NHL Playoffs

Western Conference Preview

The NHL Playoffs begin tonight, so Fanpicks is here to bring you all you need to know with our Western Conference Preview.

With four exciting matchups, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and seven hungry teams, it’s sure to be a thrilling ride!
NHL Playoffs: Western Conference Preview

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(1) Dallas Stars (50-23-7-2, 109 pts) vs. (WC) Minnesota Wild (38-33-9-2, 87 pts)

In the wild, wild West, the top-seeded Dallas Stars face the Minnesota Wild. It marks the first time the Stars, who relocated to Dallas from Minnesota in 1993, will face the Wild in the post-season.

The Stars come in blazing, having won nine of their last 11 while overcoming injuries to key forwards Tyler Seguin (Achilles tendon) and Patrick Eaves (lower body).

The Wild closed their own season out by losing their last five games, and though one can try to claim their minds were already on the playoffs… losing five in a row of anything in’t good. It begins to affect you, and they’ve already gone through a mid-season coaching change, so the psyche isn’t necessarily strong in that locker room.

To make matters worse, the club recently announced that offensive catalyst Zach Parise is dealing with a back issue and is out indefinitely. Thomas Vanek (18 goals) and Eric Haula (14) are also injured.

 

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(2) St. Louis Blues (49-24-5-4, 107 pts) vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-7-2, 103 pts)

The first series in the Western Conference to get underway features a pair of long-time division rivals. The Central division’s St. Louis Blues facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. It marks the 12th meeting between the two franchises, with Chicago leading the all-time series 8-4.

The Blues may have been the team nobody wanted to play against the most as the season wound to a finale. So, it’s a good thing Chicago probably has the best roster in the West.

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews,  Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook form a core that have already brought three Stanley Cups to Chicago in the last six years. So, even though the Blues are trending upwards they will certainly have their hands full.

 

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(1) Anaheim Ducks (46-25-7-4, 103 pts) vs. (WC) Nashville Predators (41-27-12-2, 96 pts)

The Ducks’ victory capped an impressive run that began immediately following the NHL’s Christmas break. Anaheim opened the season 1-7-2 and was 12-15-6 following a 3-2 overtime loss at the Rangers on Dec. 22.

Starting with a 4-2 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 27, the Ducks closed the season 34-10-5.

Their run was just enough to catch California rivals the LA Kings and snatch the division crown away.

Offensive leaders Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were under fire early on, as Getzlaf didn’t score for the first 14 games of the season, and didn’t collect his first even-strength goal until February 4, 2016…Game number 49. But the duo ended-up finishing 1-2 in team scoring with 63, and 62 points respectively.

While youngin’ Filip Forsberg is an offensive dynamo( 33 goals, 64 points), Nashville’s strength lies in their defensive core. Shea Weber is the biggest name of the bunch, but D-partner Roman Josi (61 points) had the better season and should be a Norris candidate himself. Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are no slouches either, which is why the club felt comfortable in dealing away potential franchise defenseman Seth Jones for star center Ryan Johansen who had fallen out of favour in Columbus.

John Gibson is young, but a proven big-game performer at all levels so he may get the majority of the starts, but Frederik Andersen has been in this position before.

Pekka Rinne had an off-season for his standards, so the jury is out on whether or not he’ll turn things around when it matters most.

The Ducks and Predators will meet for the first time in the playoffs.

 

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(2) Los Angeles Kings (48-28-3-3, 102 pts) vs. (3) San Jose Sharks (46-30-3-3, 98 pts)

The Kings will face the Sharks for the fourth time. The Kings have won two of three series including a first-round matchup in 2014, when Los Angeles became the NHL’s fourth team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.

Anze Kopitar is perhaps the league’s best centerman, as he dominates every aspect of the game with relative ease. He will be supported offensively by a streaking Jeff Carter, who has six goals in his last eight games, and a slew of talented vets.

Defensively, Drew Doughty is the Norris Trophy (league’s top D-man) favorite, and gets even better in the playoffs.

Goalie Jonathan Quick is probably the NHL’s best playoff goaltender, and set a personal career-high with his 40 victories this season.

Los Angeles squandered a chance to clinch the Pacific Division following a 4-3 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Saturday in which the Kings blew a 3-0 lead.

The last game of the regular reason maybe not seem important to clinched teams, but if the Kings can’t hold off the Jets up 3-0…there is serious reason for concern.

Joe Thornton had his best season since 2009-10 keading the Sharks with 82 points in 82 games.  More often than not, he was busy setting up captain Joe Pavelski (38 goals ) and defenseman Brent Burns (27 goals, 75 points).

Martin Jones proved to be a fruitful acquisition for San Jose this year, but has only 57 minutes of playoff experience under his belt (no starts), compared to Jonathan Quick’s 4684 and pair of Stanley Cup rings.

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NHL Playoffs

Eastern Conference Preview

The NHL Playoffs begin tonight, so Fanpicks is here to bring you our Eastern Conference Preview.

Detroit will get the post-season party started when the puck drops at 7 pm ET in Tampa Bay tonight, as the Red Wings face the Lightning in Round One.

The Penguins and Rangers also face-off tonight (8 pm ET), while the Capitals are in action tomorrow night  (7 pm ET). You can view the entire playoff schedule here.

So without further ado, our NHL Playoff Preview.

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(1) Washington Capitals (56-18-6-2, 120 pts) vs (WC) Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-6-8, 96 pts)

Alex Ovechkin and his high-flying Capitals are looking for that elusive playoff success, but face a red-hot Flyers squad that finished the season on a 15-6-2 run in which they passed four teams in the standings to reserve a spot in the post-season tournament.

Philadelphia does have a roster with a fair share of playoff experience on it, but none of their position groups are deep enough to defeat the first-place Caps in a playoff series.

Their goaltending is solid, but not spectacular and the same can be said for their forwards and defenseman.

Claude Giroux needs to be dominant if the Flyers hope to win a couple of games.

The Capitals had a record-setting season of all sorts, including surpassing the 54 win mark from the 2009-10 season, setting a franchise-record long win streak and goaltender Braden Holtby tying the legendary Martin Brodeur’s single-season win record.

Washington has been in playoff-mode for a while now, resting star players (Ovechkin, Holtby) and coasting to a 3-3-3 record to close out the regular season, but that doesn’t bother Head Coach Barry Trotz who’s sticking to his long-term plan.

They say stats and numbers don’t mean anything when it comes to the playoffs, but here’s some food for thought. Washington became the first team in NHL history to not lose consecutive games in regulation (82-game season). Steady 60-minute play like that is the recipe for success in the playoffs, so if the Caps can come out on top of a few close ones they will have no trouble advancing.

Important note: Though the Caps finished the season with 15 more wings and 34 more points, the season series was tied at two apiece.

 

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(2) Pittsburgh Penguins (48-26-4-4, 104 pts) vs. (3) New York Rangers (46-27-7-2, 101 pts)

The Penguins are the hottest team in the league, as they went an incredible 13-1 since Evgeni Malkin was lost to injury on March 11. The star centerman is expected to be out another four weeks, somewhere mid-second round but word on the street is that oddly enough they play better without both Malkin and Sidney Crosby in the lineup. Maybe it’s due to the fact Crosby feels he needs to shoulder more of the load, something he’s going to need to do now that Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury have been sidelined with injuries.

Pittsburgh is still unclear who will get the start in Game One on Wednesday night, so be weary of Jeff Zatkoff taking the crease.  They’ll face the team that has eliminated them in each of the past two seasons, the New York Rangers.

The Rangers enter the playoffs without their captain and number one defenseman, Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh was injured late in the regular season after blocking a shot against the Blue Jackets. He is listed as out with an upper-body injury, but the Rangers hope he will be back soon.

Henrik Lundqvist must have all the answers in this series. Slowing down Crosby, Kunitz, Kessel and co. is no small task, so the veteran Swede must be at his finest.

 

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(1) Florida Panthers (47-26-6-3, 103 pts) vs. (WC) New York Islanders (45-27-5-5, 100 pts)

The Panthers set a franchise record with 47 wins to earn their fifth playoff berth and second in the past 15 seasons, while the Islanders had an up-and-down campaign that has started to unravel at the worst possible moment.

New York’s strengths lay within their forward depth and sometimes spectacular performances from starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak. So when Halak went down with injury and the inexperienced Christopher Gibson took the reigns, thing didn’t look good. Throw in the loss of top-six forward Anders Lee as well and their odds for success drop immensely.

While most look at the contrast in youth and experience as to why the Panthers were so exciting to follow this year, I just see boatloads of talent.

44-year-old Jaromir Jagr had another unbelievable season to anchor the forward group, supported by superiorly skilled recent top draft picks such as linemates 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov, and 22-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau.

These cool cats have a ton of scoring depth, some solid defenders and an all-star goalie in Roberto Luongo, so they could do some damage in the playoffs.

The two franchises have never met in the playoffs before.

The Islanders are seeking to end a first-round playoff drought. New York hasn’t won a playoff series since a second-round matchup against Pittsburgh in 1993.

 

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(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (46-31-2-3 97 pts) vs (3) Detroit Red Wings (41-30-6-5 93 pts)

The Lightning and Red Wings will be the first pair of teams to hit the ice for the 2016 NHL Playoffs in a rematch of last season’s opening round matchup. The Lightning rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Red Wings en route to reaching the Stanley Cup final, which they lost to the Blackhawks.

Neither team is trending in the right direction…as both teams are just 5-5 in their last 10 games, with three combined consecutive losses to close out the season.

The Lightning went 7-9-1 in their final 17 games, and enter the playoffs minus captain Steven Stamkos (blood clots) and defenceman Anton Stralman (broken left leg), and possibly Tyler Johnson (upper-body). Rookie Jonathan Drouin was recently recalled after season-long drama and has been producing. He has shown to be clutch in big moments during his junior career.

The Red Wings, who earned their 25th consecutive playoff berth, have concerns of their own.

Detroit’s top three scorers have combined for just two goals and 13 assists: Henrik Zetterberg (six assists), Pavel Datsyuk (seven assists) and Dylan Larkin (two goals). Now, Detroit faces the added distraction of Datsyuk revealing he intends to retire from the NHL after the playoffs and continue playing in his native Russia.

Ben Bishop should give the Bolts the edge in goal, but the 46-game playoff veteran Jimmy Howard should be solid after winning his starting gig back after Petr Mrazek faltered down the stretch.

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Daily Fantasy Hockey Picks

As the NHL regular season comes to an end, we bring to you one of the last editions of our Daily Fantasy Hockey Picks.

There’s only three games on the NHL schedule tonight, so pickins are slim. Mighty slim when considering the teams that are in action.

Only the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings have something to play for (and that’s a lot), and they both happen to be playing against each other.

The quality of defenseman available in the Canucks vs Oilers game is putrid. Andrej Sekera is virtually the only NHL caliber defenseman and he though he does have 5 points, he is a steep minus-8 in his last 10 games.

Niklas Kronwall DET – Similar to Sekera, the Red Wings veteran D-man has 7 points in his last 10 contests, but holds a minus-6 rating over that span as well.

Riley Sheahan DET  The hard-working centerman exploded over the last month of the season, scoring more goals than he did in the previous 70 games. He has 8 points in last 10 games.

William Nylander TO – The uber talented rookie has 3 points in his last 2 games, and 8 in his last 10. Even more impressive is that he didn’t mark the scoresheet for 5 straight over those games.

Wayne Simmonds PHI – With 4 goals in his last 4 games, Simmonds is turning it on when the Flyers need it most. He generally a solid fantasy pick as he plays a tough, all-around game. Throw in elite goal scoring and he’s a superstar in real life and fantasy. He’s the star of the picks but totally worth the investment, especially on a schedule like tonight.

 

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Daily Fantasy Hockey Picks

Another edition of our Daily Fantasy Hockey Picks is upon us.

Two of the 7 pm ET starts feature heavy favorites versus bottom feeders, and at this time of the year we like those matchups, so we’re going to shine the spotlight on them exclusively. The Capitals and Flyers have a ton of pressure on them at the moment, while their opponents only have pride. Of course the added pressure can make some teams crumble, but these teams are legitimately strong and need big games after facing some adversity recently.

Onto our daily fantasy hockey picks…

If there ever were a sure-thing, Braden Holtby would be it tonight. But if you want to save a little dough, Steve Mason and his Flyers are in a similar situation (vs WPG).

Holtby and the Capitals are home to the Columbus Blue Jackets, winners of just 3 of their last 10 games and not exactly lined with offensive playmakers.

Speaking of playmakers, Nicklas Backstrom should be a target. The Capitals scorers have been cool of late, but that should all change versus the 29th ranked team in the goals against category.

Backstrom is at a low $5000, and while Evgeny Kuznetsov has been the better player all season, Backstrom is back with his old pal Ovechkin and centering the number one powerplay unit.

Claude Giroux will return tonight after being KO’d by a viscous check last game, and Wayne Simmonds is always a factor. Rookie Shayne Gostisbehere quickly made a name for himself with his clutch goals, so expect a big game from the big-game performer.

As stated above, Steve Mason draws a very favorable start against the Jets.

 

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Daily Fantasy Hockey Value Picks

With six NHL games on this evening, we present to you our daily fantasy hockey value picks.

Value Picks

Casey Cizikis ($3900) – The gritty centerman has found the scoresheet in all but two of his last ten games (8 points), so regardless of the matchup it’s great value. He doesn’t play the most minutes, or have the most talent, but he always brings his lunch pail to work and brings it for his teammates. John Tavares is definitely a big target today, but don’t be afraid to stack these Islanders. They haven’t played since March 3rd and Henrik Lundqvist is out with a neck injury. These “New York, New York” games get intense, and when push comes to shove Cizikis is always around.

Devante Smith-Pelly ($4100) – How quickly did those tears dry up? Devante Smith-Pelly delivered a heart-felt interview during a media scrum on trade deadline day, shedding more than a few tears before making his departure from Montreal.  He didn’t bring it every night the way the coach wanted him too so he barely played. All of a sudden he lands in New Jersey, plays 15 and 18 minutes, and has 2 goals and 1 assist (2 games). Maybe feeling like he is actually an important piece of the on-ice product has brought out the best in the bruising forward, nevertheless, at $4100 it’s worth riding the hot hand.

Christian Ehrhoff ($3600) – Since the trade to the mighty Blackhawks the mobile defenseman has seen a major bump in ice-time, not to mention the quality of his teammates. He has recorded 7 shots over the past 2 games, as many as he had in the 8 prior.

They use him to QB their powerplay, and it seems to have opened things up for everybody down low. The freshly acquired Andrew Ladd parks himself in front, and Ehrhoff blasts them from the point while the more talented players (Kane, Toews, Panarin) use the open space to execute more effectively.

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