Written by FRESH IRC PODCAST
The first Saturday in May is reserved for the Kentucky Derby. It also serves as a signal that the NHL and NBA Playoffs have gone into overdrive. This time of year is full of excitement on a daily basis as 32 franchises pursue a championship.
THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS:
The NHL witnessed the craziest opening round in decades. 51 games were played in the 8 opening round pairings, that is an average of 6.4 games a series. What makes it much more wild is that the Avs swept Nashville. 5 of these series went the full 7 games, which is the first time ever in Stanley Cup Playoff history. While chaos and excitement rained in rinks across the league, one thing remained the same, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to advance. They weren’t the only higher seed to be dispatched in the first round. They were joined by the face of the State of Hockey, the Minnesota Wild.
The road to a championship gets tougher with every round. We’ll dive into the matchups coming our way and see who can navigate the twists, turns and potholes.
NHL SECOND ROUND:
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers:
- The Sunshine State Showdown is going to a higher level. (Season series 2-2)
- The Bolts showed they are still a dangerous team with gas still left in the tank. They rallied from down 3-2 to win Game 6 in OT and then go take the deciding 7th game in Toronto.
- The Panthers overcame some playoff demons and held off Ovechkin and the Caps to advance.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THIS SERIES:
- Anthony Cirelli (TB) 17 Goals and 26 Assists in the Regular Season, but only 1 goal in the 1st RD. He needs to have bigger presence against the Cats.
- Ryan McDonough (TB) The veteran defenseman will need to be sharp to fend off the Panthers furious attack and provide relief for Hedman and others.
- Jonathan Huberdeau (Fla) He finished the 2021-22 campaign with 115 points (30 goals, 85 assists) and a plus 35 rating. To defeat their rival, he needs to play at this level.
- Carter Verhaeghe (Fla) Former member of the Lightning, he lead Florida with 12 points in Round 1.
PREDICTION: Florida advances in 7 games
NEW YORK RANGERS VS CAROLINA HURRICANES
- The Canes proved they were real by holding off the scrappy and tough Boston Bruins.
- The Rangers were on the brink, down 3-1 to the Penguins, but got off the ice and came back with grit and energy. This charge was capped off by a thrilling 4-3 OT win in Game 7, which sent the Madison Square Garden faithful into euphoria.
- The Rangers produced a well balanced offense, but their defense and goal tending struggled.
- The Hurricanes got production from the whole team, but their top scorers can’t be defensemen Tony DeAngelo and Slavin (8 points each) to prevail against New York.
- The Hurricanes did take the season series 3-1.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THIS SERIES
- Igor Shesterkin (NYR) He had a rough series giving up 25 goals (GAA of 3.67) in Rd 1. This was the opposite of his stellar season where his Goals Against Average (GAA) was 2.07. If his play returns to form, the Rangers are in great shape.
- Arterri Panarin (NYR) The Breadman buried the OT winner, but had a lackluster series. He led the team with 96 points in the regular season and i think that form returns versus Carolina.
- Vincent Trocheck (CAR) His offense must continue to show up. He had 3 goals and 4 assists in RD 1.
- Antti Raanta (CAR) He played well against Boston and he’ll need to stand tall versus an energized Rangers team. He produced a 2.37 GAA in Round 1, allowing 12 goals in the series.
PREDICTION: New York advances in 6 games
ST.LOUIS BLUES VS COLORADO AVALANCHE
- This series pits the HIGH flying Colorado Avalanche and the last team not named the Tampa Bay Lightning to lift the Stanley Cup.
- Colorado took the season series 2-1
- The Avalanche skied through regular season, but now the pressure to reach the Stanley Cup Finals intensifies.
- Can Tarashenko lead the Blues to another major upset?
- Can Cale Makar take advantage of the spotlight and shine on the biggest stage?
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THIS SERIES:
- Tony Krug / Justin Faulk (STL) These 2 veteran defensemen will be called upon to defend at a higher rate and contribute on the power play. They combined for 7 assists in the opening round win over Minnesota. If they can play physical but smart and stay out of the box, it gives them a chance.
- Cale Makar (COL) 10 points in RD 1, 7 of the assist variety. Must continue to be an offensive force.
- Gabriel Landeskog (COL) Only played 51 regular season games due to injury. His season stats appear modest with 59 points, but he made his presence known in RD 1 with 6 points ( 3 goals, 3 assists).
PREDICTION: Colorado advances in 6 games
CALGARY FLAMES vs EDMONTON OILERS
- The Battle of Alberta…Regional rivals in western Canada face off with the hockey hopes of the entire nation on their shoulders.
- The Oilers have 2 of the greatest scorers in the league. The question is….can they carry the club to the Western Conference Finals….. and beyond?
- The Flames and Oilers were both pushed to the brink, but prevailed in Game 7.
- These clubs split their season series 2-2
- Connor McDavid showed up in RD 1 with 14 points (4 goals and 10 points), getting a lot of help from Kane and Draisaitl, who each registered 9 points.
- Will a 3rd Flame show up to help Johnny Gaudreau (115 regular season points) and Matthew Thachuk (104 regular season points).
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THIS SERIES:
- Mike Smith (EDM) Can he stand tall and improve on his 2.29 GAA in RD 1?
- Ryan Nugent Hopkins (EDM) Can he provide some offense to balance out the attack?
- Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) Can he carry the Torch and keep scoring…led the team with 8 points in RD 1
- Jacob Markstrom (CGY) Can he replicate his 1.53 GAA from RD 1 or even his 2.22 GAA from the regular season against the vaunted Oilers attack?
PREDICTION: Edmonton advances in 6 games
THE NBA PLAYOFFS:
This spring saw the NBA start first with the Top Seeded Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat cruising to opening round victories. The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks pushed aside the Bulls and the 76ers survived their pairing. The Celtics bested the Brooklyn Nets to move on, ensuring the 4 tops seeds in the East made the second round. The Western Conference saw similar results as the additional higher seeds all advanced. The Association avoided the upsets in the first round, but that storyline wouldn’t last.
The Milwaukee Bucks failed to defend their title and were eliminated by the resilient Boston Celtics in the second round. The Heat took advantage of a weakened 76ers squad and pushed them aside. This has set up an Eastern Conference Finals matchup of the top 2 seeds. The East has avoided an upset, but the West hasn’t been so lucky. The 3 seeded Golden State Warriors, led by Steph Curry knocked the Memphis Grizzlies out, announcing their return to prominence. In a much more shocking turn of the events, Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks took out Devin Booker, CP3 , and the top seeded Suns in 7 games. If it wasn’t for that accomplishment, these NBA playoffs would be viewed as average at best.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Boston Celtics vs Miami Heat:
- This will be a throwback series with hard fouls and gritty defense.
- The Celtics are averaging 108 points and the Heat are averaging 107.
- Jayson Tatum averaging 28.3 PPG in the Playoffs, to lead the Celtics
- Boston needs a big series from Marcus Smart and Jaylon Brown.
- Boston is shooting a torching 37% from 3.
- Both squads play a deep rotation, Celtics have 9 players averaging 12 or more minutes, the Heat have 9 averaging 10 or more minutes.
- Each team has 5 players averaging 11 plus points a game
- The Heat need Bam Adebayo and Tyler Hero to play big if Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker aren’t 100%.
- Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (If healthy) have the Heat in a great spot, but i think Tatum and the Celtics are too much to handle.
PREDICTION: Boston in 7 games
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Dallas Mavericks vs Golden State Warriors:
- Is this the return of The Splash Brothers or the official coronation of Luka Doncic?
- Dallas plays a very small rotation, only 6 players averaging 25 minutes or more.
- Luka Doncic is carrying the Mavs with his 31.5 PPG, 10 Rebounds and 6.6 Assists.
- Can Jalen Brunson (22.9 PPG) and Dorian Finney-Smith (14.3 PPG) continue to score?
- Dallas is averaging 15 made 3’s a game to lead the playoffs.
- The Mavs are averaging 106 a game
- The Warriors appear to be fully back, averaging 114 points a game to lead the Association.
- Steph Curry is averaging 26.9, followed by Klay Thompson with 20, Jordan Poole with 19 and Andrew Wiggins with 14.5.
- The Splash Brothers are honoring the earned nickname, shooting 37% from 3.
- This series has star power and it will live up to the hype. Everyone talks about playoff experience and how its a major X factor, but the Mavericks have a ton of momentum after knocking out Phoenix.
PREDICTION: Dallas in 7 games.
Sit back and enjoy the playoffs….. games everyday that have you on the edge of your seat are pure magic!