The 2017 NHL Playoffs will kick off on Wednesday night and it is sure to be a party for the next couple of months. The first round of the NHL playoffs may be the most exciting display of competition in all the four major North American sports. Here are my predictions for the first round.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Verdict: Blackhawks in 6 Player of the series: Artemi Panarin
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Mar 4, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) after scoring during the second period against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
The Hawks were the best team in the Western Conference, but their first round matchup is tougher than they expected. The Hawks and Predators have developed a strong rivalry and another playoff matchup will grow that rivalry.
While the Predators went further in the playoffs last year, the Hawks are the more seasoned team. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are proven winners who won’t want to bow out in the first round for the second season in the row.
Artemi Panarin is one of a few players looking for their first cup ring. Expect Panarin to be a difference maker in the first round. The Predators will give the Hawks a run for their money, but they will not be able to upset Chicago.
The Predators have one solid line going for them, but the likes of James Neal, Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher have been known to bring their game to new heights in the playoffs. If these guys get going early, the Hawks will be in trouble. Experience and the mixed-in youth will push the Blackhawks over the edge.
MINNESOTA WILD vs ST. LOUIS BLUES
Verdict: Blues in 6 Player of the series: Vladimir Tarasenko
Mar 7, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; St Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) makes a save in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The St Louis Blues beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
If you would have asked me two months ago if the Wild were going to go for a long run I would have agreed. The Wild fell off a cliff down the stretch. Couple that with an unlucky in the playoffs head coach in Bruce Boudreau and we have a recipe for first round upset.
The Blues will be the much more loose team with no expectations. Another advantage for St. Louis will be head coach Mike Yeo‘s familiarity with his old franchise. Yeo will have the upper hand, knowing which player’s skin to get under and how to take them off their game.
Vladimir Tarasenko will be hungry to prove he can be a catalyst for his team after an underwhelming playoff showing last year. The Blues have the experience on their side after a long playoff run last season.
This series could go either way, but considering the coaching conundrums and advantages in favor of Mike Yeo, the Blues will overtake the Wild in six games.
ANAHEIM DUCKS vs CALGARY FLAMES
Verdict: Ducks in 6 Player of the series: Ryan Getzlaf
Apr 4, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano (5) and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson (42) fight in the third period at Honda Center. The Ducks defeated the Flames 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Ducks and Flames were two of the hottest teams in the final two months of the season. The Ducks never took their foot off the pedal. The Flames fell back to earth at the end of the season.
This series already has some off-ice drama that should translate to the surface. Ducks GM Bob Murray called out Flames captain Mark Giordano for a dirty knee-on-knee hit that injured Ducks defender Cam Fowler. Flames GM Brad Treliving snapped back calling those comments “asinine.”
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf went on an absolute tear down the stretch and his offense will be the biggest contributing factor to a Ducks victory. If Corey Perry ups his game, then the Flames will be in trouble.
While many would love a Battle of Alberta in the second round, the Ducks are going to be just too much to handle for the young Flames.
EDMONTON OILERS vs SAN JOSE SHARKS
Verdict: Oilers in 6 Player of the series: Milan Lucic
Apr 6, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) watches the puck go into the goal against San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
The Edmonton Oilers went from a team without playoff action in a decade to owning home ice advantage against the 2016 Western Conference champions. The Oilers won 12 of their final 14 games, while the Sharks went in the complete opposite direction.
The Sharks are starting to show wear and tear stemmed from their playoff run last year. The Sharks will also have to face a speedy team with a less than healthy Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.
Connor McDavid will be the driving force for the Oilers, but it’s Milan Lucic who will have the biggest impact player for the Oilers. Lucic scored a natural hat trick in the final game of the season these two teams played. The Oiler’s second line of Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle turned up their offense in the final ten games of the season.
With Cam Talbot providing the anchor for the Oilers over the fading Martin Jones, this series should be all Oilers. The Sharks won’t go quietly, but Edmonton has speed, momentum and the best player in the world.