It's NHL playoff time, and that means it's also prediction time. We've assembled a team of Super Experts to chime in with their thoughts on the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they selected winners for each of the eight Conference Quarterfinal series.
Our panel includes:
- Bruce Ciskie, SBNation.com NHL Contributor, Minnesota Wild fan
- Eric TuIsky, stats-focused Associate Editor at Broad Street Hockey, Philadelphia Flyers fan
- Dirk Hoag, editor at On The Forecheck, Nashville Predators fan
- Kevin McCauley, SBNation.com newsroom contributor, Detroit Red Wings fan
- Jon Bois, SBNation.com Featured Contributor, not a hockey fan
No. 1 VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs. No. 8 LOS ANGELES KINGS
Bruce: If I were a Canucks fan, I'd be a little bit frightened at the Kings' ability to play a gritty style, coupled with their strong goaltending. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that Vancouver has the deeper forward lines and is capable of playing good defense. The Canucks are No. 1 for a reason, and their flaws won't be exposed in this series. Canucks in 6.
Eric: In their last 13 games, the Kings played a tough schedule (eight playoff teams) and outshot all 13 opponents by an aggregate 451-302, with only two regulation losses. Combine dominant possession with Quick's great play and the Kings are no typical No. 8 seed; they've been a great team since the Carter-Johnson trade. It's the second straight year Vancouver gets a brutal pairing as the top seed. Kings in 6.
Dirk: This will prove to be a stern test for a Vancouver team with Stanley Cup aspirations, as Jonathan Quick could give them fits and steal a game or two. In the end, however, Vancouver's versatility carries the day. Canucks in 6.
Kevin: It's tough to decide exactly what to make of the Canucks, who won the Presidents' Trophy from a bad division with Ryan Kesler and the Sedins underperforming relative to what they did last season. Fortunately for them, they're very much in top form compared to Mike Richards and Drew Doughty, who had very unimpressive years for the Kings. LA has the talent to hang in this series, but it is still the talent that was only able to carry them to the eighth seed this season. There's no reason to believe they're magically going to figure it out now. Canucks in 6.
Jon: Riots. Vancouver in 6, flames.
No. 1 NEW YORK RANGERS vs. No. 8 OTTAWA SENATORS
Bruce: I know the Rangers lost three of the four games between these two teams during the regular season. I don't care. The Rangers look like a team built for a long run. They have strong goaltending, a tough defense, and plenty of two-way forwards. Rangers in 5.
Eric: At the end of play on March 1, the Rangers had the best record at 41-15-6 on the strength of a .937 save percentage at 5-on-5. In the 20 games since then, their 5-on-5 save percentage dropped to .878 and they went 10-9-1. Lundqvist won't be a .878 goalie in the long run, but Ottawa has outshot their opponents over that span and won the season series against the Rangers. Senators in 7.
Dirk: This should be an entertaining series to watch, as Brad Richards and Jason Spezza both lead some talented top-line forwards. The Rangers are the more consistent team, however, and should be able to grind out a win here to move on. Rangers in 6.
Kevin: Both teams limped into the playoffs with poor finishes to the regular season, but in the case of the Rangers, it was because they were resting Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers have the deeper team and better goalie, so it might take spectacular special teams performances from the Senators to compete in this series. Ottawa has two of the league's top offensive defensemen in Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar, and they're going to need to be spectacular against New York's fifth ranked penalty kill. If they aren't, this won't be a good series. Rangers in 6.
Jon: I did not know that Canada's system of government involved senators. To be honest with you, I had this image of the country being governed by a slovenly man, riding from town to town on a pack horse, banging a bell and yelling "OBEY THE LAWS, LEST PROSECUTION BE LEVIED." Good for them. Rangers in 4.
No. 2 ST. LOUIS BLUES vs. No. 7 SAN JOSE SHARKS
Bruce: The Blues have done a great job simply following the orders of Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. The Sharks, meanwhile, seemed to have taken a step backward this season. A once-potent offense isn't nearly as good as it was, and the Sharks have still shown a propensity for getting outworked that will kill them against an opponent like St. Louis. Blues in 6.
Eric: At the trade deadline, these were two of the top five teams by shot differential. Since then, the Sharks have dropped off sharply; they've been just a smidge above average over the last 20 games. They finished the season with four straight division wins including a home-and-home with the Kings, but any confidence or momentum that created can get wiped out in a matter of minutes against a sharp opponent. Blues in 6.
Dirk: San Jose's roller coaster season will come to a sudden stop against a disciplined and talented St. Louis team. Blues in 5.
Kevin: It is very rare for the team with the third best goalkeeper in a series to win that series. That's exactly what Sharks goalie Antti Niemi is in this situation. San Jose has the offense to make this fun and Niemi has a cup, but the Blues are playing too well at the moment to get upset. They swept the Sharks during the regular season and there's little reason to believe that San Jose can win four out of seven games against St. Louis. They're a decent enough team to nick one home win. Blues in 5.
Jon: I hope these two teams coordinated with each other to figure out who would bring pucks. If not, and nobody brings pucks, a hockey game will not be possible. Sharks in 7.
No. 2 BOSTON BRUINS vs. No. 7 WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Bruce: Since Bruce Boudreau led the Capitals' surge back into relevance a few years ago, Washington has owned home-ice advantage in every playoff series it has played until this one. Perhaps this is the ticket for a Capitals team that seemed to get better late in the season. Boston has played a lot of hockey lately, and we know how hard it is to defend the Cup. Capitals in 7.
Eric: This is almost the same as the Rangers-Senators series; again the underdog won the season series and has been better since the trade deadline both in shot differential and in net. But here a) the post-deadline gap was much narrower, b) the pre-deadline gap was much larger, c) the season series was much closer, and d) while it's nice that Holtby put up a .922 save percentage in 7 NHL games this year, he also posted a .906 in 40 AHL games. Bruins in 6.
Dirk: The return of Nicklas Backstrom adds a real sense of possibility to Washington's hopes, but the Caps have so many more questions than answers these days. The Bruins, on the other hand, are a wrecking ball of a team which has its mind set on being the first repeat Stanley Cup champion in 14 years. Bruins in 5.
Kevin: The Capitals have underachieved all season long, but they've been surprisingly good against the Boston Bruins, winning three of the four meetings between the two teams. Washington has the talent to score in bunches when their players play to the best of their abilities, but that hasn't happened very often this year. If Tim Thomas is anywhere near as good as he was last season in the playoffs while Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin continue to play average hockey, Boston will win. The Caps could turn it around at any point, but they've gone too long without a complete performance against a top team to predict that they're going to do it now. Bruins in 5.
Jon: It's important to have well-fitting skates. This game will come down to who has the most well-fitting skates. Capitals in 6.
No. 3 PHOENIX COYOTES vs. No. 6 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Bruce: For the first time in franchise history, the Coyotes are a division champion. Phoenix has home ice advantage in this series, but it probably isn't going to help much. For starters, expect plenty of Blackhawk support in the desert. Oh, and Chicago's better. Blackhawks in 6.
Eric: This is an even bigger mismatch than the No. 3 vs. No. 6 series in the East. Chicago is a top-5 team in shot differential, while Phoenix is a lower-half team that made it in on the back of a .930 save percentage from a goalie who only topped .900 in one of the four previous years. Smith had a great year, but I'm not crowning him as a great goalie just yet. Blackhawks in 5.
Dirk: This series hinges on the health of Jonathan Toews. With him, the Blackhawks can seize possession of the puck and pepper away at Mike Smith and the Phoenix defense. If Chicago does not have a healthy Toews, the Coyotes should be able to take advantage of the Corey Crawford/Ray Emery combo in goal. I'm leaning towards the latter. Coyotes in 7.
Kevin: When the Phoenix Coyotes lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs last season, they were given a standing ovation in what was thought to be potentially the last Coyotes game ever in Arizona. They're still around, and their odd group of players somehow has captured a division title. Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Mike Smith are having the best seasons of their career, but it's kind of horrifying that a No. 3 seed is going into the playoffs relying on Whitney, Vrbata and Smith to carry their team. Shane Doan and Keith Yandle are both still around and still good, but the Blackhawks are simply the better team. Yes, the Coyotes won the season series, but nothing about them makes sense. Then again, if Jonathan Toews isn't healthy, all bets are off. I'm assuming that he's going to play, and play well. Blackhawks in 6.
Jon: The Coyotes' Jim Hæckéypück leads the league with 4 trillion skatings. It's going to be a real skate-fest in Billings. Blackhawks in 5.
No. 3 FLORIDA PANTHERS vs. No. 6 NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Bruce: Everyone wants to make fun of the Panthers for winning a bad division. Whatever. They're in, and what hardcore fans they have in South Florida have to be juiced for this. Expect low-scoring games, but I have to go with the team that has the best players in the series (Kovalchuk, Parise, Brodeur). Devils in 7.
Eric: The NHL should go to a system where the top seed gets to pick their playoff opponent, then the #2 team gets second choice, and so on. The selection show would be great theater, we wouldn't have teams hoping to slide to 6th, I wouldn't be picking against both #1 seeds and I wouldn't be forced to pick the Devils to win. Devils in 5.
Dirk: The Florida Panthers are quite simply the worst team to make the playoffs since the Great Lockout. You don't get partial credit for losing in overtime during the playoffs, so Florida's secret weapon has been rendered useless. Devils in 4.
Kevin: The Panthers are a serious underdog as a No. 3 seed, thanks to the embarrassment that is the Southeast Division. They limped into the playoffs by losing five of their last six, while New Jersey won six in a row heading into the playoffs. They have the league's top penalty kill, while both Patrick Elias and Martin Broudeur are playing age-defying hockey. Cliff Viner, Dale Tallon and Kevin Dineen have done an excellent job to turn a consistently bad Panthers team into a playoff team, but they shouldn't win this series. Devils in 6.
Jon: Hey guys, I know I'm like 20 years late, but I just arrived at the "ha ha ha Florida has a hockey team?!?!?" party. I brought some pogs. You guys want to play pogs? Devils in 5, a blue dress.
No. 4 NASHVILLE PREDATORS vs. No. 5 DETROIT RED WINGS
Bruce: If last year didn't do it, this series should make you fall in love with the hockey market that is Nashville. Those folks are bonkers for their Predators. On the ice, look for a fantastic, competitive, and potentially truculent series that could go the distance. Predators in 7.
Eric: Nashville was one of the worst possession teams in the league for most of the year, but Rinne carried them. Adding Radulov, calling up Bourque, and a few other moves have improved them considerably. However, the gap between the teams' forwards is still larger than the gap between the teams' goaltenders. Red Wings in 6.
Dirk: Detroit's been better at even strength, while Nashville has an edge in goal and special teams. Depth, size & toughness could prove pivotal as the Predators wear down the older, dinged-up Wings over the next two weeks. Predators in 7.
Kevin: If the regular season games between these two teams are any indication, this is going to be an extremely competitive series. They split the regular season series and both teams have excellent goaltending. At the moment, the teams seem to be playing at similar levels, but Nashville's stars don't really have anywhere to go but down. No one is underachieving at all this season for them, while some of Detroit's players have dealt with injuries and haven't been at their best for most of the year. If the Wings and Preds are inseparable now, there will be some distance between them if Detroit's stars step up. Red Wings in 7.
Jon: Never bet on a franchise that was almost definitely named after a Nerf gun. Red Wings in 4.
No. 4 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. No. 5 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Bruce: This is the main event. Pittsburgh's deep offense against a Philadelphia team that will be desperate to knock the Penguins off their game. If Pittsburgh's skill guys avoid the extracurricular garbage and just play, I don't see how they lose, barring a Marc-Andre Fleury meltdown. Penguins in 6.
Eric: Over the course of the season, the Flyers played the Penguins very tough, but the Penguins have been getting healthier while the Flyers continued to suffer injuries. Bryzgalov could outplay Fleury to extend the series, but I don't think he'll make up the difference on his own. Penguins in 5.
Dirk: Tempers will flare on both sides in this heated rivalry, but the Penguins look like the best team in the league right now. Penguins in 5.
Kevin: The Penguins have looked like an offensive juggernaut since Sidney Crosby returned from injury, but this has coincided with a serious downturn in form for Marc-Andre Fleury. Their defense has also been dealing with injuries to Matt Niskanen and Kris Letang, and even though both have returned, they didn't look all the way back in the Pens' final games. The Penguins are on a three-game winning stream entering the playoffs, but Philly's defense and goaltending looks a bit better at the moment and they've had the Penguins' number all season. Flyers in 7.
Jon: Did you know that the Penguins are categorized as a religious institution, and thereby do not have to pay taxes? That isn't true, but did you know that? Penguins in 7.