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

The Hockey News
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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

The Hockey News
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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

The Hockey News
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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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Playoff trends: Who’s hot, who’s not as the NHL post-season begins

Dominik Luszczyszyn
(Harry How/Getty Images)

Over the past few years, advanced stats have exploded onto the scene and a big reason for that has been how good they’ve been in the playoffs.

In 2011-12 the juggernaut Canucks – fresh off a Stanley Cup final berth – were going up against an eighth seeded Kings team that was technically under .500. It was a true mismatch – the Kings needed only five games to dispose of the Canucks.

It was a huge surprise for some, but not so much for the number crunchers who noticed how much the Kings had controlled play since acquiring Jeff Carter. Their possession rating was hovering around 59 percent, a ludicrous number usually reserved only for the Red Wings of the time.

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Projected World Cup 2016 roster: Team Canada

Matt Larkin
P.K. Subban, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares and Ryan Getzlaf. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

No more appetizers. It’s time for the entree. We can haggle back and forth as much as we want over who belongs on which projected roster for the 2016 World Cup, but nothing gets the blood boiling like the old Canada debate, the subject of a million bar-room yelling matches.

The 2014 Olympic Canuck squad was pretty much unbeatable. Does that mean we should leave it virtually untouched? Not necessarily. Other nations have improved since then, and a few new Canadian talents have played too well to be ignored any longer. My Canada roster thus has a few surprise picks and the odd surprise omission. Let’s get to it and pour kerosene on the comment section fire.

And, for the love of god, no one younger than 24 can play for this team. Attaching this warning didn’t seem to work for Team USA based on the Twitter rage I received, but I’ll try again. Connor McDavid cannot play for this team. Nor can Aaron Ekblad. Nor can Nathan MacKinnon. Got it? Excellent. Game on.

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Projected World Cup 2016 roster: Team USA

Matt Larkin
Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The debating should reach a fever pitch as we unveil our seventh of eight World Cup 2016 roster projections with Team USA. It has the second-largest pool of NHL talent to draw from of any team in the tourney, so it took a lot of trimming to settle on three goalies and 20 skaters. We’ll likely see a lot of variation in roster picks among fans and pundits.

The Americans, like the Russians, have fallen short of considerable hype on the international stage of late. The Yankees have failed to medal in three of five Olympics since NHL participation began and lost to Canada in the gold medal game twice. Team USA has medalled just twice in its past 11 world championships, capturing bronze both times. The country’s National Team Development Program has churned out some skilled prospects and yielded world junior gold in 2010 and 2013, however. The future of USA hockey looks promising. As for the 2016 World Cup? This is a top-three team on paper, well rounded and as strong as it’s ever been on defense.

Here is my projected roster. A reminder: every player must be 24 or older by Oct. 1, 2016. That means no Johnny Gaudreau or Brandon Saad or Jack Eichel for USA.

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