Long Road to Stanley Cup Underway

For me, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is the most exciting.
Long Road to Stanley Cup Underway
UNORTHODOX GOALIE: Boston’s Tim Thomas led the league with a 2.10 goals against average. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Rahul Vaidyanath
Updated:
<a href="https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2015/07/thomas_medium.jpg"><img src="https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2015/07/thomas_medium.jpg" alt="UNORTHODOX GOALIE: Boston's Tim Thomas led the league with a 2.10 goals against average. (Harry How/Getty Images)" title="UNORTHODOX GOALIE: Boston's Tim Thomas led the league with a 2.10 goals against average. (Harry How/Getty Images)" width="320" class="size-medium wp-image-138147"/></a>
UNORTHODOX GOALIE: Boston's Tim Thomas led the league with a 2.10 goals against average. (Harry How/Getty Images)
For me, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is the most exciting. You can watch multiple playoff hockey games every day, the novelty factor of playoff hockey is still going strong, you’re constantly getting updates on the latest goals from other games, and if your favorite team made the playoffs then they haven’t been eliminated yet.

Believe it or not, the Stanley Cup could be awarded as late as the first week of June so playoff hockey is here to stay for possibly a month and a half. Even as a hockey fan, I’d argue that that’s too long. But maybe that’s why they say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports.

With the playoffs having just started Wednesday, some predictions and analysis are in order.

Boston Bruins (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)

 
Two Original Six teams and historically bitter rivals meet again in the first round for the second year in a row. Last year Montreal was the top seed in the East and Boston snuck in the back door as the eight seed. Montreal won that series in seven.

This year the tables are turned and it is the Bruins who are the heavy favorites to move on. What a fantastic job former Canadiens coach Claude Julien did with the B’s this year—a job deserving the coach of the year award.

Tim Thomas’s unorthodox goaltending style led the Bruins to the best defensive record in the league. They were the only team to give up fewer than 200 goals this year.

Boston’s well-balanced attack was second only to Detroit in goals scored and features six 20-goal scorers. And, being the “Big Bad Bruins,” they dominate with tough, physical, and aggressive play.

So does Montreal stand a chance? Not really. The Habs can hope Boston takes stupid penalties like they did last Thursday and hope to punish the B’s with their much-improved power play. A surprising statistic is that Boston is actually the sixth least penalized team in the NHL.

The Habs can hope Carey Price stands on his head or that the Kovalev–Koivu–Tanguay line catches fire again, but I’m not convinced interim coach Bob Gainey has the tools at his disposal to beat Boston in a best of seven series.

Prediction: Boston in five.

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)


The big difference between these two rivals is goaltending. The battle of PA features two teams with talent on offense and so-so defenses. But Pittsburgh has 2003’s first overall draft pick Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes while Philly doesn’t have a real blue-chip goalie.

Another big difference is experience. Let’s not forget the Penguins made it to the Stanley Cup final against Detroit last year, handling Philly along the way.

While Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are the obvious keys for the Flyers to try and shut down, the task is more difficult for the Penguins as the Flyers have four 30-goal scorers and a respectable sixth-best power play.

The Penguins have become a totally different team since Dan Bylsma took over from Michel Therrien. They have gone 18–3–4 since he took over.

This will be a very tight series as not a lot separates these two teams. Both teams have great leaders in Crosby and Mike Richards. Experience and goaltending favor the Penguins though.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in six.

San Jose Sharks (1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8)

<a href="https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2015/07/ducks_medium.jpg"><img src="https://www.theepochtimes.com/assets/uploads/2015/07/ducks_medium-342x450.jpg" alt="DOMINANT DUO: Anaheim's Corey Perry (front) and Ryan Getzlaf have found a suitable replacement for Dustin Penner in 2005's second overall pick Bobby Ryan. (Harry How/Getty Images)" title="DOMINANT DUO: Anaheim's Corey Perry (front) and Ryan Getzlaf have found a suitable replacement for Dustin Penner in 2005's second overall pick Bobby Ryan. (Harry How/Getty Images)" width="320" class="size-medium wp-image-138148"/></a>
DOMINANT DUO: Anaheim's Corey Perry (front) and Ryan Getzlaf have found a suitable replacement for Dustin Penner in 2005's second overall pick Bobby Ryan. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Anaheim won the Cup two years ago with their big, talented, and rugged forwards, steller defensive play from Scott Niedermeyer, Chris Pronger, and Francois Beauchemin, and, of course, Jean-Francois Giguere in the net.

The Sharks—the Presidents’ Trophy winners—are loaded with talent as you’d expect, and are trying to (pardon the pun) “break the duck” and go far in the playoffs. Perennial underachievers, a tag that has been stuck on Joe Thornton, is what the Sharks have become.

The Sharks were so far ahead of everybody early in the season but of late they have struggled, going 10–7–2 since the March 4 trading deadline. Anaheim is 11–5–1 since March 4.

Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov carried his usual heavy workload, winning 41 games whereas Anaheim’s goaltending duo of Giguere and Jonas Hiller evenly split the workload. Injuries started creeping up on Nabokov but I don’t expect him to be the weak link.

Rather, I expect Anaheim’s line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan to be the key to the series. The line averages three points a game and has that fearless and aggressive edge. They have the ability to set the attack-minded Sharks defense on its heels.

Prediction: Anaheim in six.

Well those are the three series that I find most intriguing. I really think the Ducks have what it takes to pull off the upset.

The long road to the Stanley Cup has begun. It’s a great time to be a hockey fan!
Rahul Vaidyanath is a journalist with The Epoch Times in Ottawa. His areas of expertise include the economy, financial markets, China, and national defence and security. He has worked for the Bank of Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., and investment banks in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles.
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