NHL Playoffs Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 04/14/2009
The NHL playoffs are all set and about ready to get underway. Given the bruising intensity of this tournament, winning it is one of the biggest challenges in sports. This year's version is wide open, with no clear favorite and several legitimate contenders in each conference. Every top contender has a potentially fatal flaw, so you get the real sense that anything could happen. After the first round, that is. From where I sit the first round is pretty dull and chalky. There's only one lower seeded team - Carolina - that stands a very strong chance of an upset, and only a couple of others that seem to have a chance of winning. Here's how I see it playing out, with odds from Bodog:
Boston Bruins (-330) vs. Montreal Canadiens (+265) - This one is not a contest. Boston scores better, plays better defense, and has better goaltending. They dominated the Habs all season, and they are going to do it again here. There is no pride in picking heavy favorites, but it can't be avoided here. This one shouldn't be a long or particularly interesting series.
Washington Capitals (-220) vs. New York Rangers (+180) - This is a more intriguing matchup than it would appear on the surface. The Rangers have better goaltending, and they have the best penalty kill in the league. The Capitals have the second best power play, so it will be strength against strength. Washington ultimately has a big edge here for one reason - they can score, and the Rangers really can't. New York is virtually impotent offensively, and especially in the third period when it really matters.
New Jersey Devils (-135) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (+115) - These teams are very alike in many ways. They are both similarly average offensively, though they have the ability to be brilliant. They both have goalies with the proven ability to carry their teams in the playoffs. They both play dependable, disciplined defense. The biggest difference is that Carolina has been red hot down the stretch, while the Devils have struggled entering the postseason. This one could go either way, so given the prices the value rests on Carolina.
Pittsburgh Penguins (-160) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (+140) - This is definitely the top series of the first half. These in-state rivals don't like each other, and they are well matched up. They ended the season with the same number of points, they both have explosive offensive elements, neither has particularly strong goaltending, and neither team is too excited about playing strong defense. This one will be a barnburner. Pittsburgh looked better down the stretch, and better since upgrading significantly at the trade deadline. This price is maybe a bit much, but I see Pittsburgh coming out on top in six games.
San Jose Sharks (-300) vs. Anaheim Ducks (+250) - The Ducks are a trendy upset pick in some circles, but I'm not buying it. They played very strong down the stretch, but that's not enough. They have some real goaltending questions, and they are just plain outmatched by the Sharks. The Ducks have some very good playoff experience, but the Sharks have added plenty of their own as well. San Jose has home ice advantage, and that is far too much for Anaheim to overcome here.
Detroit Red Wings (-550) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (+375) - This price is fat enough that it would be great to be able to find a reason to back the underdogs. Unfortunately, I can't find one. The Jackets are in the playoffs for the first time ever, and they have found a very tough spot for themselves. Detroit is far more talented, their goaltending has been much better down the stretch than people think it is, and Columbus goalie Steve Mason is showing cracks after a fantastic season. A Columbus upset would be a great story, but it just isn't going to happen. Detroit will win and win quickly.
Vancouver Canucks (-230) vs. St. Louis Blues (+190) - These two teams have played as well down the stretch as any two teams, and that should make for an interesting series. They both have enjoyed very good goaltending, they both have deep offensive strength that doesn't rely on just one star, and they are both solid on special teams - though St. Louis is a bit stronger on that front. Neither team has much playoff experience, s that won't be a factor. The series should be a tough one, but Vancouver gets the edge for two reasons - home ice, and Roberto Luongo. Still, you could make a compelling case that St. Louis has value based on the price.
Chicago Blackhawks (-155) vs. Calgary Flames (+135) - The Flames have been a disaster down the stretch. Their big trade deadline acquisitions haven't meshed, they've been hit hard by injuries, the power play is historically bad, coach Mike Keenan's seat is burning hot, their goaltending hasn't been great, and their top players aren't playing up to their potential. The Blackhawks are young an inexperienced, but they are deep and dangerous and have a clear edge here. Calgary looked very good two months ago, but time has not been kind to them, and this price is more than fair to Chicago.