Series: New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins series in 6 games
The first-round rematch from 2019 will pin two heavy-hitting teams against each other. Both these sides have a pretty good amount of playoff experience as each team has made postseason play the last three seasons. The Islanders are a team that likes to grind out games and keep the score low as they allowed just 128 goals this season (2nd in the league) and are very good at controlling tempo and pace of play. However, they struggled to score at various points this season as they only scored 156 goals (tied for 21st in the league). If the Islanders want any chance they must find depth scoring. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is pretty different as they showed their ability to score this year but could not keep the puck out of their own net at times, they have gotten better with that as of late, however. Pittsburgh made a nice addition at the deadline snagging Jeff Carter from LA to provide more scoring depth. Overall I think Pittsburgh will win this series based on the fact that they have the goal-scoring ability that I can’t see even the Islanders containing for a whole series.
Series: Boston Bruins vs Washington Capitals
Prediction: Boston wins series in 6 games
This series has been described as a blood bath by many leading into Saturday Night’s game 1. The Bruins started the season flaming hot but cooled off during the middle of the season. But ever since acquiring former league MVP Taylor Hall from Buffalo this team looks different. Like the Islanders, the Bruins mainly won games this season powered by good goaltender play and defense but have picked up their goal-scoring production as of late. The Bruins have dealt with injuries and covid throughout this season but seem to be getting healthy at the right time. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals have picked it up as well. At the trade deadline the Caps picked up goal-scoring threat Anthony Mantha from Detroit, and despite paying a heavy price for him, the trade has been worth it. Mantha leads the Caps in points since being acquired and has seemed to provide more skill and offense for that deadly Capitals attack. The big issues for Washington have been in net and on defense, They have alternated goalies between Vitek Vaneck, and Ilya Samsonov this year, and neither have been terrible but have not looked the part as the type of goalie to win a cup. The Bruins exposed the Capitals defense pretty badly in the regular-season series as the Bruins went 4-2-2 against Washington. For me, I say the Bruins win this series as they are the much more balanced team.
Series: Carolina Hurricanes vs Nashville Predators
Prediction: Nashville wins series in 7 games
This is my upset about the playoffs, I believe the Predators will beat the Central Division Champs in round 1. Nashville began the season horribly, after retooling their team this past offseason the team every hockey fan fell in love with within 2017 seems to be playing well again. Nashville, like the Islanders, prefers to keep the game low scoring and flowing through the back end. Nashville is led in the back by Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, two defensemen who take up a lot of space with body and stick. The concern for Nashville will be can they score, as they have nobody on their team with more than 13 goals this season, if my prediction is going to come true they will need some depth forwards to produce points. The Carolina Hurricanes have had a blistering regular season, but they strike me as a playoff blunder for several reasons. First off despite being in the playoffs the past 3 years their core is still really young, Jacob Slavin, Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Brock Mcginn are all examples of this. And after their early exit last year they didn’t make too many changes in key areas such as goaltender, they signed James “rebound” Reimer this offseason but that didn’t change much. I just don’t see this team being that much of a threat, especially if in the next round they have to go through a team like Tampa Bay.
Series: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins series in 7 games
The defending Stanley Cup Champions are back, the Lightning will be looking for their organization’s 3rd Stanley Cup, and once again they have the pieces to do this. The Lightning will be getting back Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for their run it seems as the two have been practicing lately. Tampa Bay truly has it all, terrific defense, scoring, and goaltending. At times this year, their play was inconsistent but I wouldn’t say it ever came close to being considered a Stanley Cup hangover. Standing in Tampa’s way in Round 1 are their in-state rivals the Florida Panthers. Florida really overachieved this season, finishing the year with 79 PTS and 2nd in the Central. The big thing for Florida this year was scoring as they scored 189 goals in 56 games. The Panthers scoring were led by two veterans of the team Alexsander Barkov, and Jonathon Huberdeau who combined for 119 points in 105 games played. The Panthers have also gotten a great boost from three-time Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville. Quenneville has provided a culture change to Florida’s organization and the evidence has been on display on the ice this year. Quenneville knows how to win and that alone will provide a boost for Florida. Ultimately I say Tampa wins this series in Game 7 because of how deep and talented they are, but the Panther’s improvement and their coach’s winning history will play a role.
Series: Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Prediction: Toronto wins series in 5 games
The two Canadien original six franchises have shockingly not played a playoff series against one another since 1979. I expect Toronto to win this series pretty easily as I just don’t think Montreal has the collective pieces to stop Toronto from scoring consistently. Toronto has changed things up defensively from last year and has even found a new great goaltender in Jack Campbell. Montreal is a good team but I see this series coming down to strictly talent and Montreal just can’t compete with Toronto in that regard.
Series: Winnipeg Jets vs Edmonton Oilers
Prediction: Edmonton wins in 5 games
The other North division series features a lot of star power on both sides, Conor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Conor Hellebuyck, Kyle Connor, and more are all featured in this series. However Edmonton I think will win this series smoothly. Edmonton boasts a deadly attack that Winnipeg’s defense could not handle during the regular season even with last year’s Vezina winner in the net. Winnipeg scuffled their way into the playoffs going 2-10-0 in their last 12, and Edmonton meanwhile is 12-4-0 in their last 16. Winnipeg I believe will have the same problems as the Canadiens, which will be the inability to stop the star power of the opposition.
Series: St. Louis Blues vs Colorado Avalanche
Prediction: Colorado wins in 6 games
This series will come down to the wire. These two teams were pretty evenly matched throughout the season series head to head but St. Louis struggled in the middle part of the year. The big problem with the Blues has been defense and goaltending, out of all the teams in the playoffs St. Louis gave up the most goals this season (170). This got better towards the end of the year as St. Louis beat a lot of good teams but I’m not sure they will be able to stop Colorado’s attack. The President’s trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche had another great regular season. They had three players put up 50+ points and improved defensively as well. I still worry about their goaltender situation but they acquired Devin Dubnyk at the trade deadline so that should help. Ultimately I have to pick the Avalanche to win this series because they overpower the Blues offensively and now without long-time captain Alex Pietrangelo I’m not sure if they can stop it.
Series: Minnesota Wild vs Vegas Golden Knights
Prediction: Vegas wins series in 6 games
These are two teams who played above expectations this season, Especially Minnesota as they just a short while ago were entering a rebuild but they have made impressive strides and are now among an elite group of teams. The thing that impresses me most about this team is depth point production, this season they had 12 players put up 21 points or more. They don’t really have a go-to scorer which can be a good or bad thing but with the way they have scored all year it seems to not be an issue, it will be interesting to see if their depth scoring can continue against a really good defensive side in Vegas. The Wild also got surprising production out of veteran goalie Cam Talbot in his first year with the club, Talbot posted a .915 SV% and 2.63 GAA. Cam will have to be that strong again if Minnesota wants a shot at this series win. On the other side, Vegas had yet another strong regular season, in the team’s short history they still are yet to miss postseason action and are poised for another deep run. Vegas made the biggest signing of the offseason last year, getting former Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and he has been excellent as usual on the defensive end. The team this season rode on the back of Marc-Andre Fleury in the net as he was terrific posting a .928 SV% and an incredible 1.98 GAA. Veterans Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty have led the team offensively with a combined 112 points. If Vegas can stick to their guns and limit the Wild depth scoring they should win this series comfortably.