The first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs begin tonight and to be honest, there’s nothing like it. For myself, it’s not just watching the best hockey, it’s also a chance to look at some future free agents who may have a good fit in with the Islanders. I’ll say this now, with the first three matchups this evening, I’m so far not impressed with the crop of free agents this year. I’m hoping tomorrow looks better. So without further delay let’s talk playoffs and make some picks!
First game: Montreal Vs. Tampa Bay
For me, goaltending wins you the Cup. I had Montreal to win in a much longer series because if I had to choose between Carey Price or Ben Bishop, I’d go with Price. Tampa Bay has been good at shocking everyone this year so I’ll always be looking for that, but Montreal should make this a shorter series without Tampa’s star goalie. Winner: Montreal
Free agents to look at: Montreal has Thomas Vanek for the forwards and on defense Andrea Markov and Douglas Murray, who is very good on the penalty kill, something the Isles need help on. The first two will probably not come to the Island, although you never know with Vanek, but Murray will be curious to watch.
For Tampa Bay look for Mike Kostka, a 28 year old defenseman who seems to be a late bloomer. I wouldn’t make him a top 4 on the Isles, but certainly a 6.
Second game: Blue Jackets Vs. Penguins
I have a feeling this series will have the same vibe as last year when the Pens squared off against the Isles. The Blue Jackets must get in Fleury’s head if they want to win. I don’t think the Jackets have enough fire power to take out Pittsburgh, especially when Malkin makes his return. Winner: Pittsburgh
Players to watch: For the Blue jackets it’s all about defense. I’m looking at Nikita Nikitin (Russian player….maybe not) and Nick Schultz. Nikitin could be a top 4 if he properly motivated himself and Schultz could clear the crease on any team. In Pittsburgh I think Jussi Jokinen would an “under the radar” signing for the Isles and put him with Tavares and Okposo. On defense I know many want Matt Niskanen, but for the Isles Brooks Orpik may give that veteran persona that the islanders need.
Final game of the night, Anaheim Vs. Dallas
I think Dallas making the playoffs was a great story, but unless Kari Lehtonen stands on his head (which he could do), this series will go to the Ducks. They’re just too loaded with talent and their confidence will not get shaken. Winner: Ducks
Players to watch: For Dallas it’s Chris Mueller, not for the Islanders, but for the Sound Tigers. The guy can score in the minors and would be a decent call up for the Isles should they need him, but the Sound Tigers need scoring and Mueller could provide that. For the Ducks, two words: Jonas Hiller. Don’t get your hopes up Isles fans, just watch.