The possibility is there, and you know that the bright bean counters at the NHL’s head offices can see it coming.
The four biggest U.S. markets in each of the league’s new divisions are all still alive, needing just one more series win to give Gary Bettman and Co. a dream final four with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston all represented.
That’s good for hockey-related revenues. It’s good for the new playoff format. And it’s obviously good for ratings on NBC.
Will it happen? I’d say there’s a reasonably good chance, even if a couple of these series are going to come down to the wire.
Boston (117 points) vs. Montreal (100 points) The storyline here will obviously be the history, but don’t expect this series to follow the script of their last meeting in 2011. The Bruins are a dramatically different team than three years ago – better, on paper, if you can believe it – and aren’t going to go through a seven game series without scoring a power play goal again. The Canadiens, meanwhile, are hard to get a great read on after an uneven regular season led into some of their best hockey in a Round 1 sweep against the Lightning. Overall, Montreal’s built to compete with Boston from a speed and finesse standpoint and Carey Price certainly gives them a chance, but this is a Bruins team without many holes. If Tuukka Rask is up to the task, they should win.
Prediction: Bruins in 6
Pittsburgh (109 points) vs. NY Rangers (96 points) Don’t put a lot of stock in the regular season here. The Rangers emerged as one of the better teams in the league over the back half of the year when Henrik Lundqvist got his game together, and as long as he’s posting a .920 save percentage or better, New York is the favourite. The Penguins were anything but impressive in knocking off a green Columbus team that took advantage of the Pittsburgh D with a hard forecheck, an area the Rangers have excelled in all year. The wild card is the Sidney Crosby factor, as New York will have a hard time keeping up if the series turns into a power play filled goal-fest. Here’s betting Lundqvist doesn’t allow it to.
Prediction: Rangers in 7
Anaheim (116 points) vs. Los Angeles (100 points) This is the first time the Ducks and Kings have faced one another in the postseason, another by-product of realignment that should result in some heated hockey. Coming in, Anaheim may have home ice advantage, but they’ve also got more question marks, with indecision over who will start in goal, a hole on the blueline with Stephane Robidas out and a less than convincing first round against Dallas. Add in the fact that, with the Avs bowing out, the Ducks are the next team in line that the analytics folks aren’t very high on, and it doesn’t help matters than LA is the best possession team in the league. But this series could very well come down to which team gets a better six or seven games in goal – and good luck predicting what Anaheim will get there.
Prediction: Kings in 6
Chicago (107 points) vs. Minnesota (98 points) If there’s one series that will end quickly in this round, it’s likely to be this one. These two teams met in the first round a year ago, and the Blackhawks made short work of it then, narrowly losing one overtime game and outscoring the Wild 16-5 in the four others. It may not be that heavily a beating this time around simply because some of Minnesota’s young talent like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle is coming into its own, but Chicago’s a heavy favourite here, even with a few key bodies banged up. Especially with the nonstop injuries the Wild have had to deal with in goal.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5