Professor MJ: NHL PLAYOFF SERIES PREDICTIONS – ROUND #1 (part 2)

Hi guys! The Stanley Cup playoffs are officially under way with 4 road teams getting the victory out of 5 games last night. Let’s follow up on yesterday’s article by projecting the remaining three series.

**TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS VERSUS WASHINGTON CAPITALS**

| Record | Goal differential | Corsi tied | 5-on-5 ZS %
———-|——–|———|———|———|———
Maple Leafs | 40-27-15 (95 pts) | +9 | 50.93% (10th) | 49.12% (20th)
Capitals | 55-19-8 (118 pts) | +81 | 53.85% (2nd) | 52.46% (6th)

Series price: Maple Leafs +338 vs Capitals -390 (decimal: Maple Leafs 4.38 vs Capitals 1.26)

It’s hard to imagine the Leafs could win this series. Unless you are a very die-hard fan. The facts are pretty much all against them.

Washington is mostly known for its offensive firepower: they finished 3rd in the league in terms of goals scored this season. But their biggest accomplishment came from the defensive point of view: they allowed the fewest goals in the NHL with 182, while the second-best team in this category (Columbus) allowed 13 more goals! The defensive corps is great and underrated. Both of the Caps’ goalies posted a save percentage of around .925. In other words, there aren’t many flaws in this team.

The Caps have won 7 of the last 8 meetings versus Toronto. In fact, Washington is 12-1-1 at home against the Leafs over the past 14 home matchups (including a current 7-game winning streak). Amazing.

Washington made a key acquisition at the trade deadline by getting star defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues. He has adjusted well to his new team: he picked up 14 points in 19 games.

The Capitals have a reputation for putting up great regular seasons, only to disappoint in the playoffs. Will it happen again this year? I don’t know, but they certainly boast a lot more playoff experience than their rivals from Toronto. The Leafs are pretty exciting to watch with young talent leading the team on offense (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander). Just making the playoffs was a great achievement for this young group. It’s now time to learn how to play in the postseason, and what better way to learn than facing the best team in the NHL.

Toronto’s only chance to win this series might come from special units. They ranked second in the league for power play efficiency, and they will need to convert on as many opportunities as possible. Otherwise, they are doomed. We should mention that Washington had the third-best power play…

One of the top defenceman from the Leafs, Nikita Zaitsev, is out for game 1 and his status his unknown for game 2.

FINAL PICK: I’ve got to go with the Capitals in five games. I don’t like betting on heavy favorites too much, so with a -390 line I’ll probably stay away from that one.

**NASHVILLE PREDATORS VERSUS CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS**

| Record | Goal differential | Corsi tied | 5-on-5 ZS %
———-|——–|———|———|———|———
Predators | 41-29-12 (94 pts) | +16 | 49.58% (18th) | 50.08% (14th)
Blackhawks | 50-23-9 (109 pts) | +31 | 49.57% (19th) | 51.83% (8th)

Series price: Predators +145 vs Blackhawks -161 (decimal: Predators 2.45 vs Blackhawks 1.62)

Chicago has won 3 Stanley Cups over the past 7 years, an amazing feat. Coincidence or not, two of those championship runs began with a first-round meeting with Nashville. The Preds’ playoff pedigree is not nearly as great considering they have won a total of 3 playoff series over their 17-year existence.

The Blackhawks won 4 of the 5 meetings against Nashville this year, including the last 4 in which they scored 18 goals (4.5 goals per game) thanks to a power play unit that went 6 for 11 in those games!!

Chicago finished the regular season as the top seed in the Western Conference well ahead of Nashville, but the numbers in the table above are not indicating as big a difference between those teams as they do in the Washington-Toronto series. The Preds will be a difficult opponent to play against. They arguably have the best top 4 defencemen in the league (Josi, Subban, Ellis and Ekholm).

The Hawks did not finish the season very strong by winning only 3 of their last 10 games. The Preds weren’t great either as they won 2 of their last 7 matches (however, they did win 7 games during an 8-game stretch prior to that).

Chicago will welcome Artem Anisimov back in the lineup after a one-month absence. He will join Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin on the second line.

So how can the Predators win this series? The Crawford-Rinne matchup will be key, of course. Both goalies finished with identical save percentages (.918), but Rinne will need to be outstanding during the series. From Nashville’s point of view, if you want to be optimistic you could mention Chicago’s struggling penalty kill which finished 24th in the league. Also, despite the season series going clearly in favor of Chicago, the Preds had the edge at 5-on-5 by dominating nearly all advanced statistics categories.

FINAL PICK: In the end, I believe the Hawks come out on top once again. But the Preds will put on a fight and make it tough on Chicago. I’ll take the Blackhawks in seven games. From a betting perspective, I would be more enticed to take Nashville +145 rather than Chicago -161.

**CALGARY FLAMES VERSUS ANAHEIM DUCKS**

| Record | Goal differential | Corsi tied | 5-on-5 ZS %
———-|——–|———|———|———|———
Flames | 45-33-4 (94 pts) | +5 | 51.47% (8th) | 47.70% (26th)
Ducks | 46-23-13 (105 pts) | +23 | 50.24% (13th) | 48.34% (25th)

Series price: Flames +147 vs Ducks -163 (decimal: Flames 2.47 vs Ducks 1.61)

Here is the most stunning stat I’ve seen regarding this series: the Flames have lost 27 consecutive games in Anaheim. TWENTY-SEVEN. Wow!

The series has not started yet, and the teams already hate each other. The Ducks’ leader in average time on ice (Cam Fowler) is out for the entire first round following a knee-on-knee hit by Flames captain Mark Giordano 9 days ago. There is some bad blood between these teams.

The last time Calgary made the postseason was two years ago, where they were eliminated in five games by those same Ducks. Anaheim has a lot of playoff experience, having qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in 10 out of the last 12 years.

Anaheim took 4 of the 5 meetings this year. They finished the season on a great run by recording at least one point in 14 straight games. Meanwhile, Calgary lost 3 of its last 4 contests (two of them at the hands of Anaheim!). They are capable of catching fire though, as proven by their team record-setting 10-game winning streak a month ago.

This series might come down to which team manages to keep its emotions in check the most. As mentioned above, there’s no love between these teams but they can’t let their emotions take control. Rookie Matthew Tkachuk might play a role in this regard: he can score big goals while getting under the skin of his opponents. However, the Ducks have enough playoff experience to know they shouldn’t lose their focus on the big picture, which is to win hockey games (not to get revenge).

FINAL PICK: I’m worried about the Fowler injury, but I’ll still go with the Ducks to win the series in 7 games.

Cheers!

Professor MJ