This NHL handicapper is excited to share his predictions as the 2014-15 NHL regular season has almost come to an end and the playoffs are right around the corner. These four teams are well-built for the playoffs.
New York Rangers
They’re built for the playoffs because they have all around great balance. What that means is excellent defense and goaltending, above average offense, they play well at home and they excel on the road. What else do you need?
While most people think of the Rangers as a stellar defensive team – they currently allow the third-fewest goals per game (2.29) – they have actually played really well at the offensive end too. They are currently third in goals scored (2.99), which is incredible balance. Throw in the fact that they are the league’s best road team and we could see another long run by the Rangers.
The Canadiens look like they’re built for the playoffs because they have experience and goaltender Carey Price. Although Price hasn’t been great in a short stretch in March, he’s mostly been the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Not only will he be a Vezina Trophy candidate, he’ll likely be a Hart Trophy finalist too.
Montreal is an experienced team that went to the Conference Finals last season, so they need the road that’s ahead of them. With the second-best home and road record in the conference, they are very balanced. Expect this team to be one of the last left standing.
The Blackhawks have underwhelmed in terms of the regular season but if there is one team that is talented enough to beat everyone – assuming they flip the switch – it’s the Blackhawks. This is a team that’s known as an offensive juggernaut that hides their deficiencies on defense, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Entering Friday, the Blackhawks are the league’s second-best defensive team, giving up just 2.28 goals per game.
If they can keep that up in the playoffs while rediscovering their offense, they are going to be hard to beat. Remember, this is a team that’s loaded with offensive weapons like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and a whole host of others. Frequently, NHL odds makers will favor them. If Patrick Kane comes back and gives this unit a lift, they’ll be hard to beat. Remember, few teams have the savvy and playoff experience that the Blackhawks do.
Seeing the Predators make this list might surprise you but they are here for a couple of reasons. For starters, they have goaltender Pekka Rinne. While he’s stumbled a little bit lately since he returned from injury, Rinne is still one of the league’s best netminders and arguably the best in the West. If he gets hot, keep your eye on him when making NHL picks.
Secondly, the Preds have the West’s best home record at 28-8-3. If they finish in the second spot (unlikely to catch Anaheim for the No. 1 seed) then they’ll have home-ice advantage against everyone except for Anaheim. Considering how they’ve played at home this season, they’ll be a tough out with that edge and Rinne playing well.