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.

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

WASHINGTON — As the Flyers filed into the visiting locker room of the Verizon Center, no temper tantrums were thrown, nor were any chairs.
 
In the end, “What good does that do?” head coach Dave Hakstol asked.
 
Instead, the Flyers’ dressing area Sunday felt like a morgue. Players quietly and somberly stuffed their gear away. Once all dispersed, in walked Ron Hextall — and none too pleased.
 
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us,” he said softly, “and quite honestly, we’re not very happy right now.”
 
For a man that loathes losing more than anyone, nobody expected him to be. That much was already understood during the third-period catastrophe of his team’s demoralizing 5-0 defeat to the Capitals.
 
What wasn’t known was what follows? The Flyers have gone from 10 consecutive victories — the franchise’s longest winning streak in 31 years — to 11 losses over the following 14 games and a state of dismay.
 
As the Flyers limp into their NHL mandated five-day bye week, do players sense an imminent shakeup within the roster?
 
“It’s a good question,” Claude Giroux said, “but I don’t know.”
 
Despite never losing his sense of prudence, Hextall ruled nothing out.
 
“Obviously we always keep an eye on the big club and the Phantoms, as well,” Hextall said. “Right now, we’re going to stick with what we’ve got here and move forward. But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better and, if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it."
 
If Hextall wants to add some fresh blood from within, the organization is not lacking for young and spry prospects full of energy down at Lehigh Valley, where the Phantoms are 24-10-2 and third among the entire AHL entering Monday.
 
For the Flyers, who have surrendered a league-worst 144 goals, could defensemen T.J. Brennan, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg be options? Brennan owns NHL experience, has 30 points and is a plus-10 with Lehigh Valley. Sanheim, a big and touted prospect, is also a plus-10 to go along with seven goals and 11 assists. And Hagg, a seasoned 21-year-old, is “just about NHL-ready,” according to Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor, via ESPN’s Craig Custance (see Future Flyers Report).
 
“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not going to happen,” Hextall said. “But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”
 
Hextall’s biggest gripe with his current team is its mental fortitude.
 
“Right now we’re making a lot of mental mistakes and it’s killing us,” he said.
 
And then it snowballs, Hextall said, which good teams prevent from happening.
 
“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden something happens and things tend to really go wrong,” he said. “That’s where we have to get better. Mentally we have to be better, have to be better. If something goes wrong, let’s move on. It happened a lot earlier in the year where things go wrong and we fought through it. Right now, the negative energy seems to be a landslide.”
 
Following the meltdown in Washington, players didn’t question the effort.
 
“We care,” Michael Del Zotto said. “No one likes losing. It’s not fun for anyone. But sometimes effort's not enough. Everyone wants to win in this league. It's a matter of execution. Whether it's offensively or defensively in all situations, we're not doing it.”
 
Hextall believes the effort has been “sufficient.”
 
“Again, the mental mistakes,” he said. “It seems like when something goes against us, it goes against us hard and that’s something we’ve got to battle through. You can’t let a little bit of adversity turn into a lot of adversity. You’ve got to nip it in the bud and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
 
As for the leadership structure and coaching, Hextall defended both.
 
“Our leaders haven’t been good enough. Neither have our lesser guys,” Hextall said. “Nobody’s been good enough right now. You don’t win 10 and then go through a stretch like this without responsibility being everywhere.
 
“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping [Steve Mason] and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens. That’s the game of sports, right?”
 
The game goes away for the Flyers this week (see 10 observations). When it returns, who knows which team we’ll see.
 
“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable,” Del Zotto said. “As far as changes and personnel moves, that's out of our control.”
 
That, of course, is up to Hextall.
 
“We’ve got to keep our heads now,” the GM said. “Nobody’s going to get us out of this. It’s the whole group. This isn’t about one thing or one move or one player not playing or one player playing. This is about our whole group.”

Future Flyers Report: Robert Hagg has 'made big strides,' AGM Chris Pryor says

Future Flyers Report: Robert Hagg has 'made big strides,' AGM Chris Pryor says

The Flyers are mercifully on their league-mandated five-day bye week after dropping back-to-back games last weekend by a combined score of 11-3. They need the time off.

As the bye week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we highlight a 2013 second-round pick whom the Flyers believe is on the brink of reaching the NHL and much more in this week’s Future Flyers Report.

Robert Hagg, D, 6-1/191, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Hagg has been an interesting prospect to follow this season, especially considering the down year he had last season in Lehigh Valley and that he often gets lost in the conversation when discussing Flyers’ defensive prospects. That should change.

The 21-year-old has “made big strides,” Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor told ESPN.com’s Craig Custance last week. Pryor had been the Flyers’ director of scouting since 2006 before earning the promotion to AGM this year and has been with the team since 1999. Pryor also told ESPN the Flyers believe Hagg is “just about NHL-ready.”

Pryor’s comments fall in line with what general manager Ron Hextall told Phantoms broadcaster Bob Rotruck Dec. 14 that Hagg has taken “the kind of step we were hoping he’d take last year.” The Flyers are high on the 2013 second-round draft pick.

In his third professional year, Hagg’s two-way style doesn’t garner much flash, but he does a lot of things well when he keeps his game simple and asserts himself. That has been the case this season, and his development has caught the eyes of Flyers’ front office.

During the Phantoms’ 6-4 loss to the Hershey Bears on Saturday night, Hagg snapped a five-game pointless streak in picking up his third assist of the season — fifth point. Hagg made a quick pass in the neutral zone to Greg Carey to keep the Phantoms’ pressure going, and Carey eventually deposited the puck into the Hershey net.

Often the forgotten defensive prospect, Hagg appears to pushing hard for an NHL spot sooner rather than later. With a few blueliners coming off the books after this season, Hagg is a legitimate candidate to be apart of the Flyers’ top-six in 2017-18.

Alex Lyon, G, 6-1/201, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
With Anthony Stolarz back in the mix, Lyon understands it’s back to a healthy competition between the pipes for the Phantoms and he’s welcomed the battle.

Lyon told Highland Park Hockey last week that the playing time he’s acquired in the last month when Stolarz was with the Flyers gave him “a little bit of fuel for the fire.” Lyon went on to say the competition between the two will allow them to “push each other.”

Last week, the Phantoms decided to split the weekend with Lyon and Stolarz, who stopped 15 of 17 shots in Lehigh Valley’s 6-2 win over Hershey on Friday. Lyon got the nod Saturday, and the Bears scored five goals on 26 shots on the first-year pro.

Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon has a good problem to have — two strong goalies at the AHL level in Lyon and Stolarz. It’s similar to what the Flyers have at the NHL level with Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, except the NHL goalies are struggling right now.

With Mason and Neuvirth both on the final years of their contracts, Stolarz figures to have a spot on the Flyers’ roster next season after he showed enough in his call-up last month. But don’t overlook Lyon, who is on a one-year contract and the Flyers like him.

Samuel Dove-McFalls, C, 6-2/207, Saint John’s (QMJHL)
A 2015 fourth-round pick, Dove-McFalls has been centering the Sea Dogs’ third line, and last week, in a 7-6 loss to Cape Breton, he picked up his ninth goal of the year, which knotted the game at five in the third period. Dove-McFalls won 15 of his 20 faceoffs against the Screaming Eagles. He has four points in his last six games, and goals in three of those six games. Overall, he has 31 points in 40 games for Saint John’s.

Quick hits
• Phantoms defenseman Travis Sanheim continues to tear apart the AHL, picking up two more goals in Lehigh Valley’s 6-4 loss to Hershey on Saturday. Sanheim has three goals in his last three games, and seven goals in his last 13 games.

• It might be time for AHL players to stop trying to pick fights with Sam Morin, who bloodied Hershey’s Garrett Mitchell in a fight on Saturday night.

• Rouyn-Noranda’s Philippe Myers remains out with a concussion, but did enough at the world juniors to impress TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who think Myers is NHL ready.

German Rubtsov has yet to suit up for a game with Chicoutimi. Rubtsov got out of his KHL contract last week, but did undergo surgery to repair a broken nose last Monday.

• Victoriaville’s Pascal Laberge had a goal and an assist in the Tigres’ 3-2 win over Halifax on Sunday. Laberge, who has dealt with some head injuries this season, has five goals and 17 points in 23 games with Victoriaville.

• In two games since returning to Everett from the world juniors, Carter Hart has pitched a shutout and was plastered for four goals. He made 22 saves in blanking Kamloops, 4-0, on Friday, but gave up four goals on 38 shots in a 4-3 loss to Seattle on Saturday.

•  Calgary traded Carsen Twarynski to the Kelowna Rockets at last week’s WHL trade deadline. Twarynski picked up an assist Friday, his second game with the Rockets.

 Felix Sandstrom made 15 saves and yielded two goals in his first game with Brynäs IF since returning from the world juniors, a 3-0 loss to Djurgårdens IF on Saturday.

• Michigan center Cooper Marody centered the Wolverines’ top line last week in back-to-back weekend losses No. 9 Minnesota. Marody was held pointless.

Tanner Laczynski picked up an assist in No. 10 Ohio State’s 6-1 win over Arizona State on Friday, his first game back since the world juniors. He was pointless Saturday.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa had his first two-assist game since the season opener in the Golden Knights’ 7-2 rout of Brown on Saturday night.

• Not the best week for Merrick Madsen, who was pulled in No. 2 Harvard’s 4-0 loss to Rensselaer on Friday after allowing four goals on 20 shots. He picked up another loss Saturday, when Harvard fell, 2-1, to No. 11 Union, but he was stronger with 20 saves.

• Western Michigan’s Wade Allison picked up his 10th collegiate goal in the No. 14-ranked Broncos’ 7-2 loss to No. Denver on Saturday night.