We have finally made it to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After nearly a five-month pause to the season and a crazy qualifying round, we are here. Who would have thought back in March Montreal, Chicago, and Arizona would be here too? Like I said a crazy qualifying round. If you would like to feel better about your picks here are my picks from the qualifying round and the round-robin. Now let's get to picking who we think is winning their first-round matchups.
1 Vegas vs 8 Chicago
The Vegas Golden Knights won the season series two games to one. While Chicago took it to the Oilers Vegas is a much more complete team from top to bottom. On offense, Vegas holds a clear advantage over Chicago. Even with Toews, Kane, Debrincat, and Kubalik Chicago just don't have the weapons to match up with Vegas. On defense Vegas clearly takes the advantage when it comes to the defense. With a top-four of Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Alec Martines, and Brayden McNabb Chicago could struggle to get things going offensively. Finally in net once again Vegas comes out on top. Even with Crawford back healthy the tandem of Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury is probably the best in the league. If one of them isn't getting the job done Vegas can confidently turn the net over to the other and not miss a beat. With all that factored in, I see Vegas winning this series in five games.
2 Colorado vs 7 Arizona
These teams split their season series each winning a game. This time starting with the goalies Arizona has a clear advantage with Raanta and Kuemper. Kuemper has been one of the top goalies in the league since arriving in Arizona but his inability to stay healthy has held him and the team back. Moving to offense Colorado easily holds the advantage here. Yes, Arizona has Hall, Kessel, and Keller but Colorado has one of the best top lines in hockey and now has some impressive depth with Kadri, Burakovski, Donskoi, and Jost. On defense, it's a pretty even battle but the edge goes to the youth of Colorado. With Makar becoming a star in the league and veterans like Erik Johnson and Ian Cole for leadership it's a formidable group. With all that said I give this series to Colorado in six games. Arizona steals a game with their stars on offense and a game because of their goalie but just doesn't have enough to push them over the edge.
3 Dallas vs 6 Calgary
Surprisingly Dallas actually lost this season series two games to one. Looking at the defense I'm going to give the edge to Calgary. Even with Klingberg, Lindell, and Heiskanen Calgary is a more complete group top to bottom. With names like Giordano, Hanifin, Brodie, and Gustafsson Calgary takes the early advantage. On offense, while the stars have struggled all year they still have the better top talent and depth. Sequin, Benn, Radulov, Pavelski, Perry, and Gurianov that's an impressive group who all couldn't score more than 50 points in the regular season. The pause might be just what they needed to break that year-long funk. Now in net Dallas really let's Calagary away. While Talbot has played great so far the Jets did lose two of their best forwards in game one of that series. Dallas has a perennial Vezina finalist in Bishop and one of the best backups in Khudobin. I think the Flames put up a good fight but Dallas walks away with the victory in six games.
4 St. Louis vs 5 Vancouver
While the Blues are winless since returning to play they are still the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Blues easily take the early lead looking at the forward group. While the Canucks have their own stars in Petterson, Boeser, Miller, and Horvat the Blues forward group is solid from top to bottom. On defense, the Blues really start to pull away with names like Pietrangelo, Parayko, Dunn, and Faulk it's not all that close even with Hughes on the other side. In goal is where the Canucks start making some noise. I actually give the advantage to Markstrom who might have been Vancouver’s MVP this season. On the other side, Binnington was no better than average even getting outplayed by Allen when he was on the net. Unfortunately, the goalie advantage isn't enough to push Vancouver into the next round and the Blues take the series in six games.
1 Philadelphia vs 8 Montreal
The Flyers might be the hottest team since the return to play going against probably the biggest surprise playoff team in Montreal. The Flyers hold the advantage between the forward groups with both superior top-end talent and depth. Montreal makes it close on defense with an impressive top pair of Weber and Petry but the Flyers again have better depth and take this category as well. As with almost every matchup Montreal takes the goalie battle. When Price is at his best he is the best goalie in the league it's just the team in front of him often prevents him from playing his best. Even with top form Price, the Flyers will overwhelm Montreal and this is the first sweep. Flyers in four and the most improbable Cinderella run of this Stanley Cup Playoffs are over.
2 Tampa Bay vs 7 Columbus
In a rematch of last year's most, surprising Stanley Cup Playoffs series Tampa looks to avenge their loss to Columbus. This series comes down a lot less to the matchups on paper than any other. Just looking at these teams even without Stamkos and possibly Hedman Tampa still holds clear advantages in their forward and defensive groups. In net Columbus probably takes that battle with Vasilevskiy looking more like a product of a great team than his own great talent.
I'm going to give this prediction early and say Columbus in seven. The Blue Jackets just had a five-game series against the Tampa lite Toronto Maple leaves. While Tampa has the far better defense they are both loaded with offensive talent and Columbus shut the Leafs down. Their defensive system was built to beat teams like this. Yes, Tampa addressed their lack of grit at the deadline but Coleman and Goodrow hardly compare to the waves of physical play the Blue Jackets will throw at them. Add on an injured Hedman and I think the Blue Jackets just edge out the win in seven games.
3 Washington vs 6 New York
These teams actually split their season series winning two games each. On offense, the Capitals have the star power while the Islanders have some impressive depth. I'm going to give the edge to the Islanders with three lines capable of scoring in bunches. On defense, the advantage would go to the Capitals but the loss of star John Carlsson really hurts them. Again while the Islanders don't have to stand out talent their depth gives them the advantage once again. In net, I'm going Islanders all the way. Varlamov had a great season for them and while he might not equal top form Holtby it's been a few years since he was that good consistently. The biggest factor leading me to pick the Islanders is their coach. Barry Trotz coached the Capitals to their Stanley Cup win and if anyone knows how to beat them it's him. The Islanders take this series in six.
4 Boston vs 5 Carolina
Being a Bruins writer I've already covered this series rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Final in this article. But let's break it down since we are here. The Bruins hold the advantage on offense with a better top line and superior depth scoring. On defense, it's a closer battle. With Hamilton suffering another injury back in July and his status in question, the Bruins come out on top. Finally, in net, it's not very close Rask is one of the best goalies in the league. While Reimer and Mrazek have looked great so far they are career average goalies and the weakest link of that Hurricanes team. The Bruins might drop game one after a very slow return but bounce back and win in six.
There you have it all my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Feel free to comment on what you agree with and more likely disagree with. I would love to see your predictions as well. I will be doing an article like this for each round going more in-depth each round with fewer matchups to talk about. As always stay safe out there and LET’S GO BRUINS!!
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