2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round-by-Round Predictions All the Way to the Cup

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The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us once again!

This year is going to be a good one. There are plenty of great teams in the field of 16, and each one could make a run for the Cup. The following picks are based partially on statistics, partially on my heart, and mostly on my gut. They don’t represent extensive research or analysis—just the observations and feelings of a life-long hockey fan.

You’re probably going to think I’m crazy. That’s okay. That’s what the 2011 NHL Playoffs are all about. So without further ado:

 

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals 1: #1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers 

Result: #8 New York Rangers in six.

I had a lot of trouble (and I mean A LOT of trouble) picking this series. My gut tells me to go Rangers, but my head tells me that it will be the Caps. In the end, I have to listen to my emotions and say New York, but I could see this series going either way. For the Caps to win, they’ll need a balanced attack and a strong performance from their young goalies. For the Rangers to win, their young defense needs to hold up against the talented Caps forwards and Marian Gaborik must play like the superstar they pay him to be. But because of the Rangers team-first system, solid defense, and Henrik Lundqvist, I think the Rangers will steal this series from the Caps.

 

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals 2: #2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

Result: #7 Buffalo Sabres in six.

The Flyers enter the playoffs on a 7-7-6 run in their last 20 games, hardly the record of a team ready to dominate a first round series. The Sabres, on the other hand, enter the playoffs with a 13-4-3 record over the past 20 games, including an 8-1-1 in their last 10. Those 13 wins include victories over fellow playoff participants New York, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Montreal, and Boston. Philly has been as cold as they come lately, and with no guarantees on Chris Pronger’s return and a rookie goalie in net (Russian Bobrovsky), it could be a tough series for the Broadstreet Bullies. The Sabres are on fire, and while they may not sweep Philly, they will come away with a first round win.

 

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals 3: #3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens

Result: #3 Boston Bruins in five.

The rivalry associated with this match-up is epic. You can go back through the history books and find amazing game after amazing game. This series will provide at least four more games for the history books. It’s going to be an intense series, if only because of the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident from earlier this season. Boston has been playing great hockey lately (including a 7-0 win over the Canadiens just a few weeks ago), while Montreal has been merely pedestrian. Throw in a Vezina front-runner in Tim Thomas, and you’ve got a Boston team that should handle Montreal with ease.

 

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals 4: #4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

Result: #5 Tampa Bay Lightning in seven.

This will be one of the most tightly contested first round series. Both teams are evenly matched, especially with the Penguins missing some firepower on offense. Tampa Bay packs plenty of punch on ‘O’ themselves, and goalie Mike Smith has been playing great hockey since his recall from the AHL. This one is going to go down to the wire, and I think the Lightning will come out victorious.

 

Western Conference Quarterfinals 1: #1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks  

Result: #1 Vancouver Canucks in six.

It’s tough to argue against Vancouver having been the best team in the NHL this season, as they’ve dominated a very tough conference all season long. Chicago might be the defending champions, but they’re not the same team who hoisted the Cup last June. Though they haven’t exactly played poorly this season, they just barely snuck into the playoffs in a very competitive Western Conference. No disrespect to the Blackhawks, but Vancouver will control this series. Granted, Vancouver has a long history of playoff struggles, but this looks like a team ready to shake the monkey off its back.

 

Western Conference Quarterfinals 2: #2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings

Result: #2 San Jose Sharks in five.

A few weeks ago, I would have been tempted to pick an upset and go with the Kings here. But after losing Anze Kopitar on March 26th for the remainder of the year, I don’t think they have enough firepower to fend off the Sharks, especially with Justin Williams out as well. Jonathan Quick will provide solid goaltending for LA, but San Jose’s offense should be able to dominate the first round. Add in the Sharks’ decent goaltending and defense, and you’ve got a quick playoff exit for the up-and-coming Kings. This just isn’t their year, but look for LA to be a playoff team for years to come.

 

Western Conference Quarterfinals 3: #3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes

Result:#6 Phoenix Coyotes in six.

Here’s an upset I can really get behind. Detroit hasn’t been the most consistent team throughout the season, and they have rarely dominated their competition. They score a whole lot of goals, but their goaltending and defense, two keys to postseason success, have both been lackluster. Phoenix, on the other hand, has gotten solid goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov and relatively steady defense. Their biggest flaw is the penalty kill, but if they can stay out of the box, they’re one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the League. Combined with a smart system and a balanced offensive attack, Phoenix should surprise the Central Division winners.

 

Western Conference Quarterfinals 4: #4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators

Result: #4 Anaheim Ducks in six.

Much like the 4 vs. 5 battle in the Eastern Conference, the Ducks/Preds series will be a good one. Anaheim boasts Maurice Richard Trophy-winner Corey Perry and linemates Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf, while Nashville answers with one of the top Vezina candidates in Pekka Rinne and arguably the best defensive pairing in the entire NHL in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The contrasting styles will be interesting to see—Anaheim’s high flying offense against Nashville’s conservative, defensive-minded approach. Anaheim’s biggest question is who will be between the pipes, as both Ray Emery and Jonas Hiller are battling health problems. Dan Ellis has looked good in relief, but is he ready to carry the load? The goalie situation is a big one for the Ducks, but I think Anaheim will still find a way to get past the Preds.

 

Recap:
#8 New York Rangers over #1 Washington Capitals
#7 Buffalo Sabres over #2 Philadelphia Flyers
#3 Boston Bruins over #6 Montreal Canadiens
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning over #4 Pittsburgh Penguins
#1 Vancouver Canucks over #8 Chicago Blackhawks
#2 San Jose Sharks over #7 Los Angeles Kings
#6 Phoenix Coyotes over #3 Detroit Red Wings
#4 Anaheim Ducks over #5 Nashville Predators

 

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals 1: #3 Boston Bruins vs. #8 New York Rangers

Result: #8 New York Rangers in six.

Call me a homer, but if I somehow get the first round correct and the Rangers play Boston in the second round, I think New York will be advancing to their first Conference Final in over a decade. Both teams play a similar style, but the difference will once again come from Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Boston just before the season ended, and though now-injured forward Ryan Callahan was a big part of that comeback, the Rangers will be firing on all cylinders after a big upset of the Capitals. I think that will translate to success against Boston.

 

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals 2: #5 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

Result: #7 Buffalo Sabres in five.

Everybody must think I’m insane by now, but if there’s one thing the NHL playoffs have taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected. The Lightning feature some impressive offensive depth, but I think this is as far as their scoring will carry them. Buffalo will be rolling after a series win over Philly, and a balanced offensive attack and solid goaltending from 2009 Vezina winner Ryan Miller will be enough to down the Lightning in rapid fashion.

 

Western Conference Semi-Finals 1: #1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes

Result: #1 Vancouver Canucks in five.

Maybe I seem a bit more sane now. Yes, like a lot people, I have Vancouver winning their semi-final matchup against whomever it may be. Despite Phoenix’s big upset over Detroit, I think Vancouver can shake the playoff curse and advance to the Conference Finals. They are a much deeper team than in past years, featuring gritty, blue collar players who will help round out a talented Vancouver squad.

 

Western Conference Semi-Finals 2: #2 San Jose Sharks vs. #4 Anaheim Ducks

Result: #2 San Jose Sharks in seven.

This would be an awesome battle of two California teams. They match up pretty well on paper, and I see this one being a tough battle all the way down to game seven. It will be a great offensive show, but San Jose definitely has the edge because of their defense and goaltending. The experience of Antti Niemi will be huge for the Sharks and, in the end, Anaheim won’t be able to keep up with San Jose.

 

Recap
#8 New York Rangers over #3 Boston Bruins
#7 Buffalo Sabres over #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
#1 Vancouver Canucks over #6 Phoenix Coyotes
#2 San Jose Sharks over #4 Anaheim Ducks

 

Eastern Conference Championship: #7 Buffalo Sabres vs. #8 New York Rangers

Result: #7 Buffalo Sabres in six.

Back to the insanity. The 7-seed versus the 8-seed. When did I become Eric Lindros (bad concussion joke…)? But I see this playoff series as a legitimate possibility. And I see the Sabres continuing an improbable run. I hate to pick against my Rangers, but at this point, I think Lundqvist will be feeling the effects of a long, long season. Buffalo has been a tough opponent for the Rangers all year long, and this series will be no different. The Sabres will advance to the Cup finals in this one.

 

Western Conference Championship: #1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #2 San Jose Sharks

Result: #2 San Jose Sharks in six.

Well, here comes that bad playoff luck for Vancouver. On paper, the Canucks are definitely the better team but San Jose is no pushover, and they’ll give Vancouver all they can handle. The Sharks are a legitimate Cup contender, and they’ll knock off the Canucks here to advance to the Final. How awesome would it have been to see a New York-Vancouver final, a repeat of the 1994 Stanley Cup final?

 

Recap
#7 Buffalo Sabres over #8 New York Rangers
#2 San Jose Sharks over #1 Vancouver Canucks

 

Stanley Cup Championship: Buffalo Sabres vs. San Jose Sharks

Result: Buffalo Sabres in seven.

And here’s one that nobody saw coming. The Buffalo Sabres are your 2011 Stanley Cup Champions. Am I insane? Yeah, probably a little bit. But could this happen? Of course it could. Hockey has been all about parity since the lockout, and a Sabres victory would just provide more of the same. The Sabres have a great goaltender in Ryan Miller, a deep, balanced offense, and a steady defense. They play hard with a consistent team effort, and that’s exactly the kind of team you look for to make a deep run. San Jose will put up a great fight, but look for the Sabres to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.

 

Recap
Eastern Conference Champion: Buffalo Sabres
Western Conference Champion: San Jose Sharks
Stanley Cup Champion: Buffalo Sabres

 

So there you have it. Dustin Glasner’s predictions for the 2011 NHL Playoffs. Call me crazy. Call me insane. But that’s the best part about the NHL—anything can happen! Regardless of whether I’m right, kind of right, or completely, flat-out wrong, this is going to be a great postseason for hockey.

Enjoy the playoffs! May your team score many goals, your goalie make many saves, and your captain lift the Cup when it’s all said and done.

 

Article by the Penalty Flag Sports Blog and Dustin Glasner (Featured NHL Journalist)

 

 

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