Puck Daddy’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 3 predictions

 

The NHL’s 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs have reached their final four teams, as the Pittsburgh Penguins face the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Final and the Anaheim Ducks take on the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Final.

So who advances to the Stanley Cup Final? And which players are the leaders for MVP?

Puck Daddy presents its 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs prognostications for Round 3, featuring editors Greg Wyshynski, Sean Leahy, Jen Neale and Josh Cooper; columnist Ryan Lambert; staff writer Justin Cuthbert; and fantasy writer Steve Laidlaw of Dobber Hockey.

Here are the first-round picks. Here are the second-round picks.

Here’s how we see these series shaking out:

The standings after the opening round:

  1. Justin Cuthbert (8-4)
  2. Greg Wyshynski (8-4)
  3. Jen Neale (7-5)
  4. Josh Cooper (6-6)
  5. Steve Laidlaw (6-6)
  6. Sean Leahy (6-6)
  7. Ryan Lambert (5-7)

Kudos to Josh Cooper and Steve Laidlaw for picking the Senators in six, and Wyshynski and Cooper for taking Ducks in seven.

Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy Editor

Penguins in 6

Pittsburgh just overcame the toughest opponent they’ll face in the postseason, and did so exhibiting a champion’s poise. They’ll need that poise as Ottawa tries to frustrate them with Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 trap. And although the Penguins were 1-2-0 against Ottawa in the regular season – their lone win was a weird 8-5 victory in December – we’ll assume coach Mike Sullivan can overcome the defense with controlled, smart dump-ins.

Marc-Andre Fleury has made me a believer, while Craig Anderson is a little too inconsistent. While it’s going to be an absolute joy to watch Erik Karlsson in this series, he won’t be enough to overcome Sid and Geno and Phil.

Predators in 6

This is a really fascinating series, but the pick here is Nashville for a couple of reasons.

The first is a wager that Pekka Rinne keeps this thing going behind the best defense corps of the playoffs. The second is a wager that if the Kesler line neutralizes the Forsberg line, the Predators have enough secondary scoring (including from those aforementioned defensemen) to compensate. The third is a wager that John Gibson flubs at least two games in the series. The fourth is that Ryan Getzlaf alone can’t will the Ducks to victory here, but you know he’s going to damn well try.

Conn Smythe Watch

  1. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
  2. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
  3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Getzlaf has 15 points in 11 games and is averaging 23 minutes and 54 seconds time on ice. Karlsson is right there too, but I’m giving the nod to the pulsating vein.

Sean Leahy, Editor

Penguins in 5

Yeah, they’re banged up and seemingly lose a body on a nightly basis, but they’re still the more talented team in this series and Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t turned into 2010-2013 playoff Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s been tremendous in what’s likely his final run with this team. The Senators have been carried by Erik Karlsson’s outstanding play, and unless he’s going to play 50 minutes a night this series, I don’t see how Pittsburgh doesn’t overwhelm Ottawa when he’s not on the ice.

Predators in 6

Predators don’t score a ton, but they make the most out of their chances. And they’ve dominated thus far due to an incredibly balanced offense, with goals coming not just from their star forwards but also their blue line. Pekka Rinne wasn’t otherworldly in Round 2 like he was against the Blackhawks, but he was still very good versus the Blues. Getzlaf, Silfverberg and Rakell have provided a big chunk of goals for Anaheim so far, but Nashville’s defensive abilities will mean the Ducks’ depth will have to step up, and potentially not having Patrick Eaves could be a big missing piece.

Conn Smythe Watch

  1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
  2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
  3. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

Karlsson means so much to the Senators that they’re a different team when he’s off the ice. The Predators and Ducks have been able to manage when Rinne has an off-game or Getzlaf is slowed by opponents. For the Senators, they need Karlsson to be elite every time he’s out there, and so far he’s shown just how valuable he is to that team.

Jen Neale, Editor

Penguins in 5

The Senators have a lot of pieces that could be good, but the supporting cast around them aren’t there yet. They’ve been really fortunate that their previous two opponents wilted under the spotlight. Erik Karlsson on one foot is better than most of the Pittsburgh on two; yet, you have to wonder just how much more those fractures in his foot can take. The Penguins are fast. He’s going to be skating more and harder than he has so far in the playoffs.

I think the most difficult task for the Penguins is behind them. They beat the Washington Capitals in what was supposed to be the Caps year (for real this time). They beat the Caps without Crosby in the lineup. They beat the Caps when Crosby had his brains rattled (again). Dropping a 3-1 series lead to force a Game 7 isn’t ideal, but considering that Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t meltdown in the final game is a really, really good sign.

I am looking forward to the of animosity in this series. Sidney Crosby hacked off part of Marc Method’s finger. MVP Chris Neil will have something to say about that, and it will end up with him getting a game misconduct.

Predators in 7

This series feels really even. To me, it comes down to defense and goaltending.

The defensive groups are solid for both squads. The Preds have the edge in that they’re a bit older and seasoned in the playoffs. The Ducks may or may not get Kevin Bieksa back during the series. That does give the group some experience and another tough guy. He wasn’t terrible before he went out of the lineup with an injury. The question is if Carlyle wants to change what’s working or not. Peter Laviolette likes to ride his Top 4 and in a physical series that could wear them down.  Both team’s defenses have contributed 27 points in scoring. For Nashville, the points are concentrated over four defensemen while Anaheim has seven blueliners with points.

As for the goalies, can Pekka Rinne continue on this ridiculous roll, and not regress as he had in the playoffs before? Or will John Gibson continue to give up the leaky goal or three per game? Rinne has the best goals-against (1.37) and best save-percentage (.951) among all eight playoff netminders who have played at least 420 minutes. Gibson is the worst in both categories: 2.80 GAA and .908 SV%.

Conn Smythe Watch

  1. Chris Neil
  2. Pekka Rinne
  3. Ryan Getzlaf

I believe everything the Canadian media tells me. They tell me Chris Neil and his nearly five minutes total time on ice in two games is the real reason the Ottawa Senators are moving on to the next round. He has zero points and 12 penalty minutes. Some players could only dream of those numbers. How could I give this award to anyone else?

As for the also-rans, it appears that Pekka Rinne has channeled his former Vezina nominee self at 34-years-old. He leads the eight top minute playing goaltender in pretty much every category. Rinne has a .951 save-percentage and 1.37 goals against, and he’s allowed a playoff low 14 goals against. To top it off, he’s got three points.

Ryan Getzlaf has received criticism in recent playoff years, and rightfully so, for disappearing on the ice. Through 11 games, the Ducks captain is third in playoff scoring with 15 points and second in goals at 8. For the first time, in a loooong time, Getzlaf is shooting first and passing second (most of the time) and the team is benefitting from it.

Josh Cooper, Editor 

Penguins in 5

The Senators have gone on a nice run, but the Penguins are probably the best team left in the playoffs. Ottawa’s defense-first strategy may have worked against the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, but Pittsburgh has the right weapons to break through the Senators. Erik Karlsson has certainly pushed the Sens as far as possible with 13 points in 12 games, but one has to wonder how much longer he can keep up this type of play on one leg.

The Penguins also have health issues of their own, but not enough to lose this series against the Senators. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are just too much firepower for Ottawa to handle.

Predators in 7

Personally, I think the Ducks have more balance up and down their lineup than the Predators, but Nashville’s playing with confidence, swagger and structure. After their first-round sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks there’s a sense they believe they can beat anyone and that goes a long way this time of year. Pekka Rinne’s goaltending has been brilliant and they’re getting major contributions from defensemen Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi and the first line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson.

Also, the schedule gave no down time for the Ducks, which could play a big role this round. After an emotional seven-game series against the Edmonton Oilers they had just one day off and have to play every other day against the Predators. Nashville comes into this series rested and prepared for the task at hand after their previous series against the St. Louis Blues ended last Sunday in Game 6. The Ducks are a veteran group and you have to wonder how much they have left in the tank.

There is somewhat of a revenge factor for the Ducks because of their loss last year to Nashville in the postseason, but that’s not enough to give them an edge

Conn Smythe Watch

  1. Pekka Rinne
  2. Erik Karlsson
  3. Evgeni Malkin

Rinne has been the backbone of the Predators this playoff run with a 1.37 goal-against average and .951 save percentage. They wouldn’t be where they are without his sterling performance in the team’s first-round win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Karlsson has gotten the Senators further than anyone expected with 13 points in 12 games – pretty much while playing on one leg. Malkin has been tremendous in leading the postseason with 18 points.

Ryan Lambert, Columnist

Penguins in 5

Look, the mitigating circumstances with Ottawa’s opponents are clear: The Bruins were playing an AHL blue line, and no one could stop Alain Vigneault from playing his worst possible defensemen in every key situation. A healthy Bruins club beats the Senators. A good coaching job from the Rangers beats the Senators.

Do the Penguins have weaknesses? Obviously. But they also have depth that the Senators simply do not. There are a handful of good players on the Ottawa bench but that team is flat-out bad when Erik Karlsson comes off the ice. You can’t white-knuckle your way past both Crosby and Malkin like they did in the first two rounds when the Bruins’ and Rangers’ top lines were off the ice.

On paper, this looks like it ends just like the opening series against Columbus, with the Penguins vaporizing a dramatically inferior team. Of course, Chris Neil will probably try to decapitate Sidney Crosby in Game 1, so y’know.

Predators in 6

The Ducks are playing better than they really have any right to, and they have a very good D corps 1-6. Of course, Nashville has a great ‘D’ corps 1-6, and their top two lines have a lot more pop than whatever Anaheim’s going to throw over the boards.

I’m not sold on either goaltender but obviously Pekka Rinne is having a better postseason than John Gibson. Nashville also has a bit of an edge behind the bench, you have to say. Anaheim benefited significantly from playing out of the Pacific.

With the way both these teams are playing, I honestly couldn’t understand anyone picking against Nashville. They have a significant edge.

Conn Smythe Watch

  1. Erik Karlsson
  2. Pekka Rinne
  3. Evgeni Malkin

At this point I would have a hard time voting against Karlsson during the Final, even when the Sens get eliminated in this round. He’s been that important to their success. Rinne has obviously been great with a .951 save percentage, leading all goalies this postseason, behind that phenomenal blue line. And Malkin has 18 points in 11 games, to lead the postseason. So there ya go. Not hard.

Justin Cuthbert, Yahoo Canada Writer

Penguins in 7

I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the Penguins are susceptible right now, however much it may belie their staunch defensive effort in Game 7 versus the Capitals. That said, I don’t quite have enough confidence in the Sens to take advantage of a Penguins team who, after last year’s Stanley Cup march, have to be close to spent.

Ottawa has not been the consistently sound defensive team that it was throughout the regular season, and, at times in these playoffs, has been dragged back into the track-meet style that Guy Boucher worked all season to scrub from the memories of his players. The Senators used up a lot of magic to escape precarious spots they found themselves in versus the Rangers. It’ll be much more difficult to do versus Pittsburgh.

Ducks in 7

This one’s tough. While John Gibson and Pekka Rinne, two brilliant-or-bust netminders, will ultimately decide this series, predicting which will outshine the other is really anyone’s guess.

Nashville’s backend has the edge in a series that features two enormously talented defensive corps (and, not incidentally, the ones at the highest risk to lose a blue-line talent in the expansion draft), but I think the greatest matchup discrepancy exists down the middle of the ice. Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler were outstanding against two talented sets of forwards in Rounds 1 and 2, as Randy Carlyle remained dogged with his matchups. If the goaltending is a wash, those two will be the difference.

Conn Smythe Watch

  1. Erik Karlsson
  2. Pekka Rinne
  3. Ryan Getzlaf

Nashville might be the eighth seed, but Ottawa’s the outlier in the conference finals. Erik Karlsson’s impact, circumstances notwithstanding, has been remarkable.

Steve Laidlaw, Fantasy Columnist

Penguins in 6

One side of the Eastern bracket was simply stacked better than the other. This shouldn’t be a contest. Anything can happen in the playoffs but even an injury-depleted Penguins defense should slow the Sens.

Predators in 6

This should be an even matchup but it just seems like the Predators have everything rolling at the right time. They play with the sort of pace that the Ducks had fits with against the Oilers but are even better at it. The Preds also might be the only team with a better set of defensemen than the Ducks.

Conn Smythe Watch

  1. Erik Karlsson
  2. Ryan Getzlaf
  3. Evgeni Malkin

Karlsson is a worthy candidate since we can’t vote for Drew Doughty.

Getzlaf was like a fat kid on the teeter-totter, with how he tilted the ice against the Oilers. Their ‘D’ were no match for his bruising puck-possession style. There was nothing scarier in that seven-game series than Getzlaf working with the puck in the corner waiting for someone to cut into an opening while Oilers defensemen chased the play, not even Connor McDavid with a sliver of daylight was that dangerous and we’re talking about the likely MVP.

Malkin … I looked at the list of playoff scorers, picked the one on top.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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