NHL Playoff Predictions: Who Is First To Go In Round One?

By Matt Pepper

TJ Brodie Toronto Maple Leafs

The most exciting time of the year is upon us!  The NHL Playoffs are here and I believe we are in for a great first round.  

If you are looking for major upsets, these predictions may not be for you.

Florida Panthers (58-18-6) vs Washington Capitals (44-26-12)

The Presidents Trophy winner undoubtedly has to be the favourite in this series.  Florida has been an amazing team to watch all year.  Virtually unbeatable at home, they have been a nightmare for visiting teams all season.  Florida is deep at all positions (including goal), can score throughout the lineup, and can play any way you want them to whether it’s finesse or by physicality.  With defenseman Aaron Ekblad possibly returning from injury, this adds another weapon to their impressive arsenal.

In regards to Washington, it’s tough to critique a team who hit 100 points, but with some questionable goaltending and an banged up Alexander Ovechkin, this may be too big of a hill to climb for the 2018 Stanley Cup winners.

I don’t see this series going longer than 5 games, but I’ll say it’s over in 4.

Prediction:  Florida in 4 games.

Carolina Hurricanes (54-20-8) vs Boston Bruins (51-26-5)

The Hurricanes were dominant all year long and easily cruised to a Metro Division title with 116 points.  They have one of the best mobile defenses in the NHL to go along with star forwards like Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho.  The only question mark for them is who to go with in net?  Both Andersson and Raanta have been good this year, but health could be a factor in who plays.

Boston has continued to rely heavily on their top line of Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak and while successful, this could be an issue in a lengthy series their secondary scoring doesn’t hold up.  Of course, Marchand is always a factor as he plays both an offensive role and the pest role simultaneously.  Boston has also seen platoon duty with their goaltending, neither of whom are proven playoff goaltenders.

Based on the difference in depth up and down the lineup, I do not see Boston being able to win this series.

Prediction:  Carolina in 6 games.

Toronto Maple Leafs (54-21-7) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (51-23-8)

The Leafs are coming off a franchise high in points as well as a historic season for Austin Matthews hitting the 60 goal mark.  With the pressure mounting in previous years after early playoff exits, the Leafs added more depth both upfront on the backend with roleplayers who can play with grit and stronger defensive play.  This resulted in a more complete game than they’ve shown in previous years.  The question mark going into the playoffs was the play of goaltender Jack Campbell who seemingly found his game again last in the season.  Depth behind Campbell can be concerning due to the inexperience of Erik Kallgren.

While Tampa didn’t finish as high as previous years, this is a moot point as they still have a tremendous season.  Captain Steven Stamkos had a career high with 106 points, Victor Hedman (in my opinion) is still the best all around defender in the NHL, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is always in the conversation as one of the top goaltenders in the league.  (The Rangers will disagree this year and so will I.)  This team is still a force to be reckoned with, but one main concern with a team who has won back – to – back Stanley Cups may be fatigue.  

This series can go either way, but I believe the Leafs will finally bump the slump.

Prediction:  Leafs in 7 games.

New York Rangers (52-24-6) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (46-25-11)

The New York Rangers were definitely a surprise team this year.  Igor Shesterkin is very likely a lock for the Vezina trophy this year and is also a candidate to win the Hart trophy as well.  A career year from Chris Kreider eclipsing the 50 goal mark, Artemi Panarin’s strong playing making ability, and Adam Fox on the back end say the Rangers surprise a lot of people.  Many are wondering how this team will handle the second season.

Pittsburgh had some early woes this year missing both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but were able to rebound from their big guns missing time and put together a strong second half season.  Jake Guentzel eclipsed 40 goals and Kris Letang had a career year on the backend for this team.  Pittsburgh continues to remain competitive with aging stars.

Pittsburgh may be too much of a proven commodity to fall to an unproven Rangers team.  Shesterkin is New York’s only hope for a second round appearance.

Prediction:  Pittsburgh in 7. 

Colorado Avalanche (56-19-7) vs Nasvhille Predators (45-30-7)

Colorado is this decade’s version of the pre Stanley Cup Edmonton Oilers of the 80’s.  All the young talent that is close, but has not achieved it yet.  Everything has been written about how dominant Nathan MacKinnon is and how dynamic Cale Makar is.  The main difference this year is Darcy Kemper and his stabilization of the Av’s net.  His play will determine how far this team goes as they are fairly deep throughout the lineup.

Nashville went from a team who many thought may be waiting for a lottery pick to being one of the hottest teams in the NHL down the stretch.  Nashville is the most gritty team in the playoffs, playing a heavy physical game and works until there is nothing left every shift.  Roman Josi had an MVP like year from the backend with a 96 point year.  Juuse Saros proved this year that goalies under 6’2″ can win in this league (even if it’s not the norm).  

Nashville may be a sexy pick for an upset and will push this series as far as they can, but I believe the depth of the Avalanche will be too much at the end of this one.

Prediction:  Colorado in 6 games.

Calgary Flames (50-21-11) vs Dallas Stars (46-30-6)

Calgary is one of the deepest teams going into the playoffs this year and is another team who can “play any way you like it”.  Both Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau topped the 100 point mark this year and along with Elias Lindholm are arguably the best line in the NHL.  Jacob Markstrom was tremendous in net this year and even Dan Vladar has provided some depth in relief.  Calgary does not have many weaknesses through their lineup.

Dallas had a strong year this year with some scoring depth upfront.  Joe Pavelski continues to defy time, leading the team in points and Jason Robertson emerged as one of the best young snipers in the league.  This is a team that also sports Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but this was not a strong year for either.  

There isn’t any major analysis for this series.  Calgary has more , speed, scoring, and jam than Dallas can handle.

Prediction:  Flames in 5 games.

Minnesota Wild (53-22-7) vs St. Louis Blues (49-22-11)

Minnesota was one of the hottest teams since the trade deadline after landing the most sought after player available in Marc – Andre Fleury.  Fleury has been excellent since coming over to the Wild and has been the shot in the arm that Minnesota needed.  The sport size, speed, and scoring touch upfront and have one of the most exciting goal scorers in the game in Kirill Kaprisov.

St. Louis is very similar in play style to Minnesota.  St. Louis also has size, speed, and scoring that can match up with anyone.  Vladimir Tarasenko had a major bounce back year leading the team in points and Robert Thomas continues to impress with his size and scoring touch.  Ville Husso replaced the struggling Jordan Binnington in net for much of this season, which may be something to watch for in this series.

This is the series I am most excited to watch this year.  It has potential to be the most evenly and most competitive series in this year’s playoff.

Prediction:  Minnesota in 7. 

Edmonton Oilers (49-27-6) vs Los Angeles Kings (44-27-11)

The Oilers survived a catastrophic first half of the season to move into a playoff position with home ice.  The usual suspects have carried this team offensively in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.  McDavid won the Art Ross trophy again and is in the running for the Hart trophy.  Draisaitl continues to score in bunches, finishing with 55.  The real question with Edmonton will always be goaltending with many scratching their heads at not acquiring one at the deadline.  That being said, Mike Smith has been excellent down the stretch and will be the difference for the Oilers this spring.

Los Angeles sports a lot of their Stanley Cup teams from yesteryear in Anze Kopitar and Johnathan Quick who both had strong years for the Kings.  Drew Doughty is out of the lineup and is expected to be back next season.  Doughty out of the lineup is a huge blow to the Kings blueline.  Dustin Brown who captained their two Stanley Cup wins announced he will retire after this playoff.

I don’t foresee any Miracles on Manchester for this Kings team.  They are not deep enough and will have a tough time matching speed with the Oilers.

Prediction:  Edmonton in 5 games.

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