NHL 2013 Playoff Picks: Round One

800px-Tuukka_Rask

When I make my annual playoff picks for each round, I normally weigh the goalie matchup more than any other matchup, unless it involves the Red Wings (see “the Osgood exception”). The best goalies who weren’t Sergei Bobrovsky this season were arguably Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, and Antti Niemi. (I would rank Craig Anderson (league-leading 1.69 GAA and .941 SV%) among them but to quote Joe Sheehan, health is a skill too. Rank by total minutes: Niemi 1st , Lundqvist 2nd, Bobrovsky 11th, Rask 13th, Anderson 26th.) Also, whatever it’s worth, Brian Elliott just went 11-2, .948, 1.28 with 3 shutouts in April. The shakiest goalies in this postseason may be Jonathan Quick, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Carey Price, two of whom have won Stanley Cups in the past five years, the other of whom has played in three of the past four All-Star Games. So you never know—the odds and history mean Niemi probably won’t end up meeting either Rask or Lundqvist in the finals.

West

Chicago/Minnesota: Corey Crawford—the 2013 version anyway—is a better goalie than Niklas Backstrom, whom I still think of as a creation of Jacques Lemaire’s defense even though Lemaire left Minnesota for New Jersey in 2009. I’m not expecting a total blowout, but the Blackhawks are the deepest team in this year’s playoffs and the Wild won’t be much of a threat. We’ll hear “Chelsea Dagger” just enough. Chicago in four.

Anaheim/Detroit: The Ducks and Red Wings are evenly matched in goal as far as starters (assuming Hiller and not Fasth for Anaheim); the Ducks win the battle of the backups because of Gustavsson’s track record regardless of Fasth’s lack of one. Beyond the crease, though, the Ducks were extraordinarily lucky; only Toronto and Pittsburgh had a higher team PDO (SH% plus SV%) despite the Ducks being out-possessioned (though not as badly as the Leafs). Detroit is a much better possession team and is a bit deeper after each teams’ top two. Plus it’s the Red Wings. Detroit in five.

Vancouver/San Jose: Once again the Canucks draw a sleeper team, this time with two healthy Sedins but a less healthy goaltender. Vancouver has home ice for this series but was outshot overall this season and swept in the season series with San Jose (one a shootout loss); the Sharks outshot their opponents and also allowed fewer goals overall than the Canucks. As far as the goaltending, Luongo has the best career, Niemi has had the best season, and who knows when (or, worst case scenario, whether) Schneider will play. Probably not as ugly for Canuck fans as the Kings series a year ago, but I’ll take San Jose in six.

St. Louis/Los Angeles: This is the worst possible matchup for the Blues, who were my preseason Cup pick. Elliott-Quick is a wash, I think; Quick slumped much of this season but went 6-3-1, .917. 2.25 in April, peaking at the same time as Elliott. The Kings were the best possession team in the league; the Blues were fifth. The Blues do everything well; the Kings do everything better. Los Angeles in six.

East

Pittsburgh/New York Islanders: I’m rooting for the Islanders—honestly, my favorite player on either team is Iginla and I wouldn’t hate him personally winning a Cup, but it’s Shitsburgh and I would even rather the Rangers or Caps win it—but nothing here looks like an upset, including the goaltending matchup. Fleury is still overrated (career playoff record: .904, 2.68) but Nabokov isn’t much better (.913, 2.29, mostly from the Sharks’ 2004 and 2007 playoff runs, with more Fleuryesque recent playoffs). Pittsburgh in four.

Montreal/Ottawa: Two good possession teams, one of which had a terrible SH%; the only team worse than the Senators’ 6.7% was the Panthers (the Sharks were also at 6.7%). Anderson is the better goalie; he’s now .933, 2.29 in 13 career playoff games. (Price has played twice as many games and is .907, 2.84.) Erik Karlsson will help too. Ottawa in six.

Washington/New York Rangers: Lundqvist vs. Holtby ended up being a tossup last playoffs; I don’t expect a .935 SV from Holtby this time and I don’t expect the Caps top-ranked power play (26.8%, more than two full points ahead of runnerup Pittsburgh) to be as good, which means Ovechkin won’t be either. A slight edge to the Caps for home ice advantage but I’m going with the Rangers in six.

Boston/Toronto: Toronto was the luckiest team in the NHL with a league-leading SH% of 11.0 despite the second worst possession numbers; only the Sabres were worse. Boston’s possession numbers, on the other hand, were 4th overall behind the Kings, Devils, and Blackhawks. The Leafs have been outshot by a whopping six shots per game; the Bruins outshoot their opponents by almost four. Since the Bruins also have the better goaltender, I don’t think this will be especially close. Boston in five.

Photo courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tuukka_Rask.jpg.

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One Response to “NHL 2013 Playoff Picks: Round One”

  1. […] for a team that won at least one recent Cup courtesy of whatever remains from the 1990s of the Osgood exception (i.e. “whoever has the best goaltending matchup wins, unless it involves Detroit, who wins […]

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