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If the Playoffs Started Today – NHL Week 20

Capitals vs Sharks: Week 20's prediction for the Stanley Cup.

With the Olympic Break setting in, and Ryan Miller having looked pretty good against Switzerland (Go USA! Boo Federer!), plenty of NHL players are getting a much needed rest before play resumes, while others are getting a chance to test their mettle in the international arena. Even with a shortened week, we’ve seen plenty of action in the NHL.

The Capitals, after a 14-game winning streak, have a three-game losing streak. The Blackhawks have won four to make up much ground between themselves, San Jose, and Washington. After sweeping a four-game road trip, the Bruins have moved back into 7th place, with plenty of time to move up the rankings and possibly even re-challenge for the division, provided Tuukka Rask stays in goal.

The playoff picture is trying to stabilize, but at this point, both #11 teams are one win away from tying the #8s. Even the West’s #13 (Wild) would be #8 in the East; just something I’ve noticed (the NBA’s the same way). With three of six divisions currently decided by one point or less, let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Tuesday, February 16:

West:

#1 San Jose Sharks vs #8 Calgary Flames

Both teams are balanced at home and away, and on defense, but the thing is the Sharks have been able to score a lot more goals, and convert that into a lot more wins. The Sharks still have the Blackhawks and Captials to contend with for the President’s Trophy, but have a clear hold on their division. The Flames still have to hold off the Stars and Red Wings. And Ducks. And Blues. And Wild. The Blue Jackets are probably too far gone.

#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs #7 Nashville Predators

This one is even more of a mismatch. Both teams are still balanced, but Nashville not only scores less, but gives up more. Tied for an NHL-best 23 home wins and 41 overall wins, and having won their last four, Chicago should take out Nashville rather easily.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs #6 Colorado Avalanche

Both teams are tied after 61 games, but Vancouver has two more wins while Colorado has four more overtime losses. Vancouver has done slightly better in the scoring/defending category, and each team is much better at home. All things together point to Vancouver winning a lengthy series.

#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs #5 Los Angeles Kings

Los Angeles trails by one point, but has played two less games. They’ve also got a scoring edge, and have given up only slightly more than Phoenix. Still, each team should do a little better at home. But over four games, that advantage probably won’t hold perfectly. As a result, Phoenix is favored, but only slightly. Basically, it’ll be the NHL’s version of last year’s Hawks/Heat NBA match-up.

East:

#1 Washington Capitals vs #8 Montreal Canadiens

If Montreal is to have any hope, they’ll have to force Washington’s troubles into continuing. In fact, Montreal was the team that broke the Capitals’ win streak, 6-5 in OT. But Washington still has better home and away records, and has scored many, many more goals. Washington should snap back on track, especially since opponents can’t keep up the high scoring affairs like the Capitals can.

#2 New Jersey Devils vs #7 Boston Bruins

Even the great Brodeur is 3-5-2 in his last 10. Meanwhile, the Bruins are 4-3-3, including their four-game road trip winning streak. They’ll need that in New Jersey. Their 11 overtime losses show they can at least hang in there, and both teams have been playing well enough defense to be able to hold each other off well enough. We’ll see if Brodeur can pick himself up with Team Canada, and if Thomas can re-wrestle away Rask’s rightful stating job while with Team U.S.A.

#3 Ottawa Senators vs #6 Philadelphia Flyers

On the surface, this one looks worse than it is. The Senators have a nine-point lead, but have played three more games. Philadelphia has won their last four, and has a 19 to -1 goal differential. Ottawa is 8-2-0 in their last 10, but those two losses have come to Toronto and Detroit, two teams not even in the brackets. Ottawa is favored, but the Flyers have the tools to make a run of it.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo has been a little better at home, while the Penguins have been good in or out of Pittsburgh. Both teams are similar in goal differential, but Pittsburgh has done it by sacrificing defense for offense. If Buffalo can keep up the defense, they could pull this off. Of course, with both teams one point away from their division leaders, they’ll both be a little distracted trying to picking up the #2 and #3 spots.

What Might Change In Three Weeks:

  • With the schedules involved, Detroit has the best chance of taking over for Calgary; they host Calgary on March 9.
  • Tampa Bay face both Atlanta and Montreal. Both Tampa and Atlanta have a good chance at taking over for Montreal, depending on how the schedules play out.
  • Pittsburgh could take over the division from New Jersey, but given they’re facing Buffalo and Boston, they’ll need San Jose to take out the Devils.
  • Vancouver has five games to the Avalanches’ four, but Colorado has a great shot at the division anyway. Vancouver has five games in eight days, including a visit to Colorado on March 9. By that time, fatigue on the road trip should set in nicely.

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