Toronto vs Boston:
I wrote 2000 words on this yesterday. I think that’s enough. You can read it there.
Upset Pick: Kings over Golden Knights
I don’t have any shockers on here, but rather a bunch of small upsets. But since everyone is flaunting over the Golden Knights, I’ll talk about LA. The Kings aren’t the same team they were in 2014, but that core is still there, and it’s still one of the best in the league. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick are all stars, and I don’t think the Golden Knights have anyone who can match them. Don’t get me wrong, William Karlsson has been a great story, but is his league leading 23.4% shooting percentage can’t sustain. The Knights have some good players: James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch up front and Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore on the back end, but are any of those guys x-factors who can win you a series? I’m not sure. Their first line is great, but do they have any forward line that can shut a Kings line down? The Golden Knights are a great story, but they truly are a miracle, and unless Marc-Andre Fleury stands on his brian, I’m not sure the Golden Knights will be able to match the Kings star power, physicality, and experience.
Dark Horse Candidate: Columbus Blue Jackets
Man, I love this Blue Jackets team. I actually picked them to win the Cup in October (I am just now realizing my preseason final four is the same as my postseason final 4… crazy), and I’m still on their bandwagon. Artemi Panarin is one of the best players in the league, their top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones is one of the best in the league, and Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the best goalies in the league. What’s not to love? Pierre-Luc Dubois has had a fantastic season, filling the Jackets un-filled hole down the middle since trading Ryan Johansen. I think this team has the potential to go all the way, but the one thing that worries me against a team like Boston is their lack of star power down the middle. Dubois and Wennberg are
Toronto vs Boston:
The Bruins are the better team here. Depth on all four forward lines, good help on the back end, and a goalie that has been playing very well all season. Toronto obviously has a group of young guys mixed in with some veterans who can produce whenever called upon. Their flaws lie on the back end; can their defense hold up? If Andersen gets hot and they get a few timely goals from Matthews, Marner, Nylander, JVR, etc, then they can steal it. But, I doubt that happens. Bruins in 7.
Upset Pick: Flyers over Penguins
Look, I get it. The Pens are the two-time defending champs. Their team is largely unchanged minus Brassard for Bonino this season. But, Letang hasn’t looked the same after injury, and their defensive numbers are pretty bad (over 3 goals allowed per game – yikes!). Goalie appears to be a bit of a problem too, as Murray hasn’t quite settled in, but he got hot the last two runs they had so maybe it happens again.
Philly is low-key good. Claude Giroux is having a sneaky MVP-caliber season, Voracek can still put up points with the best of ’em, and Ghost on the back end gives them someone to lean on. Goalie is a bit of a problem here as well, but I think the Flyers’ first line will make mincemeat of the Pittsburgh defense and take this one in an upset. Flyers in 6.
Dark Horse Candidate: Vegas Golden Knights
Some will have a hard time contemplating how a 1-seed is a “dark horse candidate.” Just like at the start of the season, nobody is giving Vegas a chance to beat anybody. What did they do with the first round of criticism? Win. What do I expect them to do here? Win. Their portion of the bracket is the weaker side, as they won’t need to worry about Nashville/Winnipeg until the WCF. If they make it there, which I think they will, they’re in a really good position to pull off an upset. Karlsson has turned into a superstar, and Marc-Andre Fleury could get hot and steal them a few games. From there, it’ll likely be Tampa or Boston in the SCF. I don’t think that they win it all, but it’s more than possible. This is hockey, after all.
Cup Champion: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts are loaded. Kucherov. Stamkos. Point. Hedman. Vasilevskiy. McDonagh. The list goes on and on here. A top line that will torch anybody (don’t forget about my guy J.T. Miller), good depth throughout (Tyler Johnson is their third line center), and a goalie who has been playing tremendously this season are all recipes for a winner. Their toughest test will be in the second round against the Bruins. That series could go either way. But, with home ice, I gotta pick the Bolts. From there, I think Philly sneaks their way into the ECF, loses to Tampa, who goes on to beat Vegas. They’re just too good.
Toronto vs. Boston:
The loss to Florida in the final game of the year will prove to hurt the Bruins as they miss out on playing an underwhelming Devils Squad. But… it will not hurt them enough to have them lose in the first round. Toronto’s speed upfront has and will continue to pose a problem for Boston’s D core. If there is any team that makes 41 year old Zdeno Chara look like a 41 year old, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. The combination of skill players such a Matthews and Marner up top will push the B’s Defense to the edge. However, despite their potency up top, the Leafs lack any sort of defensive prescense to combat the bruins top two lines. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak will wear this leafs team down as the series progresses At the end of the day, the bruins are a better, more balanced team than the Maple Leafs. This is a series the SHOULD win. Their will be moments of brilliance and embarrassment for the Bruins this series… but they will prevail. Bruins in 7.
Upset Pick: Winnipeg Jets
The Jets are playing their best hockey at the most important time of the year. Winning 9 of their last 10 heading, the Jets have hit their stride and will continue their hot pace heading into the playoffs. After rolling over Minnesota in round 1, the Jets will matchup against the league’s best: The Nashville Predators. In a series that surely will go the full 7, the Jets will find enough to pull away from the Predators and head toward the WCF. Bell MTS Place has been a house of horrors for any visiting team this year. The Jets hold the leagues best home record: 32-7-2. And although the Jets will not have Home ice advantage vs. Nashville, only one win in the predators building will be enough for the Jets to prevail. Winnipeg downs Nashville in 7.
Dark Horse Candidate: Los Angeles Kings
There is no other way to put it… if you have a goaltender, you always have a chance. Jonathan Quick is that is that chance for the Kings. Is the win/loss record a telling sign of what kind of goaltender Quick has been this year? No Chance! Quick has posted a 2.40 GAA average with a .921 save pct and 5 shutouts. A solid all around year for the veteran net-minder. And, if there is a time of year that Jonathan shows up for it is playoff time. Flashback to his 2011-12 playoff run, Quick posted a .946 save pct. and a 1.41 GAA en route to a magical cup win for the Kings. Am I hoping some of this magic from 2012 rubs off on quick for this years run? You bet ya I am! But I also believe it is very possible that the Boys from LA will stifle a young and unproven Vegas team in the first round. Kings in the WCF.
Cup Winner: Winnipeg Jets
As mentioned above, the Jets are rolling. They also may be the most well rounded team from top to bottom. They have elite point getters up top with guys like Blake Wheeler and Patrick Laine, complimented by reliable D-men, and a stud goaltender in Hellebuyck. Their path to the cup is by no means ideal… but the Jets will ride their hot streak, and ride it all the way to hockey’s peak. Jets over Bruins.
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