Congratulations to the eight teams for making it this far. The first step is complete, but now the real work begins. For 15 teams, the dream will not happen this year. No team wants to go home in the first round, but for four teams, all that hard work during the regular season will mean nothing. Let’s take a look at which teams should make it to the next round.
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Tampa Bay Lightning Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Prediction: Tampa Bay in 3 (ok, maybe 4)
We knew that the team finishing in eighth would have to play Tampa Bay in the first round, and we all knew that they would get destroyed. The Blue Jackets were aggressive at the trade deadline, adding Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, but that didn’t make them a better team. Sergei Bobrovsky carried this team on his back in March, but he’s not going to be able to carry them to the next round. Tampa Bay has three 40-goal scorers on their team, a deadly power play, a very good defence and an elite goaltender. I just don’t see how Columbus can get past this team.
Boston Bruins Vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Prediction: Boston in 7
The Toronto Maple Leafs must once again go through Boston to make it to the next round, and once again, they won’t be able to get past them. The Leafs are a really good hockey team, but the Bruins are a different team come playoff time. They just go to another level.
The Leafs have the depth to score goals, but the problem is keeping the puck out of their own net. Frederik Andersen has not been good down the stretch, and the Leafs need him to be their best player every night. Their defence is also part of the problem. On paper, the Bruins have a much better group of defencemen than Toronto. Jake Muzzin and Jake Gardiner will both be ready for the playoffs, but even with those two back and healthy, the Bruins defence is still better.
Toronto will still give Boston a run for their money. John Tavares had himself an amazing season and Auston Matthews is still one of the best players in the game. Add in Mitch Marner and an effective William Nylander, and you have yourself a lot of scoring power. It’s going to be key for Tuukka Rask to be just as good in the playoffs as he was during the regular season. If he can’t hold down the fort, then we may see the Maple Leafs move onto the next round, but as of right now, that doesn’t seem likely.
Despite all that, this Toronto team is a much better version of what they were the last time they faced Boston, and that series went to seven games. It’s going to be very tight series, but in the end, Boston should come out on top.
Washington Capitals Vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Prediction: Washington in 5
There is a lot of love going around for the Carolina Hurricanes and I’m just not buying into it. They’ve played very well this season, but can they really get past the defending Stanley Cup champions?
I understand why some people might think Carolina can get past Washington. They finished 8th this season in GA/GP (2.70), which is on par with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They also allowed just 28.6 SA/GP, good for third fewest in the league. If they can hold the Capitals to under 30 shots on goal per game and get some good goaltending from whoever starts, they might have a chance to make it to the next round.
The real question mark is– Who is starting for the Hurricanes? There’s a good chance that we see Petr Mrazek get the start in game one for Carolina. He finished the season with a 2.39 GAA and a .917 SV%. Those are some pretty respectable numbers, but are we really going to start betting on Petr Mrazek? Can he be just as good for seven games against a team lead by the greatest goalscorer in the modern era?
The Capitals do have some work to do if they want to get past Carolina. For starters, they need Braden Holtby to be better in the playoffs. His 2.81 GAA and .911 SV% isn’t going to cut it. I do believe that he can step his game up and be elite, and that starts with the Capitals playing better team defence. They are the defending champions, so they know exactly what needs to be done to win.
The Capitals should be able to get past the Hurricanes relatively easily, but they need to correct a couple of things in order for it to become a reality.
New York Islanders Vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Prediction: New York in 7
All season, people have been waiting for the Islanders to come back down to earth a be a terrible hockey team. They lost John Tavares over the summer and finished 22nd in GF/GP, but Barry Trotz came in and decided that they were going to make the playoffs by playing exceptional team defence, and that’s exactly what happened. They finished 1st in GA/GP (2.33) and 12th in SA/GP. They were lead by both Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, who has career years. I want to believe that the Penguins will be able to get past the Islanders, but it just doesn’t seem possible.
The Islanders aren’t going to outscore the Penguins, they are going to need to beat them with defence. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the best players on the planet, and it will be key for the Islanders to shut them down. Let’s not forget that they also have to deal with Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang. It’s a tough task to ask any team to limit that much talent over seven games, but I really do believe that this New York team can do it.
One factor that could change this series is Matt Murray. He had a terrible start to the season, but was able to turn it around and finish with a respectable 2.69 GAA and a .919 SV%. He is the key to the Penguins making it to the next round. If he can play at the same level as Lehner or Greiss, then the Penguins will make it to the next round.
On the other side, the Islanders need to find a way to score goals. Pittsburgh gave up the sixth most shots during the season (33.3) and were league average in GA/GP (2.90). The Islanders can win this series by containing that deadly Pittsburgh power play, but that will be quite the task. New York was 18th on the penalty kill this season (79.9%), while the Penguins finished 5th on the power play (24.6%). If they can contain the Penguins’ power play and capitalize on their chances, then they can move onto the next round.
It’s going to be a fun series to watch, and who advances to the next round is still very much undecided, but if I had to put money on one team making it to the next round, I would go with the Islanders.