Tag Archives: NHL

Will Talented Florida Panthers Replace Lightning As Stanley Cup Winner?

By WAYNE REDSHAW

   Is it possible that the Stanley Cup could wind up in the Sunshine State for the third straight year?

   Yes that is possible but not in the trophy showcase of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning won’t be around when the curtain falls on the 2021-22 season in late June or thereabouts. The Lightning looked downright pathetic, especially on the power play in getting embarrassed 5-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the series opener Monday night.

  However, while Tampa Bay will be long gone come late June there’s a good chance another Florida-based team – the Florida Panthers – could be drinking out of the Cup.

   But before we get too far ahead, let’s look at the remaining eight teams who begin their quest in the opening round of the playoffs tonight in Part 2 of my Stanley Cup Predictions.

Washington Capitals vs Florida Panthers

    The Panthers should have no problem disposing of the Washington Capitals in this series. The Panthers are simply loaded with talent both offensively and defensively.

  Florida Panthers became the first team to average more than four goals per game since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Panthers finished with 337 goals. They had four players with 30-plus goals this season. That foursome included Aleksander Barko 39, Sam Reinhardt 33, Anthony Duclair 31 and Jonathon Huberdeau 30. Huberdeau also established a new NHL record for the most assists compiled by a left winger with 85. The acquisition of Claude Giroux just before the trade deadline should also help the Panthers’ cause, especially with the experience he brings to the table

    Besides depth up front, the Panthers are solid on the blueline anchored by Aaron Ekblad, who is expected to be back in the lineup since substaining a leg injury in mid-March.

   Goaltending, which is an important element in the playoffs, should be no problem with Sergei Bobrovsky.

   As for the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin could be back in the Caps lineup for the series opener. But the Caps are going to need more than Ovechkin, who hit 50 goals, if they are going to advance. In my opinion Washington’s age is becoming a factor.

Prediction: Panthers in four games

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers

   This could be a short series too. The Rangers were a pleasant surprise this season. They have a good mix of young players that have blended in with some veterans. Chris Kreider popped in 52 goals. But there were others who contributed to the cause like Mike Zibanejad, Richard Strome and Artemi Panarin. Then on defence, Adam Fox was their leader.

    Between the pipes the Rangers relied on Igor Shesterkin and he delivered big time.

  Looking at Penguins this marks the 16th consecutive season that they have qualified for the playoffs. But after the first round, they should be gone. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang remain the main core of Pittsburgh. They also have some young talented players who can put the puck in the net. However, as a team overall, the good old days are behind them. And their goaltending is very suspect.

Prediction: Rangers in five games.

Dallas Stars vs Calgary Flames

   The Calgary Flames are Canada’s third team in this year’s Cup hunt and I think they could go a long way. The Flames topped the Pacific division compiling a 50-21-11 record. They are a well-balanced squad with Johnny Gaudreau at the controls. He recorded career-highs 40 goals and 75 assists for 115 points. He has some excellent support from a cast starting with Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Bucklund and Blake Coleman.

   Jacob Markstrom handled the bulk of the goaltending chores for the Flames and is expected to get the call for the playoffs.

   As for the Stars they will be heard from in this series with the likes of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz,Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in the lineup. Yet the Stars can’t match the  Flames. 

Prediction: Flames in five games,

Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche

   Nashville won three of four meetings with Colorado which included the final three. However, regular season and the playoffs are a completely different seasons. I like the Avalanche to prevail.

   This series will feature two of the best defencemen  in the league in the Preds’ Roman Josi and the Avs’ Cale Maker.

   Both teams also feature some of the NHL’s top forwards with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri suiting up for the Avalanche and Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg for the Predators to name just a few.

   I think Colorado has far more firepower up front and a stronger defence. In goal a big edge goes to the Colorado as the Preds’ No. 1 starter Jusse Saros is sidelined with an injury and will miss at least the first two games. Meanwhile, Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper is  healthy and ready to go.

Prediction: Avalanche in four straight games.

(Wayne Redshaw has covered sports in Niagara for over 50 years, 33 and a half at the Welland Tribune. He was publisher of FORE! Golfers Only for 12 years and also wrote for many newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States.)

Canada, Eh? Veteran Sports Scribe Picks Leafs, Oilers To Win Respective Opening Round Series

By WAYNE REDSHAW

   The NHL’s second season – the battle for Lord Stanley’s spittoon, better known as the Stanley Cup – begins tonight on four fronts and the big question is:  who will be left standing to cart the jug off the ice when it’s all over in late June or thereabouts?

    Sixteen teams are in the hunt including three Canadian-based clubs and only eight will survive after the first round. In this first segment (PART ONE) I preview the four series that open tonight. 

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Toronto Maple Leafs

    The Lightning have carted off the Cup the past two seasons and many experts figure Tampa is primed for a three-peat. I don’t and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Maple Leafs prevail. Granted Toronto has gone 55 years since they last won the Cup. Furthermore, the club hasn’t won a series dating  back to 2004 and past five seasons after qualifying for the Stanley  Cup derby they have bowed out in the first round.

  This time around I think the Leafs are primed. They are coming off a record-setting regular season for wins (54) and points (115). They also had 13 players set NHL career highs in points. And Auston Matthews was the Leafs top sniper finishing with 60 goals, the most in the NHL in years.

  Another reason I’m picking the Leafs is I’m not totally impressed with Tampa. I spent four and a half months in the Tampa Bay area this winter so being a hockey buff,  I watched most of the Lightning’s games. They were spotty and inconsistent. Goaltender Andre Vasilevskiy, I thought, gave up some weak goals and defensively the team as a whole was guilty of too many give-aways. They just didn’t look like the same team that won back-to-back Cups.

 Steven Stamkos was by far Tampa’s best player game after game. Nikita Kucherov, who led the Lightning in points in last year’s playoffs, was a-passenger in a lot of games I viewed. And Brayden Point certainly didn’t have a banner year. Like most of his mates he was spotty.

  Losing the complete third line from last season through the expansion draft and free agency didn’t help matters for the Lightning. They had replacements but they weren’t enough. Now  in facing the Leafs in the first round, I can’t see Tampa Bay advancing. The Leafs have too much firepower with the likes  of Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares in the lineup. If there is a weak link in Toronto I would say it’s between the pipes. There have been times where Jack Campbell has been unbeatable and other games where he has left a lot to be desired yielding some soft goals.

  Prediction: Leafs in seven games.

Boston Bruins vs Carolina Hurricanes

    Carolina won all three meetings against the Bruins in the regular season and when the battle-smoke clears  the Hurricanes should advance.  The Hurricanes finished first in the Metropolitan Division and third overall in the League.

   Boston finished as the first wild card so not having home ice advantage could hurt. Goaltending is another question mark. Like Tampa Bay, the Bruins encountered a hot and cold season.

    The Bruins are led by David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. They will need all hands on deck to get past the Hurricanes.

   The big question for Carolina is when will goaltender Freddie Andersen return to the lineup? Andersen had a stellar regular season so hopefully he’s not on the injured  shelf too long. Overall, they have a nice core on defence and have Sebastian Aho leading the way offensively.

   Prediction: The Hurricanes in six games

St, Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild

   This series could be the most evenly matched series of the entire first round. Minnesota had more points 113 to 109. However, St. Louis had more wins 43 to 37. That means the Wild were involved in more close encounters and platoon hockey is much different than the regular season.

   St. Louis has an edge on the blue line but I like the Wild’s goaltending more and that could be a determining factor.

  Prediction. Wild in seven games.

Los Angeles Kings vs Edmonton Oilers

    I just think the Oilers have too much firepower with Connor McDavid  and Leon  Draisaitl leading the way. And their power play is potent. If the Kings visit the penalty box too often the Oilers will cash in.

   If there is a weak link with the Oilers it is between the pipes with Mike Smith. They didn’t address goaltending before the trade deadline. But if they keep the puck away from their own end, they should advance. I don’t think the the Kings have enough depth.

   They have Jonathan Quick in goal to keep them respectable. But up front other than Anze Kopitarv they lack big guns.

   Prediction: Oilers in five games.

(Wayne Redshaw has covered sports in Niagara for over 50 years, 33 and a half at the Welland Tribune. He was publisher of FORE! Golfers Only for 12 years and also wrote for many newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States.)