It’s NHL Playoff season! This year’s playoff series’ will feature a strong handful of teams that not many (including us) were expecting to go the distance. But now we have the important questions. Can the Avalanche’s good luck continue? Will the Golden Knights make even more sports history? Are we doomed to live in a world of Penguin superiority once again? Below are our predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs!
(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs (WC2) New Jersey Devils
The Florida Panthers can be thanked (or blamed) for arranging this match-up. After upsetting the Bruins in the last game of the season, the Lightning won the division, matching them up against the surging Devils. The Devils actually swept the Lightning in the regular season. Despite the Devils entering the season slightly above bottom-feeder status, Hart-worthy Taylor Hall and the sensational rookie Nico Hischier have led the Devils back to the playoffs. Jersey and Tampa are built similarly. They both boast dynamic offenses and a goalie who ranges from elite to a liability. The key difference here will be the depth of the Lightning roster. The Devils have enough talent up front to match the Lightning but down the stretch, Tampa’s deep set of forwards will be tough to match.
Lightning in 6
(2) Boston Bruins vs (3) Toronto Maple Leafs
Funnily enough, the Leafs led their regular season series with the Bruins as well. These two teams match-up very well and this should be a really entertaining series. The Leafs run deep with talent while the Bruins are led by the trio of Brad Marchand, David Pasternak, and their veteran Patrice Bergeron. Both teams field a dangerous offense and seem to be evenly matched in that regard. The key difference here will be Boston’s penalties and Toronto’s sensational power play production. Boston’s elite penalty kill unit will have to be at the top of their game in this series. There should be a lot of back and forth in this series but ultimately I give the edge to Boston.
Bruins in 7
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (3) Philadelphia Flyers
It’s civil war in Pennsylvania. This series should be aggressive, physical, and a whole lot of fun. The Flyers got dominated in their regular season series and not a whole lot has changed. The Flyers do not match up well against the Penguins and while the games should be entertaining, the Flyers will struggle to keep things close. Claude Giroux is a Hart Trophy-worthy player who can single-handedly take over a game. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Penguins have a couple of those guys. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel lead a squad that’s borderline immune to cold streaks. With Philly’s struggle at goaltender, it’s hard to see the Flyers keeping up with Pittsburgh for too long. This should be a fun series, but a short one at that.
Penguins in 5
(1) Washington Capitals vs (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
The Capitals enter their match-up with the Blue Jackets hoping to put an end to their past flops and finally gain some traction in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals scored and has yet to play for the Stanley Cup in his illustrious career. At 32, Ovechkin has got to be starving for a championship appearance. The Blue Jackets boast a balanced team with a solid defense, good goaltending, and an offense that’s full of potential. Columbus will have to play consistent, disciplined hockey to beat Ovechkin and the Caps. While that is their bread and butter, their poor penalty kill could be their downfall in the end. Except Washington to come out hot and try and force Columbus to play aggressively.
Capitals in 6
(1) Nashville Predators vs (WC2) Colorado Avalanche
During the four-game stretch these two teams faced off, Nashville came away victorious in every single game. While both of these teams were involved in the infamous three-way trade with Ottawa, the Predators came away as the clear victor with the addition of Kyle Turris, who has led Nashville’s deep line up. While the Avalanche’s reversal of fortunes coming from being the worst team in the league to a playoff squad is impressive and the team clearly seems to be trending upward, the magic ends against Nashville’s imposing defense that held their opponents to only 56 goals.
Predators in 4
(2) Winnipeg Jets vs (3) Minnesota Wild
The Wild are facing the Jets at exactly the wrong time. Minnesota has lost Ryan Suter for the season and is now catching Winnipeg who had the best ending 20 games out of the entire league. In their last 20, the Jets have won 15 of their games. Compare that to the wild, who won 10 of their final 20. Now, the Wild do have the 2nd best home record in the league, which is impressive until you realize that the team they’re right behind are the Jets. Winnipeg’s high-flying offense may just be too much for the Wild to handle sans Suter.
Jets in 5
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs (WC1) Los Angeles Kings
This is “The Match” of the first round, to be sure. These two teams have so much in common it could easily go in either direction. On the Kings’ side, you have a championship corps that remains mostly intact. From the Kings’ ’13-’14 Stanley Cup-winning squad you have 11 players still remaining in the bunch. The Kings’ core of Kopitar, Carter, Doughty, and Quick are a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, the Golden Knights have proven to be nothing to sneeze at. Gerard Gallant’s island of misfit toys have broken every expansion record imaginable in their inaugural season and have led to career highs in stats for 11 of their players. The most notable players, of course, being William Karlsson, who led the team with 78 goals, and Marc Andre-Fleury who has been nothing less than a wall at goalie. The series will simply be a matter of who can hang on at defense the longest and the inevitable matchup between Kopitar and Karlsson.
Golden Knights in 7
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs (3) San Jose Sharks
The Ducks’ finish was absolutely impressive, capping off their season with a seven-game win streak to assure they had home ice for the first round of the playoffs. That being said, Anaheim has been ravished by injury losing players like Cam Fowler and Kevin Bieksa while also dealing with the possibility of not having goalie John Gibson for the first round. San Jose has suffered as well. The Sharks have not had Joe Thornton for 47 games and did not have a strong finish after only winning one of their final six games. Still, the Sharks have not suffered the same level of players the Ducks have and currently have a 3-0-1 record against their SoCal rivals.
Sharks in 6