Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Peerless Prognosticator Brings You: The Rest of the 2018 Stanley Cup Tournament First Round

Having taken a look at the Washington Capitals first round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, we can turn our attention to the other series on the first round NHL playoff schedule. And there are quite a few interesting series in there. 

Tampa Bay Lightning (54-23-5)
New Jersey Devils (44-29-9)

Here is the “David and Goliath” series.  Tampa Bay was on just about everyone’s short list to come out of the East to the Stanley Cup final.  You would have had to look hard to find anyone who thought the Devils would find their way into the postseason.       

Tampa Bay did not disappoint, but the Devils were overachievers.  It makes the Devils something of the darlings of the East, but one would rather be the Lightning.  They scored more than half a goal per game more than New Jersey (3.54 to 2.96), had a better power play (23.9 percent to 21.4 percent), better shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (51.63 to 48.60).  But as they say in the TV ads at 3:00 am… “BUT WAIT!”  New Jersey won all three meetings against the Lightning this season, and Tampa Bay scored only three even strength goals.  All three games were one-goal decisions, one of those in a Gimmick.  Does that mean the Devils have the Lightning’s number?  Well, no.

Lightning in 6


Boston Bruins (50-20-12)
Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7)

This will be the 15th time these Original Six clubs have met in the postseason, but the first since 2013 and only the second meeting since 1974.  But familiarity with one another is not a problem.  They have met 73 times since the dark 2004-2005 season, the Bruins leading the series with a 43-19-11 record in that span.  This year, though, Toronto took a big wet bite out of that advantage the Bruins have enjoyed, winning three of the four games the teams played.  Boston stumbled at the finish, losing four of their last five games and going 7-5-4 over their last 16 contests.  On the other hand, the Maple Leafs wrapped up the season going 10-4-0 in their last 14 contests.  This could end up being the most competitive of the eight first round series.  We think Toronto has one more year to wait before advancing past the first round.

Boston in 7


Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6)
Philadelphia Flyers (42-26-14)

This series is one in which Caps fans root for the meteor, or a gamma ray burst, or bad meat in the cheese-steaks or Primanti’s sandwiches.  There is no team here to root for.  For Caps fans, the best outcome would be seven four-overtime games.  This would be one of those series in which one might say that because these teams are bitter rivals with a long history of antagonism toward one another, the Flyers would have a puncher’s chance, figuratively speaking.  Well, the Penguins won all four meetings of the clubs this season, and although two of them were in overtime, Pittsburgh still found a way to score five goals in each of the four games.  Given the lingering uncertainty in goal for the Flyers and whether Brian Elliott is sufficiently healthy to make a difference, this could be a short series.  But out of hope, we’ll give the Flyers one more win than our head says is likely.

Pittsburgh in 6


Nashville Predators (53-18-11)
Colorado Avalanche (43-30-9)

This is a series that pits “Team With Unfinished Business” against “Team Just Happy to Be Here.”  Nashville made it to the Stanley Cup final last year and followed that up with a Presidents Trophy this season.  Colorado hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2014, and they haven’t won a postseason series since 2008 (Joel Quenneville, who went on to bigger and better things, was their coach).  Nashville won all four games between the clubs this season, outscoring Colorado, 19-11.  Sweeping a team in the postseason is hard, and that’s the only reason we think…

Nashville in 5


Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10)
Minnesota Wild (45-26-11)

This is a series for hockey junkies, teams with rabid local followings but not much of a national footprint.  It could be entertaining, though.  There are the Jets with the second-ranked scoring offense in the league (3.33 goals per game) and perhaps the next great dominant goal scorer in Patrik Laine.  On the other hand, the Wild aren’t slouches in scoring, ranked 11th overall (3.05).  They are similarly ranked in scoring defense, the Jets ranked fifth (2.63 goals allowed per game) and the Wild ranked 11th (2.79).  Both clubs have special teams indexes – power play plus penalty killing percentages – over 100 (Winnipeg at 105.2 and Minnesota at 101.7).  Winnipeg won three of the four games in the season series, but all three wins came before December 1st , and the clubs haven’t met since the Wild secured their lone win on January 13th.  Winnipeg finished the season on a 11-1-0 run, but five of those wins were in extra time, and two of them were in Gimmicks.  The Wild struggled down the stretch, going 6-4-4 to close out their regular season.

Winnipeg in 6


Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7)
Los Angeles Kings (45-29-8)

Vegas didn’t luck into their finish this season.  They were both a top ten scoring offense (3.27 goals per game/5th) and a top-ten scoring defense (2.74/8th).  They tied for tenth in both power play (21.4 percent) and penalty kill (81.4 percent).  But the Los Angeles Kings are a flinty sort of team, the best scoring defense in the league (2.46 goals allowed per game) and stingy with the shots they allow (30.9 shots allowed per game, eighth fewest).  They also played the Golden Knights tough this season, the teams splitting four games, each team getting one of their wins in overtime.  The difference, if there is one, is that the Kings won their two decisions in the last two meetings of the season, in late February.  Late February also happens to be the last time Los Angeles lost consecutive games.  They went 12-5-3 since then to finish the season.

Los Angeles in 7


Anaheim Ducks (44-25-13)
San Jose Sharks (45-27-10)

Things were looking really good for San Jose when they won eight in a row as March was winding down.  Then they went and finished 1-4-1 in their last six games.  On the other hand, the Ducks had a better finishing kick, going 10-1-1 in their last dozen games, scoring 40 goals in the process while allowing just 23 and shutting out opponents three times.  San Jose is a better possession team, as indicated by shot attempts at 5-on-5, and is more efficient on both sides of special teams (20.6 percent to 17.8 percent on power plays, 84.8 percent to 83.2 percent on penalty kills).  And, the Ducks put a little too much pressure on their own goaltenders in allowing 33.1 shots per game, seventh-most in the league (only Colorado has allowed more among playoff teams in the West).  There isn’t much to read in the season series.  Although San Jose won three of the four games, three of the games were decided in the Gimmick, two of which the Sharks won.  This will be close.

San Jose in 7