The Hockey News

The Hockey News Podcast: Playoff preview special — Breaking down every first-round series

The Hockey News
(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Welcome to the playoff preview edition of The Hockey News Podcast.

This week, Ryan Kennedy, Ken Campbell, and Matt Larkin break down each and every first-round series. We discuss the biggest storylines, key matchups, and make some predictions.

Order of discussion:

St. Louis vs. Chicago
Dallas vs. Minnesota
Anaheim vs. Nashville
Los Angeles vs. San Jose
Florida vs. Islanders
Tampa Bay vs. Detroit
Pittsburgh vs. Rangers
Washington vs. Philadelphia

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[Music: Metz-Headache; Quicksand-Omission]

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round preview: Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

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LASJ

SERIES STARTS: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET, in Los Angeles.

HOW THEY WIN:

KINGS: The Kings like to take the puck from the opening faceoff and hang onto it for the next 60 minutes or so. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the mindset of a puck possession team under the direction of coach Darryl Sutter. Los Angeles leads the NHL in outshooting the opposition – its difference of 4.8 in shots for versus shots against easily outdistances the next best, Nashville and Carolina at 3.3.

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2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round preview: Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders

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FLANYI

SERIES STARTS: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, in Florida.

HOW THEY WIN:

PANTHERS: From the time coach Gerard Gallant’s team stepped on the ice for the first game of the season and scored four goals in the first seven minutes, the Panthers forged their identity. This is an exciting, quick-strike bunch that dines out on opportunities and makes opponents pay for mistakes.

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2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round preview: Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers

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WSHPHI

SERIES STARTS: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, in Washington.

HOW THEY WIN:

CAPITALS: Pick your poison. The Caps have always had great offense during Alex Ovechkin’s Beltway reign, but now he’s got more backup, plus a solid D-corps and a Vezina-caliber goalie behind him. Coach Barry Trotz has brought excellent structure to the team, and the addition of battle-tested Stanley Cup veterans such as Justin Williams and Mike Richards means Washington comes into the post-season with a bunch of confidence.

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2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings

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TBDET

SERIES STARTS: Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, in Tampa Bay.

HOW THEY WIN:

LIGHTNING: When the Lightning are good, they’re outstanding. Since the calendar turned to 2016, they’ve vaulted back into the Eastern contender discussion with winning streaks of seven and nine games.

The Lightning were on pace to score almost half a goal per game less than they did in 2015-16, but their ability to limit high-quality chances is among the best in the East. Much of that is due to the defensive tandem of Victor Hedman. Though he’s lost partner Anton Stralman to injury, we all saw what Hedman was capable of doing during Tampa Bay’s run to the final in 2015. The Bolts lack a dominant offensive producer but get ample production up and down the lineup. Shut down one line and another picks up the slack. Their depth is crucial now that Steven Stamkos is out one to three months with a blood clot.

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2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

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PITNYR

SERIES STARTS: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET in Pittsburgh.

HOW THEY WIN:

PENGUINS: The Penguins have been transformed since Mike Sullivan took over the bench mid-season from Mike Johnston. The stuffy systems of the latter have been shaken off, and Sullivan has these birds flying, using their speed to burn teams. Captain Sidney Crosby has been light years more productive since the coaching change. Altering the defense toward puck movement has also helped, as the Pens acquired Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz during the campaign to keep that pace pushing crisply.

With other top-notch offensive weapons in Evgeni Malkin, if healthy, and Phil Kessel up front, the Penguins are intimidating when they have the puck – and they have it often, as one of the best possession squads in the East. If a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury is playing great in net, Pittsburgh has all the elements to win – on paper.

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2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round preview: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

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STLCHI

SERIES STARTS: Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. ET in St. Louis.

HOW THEY WIN:

BLUES: St. Louis boasts a powerhouse on paper every year. It has speed and youth on the wings from Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri. It has size in David Backes and Troy Brouwer and playmaking acumen from Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera. The Blues boast a mobile blueline led by Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester.

Coach Ken Hitchcock gets defensive buy-in from almost every player, including most of his forwards, and the Blues have never finished worse than seventh in goals against since he took over in 2011-12. Goaltenders Jake Allen and Brian Elliott continue to wrestle the starting job from each other every time one of them gets hurt, but both have been excellent for most of the season.

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