Lightning in 4
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been making long runs in the postseason for several years now. Going back to 2015, they have at least played in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, every season except 2018, when they missed the playoffs. The Lightning made history in the 2019, tying the all-time record with 62 wins in the regular season. Often the President’s Trophy is the kiss of death for a team seeking the Stanley Cup. However, this year’s Lightning team was so historically good it is hard to imagine any team that can take the out. They have top level scorers, top level defense and strong goaltending. No team is stronger or more complete, as their power play was the best in NHL history with a 28.1% success ratio. The Columbus Blue Jackets meanwhile had to scratch and claw their way to the last spot in the postseason, and they have yet to win a series or even make it to a seventh game. This one could be a sweep.
Flames in 7
If you like skilled skaters and high scoring games, this might be the series for you. The Calgary Flames after missing the playoffs last season had a great bounce back season and posted the best record in the Western Conference. There are hardly any players as exciting as Johnny Gaudreau and Nathan MacKinnon, each player finished the season with 99 points, tied for seventh in the NHL. The Avalanche have a major edge in goaltending, with Philipp Grubauer, who last season was part of the Capitals run to the Stanley Cup. The Flames meanwhile have rotated between Mike Smith and David Rittich. Often when you can’t settle on a goalie it is because neither is very good. The Flames though have been bailed out most of the season led by a strong defense led by Mark Giordano who has emerged as the favorite to win the Norris Trophy after a league best +39, along with 17 goals and 74 points. Look for the Flames to survive a seven-game battle.
Bruins in 7
For the second straight season, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are facing in the opening round. The Bruins dominated the series last year, building a 3-1 lead, but had to win a seventh game after Toronto found a way to win Game 6 and 7. Boston won three of four meetings in the regular season and always seem to have a matchup edge due to stronger defense and goaltending. The Maple Leafs have the edge in the skill positions with Auston Matthews and John Tavares. The Bruins though have solid two-way players that can also find the back of the net with Brad Marchand finishing with 100 points, while David Pastrnak is magical in overtime. The major difference comes in net, where Toronto has yet Frederik Andersen will never take them to the Stanley Cup. Add in a mediocre defense and the Leafs skill edge is all but eliminated. Nonetheless these teams always seem to go the distance and this year will be no different as the Bruins advance.
Golden Knights in 6
Last year the Vegas Golden Knights shocked the world, reaching the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion team. The Golden Knights were naturally hard pressed to follow up that success in year two. However, they have again made the playoffs, after finishing third in the Pacific Division. Both team in this matchup have backed into the playoffs as the struggled down the stretch. Fortunately, the division was bad, and nobody made a run at either team. Vegas has lost seven of their last eight, while the Sharks are 3-9 in their last 12 games. Both teams are stacked with players with playoff experience, as the Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. Last year the Knights took down the Sharks in six games, and the two teams battled evenly in four games this season. The Sharks have a tremendous edge on the blue line, if Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, but with Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, Vegas will again take the series in six games.
Capitals in 5
After years of heartbreak, the Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup last season and went on the ultimate summer celebration. While, this year’s team no longer as coach Barry Trotz, it now has Alex Ovechkin playing without the pressure that always seemed to weigh him down in the past. The Carolina Hurricanes meanwhile used the criticism from Don Cherry as a rallying cry. It is the first time “this bunch of jerks” have made the playoffs in a decade and they have their work cut out for them. The Capitals closed the season strong, to win the Metropolitan Division once again. The Hurricanes had a special year, but to win this series it will be a miracle. The Capitals have spent an entire season readying for the postseason and now that is here, we will see them at their best. Look for a big series from Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov to beat Carolina in five games.
Predators in 5
After their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 and President’s Trophy in 2018 you have to get a sense that the Nashville Predators have to feel some pressure from father time, as they enter the playoffs with one of the older teams in the NHL. If not this year, when will they win the Stanley Cup? The Predators finished the regular season strong, posting an 8-2-1 record over the last 11 games to win the Central Division. Last year despite the best overall record, the Predators were not playing their best hockey and it carried over as they went down in the second round. The Predators main concern is their power play which has struggled all season, but otherwise they hold a major talent advantage in the all the major categories as they beat Dallas in three of four meetings. Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds did not do much for Nashville after the deadline, the playoffs is where they will add toughness Nashville needs and will be the ultimate swing in this series as the Predators outclass the Stars in five games.
Penguins in 6
The New York Islanders may have been the biggest surprise in the NHL this season, as they made the playoffs despite the loss of captain John Tavares. After battling all season for the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders settled into second place drawing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. The only advantage the Islanders seem to hold is the fact four of seven games will be on their home ice, and with these games at the Nassau Coliseum that could be an extra edge. However, the Penguins have the advantage everywhere else, as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017. They also have two of the best players in the NHL in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. It’s hard to see how the Islanders can win this series, unless Matt Murray struggles in the net for Pittsburgh, like he did several times in the regular season. However, with Crosby and Malkin on the ice it is hard not to see them win the series in six games.
Blues in 6
The St. Louis Blues surge was the story of the second half in the NHL, as they went from looking dead and buried to nearly winning the Central Division. Highlighting the strong second half was an 11-game winning streak in February. The Winnipeg Jets used a similar surge last season and carried it into the postseason to reach the Western Conference Finals as they won the first playoff series in franchise history. The Jets this season have not hit the playoffs with any momentum, as they have lost six of their last eight games. A big reason for the Blues turnaround was the play of goalie Jordan Binnington who has a strong case to win the Calder as the NHL’s top rookie, after posting a 24-5-1 record in 32 games and a NHL best 1.89 GAA. Connor Hellebuyck who last season keyed the Jets run has struggled at times, finishing with a 2.90 GAA. Often the key to the Stanley Cup is momentum and the Blues have all the momentum on this side and will take the series in six games.