It’s finally here! After way too many games with way too few Olympic breaks, the NHL postseason is upon us! And what a post-season it’s shaping up to be. We have 15 teams all of which are hoping to at least look like they have some dignity before Nashville just trucks over them (spoiler alert). But let’s stop wasting time and get right into it!
(1) Nashville Predators vs. (WC2) Colorado Avalanche
This was already an uphill climb for Colorado. Going against the most dominant team in the NHL. But now they’re going to have to do it sans their starting goalie and one of their top defensemen. This just feels like a situation where you’d have to work really hard to convince yourself the Avs have a fighting chance, and I won’t be doing that. Give me the Preds in 5.
(2) Winnipeg Jets vs. (3) Minnesota Wild
Ah jeez, gang. This feels a lot like the column above but the Jets are not quite as dominant as the Predators, and the Wild are not quite as hapless as the Avs, but Minnesota will be without yeoman defeseman Ryan Suter which is certainly going to make things difficult for team that turned Eric Staal into a 40 goal scorer. Yes I double checked it and we didn’t accidentally go from 9 to 20. He got 40. I’ll take the Jets in 5. Minnesota makes them sweat a bit, but the forward depth for Winnipeg will likely be too much for Minnesota’s solid defense, especially without Suter.
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (WC1) Los Angeles Kings
Uh oh. The feel-good story may be coming to an end. Vegas plays a fast, vertical game and LA… doesn’t. This may be the trendy pick for an upset in the first round, but guess what. Trendy picks don’t get trendy for no reason. I’ll take LA in 7, but this one should be intriguing, even if the quality of hockey is a bit subpar.
(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3) San Jose Sharks
Hell yeah baby, put that California Rivalry right into my veins. The Sharks have added Evander Kane to a hefty but not super impressive forward lineup. Anaheim did very little at the trade deadline, but they still have John Gibson who quietly put together a very respectable season with a .926 save percentage and one of the best low-danger save percentages in the NHL. Although high-danger is typically used to evaluate how good a goalie really is, there really is something to be said for a goalie who makes the saves that they’re expected to make when the playoffs roll around. Give me the Ducks in 6. This should be fun!
(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (WC2) New Jersey Devils
After a dominant start to the season, the Lightning visibly tapered off around the middle of January. The addition of Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller got them playing pretty decently again, but they have not reached the lofty heights they were in before. That said, they’re still better than the Devils (please do not @ me with their regular season head to head matchup). Taylor Hall will likely be able to pump a few goals in given the Lightning’s leaky penalty kill and questionable in-zone coverage, but with or without Steven Stamkos I just don’t see the Devils being able to keep up with the high-powered Lightning offense. Lightning in 6, but Taylor Hall makes the Oilers fans very sad by outscoring McDavid.
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (3) Toronto Maple Leafs
One of the two real marquee series in the first round (and the one most likely to make the NHL change up this horrific playoff format) pits the second best team in the Eastern Conference against the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference! What a league, fellas! Anyway, the Bruins look nigh unbeatable on their night, but have had fewer nights like that recently. I hate to go on about “playoff experience” because I think that term is overused by lazy fans and pundits who can’t really justify picking a team with a bunch of “old school” guys that they like. But one has to wonder if the matchup of Mike Babcock and Bruce Cassidy may play a factor here. I’ll still take the B’s in 6, but this is one to keep an eye on for me. Whoever wins this series has a very legitimate shot to beat Tampa or Jersey and possibly win the whole thing (especially if it’s Boston.)
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
Doesn’t this just feel like the Caps year? Nah, me either. Give me the CBJs in 6. No analysis here, just feels like the Caps are gonna choke out in the first round instead of the second. (I flipped a coin).
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) Philadelphia Flyers
The second of the real marquee first round matchups is this in-state rivalry (did you know this was an in-state rivalry?) and a rematch of the 2012 playoff series that saw Sidney Crosby famously pass the torch as the NHL’s best player to Claude Giroux. Which definitely happened and was not at all a complete overreaction to one playoff series. Anyway, after compiling a Hart Trophy worthy season, Claude Giroux is up against the two-time defending Cup champions and folks, he’s not good enough to drag this team over the line. Kessel scored 92 freakin points and it seems like no one noticed! I’ll take the Pens in 7 but I won’t enjoy this series full of 5 hour games because these dummies are starting little scraps after every whistle and no one is getting penalized for it.
Anyway that’s it, I’ll be back after these picks are proven comprehensively perfect to preview round two!