I didn't get around to posting my predictions for the 2015-16 NHL Regular Season because by the time I'd gotten around to it, we were over 10 days in and I felt some might consider it cheating.
Instead, I'll contrast them herein with what ended up happening and go with my Round 1 Predictions for the 2016 Playoffs.
First, what I thought would happen:
1. Washington Capitals
2. New York Rangers
3. New York Islanders
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Montréal Canadiens
3. Florida Panthers
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Ottawa Senators
Outside Looking In, in order of worst:
16. Toronto Maple Leafs
15. New Jersey Devils
14. Carolina Hurricanes
13. Buffalo Sabres
12. Philadelphia Flyers
11. Pittsburgh Penguins
10. Boston Bruins
9. Columbus Blue Jackets, probably through a tie-breaker
1. Nashville Predators
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Chicago Blackhawks
1. Los Angeles Kings
2. Anaheim Ducks
3. Calgary Flames
Western Wild Cards:
1. Colorado Avalanche
2. Dallas Stars
Outside Looking In, in order of worst:
14. Arizona Coyotes
13. Vancouver Canucks
12. Winnipeg Jets
11. Minnesota Wild
10. Edmonton Oilers
9. San Jose Sharks
There were three Stanley Cups Finals I was rooting for:
(in bold the team I was rooting for)
Caps vs Preds (former coaches, former players, etc.)
Isles vs Hawks (my two favourite goalies, Hawks with a chance to repeat)
Bolts vs Kings (the two best American goalies, two terrific teams)
So, uh, yeah. So much for that.
Here's what the playoff picture actually looks like:
Washington Capitals vs Philadelphia Flyers:
I thought the Fyers, like the Oilers, were a year away from making the playoffs, but Shayne Gostisbehere has decided otherwise. However, the Caps have the best goalie in the league this year in Braden Holtby, the best goal-scorer of his generation in Alex Ovechkin, the deepest core of forwards in the East and a coach who actually seems to make it all work for once. Philly only wins two out of sheer emotion and grit.
Caps in 6
New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins:
Look, it's not just that the Pens have been choking constantly since 2009; both of their amazing goalies are injured to start the first round, and Henrik Lundqvist, the best in the game, is in the other net. I don't believe a Rangers team led by Eric Staal and Rick Nash will advance past the second round, but they can beat Pittsburgh, though.
Blueshirts in 6
Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders:
The Isles have no chance against the Cats without Jaroslav Halak. Florida has injuries too, but way too much depth on offense, with six All-Star caliber forwards, Aaron Ekblad on the back end, and possible Vezina nominee Roberto Luongo in nets.
Panthers in 5
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings:
My heart is pulling for Detroit for the romanticism of seeing Pavel Datsyuk finish his North American career on a high note, but logic dictates that the Bolts will win this one. Tampa's had an up-and-down season, but it will boil down to Ben Bishop against Jimmy Howard, and Bishop wins.
Tampa in 6
Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild:
I stand by my early-season stance that the Wild do not belong in these playoffs, and certainly not against the Stars, who have the most dangerous offense in the West. Sure, they lack goaltending and will win these games 5-4, but they will win them all. They might not make it past the second round, however.
Stars in 4
St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks:
What's great about the Western Conference is that we know from the start all teams wearing blue will choke and fail at some point, and the Blues are no exception. It'd be nice if the Hawks could repeat, too. This could be the one "upset", where the Champs could very well lose, either in 6 or 4 straight overtime games. Still, I'll go with my heart on this one.
Hawks in 7
San Jose Sharks vs Los Angeles Kings:
Speaking of choking in the West, the Sharks were fine with the Kings' former backup Martin Jones in nets, then decided to screw with that by bringing James Reimer in. But not much can stop the Big Black Machine of Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty in the playoffs, and certainly not a team with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton in their top-six up front.
Kings in 5
Anaheim Ducks vs Nashville Predators:
Many (if not most) pundits predicted the Ducks would make it to the Stanley Cup Final this year; I was not in full agreement, though they have top-end talent on offense and two very good goalies. Their coach has just never been able to win despite stacked line-ups, and history should repeat itself when he starts juggling his goalies in and out of the crease. The Preds lack the depth to make any kind of noise - particularly in an off year for Pekka Rinne - but they might be able to make this interesting.
Ducks in 6
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