Sportsnet’s analytics experts share their Stanley Cup Playoffs brackets

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Sportsnet’s four NHL analytics writers, Steve Burtch, Jonathan Willis, Andrew Berkshire and Dimitri Filipovic, each fill out their Stanley Cup Playoffs brackets and share reasons behind their picks.

How do their brackets compare to yours?

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STEVE BURTCH

Why Edmonton is my dark horse pick:
It’s pretty difficult to count out any team featuring Connor McDavid. The Art Ross Trophy winner was the only skater in the NHL to hit 100 points this season, and his impact on Scoring Chance differential is video game-like whenever he is on the ice for the Oilers – his +4.34 per 60 at 5v5 was tops amongst skaters with 500 minutes played this season. The Sharks will struggle to contain McDavid’s insane level of speed and it showed this season when he posted a goal and an assist in four of the five games Edmonton played against them, going 3-1-1 in the process. Factor in some top end goaltending from Cam Talbot and the improved depth on the Oilers’ blue line — they could be in for a deep playoff run.

Why Ottawa will get upset in the first round:
This series is actually my only projected upset in the opening round of the playoffs. Ottawa is the only team to qualify for the 2016-17 NHL post-season with a negative goal differential, ranking 19th in the NHL with a minus-4 on the season. They are particularly poor offensively for a playoff team, ranking 22nd in goal scoring, which is the lowest of any playoff side. They also have amongst the worst special teams of any playoff team this season – ranking 23rd on the PP (only San Jose is lower in 25th), and 22nd on the PK (only Chicago is lower in 24th). All of which is to say they don’t match up particularly well with Boston who happened to be the top team in the NHL in terms of Expected Goals percentage all season long (55.09 5v5 xGF% via Corsica.hockey).

The Bruins have the seventh-ranked power play in the league and the top-ranked penalty kill in the NHL this season. They have only been surrendering 13 scoring chances per 60 minutes while short handed over the last 30-plus games or so, which is insane when you consider the average playoff team allows over 20. Add in that Tuukka Rask seems to be getting hot at the right time, posting a .971 save percentage with two shutouts in his final six games of the regular season and there is no reason to think the Senators are likely to overcome the sleepy bears from Boston, who have come out of hibernation just in time for the playoffs.

Where my bracket could get busted:
The Chicago Blackhawks are one of those teams that just seems to keep finding ways to win with an ever-rotating cast of characters around that elite core of Kane-Toews-Hossa-Keith-Hjalmarsson-Crawford et al. Despite struggling early on this season, particularly on the PK, they have rounded into form in the final months of the year and captured another Central Division title when the Minnesota Wild faltered down the stretch. A second round showdown between those two excellent clubs could ruin my prediction of Stanley Cup glory for the land of 10,000 lakes.

Team I wanted to pick but couldn’t:
The St. Louis Blues have been done in by abysmal luck in the playoffs before they even begin – yet again. They got knocked out in the first round in 2013 by the eventual Stanley Cup winners in Los Anegels, in the first round of 2014 by the eventual winners in Chicago, the first round in 2015 by these same Wild, and last season finally went on a lengthy run before bowing out to San Jose.

Now – despite being the fourth-strongest team in my playoff bracket over the final 25 games of the season, they get the worst matchup by facing Minnesota (the second-ranked team) as the away side here in the opening round. Since March 5, the Blues have rattled off an impressive 15-2-2 record, and yet it looks like they are in tough against this year’s projected champion Minnesota Wild.

Why Minnesota will win the Stanley Cup:
Despite a string of poor play from Devan Dubnyk during the closing stretches of the season, and the ever-present cloud that seems to follow Bruce Boudreau into the playoffs, I feel like the Wild have all the pieces to put themselves over the top this year. When we score adjust 5v5 statistics, Minnesota actually pushes slightly ahead of Boston for the top Expected Goal percentage in the NHL this season (55.27% vs 55.19%). In the closing 25 games of the year, the Wild’s numbers actually improved, making them the only team over 60 per cent for that stretch of play.

Most of this can be chalked up to elite defensive play from a very strong and deep side that can roll four lines and wear other teams down. Dubnyk backstops an elite defensive group that features the underrated top pair of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon who played more 5v5 mins this year than any other duo in the NHL. This is the year the State of Hockey brings home the Cup.

ANDREW BERKSHIRE

Why Nashville is my dark horse pick:
They’ve been less than the sum of their parts all season, but despite that, most of their weaknesses are surface level. They were horrible in the shootout and at three-on-three overtime, neither of which exist in the playoffs, and they struggled with their net empty when trailing. When it came to actually playing hockey, they were one of the best teams in the West, and their even strength play down the stretch was extremely strong. The West is wide open, all they need is Pekka Rinne to be league average.

Why the Chicago Blackhawks will get upset in the first round:
I’m not buying what the Hawks are selling anymore. There’s a chance they turn it on in the playoffs and burn through the West again, but they don’t inspire confidence. They’ve still got the top-end skill, but Hossa and Seabrook aren’t the contributors they once were, and their depth is questionable. Crawford might be their most important player in the playoffs, and that’s not a recipe for success.

Where my bracket could get busted:
I’ve got the Predators going the whole way, which is tough for an eighth place team, and they have to make their way through the stronger division out West. I’ve also got the Oilers going to the Western Conference final, and that first round series between them and the Sharks is basically a coin flip for me, so my entire Western half of the bracket could be destroyed in an instant.

The team I wanted to pick but couldn’t:
I really, really wanted to pick the Toronto Maple Leafs to advance a bit further. They’re the most fun team to watch in the league because they’re so chaotic, and that chaos likely would have beat the Senators or maybe even the Bruins with their injuries on defence, but not the Capitals. That’s a team on a mission.

Why the Washington Capitals will win the Stanley Cup:
Besides being the best they’ve ever been, and having no glaring weakness to speak of, they have no choice. This is the last great shot the Caps have at winning with this core, since there are a bunch of unrestricted free agents they can’t afford to bring back come July. Alex Ovechkin is 31 years old and starting see his scoring dip a little. They need it to work this season or this entire era of the best teams in the history of the Capitals will be a giant waste.

DIMITRI FILIPOVIC

Why the Bruins are my dark horse pick:
The news that Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo will most likely miss the start of their opening round series against the Senators is certainly alarming, but assuming they’re able to eventually return and be themselves I really like both the team the Bruins have and their path through the Atlantic portion of the bracket.

One of the main reasons why they’re such a trendy pick right now is because they were just the 20th team since 2007 to finish the year controlling north of 55 per cent of 5-on-5 shot attempts.

Ten of those previous 19 made it to at least the Conference Final, seven of them made the Stanley Cup final, and five of them won it all. The ones that didn’t typically either flamed out because their goaltending imploded or because they happened to run into a buzzsaw early on, and the Bruins look like they could avoid both of those land mines.

Why the Sharks will get upset in Round 1:
This technically wouldn’t be an upset based on the seeding (and the betting line for the series), but I still view the Sharks getting bounced in the opening round as an upset. They were the best team in the West last year, and for much of this season I was convinced that was the case again. Unfortunately, they’ve stumbled into this first round matchup against an Oilers team that’s playing really well, and the questions about whether Joe Thornton and Logan Couture will be ready to go are enough to scare me off of them.

Where my bracket could get busted:
The Penguins have an awful range of outcomes in them. I picked them to narrowly squeeze past the Blue Jackets in Round 1, mostly out of respect to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and what they’re capable of when they’re firing on all cylinders, but there’s a lot of red flags with that team. Even beyond losing Kris Letang (who was admirably eating up 29 minutes a game during their Cup run), Pittsburgh’s level of play has been in a downward spiral for a while now and they hardly resemble that great team from last Spring.

The team I wanted to pick but couldn’t:
I eventually wound up picking the Blackhawks to go over the Predators in a tight seven-gamer, but I agonized over it more than any other series. I’ve noticed there are some people who are callously going with the Blackhawks without giving it much thought or attention, presumably because of their name value and the number of wins they accumulated in the regular season. I think it’s a mistake to just count out the Predators like that. Despite a very uneven showing for them this year, the Preds have an incredible amount of high-end talent and upside and pose a very real threat if everything comes together at the right time.

Why the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup:
Because they’ve been the best team from start to finish and the optimist in me would like to believe that there will eventually be a happy ending here. There’s an argument to be made that this is the best incarnation of the Caps that we’ve ever seen during this sustained era of greatness, purely because there really isn’t a single area you could point to as a weakness that’ll ultimately be their undoing. The playoffs can be cruel and unpredictable, and certainly anything can happen, but based on all of the information we have the Capitals are the best bet to be the last team standing.

JONATHAN WILLIS

Why the Boston Bruins are my dark horse pick:
In late March I dug into the kinds of teams that have playoff success despite regular-season shortcomings, and found three clubs in this year’s playoff mix that had some of the signs: Calgary, Nashville and Boston. With respect to the Flames and Predators, the Bruins are the most frightening of that trio. Not only is Boston the NHL’s best shot-clock team, but Rask has a career .930 playoff save percentage.

Why the Anaheim Ducks will get upset in Round 1:
There are two answers to this question: Health and the Calgary Flames. The Flames have a quality roster, decent shot metrics (especially of late) and a red-hot Brian Elliott. Meanwhile, the Ducks just got Hampus Lindholm back only to lose Cam Fowler for weeks, meaning their top two defencemen are either banged-up or out of things entirely.

Where my bracket could get busted:
All over. I’m much more excited to watch these playoffs than I am to predict them. I could see the Rangers winning the Atlantic, not in the least because they finished just one point back of Montreal and have a better goal differential. There isn’t a standout club in the Pacific, but there are three in the Metropolitan, making both difficult to forecast.

The team I wanted to pick but couldn’t:
The San Jose Sharks are a really good hockey team. Unfortunately, Thornton has missed three games with a knee injury and nobody seems to know when Couture is going to return. They’re also in an ugly funk. But if they can get healthy, that’s a scary team to meet in the playoffs.

Why the Washington Capitals will win the Stanley Cup:
This is a better version of the team that almost beat Pittsburgh last season. Washington’s management went out and got real depth players, and the result is that the team now has four effective forward units. At the deadline, they added the Kevin Shattenkirk, who makes their power play silly and gives them three high-end defencemen.