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Thursday, 14 April 2016

We Want The Cup...Bring On The #StanleyCup Playoffs
#BecauseItsTheCup excitement ready to take over


Don't you love this time of the year?  Spring!  As a sports fan there may not be any better time to get enriched in sports culture.  March Madness has just wrapped up.  The NBA season is coming to a close.  The MLB season is just beginning (which is the best time to get excited as a fan).  Oh...and of course NHL Playoffs are set to start.  What a great 6-8 weeks stretch we get sports fans!!!

Last season the playoffs began just after I moved to Calgary.  The timing was perfect.  I was in a new city and my new home was at a heightened state of excitement with the Flames in the playoffs.  I was even fortunate enough to attend 3 of the Flames 5 home playoff games.  It was my first time experiencing playoff hockey action (at the NHL level anyway) in person.  And I loved every second of it!!

Of course this year will be a bit more sombre around Calgary.  Well across Canada to be honest.  No Canadian teams qualified for the playoffs this season.  Almost unheard of right?  Shocking to say the least.  This is only the second time in the history of the league we have witnessed this heartbreak, with the other being in 1970!  But before you get all down on Canada let's also remember a majority of players skating on the ice for the playoffs still bleed the Red and White and proudly support the Maple Leaf on a daily basis.  While the physical Canadian cities may be absent from the playoffs, there will be no shortage of Canadian talent to cheer for if you find your team already eliminated.

I love the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Round 1 usually produces some of the best games throughout the entire Road to the Stanley Cup...and often sees the most upsets.  Last year was the first year I went full-on with round by round predictions.  If you want a reminder on how I did in the opening round (pretty darn good by the way), check it out HERE.  One note I made leading up to my predictions was saying upsets would happen out West and great games (with no upsets) would reign supreme out East.  I'd call that 2 for 2 as all the higher seeds prevailed in the East and 3 of the 4 lower seeds won out in the West.

Maybe last season was a fluke you say?  Let's look at 2014.  Again, 3 of the 4 lower seeds prevailed out West and 3 of the 4 higher seeds won out East.  Hmmm....I'd start calling that a trend wouldn't you?  And how is this for a mind boggle?  Even though the top West teams seem to often lose in the opening round, West is still best when it comes to hoisting Lord Stanley.  The West has won the last 4 Stanley Cups (Chicago and LA both taking home two).  Over the past 10 seasons, the East has only prevailed 3 times (Carolina 2006, Pittsburgh 2009, Boston 2011).  If these trends teach us anything it should be to pick chalk out East, mess it up out West but know even the best in the East will fall to the middle of the West in the end.

Ok, enough of my ranting and raving.  Let's get on to the fun part.  The predictions!  Let's see if #TwineTime can stay on the ice long enough to score some points this opening round.

EASTERN (Chalk Talk) CONFERENCE

Metro Division

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC) Philadelphia Flyers

The Capitals are your President Cup winners this season and the overwhelming favourite to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Hmmm...haven't we heard this before?  Back in 2009-10 the Caps were also Presidents Cup winners and strong favourites.  That team flamed out in the opening round to Montreal.  Can the Flyers pull the same result this season?  Highly unlikely.  From Ovi to Holtby, this Capitals team is the complete package and the Flyers will be lucky to stay on the same ice with them for an entire game...let alone an entire series.  This will be the 5th time these two teams have met in the playoffs and the first since 2008.  They have split the series so far but the Flyers have won the last two meetings.

#TwineTime pick:  Capitals over Flyers - 5 games

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) New York Rangers

Well it wouldn't be April without a Penguins - Rangers playoff series would it?  Ugh, as a Pens fan I am kind of over seeing this matchup every year.  But perhaps this is the year of the Penguin!!  The Rangers have eliminated the Penguins the previous two years, with last year seeing all 5 games decided by 1 goal.  It was a closer series than the final 4-1 series victory looked.  This is a different season though and the Pens are rolling right now.  They look to be the only team in the East capable to stopping Washington.  Crosby has been on a roll over the past month.  If Fleury can get rid of the skeleton's in his closet from past year's playoff performances, the Penguins should roll here...assuming Fleury even plays.  The Rangers limped into the playoffs this year and barely held onto this seed.  During the final month of the season it looked as though state rival Islanders or even the Flyers would pass the Rangers in the standings.  This will be the 7th season these teams have met in the playoffs with the Penguins winning the first 4 and losing the previous 2.

#TwineTime pick:  Penguins over Rangers - 6 games

Atlantic Division

(1) Florida Panthers vs. (WC) New York Islanders

Welcome back to playoff relevance Florida Panthers!  I for one have missed you.  The Panthers was actually the first Starter jacket I ever owned.  You remember Starter jackets right?  Almost every kid in Canada owned one.  I got mine when the Panthers were an expansion franchise.  Part of my hockey heart still belongs with Rat Pack!  Oh the days of throwing rats on the ice at Panthers games....how exciting.  Anyhooo....happy to see Florida back in the playoffs and as Atlantic Division Champions.  Don't let the lack of playoff appearances fool you though.  Sure this will only be the fifth playoff appearance for the franchise but this is a good team.  All eyes will be on Jaromir Jagr as he continues to turn back the clock for perhaps one last shot at hoisting the cup.  In contrast, the Islanders will be making their 24th franchise playoff appearance this season.  Last season the Isles pushed the favoured Capitals to 7 games before being eliminated in the opening round.  Can they finally pull the upset?  These teams have never met in the playoffs and we will see the end to one futility streak here as neither team has won a playoff matchup since the 1990's (Panthers 1996, Islanders 1993)

#TwineTime pick:  Panthers over Islanders - 7 games

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings

Similar to the 2 vs 3 matchup in the Metro Division, we get a playoff rematch from a year ago in the 2vs3 matchup in the Atlantic.  Last season the Bolts eliminated the Wings in 7 games en route to the Stanley Cup final (only to lose to Chicago).  Could we see history repeating?  Tampa Bay will be trying to duplicate the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins in losing the Stanley Cup final one year and then returning and winning it the following season.  But it will not be easy.  Captain Steven Stamkos is out for the playoffs...and that is just one of a number of injuries depleting this team.  The Wings are not flashy.  They are not overly exciting to watch.  But they are consistent and should be able to take advantage of a weakened Lightning team.  My heart says Tampa....my head say Detroit.

#TwineTime pick:  Red Wings over Lightning - 6 games

WESTERN (Upset City?) CONFERENCE

Central Divsion

(1) Dallas Stars vs. (WC) Minnesota Wild

I am starting to think there is not a more dangerous team to play in the 1st round of the playoffs then the Minnesota Wild...especially when they enter the playoffs as an underdog wildcard.  Since the current "new" playoff format was introduced, the Wild are undefeated in the opening round as a wildcard team.  In 2014 they upset Colorado in 7 games.  Last year they upset St. Louis in 6 games.  They may have met their match this year though.  The Stars look like a team on a mission all season and a team of destiny.  This team can score and score often....finding the back of the net a league-leading 267 times this year.  Sure they will give up a few goals as well but when you score 5 and give up 3...it still adds up to a W!  This will be Dallas' second playoff appearance in 8 years (last 2014).  This will also be the 1st ever meeting between the two division rivals in the playoffs.  Could this be the year the #StarsAlign in Dallas?

#TwineTime pick:  Stars over Wild - 5 games

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

Doesn't this look a bit familiar?  Chicago sitting as a #3 seed, starting the playoffs on the road yet seemingly being dubbed the favourite to win the West?  St. Louis sitting as a higher seed, being considered the underdog and many expecting them to once again crash and burn in the opening round?  You almost have to be out of your mind to bet against Chicago.  Or bet on St. Louis.  This will be the 12th playoff meeting between these clubs and Chicago holds a one-sided 8-3 series advantage.  The last time they played?  2014.  When the Blues were a #2 seed.  And the Hawks were a #3 seed.  And the Hawks were defending champions.  Chi-Town won then in 6 games....#historyrepeating

#TwineTime pick:  Blackhawks over Blues - 6 games

Pacific Division

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (WC) Nashville Predators

The pre-season favourite who looked to have one skate in the grave at the close of 2015.  Since that short Christmas break, the Anaheim Ducks have been the hottest team in the league.  What a difference turning over a calendar page can make?!  The Ducks had ONLY 12 wins as 2015 ended....but 2016 has seen them collect a league-leading 34 wins.  A nice run up the standings from last to Pacific Division champions.  Add in the fact the Ducks are still feeling the sting of last season's Western Conference finals loss to Chicago makes this team extra dangerous.  Nashville is a tough team and will not be afraid to get physical in this series.  Their hopes however rest on netminder Pekka Rinne.  Rinne has had a below-average season by his standards and if he cannot win at least 1-2 games alone on his play, and stopping the Ducks power play, the Preds could be golfing quickly.  The one plus for Nashville: they do own a 1-0 H2H playoff record with the Ducks (2011).

#TwineTime pick:  Ducks over Predators - 6 games

(2) LA Kings vs. (3) San Jose Sharks

Nothing beats a good old division rival.  Nothing beats a good old state rivalry.  Welcome to the opening round of the playoffs and, again, we get a classic 2 vs 3 match.  This series could be steal the show for the opening round and should go the distance.  LA is continuing to try and build a dynasty in an attempt to win their 3rd Stanley Cup in 5 years.  San Jose is trying to prove they can actually win in the playoffs.  Jonathan Quick will be a key to success for the Kings in this series.  If he continues his stellar playoff performances, he alone can steal 2 to 3 games alone.  San Jose, on the other hand, was expected to have a down season yet here they are with a legit shot at making a deep playoff run.  The Sharks will need a big series from their main men: Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski.  But the real key could come from playoff rookie Martin Jones.  Either way, expect a tough series....a long series....and some #BadBlood!  This will be the 4th time in 6 years these teams have met in the playoffs with the Kings winning the last two meetings (2013, 2014).

#TwineTime pick:  Kings over Sharks - 7 games

Share your thoughts on my predictions and don't be shy to share your's as well either in the comments below or hit me up on twitter.  If you really want to test your hockey knowledge, accept the #BeatTheBlogger Challenge and join my #TwineTime NHL Bracket Challenge Group.  See if you can outwit, outpredict and outlast this sports blogger.  Most importantly, enjoy the opening round action.  If past history teaches us anything it's that come round two....we will begging for the excitement of round one!

Also, don't forget to come back the #TwineTime homepage often to vote YOUR team as the favourite to win the Stanley Cup this year.  Vote now....vote often....vote daily!  Support your team....or at least the team you selected in your bracket.  Voting will remain open for the full run of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

#BecauseItsTheCup