Two For Roughing: Who would and wouldn’t you like to play in the playoffs?

Tim Kolupanowich: The past few years have proven it no longer matters what seed a team is, any team in the top eight has a legitimate chance to go on a great run if they get hot at the right time. Any team that is rising in the standings heading into the postseason is a dangerous team to play. Last year and all through the offseason I was predicting the New York Rangers to come out of the Eastern Conference and while that pick didn’t look too good early on this season when they were struggling to find their identity, they are on a roll, 7-3 in their past 10, and definitely won’t be your average sixth seed, especially going against a team that finished with only one more point. Any team with Henrik Lundqvist, John Tortorella and their defense is going to be tough to play. Who would you least like to play in the Eastern Conference?

Ryan Callahan's Rangers are going to be a very difficult team to eliminate from the playoffs. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

Ryan Callahan’s Rangers are going to be a very difficult team to eliminate from the playoffs. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

Chris Messina: No you can’t make playoffs predictions based on the standings, especially this year. The Rangers are one team I wouldn’t want to play simply because of the goalie you mentioned. The other team in New York is another one that I wouldn’t want to face either as the Islanders are probably the hottest team in the league. At the start of the year they were supposed to be heavily involved in the Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon sweepstakes, now you’d be hard pressed to find somebody that would want to draw them in the opening round of the playoffs. With the way Tavares has emerged as a top player in this league, he’s destined to be a nominee for the Hart. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Long Island having lost in regulation just once this month and the former first overall pick is a big reason they’ve had success. Let’s also not forget Evgeni Nabokov has been solid in net and he has some experience playing in the post-season. They are one team in the East I definitely wouldn’t want to play. It’s probably easier for an underdog to make a run in the East this year because there is just so much parity in the conference from top to bottom. Pittsburgh is ahead on paper, but we saw last year they aren’t guaranteed a spot in the Stanley Cup final.

TK: Certainly we are as far from guaranteed runs as ever and while the Islanders don’t exactly have a ton of playoff experience, they are gelling at the right time and playing with a ton of enthusiasm. Going out West, Anaheim is going to have a tough opponent against a highly experienced Red Wings team. But the team I’m looking at is the Blues who are  slated to play the Kings. They are very physical and their goaltending has finally come on late in the season. They will be looking for revenge from last season when Los Angeles swept them out of the second round.

CM: The West is a real crapshoot. St. Louis isn’t a team I’d like to face because they have some young stars that look like they might be on the cusp of breaking through in the playoffs. Plus Ken Hitchcock has them playing very solid defensively as they are second in shots against and eighth in goals against. As much of an enigma as Brian Elliot has been the past couple years years, I wouldn’t want to face him if he gets hot. We’ve seen how good he can be when he is going, but we’ve also seen him when he is not. Jaroslav Halak has battled injuries all year and currently isn’t playing, but rookie Jake Allen has shown he can be a solid goalie if they need that insurance. It will be interesting to watch their series with Los Angeles as they are another team I would keep an eye on. They only had four players head to Europe during the lockout, so they might be a little fresher than most teams trying to defend the Stanley Cup. On the flip side they will probably need Jonathan Quick to regain his form of last spring, which might be happening. He’s been pretty good lately after starting slow, coming off off-season back surgery.

Carey Price's play of late should be a major couse of concern for Montreal. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

Carey Price’s play of late should be a major couse of concern for Montreal. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

TK: They may have struggled early on, but being the defending Stanley Cup champions, I don’t think any team is going to take the Kings lightly. But you’re right, the West is completely up for grabs as there is no one team you would really want to draw in the first round. In the East though, if I were a Maple Leafs fan I would definitely hope to draw the Canadiens over the Bruins. It looks like they will draw one or the other and the Leafs went 3-1 against Montreal with a game remaining to close out the season on Saturday plus Carey Price has been struggling a bit lately, having lost nine of his past 15 games. In March, Price posted a .903 save percentage and 2.81 goals-against average and those numbers fell in April where he has a .876 save percentage and 3.49 GAA. With Toronto third in the NHL in goals per game, Montreal would be as good a draw in their first playoff series in nine years as they could have possibly hoped for.

CM: It’s not just the Leafs that want to play the Canadiens in the first round, most teams would be licking their lips looking at that match-up. Price has to get it together if they are going to have any chance of winning a round and at the moment the prospects of that happening are bleak. As for the Leafs if Reimer keeps playing the way he has they definitely aren’t a team that would be a favorable first round match-up. On the flip side he has had to make 30 or more saves in 19 of his 32 appearances this year. Toronto has the most wins in the league by any team when being out-shot, 21. They play .600 hockey when that happens but its hard to win a Stanley Cup playing that way. Right now I’m thinking if the Penguins can stay relatively healthy they are the team to beat in the East, even if Crosby doesn’t play regularly the first couple rounds of the playoffs. On paper the only team I think that posses a challenge to the are the Bruins of course they wont play until the Conference Finals.

TK: I’m right there with you, I have a hard time seeing a team other than Pittsburgh or Boston coming out of the East, but the beauty of the playoffs is you never know what’s going to happen. All in all, I think a recent champion is going to be crowned again as I like Chicago in the West. The Blackhawks have been so good all season, it’s hard to find a hole in their game. There’s nobody looking forward to dropping the puck in the United Center. It’s a bittersweet moment for Minnesota to realize they are playing Chicago in their first playoff series in five years.

CM: It was big for Minnesota to get back into the playoffs this after going out and making a splash in free agency last summer by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both had big years, Parise scored 18 goals and Suter’s numbers over the course of 82 games would have pushed him over the 50 point plateau for the first time in his career. I don’t want to say any team is done with before the puck drops but its going to be very tough for the Wild playing the Blackhawks. The one team in the West I wouldn’t bet against is the Detroit Red Wings. They finished up by winning four straight and they needed each of those wins to qualify for the playoffs for a 22nd straight year. Anaheim had a great year, but maybe they drew the wrong team in the first round (not that there is an easy match-up in that conference). They have many rings in that locker room with players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and company. They have a good group of veterans that have a wealth of playoff experience and know how to get the job done when it counts.

TK: They do and experience is certainly a major factor at this point of the season. Fortunately for the Ducks, they have their share of experience as well in Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jonas Hiller and Francois Beauchemin, so it should be a very entertaining and well-played series. It’s also important to note Anaheim is way more physical than Detroit, which should definitely help them. It’s going to be fun to see things unravel, I can’t wait to see which teams play as advertised and which teams surprise everyone.


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