One of the best events of the year is here, as the puck will drop tonight and the Stanley Cup playoffs will begin. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but let’s get into predictions for the opening round. You can also check out the ranking of the first-round playoff matchups for the best series to watch.
Minnesota Wild (C3) vs. Winnipeg Jets (C2)
They had the second-most points in the league this season, but unfortunately because of the NHL’s playoff format, the Jets must play the Wild instead of a wild card team. This Canada vs. Minnesota battle could be one where the home crowds both get crazy, but it’s hard to top Minnesota’s (AKA The State of Hockey) atmosphere—which could give the Wild an advantage there. However, the Jets are one of the hottest teams in the NHL heading into the postseason, and they should be able to win against an injury-plagued Wild squad.
Prediction: Jets in six
Philadelphia Flyers (M3) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (M2)
Flyers versus Penguins is a highly-anticipated matchup for a reason. The series should go six or seven games, which would lead to the ultimate edge-of-your seat excitement. Obviously, there is a lot of star power on both sides in this one, but it might come down to the play of the goaltenders. The Flyers have three capable options in Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek; while the Penguins have the Stanley Cup-winning Matt Murray. Pittsburgh swept Philadelphia during the regular season series, but they could be fatigued after going all the way the last two seasons.
Prediction: Flyers in seven
Los Angeles Kings (WC1) vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights (P1)
The hype for this series is very high, and deservedly so. The first regular season for the Golden Knights could not have gone much better, and it’ll be cool to see the expansion team host its first playoff game at home in Vegas. The LA Kings should have a good shot at spoiling the fun, though. Jonathan Quick in the playoffs is a major weapon, and the Kings’ defense might give the aggressive Golden Knights some trouble. But Marc-Andre Fleury is pretty good too, and he should do a nice job against the scoring opportunities of LA.
Prediction: Golden Knights in six
New Jersey Devils (WC2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (A1)
At first glance, I believed the Lightning wouldn’t have much trouble with the Devils this series, but New Jersey took all three matchups this season. They were all one-goal games, though, so Tampa Bay shouldn’t be too worried. However, as is the case with all these games, the puck can just bounce a certain way in a team’s favor. Also, it’s worth noting that Steven Stamkos might not be 100% for the playoffs, but I expect we won’t notice he’s having any issues. The Lightning are just too deep and good to get knocked out in the first round.
Prediction: Lightning in five
Toronto Maple Leafs (A3) vs. Boston Bruins (A2)
Leafs and Bruins is a borderline rivalry, so this one should be exciting. Toronto took three of four from Boston this season, scoring four goals twice. The two teams have the second and third best goal differentials in the Eastern Conference (+56 for Boston and +45 for Toronto), and every game is likely to be high scoring. In the end, I expect the Maple Leafs to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Maple Leafs in seven
Columbus Blue Jackets (WC1) vs. Washington Capitals (M1)
The Capitals are heading into the postseason as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. That, combined with the expectations not being quite as high this year, could be just what they need as they look to finally win the Stanley Cup. Alex Ovechkin will be the best player on the ice, and he’s on the better team, so the Capitals should survive the first round.
Prediction: Capitals in five
Colorado Avalanche (WC2) vs. Nashville Predators (C1)
The Predators were awarded the Presidents’ Trophy and are my Stanley Cup favorite. Nashville has a great home crowd, great players, and they have played the best hockey of anyone in the NHL since the start of the postseason last year. Now, it’s time for them to win a title, and it starts in the first round. The Avalanche will certainly give it a shot, but they have the toughest draw in round one.
Prediction: Predators in five
San Jose Sharks (P3) vs. Anaheim Ducks (P2)
East Coasters might not have the capacity to stay up for these late West Coast starts, but the all-California matchup between San Jose and Anaheim should be a thrill to watch. The Ducks come into the playoffs as the hottest team in the Pacific Division, but they are dealing with injuries—including to Cam Fowler, who could miss this entire series. San Jose’s acquisition of Evander Kane in February has worked out thus far, and now they’ll see if it pays off in the playoffs as they look to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years. This series is a toss-up more so than any other, but I’ll take the healthier team.
Prediction: Sharks in seven