VAIVE’S PLAYOFF PICKS

If LeafsHub.com was going to make playoff predictions, then it was going to be done the right way. We were going to get someone involved whose words mean something here in Toronto. Not a monkey spinning a wheel or us Hub guys pretending we know anything about teams outside the 416 area code. It’s not usually until this time of year before I realize there are 29 other teams in the NHL, and 16 of them play a great brand of hockey. So to make the call on who will hoist Lord Stanley and which path will lead them there, the Hub is privileged to be able to lean on not only the first Leaf to pot 50 goals, but likely the sharpest hockey man we know. If I had a gun to my head and was given one phone call to get these picks right before the trigger was pulled, I can tell you the number I’d dial. It certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone based on his resume as a player, coach and analyst, but every time we talk I leave the conversation thinking the same thing. “This guy knows his hockey.” Sure, our conversations revolve mainly around the Leafs, but I’ll tell you this much. No matter the player, the team, or even the league, this Maple Leafs legend is up to speed. I don’t know anyone who watches as much hockey or can dissect the game quite like this big winger with that booming shot. So without further ado, let’s hand things over to our expert and friend of the site… #22 for the Blue & White, Rick Vaive.

“Looking at this post season, there’s not a single series that you could say won’t go seven games. Now that’s not to say they all will, of course. What it does tell me is just how good all sixteen are that made it this year. If you look at all the teams, one thing you can say is that every one of them are well coached. Honestly, you could make a case for anyone coming out of Round One.”


 Eastern Conference – Round One


 1 New York Rangers vs 4 Pittsburgh Penguins

“I’m not convinced Pittsburgh can find their game and get to that level they’ve played to before. It was a struggle down the stretch and there isn’t enough to tell me they’ll get back on track. New York are solid all the way through their lineup. No real holes and their strength is in the net and those six defensemen they boast.”

WINNER: New York Rangers


 2 Washington Capitals vs 3 New York Islanders

“Should be a heck of a series. Washington is a big team that plays an honest game under Trotz. Though I like what I see from them, they still have that tag as a regular season team until they prove otherwise. With the Isles enthusiasm, the closing of Nassau Coliseum and their depth of talent at forward, I just feel they have too many elements in their favor. Add to that Boychuk and Leddy, two Cup winning defensemen, and you have a formidable opponent for the Caps.”

WINNER: New York Islanders


 1 Montreal Canadiens vs 4 Ottawa Senators

“Two words. Carey Price. Along with their MVP, Montreal has the edge in playoff experience. Pacioretty should return at some point early in the series and they should have enough scoring with him back to move on. Ottawa and the “Hamburglar” have to run out of magic eventually. The stretch drive had to take its toll on them, more mentally than physically. I expect some letdown, and they don’t have many guys that have seen playoff hockey. Montreal should be fresh and ready.”

WINNER: Montreal Canadiens


2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs 3 Detroit Red Wings

“Goaltending is always a factor, especially this time of year. These playoffs could be a coming out party for Ben Bishop. He’s been good for Tampa, and when I look at the other side, the situation in net is a bit dicey. You look at coaching and Babcock, but don’t forget about the job John Cooper has done for the Lightning. Detroit’s defense is fairly average as well, and I don’t see them being able to fend off the Tampa Bay’s three line attack. Then you look at a duo like Stralman/Hedman on the back end and a Steven Stamkos, this could be the shortest series of the first round.”

WINNER: Tampa Bay Lightning


Eastern Conference – Round Two


1 New York Rangers vs 3 New York Islanders

“If these two teams collide…look out!! Knockdown, drag ‘em out, type series that will be physical and emotional. I can see this one being a long battle that could go the distance. Halak isn’t Lundqvist and that will be the difference in the end. Entertainment wise, this could be the best possible match up of the playoffs. You’ll see some old time hockey in this one.”

WINNER: New York Rangers


1 Montreal Canadiens vs 2 Tampa Bay Lightning

“Carey Price is fantastic, there’s no question. But as I said, Bishop is more than capable of backstopping a team to success and I expect him to prove that this post season. When I look at Montreal’s team, I don’t know if they can sit back and rely on Price against Tampa Bay. They have too much weaponry through the lineup and the Lightning had their number all year long. Markov is a great player, very smart, but it’s a lot to ask at his age to contain Tampa’s youthful forwards. I don’t know if they have enough within the D group to take down the Lightning.”

WINNER: Tampa Bay Lightning


Eastern Conference Final


1 New York Rangers vs 2 Tampa Bay Lightning

“I debated and debated over this one. It’s a tough choice, as I went back and forth between the two, trying to make a call. What I decided is that I like both of these teams, and I like them a lot. It truly could go either way. Let me tell you again, this was not easy. High quality hockey clubs on both sides, but the edge finally came down to playoff experience and having likely the strongest D in the league. Truly torn on this one.”

WINNER: New York Rangers


Western Conference – Round One


1 St. Louis Blues vs 4 Minnesota Wild

“With St. Louis, they really have it all. I believe this could be the year it all comes together as far as post season success. Do they have questions in net? Maybe, but even though Dubnyk has had a splendid run, I still would consider him to be a question mark as well. Minnesota will fight hard I’m sure, though in the end they can’t match up with the Blues.”

WINNER: St. Louis Blues


2 Nashville Predators vs 3 Chicago Blackhawks

“Nashville was fighting for a division down the stretch, and they fell short. To be honest, they struggled. I don’t see them having the experience needed to knock off the Hawks. Yes, the Predators have Rinne, but Crawford has shown he can rise to the occasion. For that matter, so have the Blackhawks. With Kane returning, I expect Chicago to turn it up a notch like they always do.”

WINNER: Chicago Blackhawks


1 Anaheim Ducks vs 4 Winnipeg Jets

“The Ducks are a strong club, there’s no doubt. What troubles me is their inconsistency in the net. The Jets are a big, fast team that will be fired up for their first post season this time around. This should be a long, gruelling series with plenty of hitting. The big key for me is Winnipeg staying out of the box, as we’ve seen undisciplined play at times. The Ducks power play is lethal. If the Jets can do that, we could see an upset.”

WINNER: Winnipeg Jets


2 Vancouver Canucks vs 3 Calgary Flames

“I’m giving the Canucks the advantage in goal, as the Flames will have to turn to Hiller for this series. For many of the Flames this is their first season, let alone their first playoffs. With no Giordano, it’s a tall order to take out the Canucks. Vancouver is a solid team and you know what to expect from the Sedin twins. They should play well, Burrows is back to himself, add Dorsett, a balanced blue-line and I think you have to go with the Canucks. Don’t count this Calgary bunch out though. I’m figuring on seven games.”

WINNER: Vancouver Canucks


Western Conference – Round Two


1 St. Louis Blues vs 3 Chicago Blackhawks

“The Blues are just plain too much to handle. This is a deep, physical, relentless group. Their goaltending worries me a little bit. The reason I can look past it is that the Blues can score. I see them getting over the hump and taking that next step this year. Finally getting past the Hawks, simply because I just think they are a better team right now and it feels like their time has arrived. Chicago will not go quietly, that’s for certain.”

WINNER: St. Louis Blues


2 Vancouver Canucks vs 4 Winnipeg Jets

“One of the most underrated things about Winnipeg is their back end. You go through the guys they have and it’s an impressive blue-line. Another guy maybe not getting the credit he should for his play down the stretch is Pavelec. He’s been stellar for his team when they’ve needed him to be. I think the Canucks are a good team, experienced as well, but the size, speed and physical nature of the Jets have them winning a long, tough series.”

WINNER: Winnipeg Jets


Western Conference Finals


1 St. Louis Blues vs 4 Winnipeg Jets

“Two teams with the recipe for playoff success. Big, fast, tough teams to play against that can lean on you. Let’s not forget talented to boot. Head to head, depth is the key and the Blues have it in spades. Winnipeg fought hard to get to the playoffs and eventually they will have to run out of steam. The Blues can tire you out fast with their heavy style. The Jets will likely hit the wall and although they will be a hand full, I just don’t see them beating St. Louis at their own game.”

WINNER: St. Louis Blues


StanleyCupFinal

New York Rangers vs St. Louis Blues


“Go down the list. Steen, Stastny, Backes, Taresenko, Schwartz and on and on. Then look at Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Jackman, Gunnarsson, Shattenkirk……wow. This is one impressive hockey club. St. Louis is built for playoff hockey. It’s hard not to call them the favourite here. Before I do though, the last time the New York Rangers won the President’s Trophy was 1994. That season they went on the win the Stanley Cup. This year they took home the President’s trophy once again. Will history repeat itself?

Obviously, picking a winner here is not easy. Both are Stanley Cup Champion caliber squads. I’ve mentioned defense right through my picks, and these two teams have great ones. The two best in the NHL. The Blues though have maybe a little more fire power up front; whereas, the Rangers have the advantage in goal. Lundqvist is a difference maker, and more than that the Rangers have an insurance policy in Cam Talbot. He’s been excellent and we all know that injuries can happen in a long playoff run. So what does it finally come down to when opponents are so evenly matched? The winner of the 2015 Stanley Cup I believe will be decided by something we shouldn’t forget, home ice advantage. At Madison Square Garden, the fans are loud, crazy, and they’ll be wound up. That could make a big impact in a Game 7 for all the marbles. And that’s why in the end, my pick for the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup Champions, I have to go with the New York Rangers.”

STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS: NEW YORK RANGERS


We want to thank Rick for taking the time to share both his picks and insight with us here at LeafsHub.com. With the Maple Leafs facing a long and proper rebuild as President Brendan Shanahan laid out in his recent press conference, it’s our hope that we’ll hear from #22 more often in the coming months. As I’ve mentioned, Rick and I talk hockey and when we do I can assure that his words echo that of Shanahan’s. If Toronto is going to be successful going forward, the focus will need to be on things that the former Leafs’ captain always brings up.

Those are:

a) character and determination, and

b) drafting and development.

I know how passionate he is about proper development and how pleased he was hearing Shanahan’s words and direction of the team moving forward. LeafsHub.com are going to check back in with the Leaf whose single season goal mark still stands around draft time, and lean on his wisdom and experience once more. If things go according to plan, in a couple of years when we call on Rick Vaive for his playoff picks, we’ll be waiting to see how far he thinks our Leafs will go. Not just for that season, but for many more to come.

 

 

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