Rose in Accounting and I were talking in the office the other day. She brought up the upcoming elections in the U.S. and Canada and wondered if Donald Trump could lead both countries at the same time because, as she put it “he is different and that’s what both nations need.” I disagreed. Then the topic of the upcoming EURO playoffs came up and again we had pretty divergent views. Here’s our predictions for the first round. If she’s right more often than me, I’m going to be so embarrassed.
Please don’t hate us if we didn’t pick your team. Let love rain and peace flow between our nations.
Belfast (No. 1 seed, 129 points) vs. Edinburgh (No. 8 seed, 85 points)
Commissioner: The Giants are just plain gigantic and I can’t see a little pipsqueak like Edinburgh getting by them. Belfast proved this season that their Season 4 triumph was no fluke. They skate teams into the ice on a regular basis and they are no fun to play against. They are supremely skilled with the puck and they are tougher than one would expect from such slick players. The Giants were third in the league in goals for and third best in goals against. Edinburgh’s top line can hang with Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and James Neal for 25 minutes, but Belfast has too much horse power over the remaining 35 minutes per game. Belfast in 5 games.
Rose: I love the kilt look on men. It accentuates their calves. Therefore, look for the Capitals to win in a surprising 6 games. Even Giants collapse from time to time. Just ask David from the Bible or Jack from the Beanstalk. Take a close look at Jonathan Quick’s save percentage over the last four seasons. Notice the downward trend? The numbers suggest he’s not the impenetrable wall he was with Munich and last year in the successful Cup run, and Edinburgh has Rick Nash, Claude Giroux and Jamie Benn up front. And yes, the Giants were in the top 3 this season in goals for and goals against, but they were in the top 2 in penalty minutes. Their roster is crammed full of young people and young people make mistakes. Look at my youngest niece, who’s dating a guy with tattoos on his face. You put Quick’s declining numbers together with the penalty minute problem Belfast has, and the mistakes their young players could make, and you have a door that Edinburgh could stride through. Edinburgh in 6 games.
Keep an eye on: Rick Nash. The former Crosby linemate will go against Sid in this series and he has the potential to score big goals. He scored 30 regular season goals and is just two seasons removed from a 47-goal season. But he also has a penchant for turning the puck over and not racing back on defense. In a lot of ways, as Nash goes in this series, so go the Caps. Nash could haunt his former team, but he could just as easily help it. The second line matchup of centers Nazem Kadri and Brandon Dubinsky should be epic. Kadri was Belfast’s leading scorer and Dubinsky was tops on his team in plus-minus this season.
Minsk (No. 2 seed, 117 points) vs. Dublin (No. 7 seed, 85 points)
Commissioner: Carey Price could carry this team all the way this year. That’s how good he is. Dublin will have to play without a key forward, Evander Kane, who is part of what has become a legendary line in Dublin. Phil Kessel and Ryan Kesler will ask James Van Riemsdyk to take Kane’s spot in the line for the first few games of this series. Meanwhile, Minsk has a healthy top line of Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom and Milan Lucic heading toward goalie Brian Elliott in the Irish net. The real difference will be in blueline corps of the two teams. Dublin’s is shaky after the first pairing of James Wisniewski and Keith Yandle. In fact, they are all minus players. Even with Mark Giordano out with an injury, the Hussars have 6 excellent defensemen back there, all with positive plus-minus ratings. Ryan McDonough, Michael Del Zotto, Max Chudinov, Kris Russell, Aaron Ekblad and Giordano make Price’s job easier and he doesn’t need a lot of help. Minsk in 7 games.
Rose: These two teams played each other pretty evenly this season. Dublin won twice in shootouts and one of the other two games was a 2-1 Minsk win, so I expect a competitive series. Yes, Price is a great goalie. He had a save percentage of 91.3 this season, which was second best in the league. Brian Elliott was a hair behind him, though, with a 91.2 save percentage, so the goalies are a total wash, as far as I’m concerned. Which reminds me; I have to wash the kitchen counters at home. I have lots of cats. The biggest difference between these teams is shots on goal. Minsk was almost the best in both shots for and shots against this season, while Dublin was in the bottom half in both columns. If the Irish can shrink that gap for just four games, they could pull off the upset, as they did twice in Season 1 against Oslo and St. Petersburg before nearly ousting Copenhagen. Dublin in 7 games.
Keep an eye on: Minsk’s Tamir Ganbold and Dublin’s James Van Riemsdyk will be playing in spots usually occupied by Mark Giordano and Evander Kane, so naturally, people will be looking at them to see how they are filling in, but watch how the Hussars’ third forward line controls the pace while they are out there. During the regular season, the trio of Jacob Josefson, Colin Wilson and Alexender Burmistrov was an absolute wonder. While the Backstrom line was about plus 8 all year, and the second line was plus 20, the Josefson line was closer to plus 35, scoring 52 goals in 82 games.
Moscow (No. 3 seed, 107 points) vs. St. Petersburg (6th seed, 85 points)
Commissioner: Anze Kopitar will remember how much heat he took from owner Michael Banker for starting a playoff season slowly a year ago. His dog Gustl
surely remembers. Expect Kopitar to have his Slovenian head in the game from the start of the series. On paper, Moscow should average about 5 shots on goal more per game, taking into account that their team is better in both getting off and preventing shots. Ryan Suter has been great on defense for Moscow and with the experience and leadership that’s present throughout the team (Andrew Ladd, Dustin Brown, Duncan Keith, etc.), I see them coming out on top. Moscow in 6 games.
Rose: These teams played 6 times during the season and St. Petersburg won 5 times. Moscow might be the better team, but the Red Stars have their number. Brent Burns seems to be mellowing just a bit and that’s a good thing because he is staying in position more and going for the highlight hits less and that’s helping the team and his offensive numbers. He is a big key to the whole series. I like this team’s mix of youth and veteran talent and I like the fact that coach Paul Maurice has stuck with the same lineup from Game 1 to Game 82. The players know what to expect from each other and know what issues they need to work on. St. Petersburg in 7 games.
Keep an eye on: Vladimir Putin. He has a political tight rope to walk in this series with two constituent cities going against each other. Our bet is he will attend each game and not cheer for either team – or cheer for both, which would look really unnatural. The refereeing will be important in this series. St. Petersburg takes a lot of penalties and their penalty killing isn’t great. Moscow’s on the other hand, is superb – second best in the EURO. In what shapes up to be a competitive series, powerplay time could swing the pendulum.
Helsinki (No. 4 seed, 99 points) vs. London (No. 5 seed, 93 points)
Commissioner: This series might come down to the goalies. The savvy all-star veteran vs. the wide-eyed all-star rookie. Henrik Lundqvist (90.8 save percentage in 69 games) vs. Martin Jones (91.0 average in 62 games). Not too many points separated the teams in the standings, so a hot goalie could be huge. In what looks to be a low-scoring series when goals will carry a little more value, I’m giving it to the team with the better forwards. The Dons might have the best left side in hockey, with Brandon Saad and Jiri Hudler not even good enough to get onto the top two lines. That forward depth should come in handy against the team that gives up the most powerplay chances in the league. London isn’t particularly strong, especially when the other team has the puck, but they are lucky to face a team whose offense isn’t as lethal as some of the other teams in the conference. London in 7 games.
Rose: See this box? It’s full of cards and letters from Trevor Grimm, aka the nicest guy on Websim. Helsinki hosted the first outdoor all-star game and their fans, who braved 60-degree temperatures that day, deserve a series win. So that’s who I’m picking. Built to rock and sock opponents, the Jokerit have added some stick-handling, puck pushing players in recent years through free agency and trades. Alexander Radulov, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy are relatively new faces who give Helsinki a dimension they didn’t have in the past. General Manager Grimm is hoping it will translate into a team that is less predictable and harder to beat. Helsinki in 5 games.
Keep an eye on: Thomas Vanek. One person on Helsinki scored more than 25 goals this season and that was Vanek, who notched 35. He also had 7 game-winning goals so the Jokerit are relying heavily on the Austrian to provide key goals. But Vanek is like Nash in that when he starts thinking about scoring the big goal, he takes risks and gives the puck away too often. When he was with Oslo, in one of his two playoff appearances, he scored 6 points in 7 games but he gave the puck away 12 times. Vanek and Brad Marchand are the left wings on lines 1A and 1B with playmakers Paul Stastny and Derek Roy as their centers. Either way, Helsinki has legitimate threats on the ice most of the time.