The playoffs get underway tonight with four match-ups, two from each conference. Let’s look at them one by one, and I’ll offer up my completely unprofessional prediction regarding each.
The Bolts haven’t been to the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2007, which is the last time that the Thrashers have made it to the playoffs as well. The rub here, is that the Bolts have actually rebuilt the team successfully, whereas the Thrashers have remained stagnant despite their best efforts. A major player in that has been their GM, Steve Yzerman. Yzerman, as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, knows a lot about what it takes to win, and he’s passed it on to his team.
Of course, so has Mario Lemieux. The Penguins won the cup in 2009, defeating the then-champion Detroit Red Wings in a six game rematch. Their playoff successes have come not just because of top picks like Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury, but because of guys like Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Aaron Asham, and (like him or not) Matt Cooke. They have role players, they have grit, but they also have scoring finesse.
The Lightning have one of the most explosive offenses in the league behind Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. Stamkos, before cooling down this season, looked to win the league’s goal scoring title, but was facing competition from Crosby before his concussion. Defensively, though, the Bolts are the weaker of the two teams. They struggled much of the season with a hugely negative goal differential. A big key in that is their addition of netminder Dwayne Roloson, acquired from the Islanders. He’s been the solid goaltending they’ve needed.
With consistent goaltending from Roloson and scoring from their top line, the edge goes to the Bolts. However, if Fleury plays to his full potential and coach Dan Bylsma can continue to squeeze blood from a stone, the Pens can easily walk away with the series. The latter’s more likely than the former considering Roloson’s age and the playoff experiences on the two rosters.
My Prediction (which will probably be wrong): Pittsburgh in six.