Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ranking the ten most likely first round playoff matchups

With 10 days left in the season, the NHL’s playoff picture is coming into focus. Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent plenty of time looking at the various bubble teams that are scrambling to earn the final playoff spots. But today we’re going to shift focus slightly and concentrate on the teams that are already in. Specifically, we’ll look at the matchups those teams will have in the first round.

So here’s what we’re going to do: Let’s take the 10 most-likely first-round matchups as of Wednesday. (All odds are from Sports Club Stats projections, which are based on current standings as well as strength of schedule over the rest of the year.) And then, let’s rank each series based on how excited we’d be to see it.

Of course, by “we” I mean “me,” and this is all completely arbitrary. But that doesn’t mean I’m not right. Here we go.

10. St. Louis vs. Dallas (44.8 Percent Chance of Happening)

Alex Steen #20 and Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

The Stars have won three straight and are starting to pull away from the Phoenix Coyotes in terms of odds, if not in the actual standings (the two teams are tied at 85 points), based largely on their two games in hand and their edge in the ROW tiebreaker.

And that’s not exactly a bad thing, because Dallas seems like it could be a fun team to watch in the playoffs. It has young stars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin up front, Kari Lehtonen in net (plus the possibility of a Tim Thomas sighting), and a fun cast of “Oh yeah, I forgot he was even still in the league” veterans like Ray Whitney and Sergei Gonchar. After seeing them paste the Capitals 5-0 on Tuesday, you could get behind the idea of watching these guys for a round. Unfortunately, a round is all they’d get if they end up drawing the Blues, who would beat them in five games.

Sorry, Dallas fans. That paragraph kind of took a turn on you at the end. I probably should have eased into that more.

Random old YouTube clip to get you fired up: Here’s former Blues star Brett Hull scoring his first postseason goal as a Dallas Star against his old team during their second-round matchup in the 1999 playoffs. It’s one of three times the two teams have met in the playoffs, and the only time the series didn’t end in a sweep. (The Stars won in six, on their way to winning the franchise’s only Stanley Cup.)

9. Anaheim vs. Minnesota (52.7 Percent)

Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks

Derek Leung/Getty Images

These odds may seem high, given that the Ducks are still dueling the Sharks for first place in the Pacific, but Sports Club Stats thinks they’re pretty much a lock so who am I to argue. But for our sake we’ll hope they ended up being wrong, because there’s not much to get excited about in this matchup.

These two teams have met twice in the playoffs, once in the first round in 2007 and once in the conference final in 2003. If you have no recollection of that latter meeting, it may be because the Wild set an NHL record by only scoring one goal in the entire series.

This series might not be much better, but at least it would have more Teemu Selanne in it.

Random old YouTube clip to get you fired up: This is the first YouTube result that came up when I searched for “wild + ducks.” I’m not completely sure it’s any less entertaining than this series would be.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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