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Cullen: 2011 NHL Playoff Picks

Scott Cullen
4/12/2011 4:08:19 PM
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As parity becomes the rule more and more in the NHL, it becomes more difficult to make playoff picks.

This year, I have a lot of the favourites, yet if you've been following my Power Rankings at all, you would know that I won't be surprised if several lower seeds jump up and bite the higher seeds.

For example, I have the Washington Capitals at nine and the New York Rangers at ten. I'm picking the Caps to win, but will hardly be shocked if they're pushed to the limit by the Blueshirts.

Even the Vancouver Canucks, the top seed in the entire postseason, have a tough draw in the first round, so it's not going to be a real shock if low seeds again make noise in the playoffs.

For more information, please check out the following:

The Playoff Payoff - A more detailed stats breakdown, with strategy, likely line combinations and deep sleepers for each team.

NHL Power Rankings - You'll have some idea how good I think a team is based on their finish here.

NHL Player Rankings - Not geared to the NHL playoffs, but a position-by-position breakdown of the league's best.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. NEW YORK RANGERS

Provided Mike Green is able to play for the Capitals, they deserve to be favoured in the series, but not in any way the lopsided match-up that would be typical of a top seed against an eighth seed. Green doesn't have a strong playoff track record and his production was down even before his concussion woes, but with Dennis Wideman sidelined, the Capitals surely need their power play quarterback to make a difference.

Even though they weren't the scoring juggernaut that they were in 2009-2010, the Capitals have the requisite skill to handle the Rangers, unless Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist comes up huge, which isn't an impossibility, since he has been the backbone of the Rangers' push to the postseason.

The Rangers' late-season scoring troubles (17 goals in the last nine games) could only be magnified by the absence of Ryan Callahan, their second-leading goal scorer, who suffered a broken ankle blocking a Zdeno Chara shot last week, so the Rangers desperately need sniper Marian Gaborik to be more productive than he was during the regular season, when he scored a modest 22 goals.

Perhaps the swing position for the Capitals will be goaltending. They won't have Jose Theodore around to start the first game of the playoffs, only to be banished to the bench thereafter, so Michal Neuvirth figures to get the first shot between the pipes, with Semyon Varlamov ready to step in, if need be.

The Pick: Capitals in seven.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS vs. BUFFALO SABRES

As long as defenceman Chris Pronger is out of the Flyers lineup, and the Flyers remain ever-secretive on that front, they are vulnerable. The goaltending hasn't been strong enough to overcome the absence of the veteran shutdown defender, but just because there are questions on the back end doesn't mean the Flyers aren't a dangerous bunch.

Few teams can match the forward depth that the Flyers can roll out, so Philadelphia has the ability to advance, as long as the goaltending, led by rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, holds up.

A strong finish to the season, going 16-4-4 in the last 24 regular season games (including a pair of wins over the Flyers) lifted the Sabres into the playoffs and while the Sabres don't have six players with at least 49 points, like the Flyers, they did get significant contributions late in the year from players like defenceman Andrej Sekera and winger Nathan Gerbe, players that will play a more prominent role than their overall point totals might suggest.

With a collective effort, the Sabres have an opportunity to upset a Flyers team that finished the regular season with five regulation wins in 14 games after Pronger suffered a broken hand.

The Pick: Sabres in seven.

BOSTON BRUINS vs. MONTREAL CANADIENS

Perhaps the perfect contrast in styles, with the Bruins employing muscle and intimidation against a speedy and shifty Canadiens group that has no hope of matching the Bruins if the game turns into trench warfare.

Montreal might need goaltender Carey Price to stand on his head to steal the series, but it's tough to forecast an advantage in goal when the Bruins answer with Tim Thomas, who just happened to record the highest save percentage in history this season.

The Canadiens aren't especially deep, so they'll need the guys at the top end to produce, which means another big playoff from LW Mike Cammalleri, continued production from RW Brian Gionta and C Tomas Plekanec and something, anything, from C Scott Gomez, who is coming off a miserable 38-point season. Defencemen P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski will also need to contribute on the power play.

While Boston isn't overpowering offensively, they boast more weapons than the Canadiens, with a nice mix of playmaking centres David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron as well as power forwards Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. If the Bruins are to avoid the upset, they're going to need their power play to be much better. Since acquiring Tomas Kaberle from Toronto, the Bruins' power play is just 7-for-67 (10.4%) in 23 games.

The Pick: Bruins in six.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

It's asking a lot to put the weight of the entire series on the health of one player, but when that player is Sidney Crosby, it's understandable if his presence can make the difference between the fourth and fifth seeds in the East.

Crosby has been practicing with the Penguins and it wouldn't make a lot of sense for him to practice without the objective of having him play in the postseason, but as long as the Penguins are casting doubt on 87's availability for Game One, the Penguins are in a tough spot.

In 41 games since Crosby was sidelined, the Penguins have 13 regulation wins. With no shootouts at their disposal in the playoffs, Pittsburgh will have to generate more offence, which means getting more from trade acquisitions James Neal and Alex Kovalev, who have combined for three goals in 39 games since arriving in the Steel City.

After some struggles in recent years, the Lightning may be happy just to be in the playoffs, but have enough veterans -- Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Simon Gagne and Ryan Malone, most notably -- that have tasted playoff success that they won't be overwhelmed by a Penguins roster that has racked up a lot of playoff games in the last three seasons.

At the same time, Tampa Bay's defence is suspect and they're counting on 41-year-old G Dwayne Roloson to backstop the whole effort.

The Pick: Penguins in six.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

While the Canucks can say they want another matchup with the Blackhawks, there would have been more favourable first-round opponents for the league's top seed. The Canucks finally have a healthy defence corps, which gives them a depth advantage on most any team, their goaltending is as good as any and they boast a strong group of scoring forwards. They didn't finish ten points ahead of all others for no reason.

At the same time, the depth forwards of the Canucks will be challenged. C Manny Malhotra is out with an eye injury and LW Raffi Torres is suspended for the first two games, so the bottom six is a little suspect; perhaps Cody Hodgson will be a factor in a third-line role.

After sneaking into the playoffs, the Blackhawks can't mind facing off with a team that they've bounced from the playoffs in back-to-back years. If C David Bolland is able to return from a concussion, he'll give the Blackhawks a much-needed checking presence to throw at the Sedins, which could help free up Jonathan Toews for more offensive endeavours.

Naturally, the Blackhawks will need rookie G Corey Crawford to play well if they're going to knock off the top-seeded Canucks and last year's Norris Trophy winner, Duncan Keith, has to be a difference-maker for Chicago (he hasn't been nearly as consistent this year, so it can't just be assumed that Keith will provide 27 minutes of sterling all-around play, night-in and night-out).

The Pick: Canucks in seven.

SAN JOSE SHARKS vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS

It's not as if the San Jose Sharks, with six regulation losses in the last 37 games, need a lot of help, but getting the Kings in the first round is a better fate than what awaits the top-seeded Canucks.

The Kings may get RW Justin Williams back at some point in the series, though he's recovering from a dislocated shoulder, so it's hard to know how effective he will be. More importantly, franchise centre Anze Kopitar is out and the Kings (like most teams) don't have a ready-made replacement for their No. 1 pivot.

If the Kings can get outstanding goaltending and defencemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson can control play, maybe they'll have a shot against the Sharks, but San Jose has so much more depth and G Antti Niemi has been every bit as good for San Jose as G Jonathan Quick has been for Los Angeles.

Gritty winger Ryane Clowe is questionable for the Sharks, due to a lower body injury, and his absence certainly taxes the Sharks' depth, but San Jose has too many weapons.

The Pick: Sharks in five.

DETROIT RED WINGS vs. PHOENIX COYOTES

It's expected that Henrik Zetterberg won't be ready to start the series for the Red Wings and that's a major loss, but Detroit is nothing if not deep, so they may be able to escape the series without him.

Rest assured, it won't come easily. The Coyotes don't have big-time scorers, but defenceman Keith Yandle is a Norris Trophy candidate and the Coyotes took the Wings to Game Seven in Round One last year.

If there is an advantage to be had for Phoenix, it rests in goal, where Ilya Bryzgalov is capable of stealing a series, particularly if Jimmy Howard isn't up to the task for the Red Wings.

Siding with depth and experience, the Wings will find a way to get it done, giving Zetterberg time to get healthy and have an impact.

The Pick: Red Wings in seven.

ANAHEIM DUCKS vs. NASHVILLE PREDATORS

I so wanted this year to be the year that I would pick the Predators to advance beyond the first round, but matching up against a Ducks team that has been rolling late in the year isn't an easy way to go.

Anaheim's biggest question may be in goal, where Jonas Hiller is recovering from vertigo and Ray Emery, who filled in admirably while Hiller has been out, has been nursing a lower body injury. Emery is supposed to be ready for the playoffs and if either he or Dan Ellis can provide stability between the pipes, the Ducks have the firepower up front to match any team.

The line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan may be the league's best and it could be an epic matchup against Predators defenders Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but even if the Predators can somehow neutralize the Ducks' top line, there is still a matter of handling Teemu Selanne, who simply notched 80 points in 73 games as a 40-year-old this season.

Nashville's buttoned-down style will be in contrast to a more free-flowing Anaheim attack, which should make for a competitive series, but one in which MVP candidate Corey Perry could make the difference.

The Pick: Ducks in six.

Teams best equipped to pull off upsets (aside from those already picked): Chicago, Nashville, N.Y. Rangers

Future Series Picks
WEST
Vancouver over Anaheim
Detroit over San Jose
Vancouver over Detroit


EAST
Washington over Buffalo
Boston over Pittsburgh
Boston over Washington
CUP FINAL
Vancouver over Boston

And, my list of playoff projections, obviously influenced by my team picks. If you have different picks -- and I'm sure many of you do -- do not follow my player picks to the letter; perhaps use the Playoff Payoff to find value on the teams you like best this spring.

RANK PLAYER TEAM POS PROJECTION
1. Daniel Sedin Vancouver LW 27
2. Henrik Sedin Vancouver C 24
3. Alexander Ovechkin Washington LW 21
4. Ryan Kesler Vancouver C 20
5. David Krejci Boston C 20
6. Milan Lucic Boston LW 19
7. Patrice Bergeron Boston C 18
8. Pavel Datsyuk Detroit C 17
9. Nicklas Backstrom Washington C 16
10. Mikael Samuelsson Vancouver RW 16
11. Nathan Horton Boston RW 16
12. Christian Ehrhoff Vancouver D 15
13. Alex Burrows Vancouver RW 15
14. Alexander Edler Vancouver D 15
15. Mark Recchi Boston RW 15
16. Brad Marchand Boston RW 14
17. Alexander Semin Washington RW 14
18. Corey Perry Anaheim RW 14
19. Brian Rafalski Detroit D 13
20. Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit D 13
21. Ryan Getzlaf Anaheim C 13
22. Tomas Kaberle Boston D 13
23. Zdeno Chara Boston D 13
24. Henrik Zetterberg Detroit LW 13
25. Johan Franzen Detroit LW 13
26. Michael Ryder Boston RW 12
27. Mason Raymond Vancouver LW 12
28. Teemu Selanne Anaheim RW 12
29. Thomas Vanek Buffalo LW 11
30. Bobby Ryan Anaheim LW 11
31. Daniel Cleary Detroit LW 11
32. Patrick Marleau San Jose LW 11
33. Joe Pavelski San Jose RW 11
34. Brooks Laich Washington LW 11
35. Chris Higgins Vancouver LW 11
36. Mike Knuble Washington RW 10
37. Valtteri Filppula Detroit C 10
38. Joe Thornton San Jose C 10
39. Rich Peverley Boston C 10
40. Jiri Hudler Detroit RW 10
41. Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh C 9
42. Jason Pominville Buffalo RW 9
43. Kevin Bieksa Vancouver D 9
44. John Carlson Washington D 9
45. Mike Green Washington D 9
46. Tomas Holmstrom Detroit RW 9
47. Lubomir Visnovsky Anaheim D 9
48. Ryane Clowe San Jose LW 9
49. Dany Heatley San Jose RW 9
50. Todd Bertuzzi Detroit RW 9
51. Drew Stafford Buffalo RW 9
52. Jordan Staal Pittsburgh C 8
53. Chris Kunitz Pittsburgh LW 8
54. Logan Couture San Jose C 8
55. Tim Connolly Buffalo C 8
56. Tyler Ennis Buffalo LW 8
57. Dan Boyle San Jose D 8
58. Saku Koivu Anaheim C 8
59. Jason Arnott Washington C 8
60. Marco Sturm Washington LW 8
61. Marcus Johansson Washington C 8
62. Brad Boyes Buffalo RW 8
63. Niklas Kronwall Detroit D 8
64. Cam Fowler Anaheim D 7
65. Martin St. Louis Tampa Bay LW 7
66. Nathan Gerbe Buffalo LW 7
67. Devin Setoguchi San Jose RW 7
68. Pascal Dupuis Pittsburgh RW 6
69. Kris Letang Pittsburgh D 6
70. James Neal Pittsburgh LW 6
71. Tyler Kennedy Pittsburgh RW 6
72. Claude Giroux Philadelphia C 6
73. Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay C 6
74. Jonathan Toews Chicago C 6
75. Patrick Kane Chicago RW 6
76. Torrey Mitchell San Jose C 6
77. Jeff Carter Philadelphia RW 5
78. Shane Doan Phoenix RW 5
79. Marian Gaborik N.Y. Rangers RW 5
80. Martin Erat Nashville RW 5
81. Vincent Lecavalier Tampa Bay C 5
82. Mike Richards Philadelphia C 5
83. Jason Blake Anaheim LW 5
84. Marian Hossa Chicago RW 5
85. Danny Briere Philadelphia C 5
86. Tyler Myers Buffalo D 5
87. Patrick Sharp Chicago LW 5
88. Teddy Purcell Tampa Bay RW 4
89. Patric Hornqvist Nashville RW 4
90. Drew Doughty Los Angeles D 4
91. Shea Weber Nashville D 4
92. James Wisniewski Montreal D 4
93. Brandon Dubinsky N.Y. Rangers LW 4
94. Simon Gagne Tampa Bay LW 4
95. David Legwand Nashville C 4
96. Sergei Kostitsyn Nashville LW 4
97. Dustin Brown Los Angeles RW 4
98. Andrej Sekera Buffalo D 4
99. Ville Leino Philadelphia LW 4
100. Tomas Plekanec Montreal C 4
101. Ian White San Jose D 4
102. Vaclav Prospal N.Y. Rangers LW 4
103. Keith Yandle Phoenix D 4
104. Mike Cammalleri Montreal LW 4
105. Kyle Wellwood San Jose C 4
106. Ray Whitney Phoenix LW 4
107. Jannik Hansen Vancouver RW 4
108. Gregory Campbell Boston C 4
109. Paul Martin Pittsburgh D 3
110. Bryan Bickell Chicago LW 3
111. Michael Frolik Chicago RW 3
112. Brian Campbell Chicago C 3
113. Mike Fisher Nashville C 3
114. Derek Stepan N.Y. Rangers C 3
115. Kimmo Timonen Philadelphia D 3
116. Eric Belanger Phoenix C 3
117. Martin Hanzal Phoenix C 3
118. Joel Ward Nashville RW 3
119. Steve Sullivan Nashville LW 3
120. Bryan McCabe N.Y. Rangers D 3
121. Dave Bolland Chicago C 3
122. Steve Downie Tampa Bay RW 3
123. Lee Stempniak Phoenix RW 3
124. Lauri Korpikoski Phoenix LW 3
125. Taylor Pyatt Phoenix LW 3
126. Jarret Stoll Los Angeles C 3
127. Matt Carle Philadelphia D 3
128. Wojtek Wolski N.Y. Rangers LW 3
129. Scott Gomez Montreal C 3
130. James van Riemsdyk Philadelphia LW 3
131. David Desharnais Montreal C 3
132. Tomas Kopecky Chicago C 3
133. Alex Kovalev Pittsburgh RW 3
134. Ryan Suter Nashville D 3
135. Artem Anisimov N.Y. Rangers C 3
136. Andrei Kostitsyn Montreal RW 3
137. Kris Versteeg Philadelphia RW 3
138. Scott Hartnell Philadelphia RW 3
139. Duncan Keith Chicago D 3
140. Brian Gionta Montreal RW 3
141. Ryan Smyth Los Angeles LW 3
142. Radim Vrbata Phoenix RW 3
143. P.K. Subban Montreal D 3
144. Jack Johnson Los Angeles D 3
145. Brent Seabrook Chicago D 3
146. Jordan Leopold Buffalo D 3
147. Ryan Malone Tampa Bay LW 3
148. Cody Hodgson Vancouver C 3
149. Justin Williams Los Angeles RW 2
150. Chris Pronger Philadelphia D 2
RANK GOALTENDER TEAM
1. Roberto Luongo Vancouver
2. Tim Thomas Boston
3. Jimmy Howard Detroit
4. Antti Niemi San Jose
5. Ryan Miller Buffalo
6. Marc-Andre Fleury Pittsburgh
7. Michal Neuvirth Washington
8. Ray Emery Anaheim
9. Pekka Rinne Nashville
10. Ilya Bryzgalov Phoenix
11. Henrik Lundqvist N.Y. Rangers
12. Corey Crawford Chicago
13. Carey Price Montreal
14. Dwayne Roloson Tampa Bay
15. Sergei Bobrovsky Philadelphia
16. Jonathan Quick Los Angeles
17. Semyon Varlamov Washington

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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