With the NHL gearing up for their hub city playoffs, and teams traveling later this week, it's time to make some predictions. After almost five months off what teams will be able to hit the ground running? Another factor is no team will have home ice, not to mention every team is as healthy as they could be. With the round-robin to determine each conference’s top four seeds, getting that order wrong would make the rest of the rounds useless. So with that in mind, a more traditional playoff predictions will be coming after this play-in round. Now let's get to upsetting some fan bases and becoming a few others new favorite writer.
5 Pittsburgh vs 12 Montreal
Let’s kick things off with probably the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins vs the twelfth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. This probably won’t shock anyone but I see the Penguins sweeping this series. After taking the season series 2-1 this is the Penguins time of year. Crosby and Malkin have already told their teammates what this opportunity means and those are two players who when they talk you listen. With stories swirling about how badly Montreal even wanted to be in this playoff format, and even with Price, I see this being a 3-0 sweep and the Penguins move on to the new second round.
6 Carolina vs 11 New York Rangers
The next series is between the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes and the eleventh-seeded New York Rangers. This might surprise some fans after Carolina made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but I see the Rangers taking the series. After winning the season series 4-0 this result starts to look less surprising. The X-factor of the series will be who the Rangers choose as their starting goalie. I see that job going to Igor Shesterkin. With a 10-2 record with a .932 save percentage and a 2.52 goals-against average, his numbers show he is capable of rising to the task. While that is the extent of his NHL experience, the dangerous tandem of Panarin and Zibanejad should be able to score enough to bail him out of trouble. Carolina won't go down without a fight, but the Rangers pull out the victory in five games winning 3-2.
7 New York Islanders vs 10 Florida
Moving on to a matchup of up and coming teams, the seventh-seeded New York Islanders vs the tenth-seeded Florida Panthers. This season series ended in a 3-0 sweep in favor of the Islanders. With that in mind, I think the Islanders continue their domination of the Panthers. With a stifling defensive system and enough offense coming from their stars like Barzal and Lee I don't see the Panthers making out of this one. If Bobrovsky suddenly returns to form that could change, but I still give the edge to the Islanders. While Barkov and Huberdeau will do their best to keep Florida in the series I see it ending in four games 3-1 Islanders.
8 Toronto vs 9 Columbus
The final series is between the eighth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs vs the ninth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets. This is another classic series in the making of the new NHL skill and speed vs the old toughness and grit. With the season series tied 1-1 this could go either way. Columbus and the Leafs both survived some major injuries this season, and now with renewed health will clash for the final second-round spot. Much to the dismay of Bruins fans, I see the Leafs taking the series. With their abundance of offensive firepower, and rested Freddy Anderson in net, it's hard to see the Leafs losing. Columbus makes a series of it but their young goalies don't quite get the job done, losing in five games 3-2.
5 Edmonton vs 12 Chicago
Let’s kick off the West with its most interesting series, the fifth-seeded Edmonton Oilers vs the twelfth-seeded Chicago Blackhawks. The most dominant duo in hockey vs the most dominant team of the 2010s. Even with this likely being Chicago’s last run with this core, the Oilers just have too much speed and skill. While Chicago won the season series 2-1 I think the Oilers are finally ready to make some playoff noise. Chicago will give Edmonton everything they can handle, but in the end just fall short. Edmonton takes this series in five games winning 3-2.
6 Nashville vs 11 Arizona
Next up is the sixth-seeded Nashville Predators vs the eleventh-seeded Arizona Coyotes. Another season series tied at 1-1 this could go either way. However, Arizona has the X-factor of the series in Darcy Kuemper. When healthy Kuemper has been one of the best goalies in the league the last few years. To go along with a healthy Kuemper, Arizona also has a playoff hungry superstar duo with Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel. Kessel has two cups already and knows what it takes to get there. On the other side Hall has only made the playoffs once and will be looking for his first career series win. Nashville has been up and down all season, and I see Arizona winning in four games 3-1.
7 Vancouver vs 10 Minnesota
Now we come to yet another interesting matchup of the seventh-seeded Vancouver Canucks vs the tenth-seeded Minnesota Wild. The Wild took the season series 2-1 and I see them taking this series in another close matchup. With trade rumors swirling around Vancouver I think that is just enough to get the young team off their game. Add on the emergence of Alex Stalock who lead the Wild over the second half of the season going 20-11-4 and Vancouver is in trouble. With some rested vets like Parise, Stall, and Suter I see Minnesota winning the series in five games 3-2.
8 Calgary vs 9 Winnipeg
Finally, we reach the last series between the eighth-seeded Calgary Flames and the ninth-seeded Winnipeg Jets. The Jets won the only game of this season series and I think this series is more of the same. With a rested Connor Hellebuyck in net, I think he dominates this series. While the Jets defense is for sure lacking in high-end talent they have had plenty of time to figure it out. With Hellebuyck showing why he is a Vezina finalist the Jets offense can go to work against the Flames average goaltenders. Even with the intense rivalry I see the Jets dominating from start to finish sweeping the Flames in three games 3-0.
The top four teams from each conference will play in a round robin tournament to determine the top four seeds. In the East it’s the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals. In the west the top four is the St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars, and Colorado Avalanche. For the East seeding I see the Bruins taking the top spot followed by the Flyers at two, the Lightning at three and Capitals as the fourth seed. In the West Colorado takes the top spot followed by Vegas then Dallas, and from first to fourth the St. Louis Blues.
NHL First Round Playoff Predictions Summary
To wrap everything up lets look at the final matchups heading into round two. In the East, we have 1 Boston vs 11 New York Rangers. Followed by 2 Philadelphia vs 8 Toronto. Then we move to 3 Tampa Bay vs 7 New York Islanders. Finally, we finish with an epic matchup 4 Washington vs 5 Pittsburgh. Out West, we start off with 1 Colorado vs 11 Arizona. Then we have 2 Vegas vs 10 Minnesota. Followed by 3 Dallas vs 9 Winnipeg. Finally finishing up with 4 St. Louis vs 5 Edmonton. Obviously, all of these matchups are dependant on the results of the round-robin. With that in mind, my rest of the playoffs predictions will come out after the first round with any updates. The return of sports is right around the corner so keep checking back for all the latest news. As always stay safe and LET’S GO BRUINS!
Featured image courtesy of records.nhl.com.