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PRIMEPUCKS 2012 PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS-1ST ROUND



The 2012 Playoff predictions are in.  Take a look at what the PrimePucks writers have to say about each playoff series and who they predict will advance.

***PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (4)  vs  PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (5)

MUST-STARTS:

PENGUINS--Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury

FLYERS--Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Ilya Bryzgalov

SLEEPERS:

PENGUINS-- Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz

FLYERS--Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Daniel Briere

  • Plenty of must-start fantasy options to choose from, considering that both talent-laden squads can make a deep run into the playoffs. Unfortunately, only one will survive past Round 1, so keep that in mind when filling out your starting roster.
  • Evgeni Malkin has won the Art Ross Trophy twice (08/09, 11/12)… but more importantly, the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009. A great bet to lead the NHL postseason scoring parade.
  • Sidney Crosby will look to make up for lost time once the playoffs begin, so expect a flurry of points.
  • D Kris Letang collected 41 points in 50 games, including five in the last two. Looks fully recovered from concussion issues. Top bet to lead blueliners in playoff scoring.
  • Who would you start- James Neal or Scott Hartnell? Slight edge to Hartnell, who has exhibited a scoring pedigree in the playoffs by collecting 17 points in 23 games, a few years back in 2010. Neal is a classic boom or bust pick. Mostly boom, considering any postseason jitters should be offset by playing with Malkin and Crosby.
  • Hard-nosed players thrive at this time of year. Take your pick between Jordan Staal or Wayne Simmonds.
  • In the goaltending department, the edge must go to the more proven Marc-Andre Fleury, even though Ilya Bryzgalov sparkled for Anaheim in the 2006 playoffs(6-4, 1.46 GAA, and 3 SO).

PRIME PREDICTION: STEVE-Pittsburgh in 7, RAY-Philadelphia in 7, MIKE-Pittsburgh in 7

This will be a tightly contested series between bitter rivals that probably won’t be decided until seven grueling games. Considering each team has the talent to win the Stanley Cup, it’s basically a coin toss between which must-start players you should draft for your team. We would lean toward the Pens, considering their championship pedigree and motivation toward bringing back the Cup to the “Steel City”.   They were the most high scoring team in the league without Sidney Crosby, now they have Crosby. The home-ice advantage will come in handy in this series, as well.

 

 

***NASHVILLE PREDATORS (4)  vs  DETROIT RED WINGS (5)

MUST-STARTS:

Nashville:   Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Alexander Radulov

Detroit:  Pavel Datysuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Jimmy Howard

SLEEPERS:

Nashville:  Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn, Martin Erat

Detroit: Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler  

  • This will likely be the most tightly contested series in the first round, Pittsburgh/Philadelphia not withstanding.  Both teams are deep and can make the Stanley Cup Finals.  Nashville demonstrated they are going for it this year with the players they brought in late, Kostitsyn, Gill etc.
  • This will be a series of contrasts, as Detroit’s strength is its offense, while Nashville’s is its defense. Hal Gill will be vital for the Predators to clear the crease and control Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the offensive zone.  Can he do it?
  • Nashville’s offense originates from the blue line through Suter and Weber, especially on the power play.  These two must score if the Predators want to win.  And players like Erat and the Kostitsyn brothers will have to provide secondary scoring.
  • The real wild card in this series is Radulov.  He is the most offensively gifted of any of Nashville’s forwards.  He scored 7 points in his 9 NHL games this year and has looked really good at times.  He has never played in an NHL playoff game before, so it remains to be seen if he can handle the tight checking and the intensity.  If he can score that would be a huge positive for the Predators’ chances.
  • Goaltending is always the key to playoff success.  While Jimmy Howard is a solid in net for Detroit, Nashville has a big advantage in goal with star Pekka Rinne.  If he plays up to his abilities he could tilt the series in the Predators favor.

PRIME PREDICTION: MIKE-Nashville in 7, RAY-Nashville in 6, STEVE-Nashville in 7

Nashville has geared up this year to go for the Cup.  Expect them to be fired up for this series and come out flying.  The question is do they have enough offense?  While the Red Wings have a lot of offense, and Datsyuk is an offensive wizard, Detroit does have some age, and they struggled somewhat in the second half.   Expect Pekka Rinne to be the difference in a really tough series.

 

 

***FLORIDA PANTHERS (3)  vs  NEW JERSEY DEVILS (6)

MUST-STARTS:

PANTHERS—Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss, Brian Campbell, Jose Theodore

DEVILS—Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Brodeur

SLEEPERS:

PANTHERS—Mikael Samuelsson, Sean Bergenheim, Dmitry Kulikov, Scott Clemmensen

DEVILS—David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, Petr Sykora

  • The Panthers have had a magical season but the magic may end in New Jersey as the Devils have been on a roll at the end of the regular season and will be tough to beat even though they lack home-ice advantage. 
  • The Devils have that elite forward, and more, that the Panthers lack.  Kovalchuk and Parise can be explosive and you should expect them to be so in a short series.  Elias and Sykora will provide secondary scoring as well. 
  • The Panthers line of Fleischmann-Weiss-Versteeg was lights out during the regular season but will be hard-pressed to duplicate that in the playoffs.  Especially against the Devils defense and Brodeur.
  • Zidlicky was starting to look comfortable after the trade on the back end playing with Kovy, Parise and Elias and should continue that into the first round of the playoffs.  Campbell has had a wonderful bounce back season and can be a presence on defense for Florida.  Kulikov is still learning, but he does have talent.
  • Brodeur over Theodore as the latter has struggled towards the end of the season while Brodeur picked up his game in the second half.  Johan Hedberg is more than capable as a backup as is Clemmensen.  Don’t be surprised to see Clemmensen in against his old team early if Theodore struggles.

PRIME PREDICTION: RAY-New Jersey in 5, MIKE-New Jersey in 5, STEVE-New Jersey in 6

There is just too much goaltending and defense for the Florida Panthers to overcome.  No denying that the Panthers had a tremendous regular season, but this is a whole new ballgame.  This is one series where the home-ice advantage won’t make a difference.

 

 

***PHOENIX COYOTES (3) vs  CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (6)

MUST-STARTS:

COYOTES--Radim Vrbata, Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mike Smith

BLACKHAWKS--Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews

SLEEPERS:

COYOTES--Lauri Korpikoski

CHICAGO--Dave Bolland, Viktor Stalberg, Nick Leddy

  • Can Phoenix, coming off their first division title, prove that the regular season was not a fantasy?  Can Dave Tippett, whose teams have lost in the first round in 5 of 7 playoff years, coach this team to a playoff series win?  He did bring Dallas to the Conference Finals in ’07-’08, eventually losing to the Detroit Red Wing who beat the Penguins for the Cup.
  • Can goaltender Mike Smith continue his magic in the playoffs?  The playoffs are a new season, so this will be a true test.
  • How effective will Adrian Aucoin and Derek Morris be against the top line of the Blackhawks?  Chicago’s defense can match the output of Yandle and Ekman-Larsson, especially if Seabrook gets hot.
  • The Coyotes have the veterans to make a run but must rely on Vrbata and Whitney to supply most of the offense.  If Chicago shuts them down, the ‘Hawks will advance.
  • There is word that Toews is skating and practicing with the team and if that is the case, then the return of the captain gives them a tremendous offensive advantage but they must be able to break through the stone wall that is Mike Smith.

PRIME PREDICTION: RAY-Chicago in 6, MIKE-Chicago in 6, STEVE-Phoenix in 7

The playoff experience of winning the Stanley will come in handy to overcome what should be a tough matchup against the Coyotes.  The big question mark is how well will Corey Crawford play in net?  Perhaps a “new season” will light a fire in him.  Mike Smith will keep Phoenix in the series, and home-ice advantage is nice, but the Blackhawks will prevail with their experience and the return of their captain.

 

 

***BOSTON BRUINS (2)  vs  WASHINGTON CAPITALS (7)

MUST-STARTS:

BRUINS--Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas

CAPITALS--Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman

SLEEPERS:

BRUINS--Chris Kelly, Benoit Pouliot

CAPITALS--Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, Braden Holtby

  • The Bruins have scoring throughout their four forward lines as evidenced by their 6 20+ goal scorers which would have been 7 had Nathan Horton not gone down to injury.  You may want to stick to the top line for your fantasy squad.
  • Seguin had a good 2011 Stanley Cup series after being held out at the start.  He played in 13 games and was a spar for the Bruins.  The experience should bode well for him this year.  Same goes for Marchand who had 18 points in 25 Stanley Cup playoff games.
  • Ovechkin had an off-year according to his standards and now must go up against Zdeno Chara every shift.  If he was saving himself for the playoffs, we are about to find out.
  • Enigmatic LW Semin must bring it every night for the Caps to make this a series.  Having Backstrom back helps but he missed a large chunk of the season.  Big question marks.
  • Young talent like Johansson and Perreault need to step up their games to match the offensive talent that Boston brings.
  • What has happened to Mike Green?  1 point in 22 games to end the season.  Take Dennis Wideman who had a 46 point season. 
  • Tim Thomas, Vezina and Conn Smythe winner, versus a young and unproven goalie in the NHL, Braden Holtby with Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun out with injuries.  Who would you take?  Some young netminders have stolen series before, but Boston brings it from everywhere.  A rude awakening for young Mr. Holtby in his first NHL playoffs.

PRIME PREDICTION: RAY-Boston in 5, MIKE-Boston in 6, STEVE-Boston in 7

Boston seems to have so much depth throughout their lineup and they play hard every night and bring their best effort so that without a proven goaltender minding the crease for the Caps, this should be a quick series for the defending champs.  Plus the Bruins have the home-ice advantage if the Caps make this a series.

 

 

***ST. LOUIS BLUES (2)  vs  SAN JOSE SHARKS (7)

MUST-STARTS:

BLUES--David Backes, Andy McDonald, T. J. Oshie, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jaroslav Halak

SHARKS--Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, Antti Niemi

SLEEPERS:

BLUES--Chris Stewart, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrick Berglund, Alexander Steen

SHARKS--Martin Havlat, Ryane Clowe, Brent Burns

  • St. Louis likes to switch up their lines so finding a true number one line is difficult.  Backes and McDonald should be counted on to carry the offense.  Don’t overlook David Perron who scored 42 points in 57 games since his return from a concussion caused by a Joe Thornton hit last season. Will that be an influence on the play of Perron?  On the other hand, it could be a motivational tool for the talented LW.
  • Thornton still has something to prove to his loyal fans and perhaps he has matured especially after last year’s post season performance of 17 points in 18 games. “Little” Joe Pavelski and Marleau need to step up in a series that will probably be one of the tightest matches in the first round.  All the Sharks forwards seemed to pick up their game after the All-Star game.  Can they carry that momentum into this series?
  • Youngsters Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk against veterans Boyle and Burns could be the difference in this matchup.
  • Will Halak show his playoff form like he did in Montreal a few years back?  If not, the Blues can turn to wunderkind Brian Elliott.  If you are in a playoff pool that allows you to choose teams, then St. Louis may be one to take.  Will Head Coach Ken Hitchcock still use a goalie rotation in the playoffs?  Niemi is the go-to guy for the Sharks and has won a Stanley Cup, so don’t discount him by any means.
  • Both teams are big and tough and have depth throughout the lineup.  The off-season acquisitions of Arnott and Langenbrunner gives St. Louis the edge in this one.  Sorry Joey T!

PRIME PREDICTIONS: RAY-St. Louis in 7, MIKE-St. Louis in 7, STEVE-San Jose in 6

This will be a tough series as both teams will not back down but it will be the depth and experience that the Blues have that will be the advantage in this series.  St. Louis can switch goalies at any point and not lose a step but if Niemi falters, the Sharks don’t have the same luxury, nor the home-ice advantage.

 

 

***NEW YORK RANGERS (1)  vs  OTTAWA SENATORS (8)

MUST-STARTS:

New York:  Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa:  Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson

SLEEPERS:

New York:  Michael Del Zotto, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin

Ottawa:  Craig Anderson, Sergei Gonchar, Colin Greening  

  • While the Senators had success against the Rangers in the regular season, going 2-1-1, the playoffs are a different matter.  The Rangers had 17 more points on the season than Ottawa, and look to be the more complete team.  The issue for New York will be how well their young defensemen hold up against Ottawa’s skilled forwards.
  • The Rangers will need offense from their top forwards, sniper Marian Gaborik, first line center Brad Richards and Captain Ryan Callahan, because the Senators can score.
  • Defenseman Erik Karlsson has been a monster on offense all year for Ottawa.  Can he produce in the playoffs, where the checking is much tighter and there is less ice in which to maneuver?  His scoring will be vital to the Senators’ potential of winning this series. 
  • Ranger forward Brandon Dubinsky had a brutal year, but he seemed to wake up at the end of the season.  Secondary scoring from Dubinsky and Derek Stepan will be critical because Ottawa will try to shut down the Rangers big three.  Michael Del Zotto is New York’s best threat from the blue line, but it remains to be seen if the youngster can step it up in the playoffs.
  • New York has the advantage in goal with “the king” Henrik Lunqvist.  He is one of the 3 best goalies in the NHL, and is simply better than Craig Anderson.  If he plays well the Rangers should win the series.

PRIME PREDICTION: MIKE- New York in 6, RAY-New York in 5, STEVE-New York in 6

Despite struggling against Ottawa in the regular season, the Rangers are the better team.  It’s hard to think that Coach John Tortorella will not have them fired up big time for this series.  Lundqvist gives them a big edge in goal.

 

 

***VANCOUVER CANUCKS (1)   vs  LOS ANGELES KINGS (8)

MUST-STARTS:

CANUCKS--Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex  Burrows, Alexander Edler, Roberto Luongo

KINGS--Anze Kopitar, Mike  Richards, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick

SLEEPERS:

CANUCKS--Kevin Bieksa, Cory Schneider, Mason Raymond

KINGS--Jeff Carter, Slava Voynov

  • The Canucks are driven to get what they think they deserved last year and have been on a mission all year long as they claimed home-ice advantage again throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs, if they last that long.  With Daniel Sedin supposedly ready to return to the lineup, expect the twins to do much better than last year’s performance, and along with Burrows and Kesler, they should provide fits for the Kings.  They bring a lot of offense and defensive responsibility.
  • The Kings lack the depth and playoff experience that the Canucks bring so Kopitar, Brown, Williams and Richards need to be at their very best to make Vancouver at least sweat a little.  Jeff Carter is probable to return from an ankle injury but he may not be close to 100%, but again, he has been hampered by ankle injuries all season.  Buyer beware!
  • Take the Canucks’ defensive corps of Edler, Bieksa, Hamhuis, Ballard and Salo over the Kings’ Doughty, Voynov, Mitchell, Greene etc.  Bieksa could be a one-man wrecking crew.
  • Although Jonathan Quick is very talented, the duo of Luongo and Schneider are just too good.  So if one is faltering, the other will step in.  Luongo finished the regular season with a shutout.  Was he making a statement?

PRIME PREDICTION: RAY-Vancouver in 6, MIKE-Vancouver in 5, STEVE-Vancouver in 6

Vancouver has been built for the long haul of the Stanley Cup playoffs and having had the Cup in their reach last year, want to erase that bitter taste.  Los Angeles should give the Canucks a good fight, but the end results won’t be there for the Kings.