2013 NHL Playoff Preview

NHL_2013_StanleyCupPlayoffs_English_PrimaryThe NHL has made it through their strange season this year in a year that started with a lockout and finished with a 48 game season. The Playoffs are now here though and the regular season is behind the teams as the march to the Stanley Cup begins. The strange part of the year won’t stop at the regular season though as teams fight to be the champion of a shortened season. This presents a unique issue for all of the teams involved as there are many teams that could be looked at very differently. For this year there are a number of teams who were supposed to be here and a number that were never expected to make it. When the dust settles and the Stanley Cup Champion is determined they could go down as the least deserving champion or a team keeping the status quo. The top teams in the playoffs this year were expected to be there like the Chicago Blackhawks or the Pittsburgh Penguins. If either team moves on to win the Stanley Cup the world will continue to turn as a shortened season had no affect on the season. The teams that many expected to be the best with a full season ended up being the best with a shortened season and the expectations of the unexpected through the season will be all for not. Then there is the prospect of a team that was never expected to make the playoffs actually winning the Stanley Cup. Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Minnesota Wild could make a run at the Stanley Cup. If a team like this happens to make a run the talk will begin as to whether they deserve the championship. They will regularly be argued as that team that won the championship on a short season and may not have deserved it. They will forever be debated as a team that took advantage of a unique situation to win a Stanley Cup. It is a possibility that this could happen and could change the face of this season. It could be an “undeserving” team or a team that was supposed to win. Either way a new champion will be crowned and more names will be added to the Stanley Cup as the 2-13 Stanley Cup Champions.

 

Eastern Conference

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The Eastern Conference has seen plenty of success in the NHL playoffs through the last few years and this year will be no different. With a short season unexpected teams will be back in the playoffs but a lot will stay the same. The Pittsburgh Penguins are still the class of the conference with Sidney Crosby and Company pushing to top the conference. Right behind them is one of the bigger surprises in the conference this year. The Montreal Canadiens would go from worst to first in the Atlantic division with a brand new regime at the helm of the legendary franchise. Behind the Canadiens is a more familiar face with the Washington Capitals winning their division. After a slow start the Capitals would figure things out and sprint into the playoffs fending off the Winnipeg Jets. Another very familiar face occupies the next spot as the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins return to the playoffs once again. After a long battle in the Atlantic Division the Bruins came up just short of beating their longtime rivals and would end up in fourth place. With this spot the Bruins would take on a team that could have been hungrier than any other for a playoff berth. The Toronto Maple Leafs will make their first playoff appearance in nine years breaking the longest active postseason drought. The New York Rangers have not been nearly as long outside of the playoffs as they were one of the best teams last year. This year they struggled out of the starting gate but would climb their way back into the playoffs hoping to achieve what they wanted to next year. Rounding out the bottom two playoff teams are two more surprises this year. In 7th are the Ottawa Senators who persevered through injuries to their best players to make the playoffs. The Islanders would sneak in with the 8th spot thanks in large part to Jonathan Tavares. The Eastern Conference is a mix of the powerhouse teams and those who were never supposed to be here. That can only mean that there will be plenty of drama in the Eastern Conference playoffs as there is sure to be some great surprises.

 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Strength: Offence (The Pens are the highest scoring team in the NHL)
Weakness: Recent History (They have only won one playoff series since 2009)
What They Need to do:
Don’t change due to the playoffs, continue the high scoring and high-flying ways that got them to the Playoffs

2. Montreal Canadiens
Strength: Defence (PK Subban and Carey Price are a great pair when they are on)
Weakness: The Struggles (The last month of the season was a rough one for the Habs)
What They Need to do:
Hope that Carey Price can step up because he is the key for the Habs in the playoffs 

3. Washington Capitals
Strength: They’re Hot (Alex Ovechkin has led the Caps to the best end of the season in the NHL)
Weakness: History (Despite great seasons the Caps always seem to fizzle out in the playoffs)
What They Need to do:
Forget about the past and continue to play the game they have been playing for the last few months

4. Boston Bruins
Strength: The Team (The Bruins are built for the playoffs)
Weakness: Their Cold (Going 5-5-1 in the home stretch is not a good way to get into the playoffs)
What They Need to do:
Get back to the grit and toughness that wins them games in the playoffs

5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Strength: Defence (The core is not the greatest but the system has changed this team)
Weakness: Inexperience (After nine years outside of the playoffs not many on this team have been here before)
What They Need to do:
Don’t get overwhelmed in the new position and continue playing defence first hockey

6. New York Rangers
Strength: Their Veterans (Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist, and Rick Nash will not be surprised)
Weakness: Their Path (Winning from the sixth spot is not impossible but is very tough)
What They Need to do:
Lean on the veterans who have been there before to bring stability in a stressful time

7. Ottawa Senators
Strength: The Team is Back (Top players have returned from injury just in time)
Weakness: Dependence on Youth (Their young players are great but very inexperienced)
What They Need to do:
Rely on the now healthy Eric Karlsson and Craig Anderson to guide them through the playoffs

8. New York Islanders
Strength: Top Line (John Tavares can take over a game alongside Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes)
Weakness: Defence (The Islanders were almost dead even in +/- this year)
What They Need to do:
Provide support to John Tavares because as good as he is there is only so much he can do

 

Prediction 

Conference Quarter-Finals:
Pittsburgh Penguins 4 – 1 New York Islanders
– The Islanders have a good top line but the Penguins are too experienced to let one line beat them in the playoffs while they can roll four lines with every line having the ability to score as this series will not be a very close one

Montreal Canadiens 4 – 3 Ottawa Senators
– The Canadiens have been a good team all season but they have not been great down the stretch with their goaltending struggling while the Sens will get back their best player and will make it close although will not be able to win the series

Washington Capitals 4 – 2 New York Rangers
– There is something different about this Caps team as they sprinted into the playoffs and seem to be having their usual midseason pickup at the right time in this short season as they seem too good for the Rangers to overcome

Boston Bruins 4 – 1 Toronto Maple Leafs
– The Bruins are a team built for the playoffs while the Leafs just don’t seem to be consistent enough to keep their season going into the playoffs as they will be eliminated quickly in their first try in nine years

 

Conference Semi-Finals:
Pittsburgh Penguins 4 – 3 Boston Bruins
– The Penguins are clearly on a path this year and by this point Crosby will be back and ready to lead his team against the big bad Bruins who will make a series of it but will not be able to overcome the depth of talent on the Pens’ roster

Washington Capitals 4 – 2 Montreal Canadiens
– The Capitals are on a run and like usual the hottest teams in the NHL leading into the playoffs have a very good shot at making a run while teams that struggle like the Canadiens tend to falter when it matters most

 

Conference Finals:
Pittsburgh Penguins 4 – 3 Washington Capitals
– The series that many would want to see last year will finally be here in a year that many did not expect it as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will face off for a chance at the Stanley Cup and in the end it will be the depth of the Penguins that comes out on top

 

Western Conference

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The Western Conference does not have as many surprises as the East does with the top teams continuing to dominate. The most dominant team in the league this year will sit on top of the conference and look to make another run at the Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks have been on a tear all season and have yet to slow down earning the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Behind them the Anaheim Ducks snuck in to the playoffs under the radar while dominating the Pacific Division. The Ducks would once again have a great season and could have won the conference if it wasn’t for the season of the Blackhawks. The Vancouver Canucks will also be returning to the playoffs this year although the hype surrounding them as Stanley Cup favorites has vanished quickly. Only last year the Canucks were considered the team to beat in the playoffs as they seemed to be on their way to the Cup until they stumbled on the way. They are joined by an up and coming team in the St. Louis Blues who will be in their second playoffs in a row. The Blues were one of the best stories in 2012 turning the team around to a playoff contender and now they are back as one of the best teams in the conference. Another team returning will be last year’s Stanley Cup Champions as the Los Angeles Kings are still alive for their defence. The Kings seemed to be suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover at the start of the season but would figure it out right at the end to keep their defence alive. The trend continues for the returning teams as the San Jose Sharks are once again in the playoffs. The Sharks are beginning to run out of time to prove that they are not choke artists and they are hoping this year is the year. Then there is the most experience playoff team in the NHL as the Detroit Red Wings returned for a 22nd time. They barely made it in but they are hoping to make a run at it as their time may be slipping away as well. Finally the Minnesota Wild will round out the teams as they snuck in on the last day to try to repeat what Los Angeles did last year. There may not be as many surprises in the West as in the East but there are plenty of great teams all looking to get their chance before it’s too late.

 

1. Chicago Blackhawks
Strength: The Team (They are loaded with talent and are clearly the best team in the NHL)
Weakness: Can they keep it going (After a full season of domination can they continue their play)
What They Need to do:
Play their game and nobody can touch them if they try to change they will be in trouble 

2. Anaheim Ducks
Strength: Goaltending (Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller are the best goalie tandem in the league)
Weakness: Not Overpowering (The Ducks are good but they are not an overpowering offensive team)
What They Need to do:
Give their defence some support with tier offence as they cannot solely depend on their goalies

3. Vancouver Canucks
Strength: Offence (The Sedins have led the charge this year for the Canucks)
Weakness: Uncertainty (The Goaltending position is still unstable as it was all season)
What They Need to do:
The Canucks need to put everything together as they have everything they need to win

4. St. Louis Blues
Strength: Technically Solid (The Blues are a very good two-way hockey team)
Weakness: Still Inexperience (The Blues are a recent power team and are still not very experienced)
What They Need to do:
Continue to play two-way hockey as the system is made perfectly for the playoffs

5. Los Angeles Kings
Strength: Their hot (Much like last year the Kings come into the playoffs on a hot streak)
Weakness: Fatigue (After a long playoff run can they continue to fire on all cylinders)
What They Need to do:
Recapture that magic from 2012 and continue playing solid hockey

6. San Jose Sharks
Strength: Depth (The Sharks are good all the way through their roster)
Weakness: History (They continue to be the biggest choke artists in the NHL every year)
What They Need to do:
They need to get out of their heads and finally put together a good postseason

7. Detroit Red Wings
Strength: Experience (This marks their 22nd straight year in the playoffs)
Weakness: Age (The team continues to get older and finds it harder to make runs)
What They Need to do:
Lean on the younger players to provide the veterans with breaks that they will need in the playoffs

8. Minnesota Wild
Strength: The new Leaders (Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are the vets they can lean on)
Weakness: Their Cold (The Wild were in the division hunt until the wheels came off at the end)
What They Need to do:
Lean on veteran standouts Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for leadership as they can carry this team

 

Prediction

Conference Quarter-Finals:
Chicago Blackhawks 4 – 0 Minnesota Wild
– The NHL has rarely seen a team as dominant as the Blackhawks and they will continue their strong season against a team that limped into the playoffs as they will not have a problem with the Wild in the opening series

Detroit Red Wings 4 – 2 Anaheim Ducks
– The Red Wings have been in the playoffs for more than two decades and outmatch the Ducks in experience which will be the edge that will win the Wings the series even against a great Ducks team

Vancouver Canucks 4 – 2 San Jose Sharks
– A matchup of two traditionally underwhelming teams in the playoffs the Sharks and Canucks will have a tough series but it will be the Canucks that will come out on top as they will be able to get by the best goalie tandem in the league

Los Angeles Kings 4 – 3 St. Louis Blues
– This could be one of the best series of the playoffs as both teams are very close only separated by one point in the standings and have almost identical goal differentials but in the end it will be the Kings who come out on top with a hotter hand heading into the playoffs

 

Conference Semi-Finals:
Chicago Blackhawks 4 – 3 Detroit Red Wings
– The Blackhawks and Red Wings know each other very well, being in the same division which is what will make this series so close as the experienced veterans of the Red Wings will give the Blackhawks everything they can handle but will come up just short

Vancouver Canucks 4 – 2 Los Angeles Kings
– The Kings are a good team but even though they changed very little from last year they do not seem to have that same fire as they had when the won the Cup and the Canucks will take advantage of that winning the series

 

Conference Finals:
Chicago Blackhawks 4 – 2 Vancouver Canucks
– It is turning into a classic rivalry very quickly and this year will be another chapter as the Canucks and Blackhawks face off again with the Blackhawks coming out on top again as their powerhouse season continues

2013 Stanley Cup Finals:
Chicago Blackhawks 4 – 3 Pittsburgh Penguins
– The series that everyone is somewhat hoping for will take place as the Pens and the Hawks are the two teams with the least questions but it will be the Blackhawks who come out on top as they have shown to be one of the most dominant teams in recent years and will not be slowed down by anyone on their way to the Cup

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