per game. John Tavares and Matt Moulson will be largely called upon to produce for the Islanders, and they are fully capable of doing so.
In case you missed it somehow, Pittsburgh loaded up on talent at this year's trade deadline, acquiring Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray, Jarome Iginla and Jussi Jokinen without having to relinquish any roster players in each trade. It's no coincidence that arguably the most talented team in the NHL also has the most prolific offense in the league, scoring 3.4 goals per game.
A major Achilles heel for the Penguins is their penalty kill, which is an astonishingly bad 79.6 percent, 25th in the NHL. If the Penguins can't stay out of the penalty box, they will be in huge trouble. The Islanders have a decent power play, too, converting 19.9 percent of their chances, good enough for the 11th best power play in the NHL.
The Penguins have the talent to overcome New York spending more time in Pittsburgh's end of the ice, but that's not a strategy the Penguins will want to use. Despite this, if Marc-Andre Fleury can be competent in this series, the Penguins will move on.
Prediction: Penguins in 6.
Season Series
Canadiens: 2-1-1
Senators: 2-1-1
Key Players
Ottawa has the edge in goaltending in this matchup, as Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner have combined for a .939 save percentage and a 1.95 goals against average. If the previous games against Montreal are any indication, the Senators will need Anderson or Lehner to continue to be a brick wall in the net.
Erik Karlsson coming back from a 70 percent tear in his left Achilles tendon is nothing short of unbelievable. Many doctors said Karlsson would need at least three to six months to recover from that devastating injury, and seeing him skate two months after the injury is mind-blowing. In the three games Karlsson played in April, he was on the ice for more than 27 minutes each game. He also tallied four assists in his three games back, so he is producing for the Senators on the score sheet. Whether the Senators have rushed his recovery remains to be seen, but for the moment, Karlsson’s story is incredible. 
For Montreal, the Canadiens dominated possession in Ottawa’s zone in three of the four games they played against each other. However, Ottawa’s goaltending “stole” a couple of those games. While Montreal drew the most penalties in the NHL, Ottawa sports the best penalty kill in the NHL at 88 percent, so it can’t solely rely on its power play to win games. This series will likely be determined by even-strength play, which Montreal has dominated between these two teams.

P.K. Subban scored two goals in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (bridgetds/Creative Commons)
P.K. Subban scored two goals in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (bridgetds/Creative Commons)
P.K. Subban performed very well offensively for the Canadiens, scoring 11 goals and 27 assists, most of which came on the power play. While the Senators have a tremendous penalty kill, they don't want to give Subban many chances to cash in. When the Canadiens are not on the power play, they'll look to get production from Max Pacioretty. He scored 15 goals and 24 assists, most of which came at even strength. While Carey Price played well during the regular season, the Canadiens hope he will perform like he did in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and not the year before, when he played four games, posted a .890 save percentage and 3.56 GAA, and lost his spot to Jaroslav Halak, who carried the Canadiens to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. 
Ottawa can’t expect to have Craig Anderson be Superman every game in this series if they want to move on to the second round, although Anderson could be a goalie that could steal a series for the Senators. 
Ultimately, the Senators will put up a bigger fight than most people think they will. However, I think the Canadiens will prevail in the end, but Ottawa will make them earn it.
Prediction: Canadiens in 7.
Season Series
Rangers won 2-0-1
Key Players
The Capitals are in the playoffs because they surged more than anybody else did down the stretch. Since March 11, the Capitals have gone 17-5-2, and snatched the Southeast Division. They began April with an eight-game winning streak, and finished the month 11-1-1, with only one of those wins coming in a shootout.
Alex Ovechkin silenced everybody who said he was "washed up," and scored 32 goals in a 48-game season. (clydeorama/Creative Commons)
Alex Ovechkin silenced everybody who said he was "washed up," and scored 32 goals in a 48-game season. (clydeorama/Creative Commons)
A major cause for the Capitals’ resurgence is Alex Ovechkin returning to the player he once was, as he finished the season with 32 goals, courtesy of a 10-goal March and a 14-goal April after scoring a combined 8 goals in January and February. Ovechkin won the Art Ross Trophy as a result of going on his tear.
While Braden Holtby finished the season with a 2.58 goals against average and a .920 save percentage, Holtby’s performance during March and April was vastly better than his performance in January and February. After the first two months of the season, Holtby posted a .885 save percentage and a 3.97 goals against average. Since then, he’s posted a .931 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average. In conjunction with Ovechkin, when he turned things around, the Capitals took off.
What’s been a huge boost for Washington is its power play, the best in the NHL at 26.8%. Mike Ribeiro has thrived on the power play for Washington, tallying 21 of his 36 assists and scoring 6 of his 13 goals while on the man advantage. If Washington goes on the power play, he will be a significant player to the watch.
On the other side of special teams, however, Washington’s penalty kill is awful at 77.9 percent, the fourth-worst penalty kill in the NHL. The Capitals' penalty kill was 73.7 percent in January, 78.0 percent in February, 78.7 percent in March and 81.1 percent in April, so it’s been generally inefficient all season. If there’s any consolation for Washington, New York’s not too good on the power play, converting 15.7 percent of its chances, which was good enough for 23rd overall. 
For the Rangers, their 1-2 punch offensively has been Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, with Stepan leading the way with 18 goals and 26 assists, while Nash was close behind with 21 goals and 21 assists. Brad Richards is another player the Rangers could get significant offensive production from. He had a very nice April compared to the rest of his season, scoring six goals and 10 assists to more than double his entire point production for the season. If he continues to produce like that, the Capitals will be in trouble.
Henrik Lundqvist started every game in April, and fared pretty well, sporting a 1.76 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Lundqvist played 43 of the 48 regular season games, sporting a 2.02 GAA and a .926 overall save percentage. From an overall standpoint, Lundqvist has been the better goaltender this season in this matchup. But if Holtby can sustain his performance from April into this series, we might see a goalie duel in this series. 
Both teams did not play each other in April, and the Rangers also had an April surge, going 10-3-1 to close out the season. At this year’s trade deadline, the Rangers traded Marion Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard and John Moore, while also acquiring Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for future draft picks. Brassard seems to like New York, scoring five goals and six assists in 13 games with the Rangers, and Moore has scored a goal and five assists in 13 games as a Blueshirt.
The Capitals acquired Martin Erat and prospect Michael Latta from the Nashville Predators in exchange for prospect Filip Forsberg. Erat has a goal and two assists so far in nine games with the Capitals.
With all that said, we have to remember that the majority of games are played at even strength, and the team who plays better at even strength will likely come out on top. Between these two squads, I see the Rangers advancing, but Washington is going to give them a run for their money.
Prediction: Rangers in 7.
Season Series
Bruins won 3-0-1
Key Players
The Bruins losing their last regular-season game against the Senators proved costly, as they lost the division to the Montreal Canadiens. Now, they will have home ice this series against the Maple Leafs. 
For Toronto, James Reimer is pretty good at goaltending, as he recorded a 2.46 GAA and a .924 save percentage in 33 games played this season. He was even better down the stretch when the Leafs needed him to be at his best, boasting a 2.32 GAA and a .930 save percentage in April.
James Reimer saved 49 shots against the Ottawa Senators in a 4-1 win on April 20. (bridgetds/Creative Commons)
James Reimer saved 49 shots against the Ottawa Senators in a 4-1 win on April 20. (bridgetds/Creative Commons)
While Reimer has been good, the Maple Leafs have spent way too much time in their zone against the Bruins for the majority of the season series. That is playing with a little too much fire. One of the most egregious examples of the Leafs spending too much time in their zone was they surrendered 50 shots on goal to the Ottawa Senators, and somehow managed to win 4-1. They can’t ask Reimer to work that hard just to keep them in the game and expect to win a playoff series. Logic dictates that Reimer will allow a soft goal or two if this trend continues.
For Boston, Tuuka Rask had a spectacular April, posting a 1.94 GAA and a .941 save percentage. He certainly stepped up when duty called. On the offensive side, Brad Marchand led the way for the Bruins, scoring 18 goals and assisting on 18 others to lead the team with 36 points. Perhaps the most important player the Bruins have on offense is Patrice Bergeron, who finished with 10 goals and 22 assists and also came back from a concussion towards the end of the season. 
Boston’s record dipped a little bit during April, but that can be attributed to a period of time in Boston when sports didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. 
A major thorn in the side for the Bruins is their power play, which is at 14.8 percent, good enough for 26th in the NHL, the worst power play efficiency among playoff teams. If the Bruins want to go deep into the playoffs, that has to be better.
Another area of concern for the Bruins is how they were only able to defeat the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in the last five games leading up to the playoffs, although both wins were shutouts for Rask; not the greatest of finishes leading up to the postseason for the Bruins. Then again, the Maple Leafs didn’t exactly gracefully reach the finish line, themselves. 
Like I said earlier, Toronto will have to control play out of its own zone for the majority of the series if the Leafs want to make it out alive. James Reimer is certainly capable of stealing a series, and he may steal a couple of games, but if the Leafs make him work too hard, they likely won’t survive this series.
Prediction: Bruins in 6
Those are my predictions for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course, not all of them will be correct, maybe not even half of them, since these playoffs are rather unpredictable. However, that's why it's fun to predict a series, because what actually happens will be a total surprise.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, hockey fans.
Reach Staff Writer Graham Jenkins hereor follow him on Twitter.



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