The First Round of the NHL Playoffs has concluded and for the first time since 2017 none of the eight series went to a game seven. The higher seeded team won six out of the eight playoff matchups with the exceptions being the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks. All eight teams that remain each have a legitimate shot at raising Lord Stanley’s Cup and it is expected to be a dogfight to the finish. Hockey fans around the world are in for a thrilling Second Round and beyond.
#6 New York Islanders vs #1 Philadelphia Flyers
The New York Islanders predictably defeated the Florida Panthers in four games during the Qualifying Round, but surprisingly steamrolled over the Washington Capitals in five games to advance to the Second Round. The Philadelphia Flyers were arguably the hottest team in the NHL at the time of the stoppage and kept their hot streak going in the Round Robin going 3-0 and clinching the #1 seed in the East. After defeating the Montreal Canadiens in a physical six game series, the Flyers will have their hands full with the Islanders.
My matchup to watch this series is the Islanders defensive style vs the Flyers fast offensive attack. This series is extremely unique because the Flyers can play multiple different styles ranging from a full offensive attack to a lockdown defensive type game. The Islanders have got the necessary scoring to compliment their defensive style so far in these playoffs. This will be an extremely interesting series to watch and I would not be surprised if it went the full seven games.
Prediction: New York wins in 7 games
#4 Boston Bruins vs #2 Tampa Bay Lightning
The Boston Bruins entered the bubble as the best team in hockey but proceeded to go 0-3 in Round Robin play. Just when it looked like the Bruins were down and out, they whipped back into form to complete multiple comeback victories and defeat the surging Carolina Hurricanes in five games.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had a chance to avenge their stunning 2019 First Round loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in this year’s First Round matchup. The Lightning came through and won a close series in a wild five games. Tampa likes to play fast and they have a chip on their shoulder from the past few Postseasons.
My matchup to watch in this series is between the top lines for each team. Boston vs Tampa has become almost an annual playoff matchup, just as Washington and Pittsburgh usually is, and the rivalry has continued to intensify. Boston’s line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand won the Bruins their opening series, while Tampa Bay’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov were pivotal in the Lightning’s success against Columbus.
I expect this series to be a gritty, nasty, and physical matchup that will leave the winner exhausted, but confident.
Prediction: Tampa Bay wins in 6 games
#5 Vancouver Canucks vs #1 Vegas Golden Knights
The Canucks shocked the defending champions by taking them down in six games to win their First Round series. Vancouver has been gaining momentum throughout the Qualifying and First Rounds and are becoming this seasons underdog that everyone is rooting for.
The Golden Knights are a machine. Since entering the bubble, Vegas is 7-1 and are running a two-goalie system with Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes. This is a very intriguing matchup as the Canucks are a few years ahead of schedule and the Knights are quietly putting together an impressive bubble performance.
My matchup to watch in this series is the elite goaltending game between Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom and Vegas’ Lehner and Fleury. All three goalies have been fantastic throughout the Postseason and are capable of stealing games for their team. Another interesting matchup to watch will be how the Canucks’ young core handles the pressure of each passing game compared to how Vegas’ veteran leadership is able to overcome adversity throughout the series.
Prediction: Vegas wins in 6 games
#3 Dallas Stars vs #2 Colorado Avalanche
The Stars got the job done in their First Round matchup with the Calgary Flames, but it was not pretty. Dallas blew multiple leads, mounted improbable comebacks, and were able to get scoring from every part of their lineup in their six-game series win.
The Avalanche played their first three games against the Coyotes extremely tight but woke up to blow Arizona out 7-1 in games four and five. Colorado flexed their muscles with above average goaltending and scoring from both their elite first line and a slew of their defensemen.
My matchup to watch in this series is Dallas’ defense against Colorado’s deadly first line. It will also be interesting to see if Dallas continues to fall into early holes because it will be much harder to claw themselves out against the Avalanche than it was against the Flames.
Another player to watch is Denis Gurianov who tallied 5 points (4 goals and 1 assist) in Dallas’ series-clinching game against Calgary. He now has six goals inside the bubble and has been an unlikely source of productivity for the Stars. That being said, I believe Colorado’s balanced plan of attack will be too much for Dallas to handle in a seven-game series.
Prediction: Colorado wins in 5 games
Predicted Conference Finals Matchups
#6 New York Islanders vs #2 Tampa Bay Lighting
#2 Colorado Avalanche vs #1 Vegas Golden Knights