NHL playoff predictions: Quarterfinals

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NHL playoff predictions: Quarterfinals

It's time to drop the puck on the NHL playoffs. With that said, Tim Panaccio and Sarah Baicker provide their predictions for the first round.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
Panotch: Sidney Crosby and John Tavares both got votes from CSNPhilly.com for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. After a prolonged playoff absence, the Isles are back, but they’ll get rolled. Pittsburgh played the final weeks without key personnel and was scary strong. Pick: Penguins in five.

Baicker: It’s great to see the Islanders finally get a chance at a postseason run … but they’re not going to last very long. The Penguins -- with or without Sidney Crosby -- have so much depth on offense, they’re almost unbeatable at this point. There’s not much more to say than that. Pick: Penguins in four.

No. 2 Montreal vs. No. 7 Ottawa
Panotch: This is one of those “much anticipated” rivalry series within Canada that will have the Hockey Night fans glued to their sofas for two weeks. Can the Sens’ Craig Anderson be the ultimate difference? He has a 1.69 goals against and .942 save percentage, but played less games than Carey Price. We smell upset. Pick: Senators in seven.

Baicker: Montreal has looked shaky in recent weeks despite its second-place finish. They’ll face a tough task in Ottawa, which as Tim points out, can and has won some goaltending battles with Anderson in net. But I think the Habs, who were 1-1-1 vs. the Sens this season, can pull out a series victory -- if Price plays up to his potential. Pick: Canadiens in six.

No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
Panotch: Oh well, Winny-peg died in the final weeks and forked it over to the up-and-down Capitals. Alex Ovechkin finished as highest goal scorer in the league (32), while the Rangers floundered as the eighth seed nearly the entire final two months of the season. Gotta like the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist. Pick: Rangers in six.

Baicker: What happened to the Rangers? Expectations were so high at the beginning of the season, and the acquisition of Rick Nash should have helped propel them forward. Instead, they’re lucky to have finished sixth. That said, the Rangers didn’t lose to the Caps in regulation this season, and I can see their success in this matchup continuing, in spite of Ovechkin’s domination. Pick: Rangers in seven.

No. 4 Boston vs. No. 5 Toronto
Panotch: If any team is ripe for an upset in these playoffs, it’s the Bruins, who managed to blow the No. 2 seed in the East at the end. The Bruins lacked their usual bite over the final month of the season but … the Maple Leafs aren’t the team that can upset them either unless Phil Kessel and James Reimer steal the series. Pick: Bruins in six.

Baicker: The Bruins lost a step as this season came to a close, but that doesn’t mean they’ll fall to Toronto. In fact, the B’s have had the Leafs’ number this season, going 2-1 against them and outscoring them 5-2 in their two victories. The Leafs had an impressive season, and it’s nice to see James van Riemsdyk have some success, but I just don’t see their playoff stint lasting very long. Pick: Bruins in five.

Western Conference

No. 1 Chicago vs. No. 8 Minnesota
Panotch: It would have been nice if Columbus had won the eighth seed. Guess Ryan Suter and Zach Parise only had so much influence on the lame Wild, which was lucky to make it. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Co. are going to make mincemeat of them anyway. Pick: Blackhawks in five.

Baicker: Like Pittsburgh in the East, Chicago is the team to beat in the West right now. Nevermind their record-breaking start to the season -- the Blackhawks are a smart team with great coaching, and the Wild barely made it to the postseason … even with Parise and Suter. Pick: Blackhawks in five.

No. 2 Anaheim vs. No. 7 Detroit
Panotch: This isn’t yesteryear in which the fabled Red Wings scared the hell out of everyone in postseason. The Wings were good down the stretch. It should be an interesting trade-off series between the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf and the Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk. Jimmy Howard would have to win this series for Detroit. Pick: Ducks in seven.

Baicker: This could be a fun one to watch -- Anaheim very well could be fighting for the Cup come June. Of course, they’ll have to fight past Datsyuk and the Wings first. I think the Ducks learned last year’s lesson (they missed the playoffs altogether) and won’t let this year’s opportunity go to waste. Pick: Ducks in six.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 San Jose
Panotch: When was the last time you saw a playoff club like the Sharks sell off assets at the trade deadline and still finish sixth? Goalie Cory Schneider’s health is everything to the Canucks. No one sees the Sharks as a legit Cup contender. Those days are long gone. Pick: Canucks in six.

Baicker: The Sharks were lukewarm even after their deadline moves, but they did win all of their meetings with the Canucks this season. The odds might be against them, but they were stellar in their home arena this season, posting a 17-2-5 record in front of their fans. I think they’ll come close, but fall just shy of the upset here. Pick: Canucks in seven.

No. 4 St. Louis vs. No. 5 Los Angeles
Panotch: Talk about having a delightful coaching matchup: Ken Hitchcock vs Darryl Sutter. Oh baby! It’s hard to look past the reigning Cup champions and goalie Jonathan Quick and truthfully, both of these teams deserve to stick around but … the Blues have the better defense. Pick: Blues in seven.

Baicker: I want to pull for the Blues, if only because Hitchcock is a great coach and I spent four great years living in St. Louis. But the Kings have won four in a row over the Blues, going back to last season. I don’t believe a lengthy run is in the cards for the Kings, but I do think they’ll just barely beat out Blues, who would probably have had little trouble facing almost any other Western Conference foe. Pick: Kings in seven.

End to End: The State of Claude Giroux

End to End: The State of Claude Giroux

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com reporters John Boruk, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The state of Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

Boruk
The state of Giroux is more of a state of mind at this point of his career. There was one very revealing quote that surfaced following his breakout day when he said, “Your mind wants to do something but your body doesn’t do it, it’s frustrating.” That tells me the dynamic part of his game that we came to expect and admire for much of his career is perhaps no longer there, and he’s searching for a way to reinvent himself. He still has a big-time slap shot, terrific vision and an unbelievable set of hands.
 
The bigger worry here is that Giroux, who turns 30 in January, hasn’t performed as a No. 1 center (despite being paid like one) at even strength for the past three seasons, where he’s ranked 81st, 60th and a mind-blowing 189th last season in even-strength points. It’s an accumulation of facing the top lines and defense pairings every single game, and eventually, it takes a toll.

If this trend continues, I would give thought to moving him back to wing where he started his Flyers career during the Mike Richards-Jeff Carter era. I agree to some extent with Jeremy Roenick’s assertion that he lets too much get into his head, and that probably includes all facets of life, even off the ice. Giroux needs to come to camp like a finely-tuned Ferrari, and if he can start strong, it will go a long way toward a rebound season.  

Dougherty
The numbers tell a cautionary tale. Since the 2014-15 campaign, Giroux’s goal, assist and point totals have been in a consistent decline. What makes that season important?

That was when his eight-year, $66.2 million contract extension began. Giroux’s decline over the last three seasons should concern the Flyers. He’s not the same player he was in 2013-14. But I don’t believe he’s the player he was in 2016-17, either. I think there’s a happy medium here, and I expect Giroux to have a much better season in 2017-18.

It’s two-fold as to why I believe so. One, Giroux's confidence was rocked last season after undergoing hip and abdominal surgery last summer. Was he fully healthy all season? He’ll never say, but toward the end of the year, I thought he was much better. I think with a full summer of training and added motivation, Giroux will come in with a chip on his shoulder.

More importantly, there will be less pressure on Giroux to carry the workload because the talent level at forward will be deeper. I expect Nolan Patrick to be a Flyer. I also expect Oskar Lindblom to be here too. Then there is Jordan Weal and Travis Konecny. Weal will be here all season, and I expect Konecny to make a big jump in Year 2. Those four should lessen the demand placed on Giroux.

We may never see Giroux reach 70 points again. But with expected scoring depth incoming, the Flyers can live with Giroux in the 60-65-point range, which I think he’ll be in. The contract could be a cap problem in a few seasons, but I don’t think the Flyers are there yet.

Hall
Giroux's right — he's his toughest critic, which can be a blessing and a curse.

Any organization wants a driven player. With Giroux, it's not so much about what outsiders think, but it's his own expectations. So when he struggles, he sort of creates his own pressure because he expects a lot of himself — just like the fans and media expect a lot from him.

What I expect this season is an ultra-motivated Giroux, maybe the most fueled we've ever seen him. It didn't look or sound like Giroux was healthy last season, which only added to his frustration when he didn't perform. A summer full of recouping and training — he's pretty excited about both — should help Giroux's chances of rebounding.

I don't think he'll ever put up 80-plus points again, but that doesn't mean he can't be productive — say 20 goals and close to 50 assists? Giroux needs a supporting cast, not all the weight on his shoulders, because it has a negative affect on the captain.

The supporting cast should be better in 2017-18, and so should Giroux.

Paone
Is Giroux still an upper-echelon, high-level NHL player? Absolutely he is. The skill is still there and the guy isn't a former Hart Trophy finalist and four-time All-Star by accident. But after last season's woeful campaign where the captain, in many ways the sparkplug of the Flyers' offense and arguably the team's most important player, struggled mightily, it's more than fair to question just which echelon and level he is on these days, especially as he enters his age 29-30 season.

In so many ways, as Giroux goes, so does the Flyers' offense. And it's been that way for the last several years as he is still the main guy other teams gameplan for when preparing to play the Flyers. But the decline in production has been steady over the last few years and the Flyers' offense has suffered because of that.

In 2014-15, Giroux posted 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists) and the Flyers averaged 2.59 goals per game. In 2015-16, Giroux put up 67 points (22 goals and 45 assists) and the Flyers averaged 2.57 goals per game. Last season, the captain notched 58 points (14 goals and 44 assists) and the Flyers averaged 2.59 goals per game again. All of those goal-per-game numbers the last three seasons were in the bottom half of the league's numbers. Compare all that to 2013-14 when Giroux, a Hart finalist that year, posted 86 points (career-high-tying 28 goals and 58 assists) and the Flyers tallied 2.84 goals per contest, seventh in the league.

That Giroux may not be there any more. It's a legitimate question with the the decline shown over the last several seasons. That's why this season is all about answering questions for Giroux. And he couldn't answer those questions for the better part of last season as that hip surgery turned his hockey world upside down. He couldn't get a full summer of training in and then jumped right into the World Cup of Hockey, where he took this hit from Joe Pavelski in an exhibition. That's an injury that lingers, especially for a hockey player, and Giroux was basically stuck in mud the for most of the year as he tried to get his motor going. The quote John mentioned above from breakout day is so telling with that. Shayne Gostisbehere knows the feeling. But much like Gostisbehere, Giroux started to turn it on more and more and showed flashes of his more productive self as the season wound down.

Giroux is a guy who takes his play to heart and he can be very hard on himself. The way you see him break his stick over the bench every so often is proof of that. He expects so much more out of himself than he gave last season.

But now healthy, with a full offseason of training and a year's worth of motivation under his belt, I expect him to be much better and much more productive. The Giroux of five years ago? No, probably not. But with another year of young talent surrounding him and a healthy slate, I really don't feel there's a reason Giroux can't be a top-line threat again and I even look for him to be reckoned with as the season gets underway. But he's the guy who will provide the answers that both he and Flyers fans have been looking for.

NHL Notes: Tomas Tatar, Red Wings agree on deal worth $21.2 million deal

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NHL Notes: Tomas Tatar, Red Wings agree on deal worth $21.2 million deal

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings agreed to terms with winger Tomas Tatar on a $21.2 million, four-year contract Friday.

The 26-year-old Czech native led Detroit with 25 goals last season and also had 21 assists. He has 20-plus goals in each of the past three seasons, including a career-high 29 in 2014-15. In 345 NHL games, he has 99 goals and 95 assists.

The team announced the deal a day after Tatar's arbitration hearing and before the ruling was to be handed down. Tatar will count $5.3 million against the salary cap through 2020-21.

Tatar's cap hit moving forward is the same as Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ondrej Palat, who also signed a long-term deal as a restricted free agent.

The Red Wings missed the playoffs in 2017 for the first time since the 1989-90 season. They're moving into a new arena next season and will need a new core of players to return them to relevance. Pavel Datsyuk left the team before last season, and although Henrik Zetterberg had 68 points -- his highest total in five seasons -- Detroit didn't have anyone else reach 50 in 2016-17 (see full story).

Wild: Foligno seeks more in Minnesota
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Marcus Foligno has left the leap behind in Buffalo.

That doesn't mean his offensive production can't or won't continue to rise in Minnesota.

Coming off a career-high 13 goals for the Sabres last season, the 25-year-old was acquired by the Wild to bring some needed grit and strength to the left wing position on the third or fourth line. He's capable of putting the puck in the net, too, though he has so far been more of a sporadic scorer in the NHL.

"Definitely, 20 goals is something I envision myself to reach, and I hope to do that in a Wild jersey," Foligno said. "Playing with some big centermen, playing on a well-rounded team, I think I can do that. I felt last year that my offensive side was getting there, and I'm looking to improve on that this season" (see full story).

Blackhawks: Wingels recovering from broken foot
CHICAGO -- Blackhawks forward Tommy Wingels broke his left foot during offseason training, but is expected to be ready for training camp.

The 29-year-old Wingels, a suburban Chicago native, agreed to a one-year deal with the Blackhawks on July 1. He had seven goals and five assists for the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators last season.

The Blackhawks announced the injury on Friday.