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Predicting the First Round of the NHL Playoffs

The NHL Qualifying Round has come to a close and it did not disappoint. There was only one sweep in a Qualifying Round that was chalked full of upsets. In addition to an exciting Qualifying Round, the Round Robin section of the NHL’s restart was unbelievably unpredictable. All eight first round matchups have now been set and the NHL Playoffs will officially start. 

Eastern Conference

#1 Philadelphia Flyers vs #8 Montreal Canadiens 

The Canadiens pulled the biggest upset in the Qualifying Round as they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games. The Canadiens used both their speed and physicality to defeat the heavily favorited Penguins. If the Canadiens can continue to play inspired hockey, then they can be a dangerous sleeper team moving forward.

The Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL at the time of the Coronavirus stoppage and they continued their fantastic play in the Round Robin. Philadelphia breezed through their first three games on the back of strong defensive play and sharp goaltending. The Flyers have put themselves into the conversation to be the best team in the league and are co-favorites to win the 2020 Stanley Cup.

The Canadiens need to stay physical and find a way to stop the Flyers offense. The Flyers need to stick to their game and not play down to the Canadiens’ level of inferior play.

Prediction: Philadelphia wins in 5 games

#2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs #7 Columbus Blue Jackets 

The Blue Jackets defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the only five-game series of the Qualifying Round. The Jackets showed that they can hang with the best-of-the-best as they swept Tampa in last year’s first round series. Columbus relies on the goaltending tandem of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo as well as a balanced scoring attack.

The Lightning are looking for revenge after being ousted by the Jackets last year. Tampa Bay is stacked from top to bottom with household names like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Mikhail Sergachev. The Bolts are primed to break through and win the Stanley Cup at some point…why not this season?

The Blue Jackets will need to repeat their miraculous heroics of the 2019 Playoffs and focus on their balanced style of play to win this series. The Lightning cannot get caught up in the events of last spring and focus on stretching Columbus’ defense to create scoring chances for their offense.

Prediction: Tampa Bay wins in 7 games

#3 Washington Capitals vs #6 New York Islanders

The Islanders played their defensive style during their Qualifying Round matchup against the Florida Panthers. Head coach Barry Trotz will now face his former employer in the Washington Capitals. New York is a team to watch throughout their stay in Playoffs because they have the ability to shutdown a team for enough time to win any series.

The Capitals looked mediocre in the Round Robin but will try to flip the switch this week against the Islanders. A team with Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov should be able to break through the Islander blueline, but it will not be easy.

The Islanders need to stick to their defensive scheme, but more importantly, they need to get enough scoring to win. The Capitals need to solve New York’s defensive scheme and maintain solid goaltending to win the series.

Prediction: New York wins in 7 games

#4 Boston Bruins vs #5 Carolina Hurricanes 

The Hurricanes swept the New York Rangers in the Qualifying Round in an impressive showing. Carolina appears to be able to manufacture a deep run in this year’s postseason with a combination of explosive offense and a solid goaltending tandem. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen will look to continue their stellar play against Boston in the first round.

The Boston Bruins won the President’s Trophy for being the best team in the regular season but went 0-3 in the Round Robin. Boston needs to find their groove before it is too late as they are facing the hottest team coming out of the Qualifying Round. The Bruins will not last long in the Playoffs if they cannot score.

The Hurricanes need to play within themselves and continue to get production from their top six forwards. The Bruins simply need to figure out how to score again. Although this is easier said than done, Boston is a team that can flip their offensive switch in an instant.

Prediction: Carolina wins in 5 games

Western Conference

#1 Vegas Golden Knights vs #8 Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks were the second 12-seed to win their Qualifying Round matchup as they defeated the Edmonton Oilers in four games. The Blackhawks are a dangerous mix of veteran experience and young talent. This combination can give Chicago a leg-up on during their playoff run.

Vegas defeated the Colorado Avalanche in the final Round Robin game to clinch the #1 overall seed in the West. The Golden Knights scored 15 total goals in three games in addition to 227 regular season tallies. Led by Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Alex Tuch, the Knights have propelled themselves into being co-favorites to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The Blackhawks need to continue to spread out their scoring among both their veteran leaders and rookie contributors. The Golden Knights need to find consistency on defense, while remaining potent on the offensive side of the game.

Prediction: Vegas wins in 6 games

#2 Colorado Avalanche vs #7 Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes upset Nashville by winning their qualifying series in four games. Arizona is anchored by young goaltender Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper had a breakout season and when coupled with a balanced scoring attack, Arizona can string together a long winning streak.

Colorado has been somewhat of a wire-to-wire favorite in the Western Conference this season. With a high-powered goaltending tandem and an extremely deep group of skaters, the Avalanche are a scary team to face. The Avalanche also have arguably the best and most productive first line in hockey that includes Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen.

The Coyotes need Darcey Kuemper to somehow be even better than he was in the Qualifying Round if they are going to topple the mighty Av’s. Colorado needs to simply use their depth and star-power to overwhelm the Coyotes defensive if they want to win the series.

Prediction: Colorado wins in 5 games

#3 Dallas Stars vs #6 Calgary Flames

The Flames responded to the relentless Winnipeg attacks in the Qualifying Round to advance in four games. Calgary is anchored by the first defensive combination of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie and led upfront by elite goal-scoring talent Johnny Gaudreau. The Flames are a team that can make a deep run in the playoffs if they are able to get secondary scoring from their bottom six forwards.

The Stars quietly played themselves into the top four of the West and earned themselves the #3 seed. Goaltender Ben Bishop has guided Dallas into a favorable position as he was able to rescue the Stars offense when they were unable to produce. 

The Flames need to continue their relentless offensive attack and cannot become flustered by Bishop’s stellar play. The Stars need to get their offense going as they only scored 180 regular season goals this year.

Prediction: Flames win in 6 games

#4 St. Louis Blues vs #5 Vancouver Canucks 

The Canucks are one of the most young and exciting teams in the NHL. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes lead Vancouver back to the Postseason for the first time in five years. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom was solid in net this season with a 2.75 goals against average and will need to continue this success if the Canucks want to win their first-round matchup.

The Blues came into the Round Robin as the best team in the West, yet they failed to win any of their three games. Despite this, St. Louis is still a major favorite to win the Stanley Cup and need to be treated seriously by their opponents. Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Binnington, and company should not have a major issue with advancing to the second round.

The Canucks will need top notch performances up-and-down the roster if they want to defeat the mighty Blues. St. Louis needs to stick to their guns and get yet another elite playoff performance from their goaltender.

Prediction: Blues win in 5 games

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