Lightning in 7
Perspective holds the key to determining success for teams in the NHL. For a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have been to the Stanley Cup Final in recent years, been among the top teams in the Eastern Conference for several years anything less than a Stanley Cup is a letdown. For the New Jersey Devils, who were the worst team in the Eastern Conference in 2017 and began the year with a roster full of rookies, just making the playoffs makes this an overwhelmingly successful season. The Devils who are in the dawn of what can be an exciting new era of success in New Jersey, gave Tampa all they could handle, winning all three regular-season meetings. The playoffs though are a different animal and the Lightning have a distinct advantage in experience and depth the two most important factors for the postseason. The Devils do have some great speed and should put up a fight, but in the end, Tampa survives in seven games.
Predators in 5
After losing to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators remained hungry and had the best season in franchise history, posting the best record in the NHL at 53-18-11. Ordinarily having the best record in the league would make you the favorite, but in the NHL, the President’s Trophy is more often than not the Kiss of Death. Since first being awarded in 1986, just eight times has the team that won the President’s Trophy won the Stanley Cup. The Predators after their run last year are certainly capable of being the ninth team to win both trophies in the same year, as they have a defense and goaltending made for the playoffs. The Colorado Avalanche are one of the bigger surprise teams in the playoffs after their awful 2017. In four meetings, the Avalanche were buried by Nashville in the regular season. It is hard to see the Avalanche winning more than one game in this series.
Maple Leafs in 6
The Boston Bruins tour through March like a lion as they made a serious run at the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best record in the Eastern Conference. However, they end the season like a lamb, winning just one of five games. Just one more win would have been enough to win the Atlantic Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a young and hungry team led by Auston Matthews who is poised to become one of the league’s biggest stars. In Matthews’ rookie season last year, the Maple Leafs gave the Capitals a memorable fight with five of six games going to overtime. With some experience, the Leafs could be set to win some of those close tight games especially against a Bruins team they beat in three of four meetings in the regular season. Boston has the size and strength advantage and the goaltending advantage, but the Maple Leafs speed and energy will be too much as the Toronto wins in six.
Jets in 5
The Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets have the chance to develop a real solid rivalry, with their close proximity to each other. The Jets are a young team on the rise, posting a record of 52-20-10, thanks to the skill of Patrick Laine and a breakout season from Connor Hellebuyck. The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile come limping into the playoffs, as they have not been fully healthy all season. With Zach Parise missing the start of the season and Ryan Suter going down at the end of the year. The Jets won three of four meetings in the regular season against Minnesota, and while the Wild have a big edge in experience, the loss of Suter to a broken leg is crippling to the Wild. Minnesota would certainly need Suter to slow down Laine. The Jets finished the season with the afterburners on winning 11 of their last 12. Look for them to continue to soar and win their first playoff series in franchise history and the first for Winnipeg since 1987.
Capitals in 7
It was another first place finish season for the Washington Capitals who are a reverse tree when it comes to winning. They bloom in the winter and crumple in the spring as the playoff pressure has always been too much to handle. The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the playoffs for the second straight season, and just the fourth time overall, they have never won a playoff series and have won just three overall playoff games, though two of the three teams that beat Columbus went on to play in the Stanley Cup Final. This is a winnable series for the Blue Jackets as they have an edge in defense and goaltending with Sergei Bobrovsky having another sold season, while Capitals starter Braden Holtby has lost his job at least temporarily to Philipp Grubauer. Alex Ovechkin’s postseason numbers are not as awful as he averages nearly a point a game, and he will be the most skilled player on the ice, which will be the difference in this series that will go seven games.
Kings in 7
There is no denying the expansion Vegas Golden Knights winning the Pacific Division with a record of 51-24-7 is the biggest surprise in the NHL this season. Fans in Las Vegas embraced hockey more than the NHL could have possibly imagined as they regularly sold out T-Mobile Arena. The Los Angeles Kings are back in the playoffs after a disappointing season. They have the playoff pedigree, with the core of their teams that won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 still leading the way, including goalie Jonathan Quick. Another great rivalry in the making, the Kings split four games against Vegas in the regular season. The Golden Knights, while an expansion team is not loaded with playoff neophytes, as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins. This could be the most even matchup in the first round, but if you were going to take the smart money in Vegas, it is harder for an expansion to win in the playoffs.
Penguins in 5
It is that time of year when the Pittsburgh Penguins end their 82-game warm up and get ready for another Stanley Cup run. The first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 19 years last year sees Pittsburgh looking to become the first team to three-peat since the Islanders dynasty ended 35 years ago. There is no doubt that the Penguins raise their game when the Stanley Cup is on the line. The Penguins will face a big test in the first round as they face one their most bitter rivals in the battle for Pennsylvania bragging rights. The Philadelphia Flyers got in thanks to a big season from Claude Giroux, but they are a flawed team. They are one of the worst teams in the NHL when they are shorthanded, ranking 29th on the penalty kill. Which is bad news, when you come up against the Penguins who have the best power play in the NHL thanks to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Sharks in 7
Another great matchup of bitter rivals sees the Anaheim Ducks taking on the San Jose Sharks. These teams are evenly matched and have had recent success, with the Sharks going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Ducks going to the Western Conference Finals in 2017. Both teams are missing a key player, as Joe Thornton is doubtful to return for the Sharks, while Cam Fowler is out for the season for Anaheim. Expect a physical hard-hitting grudge match, as this series has seven games written all over it. San Jose won three or four regular-season meeting against the Ducks, with the only loss coming in a shootout. The Ducks have had occasional issues with their goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller, while Martin Jones had another solid season for San Jose. The loss of Cam Fowler is the biggest concern for Anaheim. The Ducks did finish the season strong, but in the end, the loss of Fowler will be too much to overcome as the Sharks survive.