Flyers in 6
Before the COVID pause, the Philadelphia Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL rising into the top four to get a bye past the qualifying round as they participated in the round-robin for the top seeds. The Flyers won all three games in the round-robin and earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Montreal Canadiens were the weakest team in the qualifying field but stunned the Penguins as Carey Price frustrated Sidney Crosby and company. The hot goalie can sometimes do great things, but the Canadiens’ lack of talent around Price will eventually halt any dreams of a skate with Lord Stanley. The Flyers won three of for meetings with Montreal and will seize the upper hand quickly as the playoffs kick into high gear.
Golden Knights in 5
The Chicago Blackhawks experience took advantage of the Oilers’ lack of experience and lack of defense and goaltending to find their way to the first round, despite wallowing in last place in the Central Division. The Vegas Golden Knights went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018 and have a strong defense and a three-time Cup winner with Marc-Andre Fleury in net. The Blackhawks’ defense has been just as porous as the Oilers, and facing a team the tightens up the game like the Knight will be difficult for the Blackhawks to overcome. Vegas was the best of the West in the round-robin and will get an extra boost as Max Pacioretty returns from an injury. This series should be over quickly in favor of the Golden Knights.
Blue Jackets in 6
Last season the Tampa Bay Lightning had a historic season winning the President’s Trophy but were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. It as the first time that Columbus had won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blue Jackets beat the Maple Leafs in the qualifying round in the only series that went five games. The Lightning finished second in the round-robin but lost Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman due to injuries. Their availability in the playoffs is uncertain. If they are unable to go, the Lightning will likely fall to the Blue Jackets again.
Avalanche in 7
With a young core led by Nathan MacKinnon, the Colorado Avalanche are a team on the rise. They played well in the round-robin and earned the second seed. The Arizona Coyotes meanwhile rode the goaltending Darcy Kuemper to stun the Predators. It will take a more herculean effort from Kuemper to enable Arizona to rise over the Avalanche. C0lorado has more firepower than the Predators and will undoubtedly get more pucks on the net to test the goalie from Arizona. Expect this to be a close series that could go the distance, but the Avalanche will win it in the end.
Capitals in 6
It is a reunion for the Washington Capitals as Barry Trotz, who left after leading the team to the Stanley Cup in 2018 for the New York Islanders, faces his former team. The Islanders were impressive in their win over the Panthers, while the Capitals scuffled at times and finished third in the round-robin seeding tournament. Anthony Beauvillie was especially impressive for the Islanders with five points, while Semyon Varlamov was strong in goal. The usual suspects led the way for Washington, as Alex Ovechkin finished the with 48 goals as he joined the 700-club. Ovechkin did not score in the round-robin but should find his games as the playoffs start for real. This will be the difference as the series goes seven games.
Flames in 6
The Calgary Flames were among the more impressive teams in the qualifying round as they took down the Jets in four games, bruising and battering them from the start. The Dallas Stars may be the softest team that earned a bye and are likely not going fair well against a team that is as aggressive as the Flames. Milan Lucic will be a significant factor for Calgary having previously won a Stanley Cup win Boston. The Flames are a team that is getting stronger, with Sean Monihan having six points in the qualifying round. Look for the Flames to be too much for Dallas to handle.
Bruins in 5
These teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals last season as the Carolina Hurricanes’ surprise run came to an end against a superior Boston Bruins teams. The Bruins who lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last season were the best team in the NHL in the regular season. The Bruins got the kiss of death with the President’s Trophy but stumbled in the round-robin getting the fourth seed. This will likely motivate the Bruins when the playoffs begin. The Carolina Hurricanes were impressive in the qualifying round with the only sweep. Look for Boston to make a statement and win this series easily as the Bruins are by far the superior team with Tuukka Rask in goal and David Pasternak leading the offense.
Blues in 5
The St. Louis Blues begin their defense of the Stanley Cup in earnest. The Blues struggled in the round-robin, losing the top-seed that they had when the season went on its four-month pause. The Vancouver Canucks were impressive in their win over the Wild in the qualifying round, but remain a team of young players that are likely a year or two away from being a real contender. I expect the Blues to come out flying with the games, meaning something as teams in the round-robin were not necessarily playing at full speed with a trip to the round of 16 assured. St. Louis will quickly get back on track and will have little trouble with the Canucks.