Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens

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Philadelphia has been one of the most impressive teams since this restart and deserved their number one seed earned in the Round Robin. Carter Hart has been lights out in net and has shown a maturity well beyond his years while they have found the net with some ease scoring eleven goals in three games. This has come with captain Claude Giroux failing to register a single point and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere only playing in the final Round Robin game. They have forward depth and are defensively strong… everything you want in a Stanley Cup contender. That is why Vegas betting odds latest update has made them second favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Montreal is coming off the back of a spectacular upset over Philly’s state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins and will fear nobody going into the first round. They will be massive underdogs again which will suit them perfectly. Just like the Penguins series they will need Carey Price to be nothing short of perfect and if veterans Shea Weber and Paul Byron continue their hot streak that would help as well. Weber had four points and a +5 rating over the four-game Pittsburgh series while Byron had four points and a +6 rating. Jesperi Kotkaniemi also had a good series with two goals and a +4 rating which the Canadiens will hope continues.

Montreal did a good job of shutting down the Penguins’ top line for the majority of the series and will need to do the same against the Flyers. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, the Flyers depth is stronger than the Penguins and they will need all four lines to be defensively sound. For the Flyers, it’s all about getting at Carey Price early. The further he goes into games the more comfortable he seems to become so shots quick and early will be a must. It would also help if Claude Giroux can get going points-wise.

Philadelphia Flyers win the series 4-0

Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets

Tampa has problems and Columbus is the one team they didn’t want to face. Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos both could miss game one for the Lightning and while they have seen production from a number of guys including Alex Killorn it’s still not ideal to be missing two key pieces. There’s also the fact Columbus upset the Lightning in the first round last year by sweeping them. That has to be still playing in their minds. Nikita Kucherov will be the go-to person for the Lightning in the absence of Stamkos and Hedman and will look to Killorn and Tyler Johnson for help.

Columbus Blue Jackets will be full of confidence after their game five win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday and rightfully so. They’ll also gain confidence from the Lightning’s list of injuries and their own performance last year against Tampa Bay. Veterans and team leaders Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno will look to set the standard while younger stars like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Liam Foudy will look to stay on coach John Tortorella’s good side. Dubois already got an earful from his coach against Toronto and responded by scoring a hat-trick so maybe he’ll need another one before game one.

I like Tampa and their coach, John Cooper, but I really fear for them in this matchup especially if Stamkos and Hedman can’t go. Columbus plays a tough checking game with no ego’s and try to limit high danger chances whenever possible. I don’t doubt for a second the Lightning would have much preferred to be playing Toronto and could see themselves leaving the bubble if they can’t match the Blue Jackets intensity.

Columbus Blue Jackets win the series 4-2

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders

Credit: Jim McIsaac

Washington underperformed during the Round Robin tournament yet still managed to not end up last. Their prize for that is to face the New York Islanders. The Capitals scored only five goals during the Round Robin games and none of them came from Alex Ovechkin, which could be a good thing should this light a fire in him heading into the first round. In fact, the Russian sniper didn’t even record an assist in the three games played. Defenseman Radko Gudas led the Capitals with two points in three games as they lost to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia before beating Boston. That will worry coach Todd Reirden as he gets to face his former mentor.

The Islanders have the added advantage of Barry Trotz behind the bench leading the way. The coach led the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup in 2018 before leaving for the Islanders and will be hoping Anthony Beauvillier continues his hot streak from the Qualifiers where he put up five points in four games against the Florida Panthers. Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews have also contributed from the back-end with four points in four games while star center Mathew Barzal also put up three points in their series win over the Panthers. The Islanders will head into their clash with the confidence of upsetting the former champions and will be looking to progress further than the second round they reached last year.

I can’t see Ovechkin continuing to struggle and for the Capitals, they will be hoping he breaks out in this series. Brayden Holtby will be the wildcard and if he can return to the 2018 Stanley Cup-winning form the Islanders could be in trouble.

Washington Capitals win the series 4-1

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes

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The fact that Boston swept Carolina last year will add extra spice to this contest, but if Boston thinks they are facing the same team as last year they are in for a big surprise. That’s why the Round Robin tournament was more than a preseason despite what Brad Marchand might think. Of course, that could have something to do with the poor play of Marchand and his linemates Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrňák who have combined for zero goals as of yet. For Boston to get going those three players have to perform and get on the scoreboard while defensively they need to tighten up having let in nine goals in just three games. They will also need better goaltending from Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak who both struggled during the Round Robin. For a pairing once considered the best one-two punch in the NHL their performances failed to live up to the hype with Halak finishing on a .862SV% in his one and only outing while Rask had a .917SV% over his two games.

For Carolina, they need to keep the Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teräväinen line going. They combined for seven of the eleven goals scored in the series sweep of the New York Rangers and combined for fifteen points in three games. There is also the possibility that defenseman Dougie Hamilton could play after returning from a broken fibula he sustained in January. Hamilton had 40 points in 47 games before his injury and has trained the last three days with the Hurricanes despite not taking part in any of the Qualifying games against the New York Rangers. His return could be a huge boost to a Carolina team that is already brimming with confidence.

Boston’s top line is something to fear and for all the right reasons, but Carolina’s top line at this very moment may be even more of a threat. The one advantage Boston will have is the experience that both Marchand and Bergeron bring, but if they continue to play like they did in their three Round Robin games this could be an early exit for the Bruins.

Carolina Hurricanes win the series 4-3

Vegas Golden Knights v Chicago Blackhawks

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Vegas deserved their number one seed and did it all without forward Max Pacioretty, who will be available for their first-round opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. The emergence of young defenseman Zach Whitecloud has also been a bonus for the Golden Knights, but it’s been veterans Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault who have stood out during their Round Robin games. Marc-André Fleury looked shaky during his one outing against the St. Louis Blues despite his team winning. The former Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender let in four goals on only seventeen shots and will probably start behind Robin Lehner who was a deadline day pickup from their first-round opponents.

Chicago shocked the hockey world by beating the Edmonton Oilers. With elite talents like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it shouldn’t have been close and it wasn’t as Chicago won the series 3-1. It doesn’t get any easier for the six-time Stanley Cup Champions. For Chicago to cause another upset it’s absolutely imperative that Jonathan Toews continues to play how he did against the Oilers. Not only did he have seven points but he also had a 55.3% faceoff percentage. This was despite being faced with McDavid’s line for much of the series. His line partner Dominik Kubalik also had an eye-catching display as did young Center Kirby Dach.

I said if Oilers took Chicago lightly they could be leaving the bubble earlier than expected and I’ll say the same for Vegas. This Blackhawks team, while one of the youngest in the playoffs, has the experience needed to cause upsets. Luckily for Vegas, they should have some insight from Lehner who was at Chicago for most of the regular season.

Vegas Golden Knights win the series 4-3

Colorado Avalanche v Arizona Coyotes

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The Avalanche has to improve their Power Play which seems a ridiculous statement given the talent available. It looked great during the final moments of the Round Robin clash with the St Louis Blues when Nazem Kadri scored a buzzer-beater goal, but too many times it has looked uninspiring and failed to produce even a shot on goal. I believe 5-on-5 the Avalanche will have the advantage during this series but a dangerous power-play can only help put the Coyotes under more pressure.

The Arizona Coyotes are the definition of ‘gritty’ hockey, getting into difficult areas and checking hard, but they also have the skill and ability of players like Taylor Hall and Christian Dvorak to compliment that style of play. That is why as an Avalanche fan this game makes me nervous. The Coyotes had a tough Qualifier against the Nashville Predators, winning game four in overtime to advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite some office drama the Coyotes looked focus and determined during all four games and will likely be the same against the Avalanche on Wednesday with Phil Kessel being the wildcard having won the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I just don’t see how any team can stop Nathan MacKinnon right now without using underhanded tactics. That and the fact Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar haven’t got going yet should give Avalanche fans hope. It will be a gritty series but that is why you got a player like Nazem Kadri.

Colorado Avalanche win the series 4-1

Dallas Stars v Calgary Flames

Photo: Michael Ainsworth / AP

While the last-minute comeback and shootout win over the St. Louis Blues will give Dallas some momentum going into the first playoff round they will certainly have to step up their offensive output if they are going to find a way past the Calgary Flames. They struggled with that during the regular season and only the fact they were one of the best defensive teams saved them, which wasn’t the case during the Round Robin as they conceded 10 goals in only three games.

They should have Tyler Seguin back to partner Jamie Benn on the top line, but given their output, during the Round Robin, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Dallas decided to split this tandem up. Seguin failed to put up a single point during the two games he played and ended with a -5 rating while Benn also failed to record any points and ended at a -4 rating. If they start clicking and Joe Pavelski continues to play his game then the Stars have a chance.

Especially with young defensive stud Miro Heiskanen taking another step up in his game, recording four points in the three Round Robin games to lead the Stars in that category. John Klingberg should also help on the back-end after missing game two of the Round Robin against the Colorado Avalanche before returning in the win over the Blues on Sunday.

The Flames averaged four goals a game during their 3-1 series win over the Winnipeg Jets and will need to find a way to continue that going into this first-round game. Sean Monahan has been the main driver of the offense with six points in the four Qualifying games and the Flames will look for their center to continue that form going into the Dallas series.

They will also be looking at Johnny Gaudreau to continue his form from the Jets series where he put up three points and seemed to break his bad luck in the Playoffs. It’ll also help if Matthew Tkachuk can injure one of Dallas’ top point producers in game one (watch out Miro you’ve been warned).

If Dallas tries to go shot for shot with Calgary they will be playing into the Flames hands. Instead, they need to limit shots on Anton Khudobin or Ben Bishop should he return after missing the last two games. This will frustrate the Flames and when they get frustrated they take silly penalties which Dallas can take advantage of, especially having one of the best in the game with Joe Pavelski taking his place in front of the net.

For Calgary, they need to start each game fast and get at the goaltenders. Bishop didn’t look strong in his only game against the Vegas Golden Knights and poor Anton Khudobin got peppered by the Avalanche in a 4-0 loss. They have the firepower to cause an upset but need their big players to come through.

Calgary Flames win the series 4-2

St Louis Blues v Vancouver Canucks

Photo: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY

The Blues never got going during the Round Robin tournament which means they have the harder first round based on seeding by meeting the Vancouver Canucks. Personally, I think that suits the Blues style of scratching and clawing for everything. While Craig Berube will be aware the Canucks will be no easy win he will also be aware that if the Blues play their hard-hitting style of play they should find themselves in round two. Ryan O’Reilly, last year’s Stanley Cup Finals Conn Smythe winner, and David Perron will be the two names the Canucks will look to shut down although the return of Vladimir Tarasenko is also a huge boost for the Blues depth scoring. Goaltender Jordan Binnington will look to return to the form that helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup last year although will be hoping his defense limit the shots he faces, unlike his Round Robin games where he faced 76 shots over two games.

The Canucks will look to utilize the speed and ability of Elias Pettersson while hoping rookie d-man Quinn Hughes stays hot having recorded six points in four games against the Minnesota Wild. The Canucks will also be hoping 25-year-old forward Bo Horvat stays hot having recorded four points in four games including two goals. They will need that production as Tyler Toffoli is still a doubt after injuring himself in game one of the Wild series meaning Loui Eriksson could continue in the side. Vancouver went 2-0-1 against the Blues in the regular season and will be looking to continue that in this best of seven series.

I like the Canucks young core but St Louis grind you down as was evident during last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Championship. I don’t know if the Canucks can handle that over a seven-game series.

St Louis Blues win the series 4-2