Writer’s Note: This article is going to focus on the League at the completion of 41 games. Technically, that was achieved about a week and a half ago, but I figured the All-Star Break was a good a time as any to focus on and make these predictions. Enjoy!
Well here we are, the All-Star Break. A good a time as any to look back and reflect upon the season we have had thus far. About a month and a half ago, I wrote an article focusing on what teams would be in the NHL playoffs at that point in the season (after each team had completed 20 games). Well here we are, 21 games later, the NHL halfway mark. Within the first article, I discussed how much the hockey media seemed to set the American Thanksgiving as an unofficial D-Day for the teams inside and out of the playoff picture. Although there seems to be quite a bit of truth to that assertion (75% of the teams have returned), the fact that there is now 4 new teams included in the dance makes for an interesting race down the stretch. Well, here are the standings at the Halfway Mark:
- All tie-breaks were done using the NHL sanctioned system (Points, ROW, wins between teams, goal differential)
- In the case that 2 or more teams tie every tie-breaking procedure, I decided to go with regular wins as the final tie-breaking procedure.
- I will list the points of each team, as well as an explanation of the tie-break if need be.
1: NYR over Washington because of DIFF
2: Philadelphia over Columbus because of ROW
3: Vancouver ahead of San Jose because of ROW
4: LA ahead of Winnipeg because of DIFF
President’s Trophy: Nashville Predators
Note: Home Ice Advantage is to the left.
For those of you unaware, the way that the NHL determines playoff matchups is with a “Wild Card” system:
The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season record and regardless of division. It is possible for one division in each conference to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends just three. – NHL.com
With that out of the way, here are the playoff matchups at the 41 game mark in the season:
Pittsburgh vs. Florida
Head to Head: Tied
Well there are three factors that I believe go into this series more than anything else 1) Star Power 2) Team Offence (Pittsburgh) 3) Team Defence (Florida). There is a reason that Pittsburgh is considered one of the premiere teams in the league. They probably have one of the greatest collection of offensive stars in the NHL. Just Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would probably be a lot for many teams to handle, but when you factor in players like Chris Kunitz, Dave Perron and Kris Letang, you have an offense that can be scary good if you let them play their game. Usually teams throw the Penguins off by playing a tighter defensive system against them, but Florida sits at a -6 in Goal Differential while Pittsburgh’s sits at a comfortable +27. Stranger things have happened, but something tells me that the Penguins would cruise into the second round here.
Prediction: Penguins win in 5.
Montreal vs. Washington
Head to Head: 1-o Montreal
This is one of those match ups I feel is really going to come down to one player stepping up over another. Giving the Montreal Canadiens the home ice advantage is very important in this match up. In season’s past, I don’t think it would have mattered as much, but giving Barry Trotz any kind of advantage could be disastrous for the Habs. The Caps are playing a much more complete game, and have become a much harder team to score against. Much of that has to do with the emergence of Holtby as a bona fide starter in this league, along with Ovechkin finally buying into a defensive system that hasn’t become a detriment to his offensive game. As I was saying, I feel like this series is going to come down to one player; Carey Price. I feel he is a game changer, and the Habs have a little bit more playoff experience than the Caps. I feel like this series has the possibility to be the star of Round 1.
Prediction: Canadiens win in 7.
Tampa Bay vs. Detroit
Head to Head: 1-0 Tampa Bay
This series showed up last time, and I still feel the same way. The Lightning are proving that they are for real, but the Red Wings have really been coming on lately (winning 7 of 9 in January). I really do think that Tampa Bay is trying to find its way much the same way that the Penguins did from 2005-2009. They have a very well put together team, but after last years sweep at the hands of the Habs, I feel like there is still some learning to do. Much like the Penguins have found out recently, regular season success doesn’t always translate into the NHL playoffs. Detroit has been the poster child for resetting on the fly, and they look much better than last year. Plus Mike Babcock isn’t the most coveted coach in the NHL for no reason.
Prediction: Red Wings in 6.
New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers
Head to Head: 1-0 NYI
This match up is another replica from the Quarter Point, and I really hope it sticks through the rest of the season. I really think it has the potential to be one of the more entertaining series of the first round. Also, something about this being the final season in Nassau Coliseum has me starting to think that there is some magic in the air in Uniondale, New York. Both the Rangers and the Islanders have been playing great hockey this year, which makes this a hard series to call. I’m flipping from my last prediction. The Islanders feel for real.
Prediction: Islanders in 7.
Nashville vs. Winnipeg
Head to Head: 2-1 Nashville.
Paul Maurice has the Jets looking up for the first time since, well, ever. They finally look like a team that is ready to chase a playoff spot, and I really do hope that they make it in. Beyond that, I feel like it is going to be a relatively short stay. While they are playing a much better brand of hockey these days, they simply cannot match the experience on the Predators. The Preds are a team that have made a living out of grinding their way into and through the NHL playoffs. Factor in that they are a more balanced team than ever, along with Peter Laviolette knowing how to push a team’s buttons (see Hurricane 2006 and Flyers 2010), and you will likely see the Predators dispatch the Jets rather handily.
Predicition: Predators in 5.
Anaheim vs. Los Angeles
Head to Head: Tied
I don’t care how inconsistent the Kings have been this year, they just seem to have a switch they turn on once the NHL playoffs begin. It is quite impressive and I’m sure any team drawing them Round 1 isn’t excited about it. While teams may soon figure out the Kings on a whole, I don’t know if that time is here yet. The Ducks are one of the better teams in the league for a reason, but I don’t think the likes of Vatanen and Beauchemin match up well against Doughty and Muzzin. Getzlaf and Perry are probably some of the more feared offensive players in the league, but the Kings have proven to suffocate those tendencies in the past. Jonathan Quick, to me, is an x-factor in this one. Will be a hard fought series nonetheless, taking a true contender out in the first round.
Prediction: Kings in 7.
Chicago vs. St. Louis
Head to Head: Tied
This match up has flipped since the quarter point, and I think that makes all the difference in the world. I feel that this will be a bit of a yo-yo series. Very easy to see Home ice being the only winners, and the BlackHawks have the experience to understand that it might be OK to wait for home ice to take it. Once again this series would highlight 2 possible contenders, but I really do think that Home Ice matters. Tarasenko has been a feel good story for the Blues this year, but on the whole St. Louis tends to be a score by committee team. I said before that the team finding its way out of this match up could very likely find its way to the Western Final, and I still maintain that. If the BlackHawks can walk into this series healthy, they are the more complete team as it looks right now. Bowman also said that he won’t be making any moves at the deadline, but to me that is GM talk for “wait until you see the player I trade for.”
Prediction: BlackHawks in 7.
San Jose vs. Vancouver
Head to Head: 2-0 Vancouver
How many years are we going to wait for San Jose to really break through? They are getting older, and while they have managed the Cap well, while maintaining their image as one of the more competitive teams in the league, the only problem, their stars aren’t getting any younger. I feel if the Sharks get into the post-season, they are going to be a little more incensed to win. It might truly feel like they are living on borrowed time. That might just be motivation enough for them to try and go on a little run. While Vancouver is playing a much better brand of hockey this year, I still feel like they are building towards next year more than trying to go for it this year (although Miller can be good for a series) and they might just be happy to stretch their post-season legs again.
Prediction: Sharks in 6.
Cover Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images