It is that time of year! The most entertaining part of the NHL season has arrived. As the playoffs are soon to begin, it’s time to make some playoff matchup picks.
MassMutual East Division
Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders
It’s hard to bet against Barry Trotz in the playoffs and it’s even harder to bet against Sidney Crosby in the playoffs. The Penguins have been firing on all cylinders this season and have proved many people wrong this season. Evgeni Malkin returning from injury only bolsters this roster more and I believe they’ll be too much for the Islanders to handle. With Captain Anders Lee out for the season, the Islanders lack offense as they are currently one of the only teams without a 20 goal scorer this season. Seymoy Varlamov will make things interesting, but I have Pittsburgh winning vs the Islanders in six.
Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins
This series could get ugly quickly. With guys like Tom Wilson, Brad Marchand, and many other physical players on both sides, this will be a very hard-fought series. However, a big problem is the Capitals injury bug appearing at the wrong time. Alex Ovechkin is set to return along with Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. Whether they are 100% healthy will not be known until the playoffs kick-off, but it is likely the Bruins will send many checks their way over this series. Along with that, there’s the Evgeni Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov COVID-19 situation — adding to the external factors that could influence the series. With all of this drama going on for Washington and how great Boston is playing, it seems Boston has the upper hand. The Bruins are buzzing on all facets and they should be able to take care of the Capitals in six games.
In the second round, Boston has more reliable goaltending and being having a stronger defense than the Penguins. The Bruins should be able to pull away from the Pens in seven games because of this and continue to ride their elite 5-on-5 scoring as well.
Scotia Bank North Division
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens
The two teams are set to play each other for the first time since 1979 in an underrated matchup. Brendan Gallagher, Shea Weber, and Carey Price are all set to play for the Canadiens which will spark their competition on the rink. However, many wonder if that will be enough. Playoff Carey Price can certainly steal a game or two, but can he steal a series? The answer is likely no. It’s hard to pick the Maple Leafs after their recent playoffs disappointment, but nonetheless the Leafs should win in six.
Edmonton Oilers vs Winnipeg Jets
A series that was supposed to be a thrilling matchup looks now to be a cake walk for Edmonton due to the past few weeks. The Jets have been exposed as a team that relies too heavily on Connor Hellebuyck and when he isn’t on his A+++ game, the team will collapse. Losing Nikolaj Ehlers also hurts them as well and it’ll be very hard to shut down Connor McDavid. Barring a collapse from Mike Smith the Oilers should cruise past the Jets in five.
In a matchup vs the Oilers and Leafs, it is going to come down to which team can limit the opponents firepower. Although you can’t stop McDavid or Matthews, that will be the key. This year seems to be the year Connor McDavid can make it past the second round, Oilers in a very thrilling seven games.
Discover Central Division
Carolina Hurricanes vs Nashville Predators
The Predators have had an up and down season. However, Juuse Saros has been unstoppable since February and has been the sole reason why the Predators and in the playoffs. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, have been great all season. Their defense and offense have been the best in the league this year. Who starts in net is another question for the Hurricanes, but it shouldn’t matter too much as Mrazek, Reimer, and Nedeljkovic have all been great in net. Saros and the Predators will put up a good fight, but the Hurricanes will pull away at the end in seven games.
Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning
The highly anticipated battle of Florida is here, and the atmosphere will feel like seven home games for both sides. Florida has finally broken out as a playoff contender, and look to make a deep cup run this season. On the other side there’s the Lightning — who are trying to defend the Stanley Cup and go back-to-back. With both teams healthy the series seems to tilt towards Tampa Bay, but they have quite the injury bug. It’s unforeseen whether Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos will be 100% healthy for the matchup. It has also been passed around that perennial Norris candidate Victor Hedman is dealing with an injury that will require surgery in the offseason. Vasilevskiy stands on his head and the depth steps up for Tampa, but Florida is too much and wins in seven.
The Hurricanes are playing the best hockey of late and will continue that versus Florida in the following series. Both teams have plenty of offensive and defensive firepower. Florida will make it interesting, but the Canes will prevail in six games.
Honda West Division
Colorado Avalanche vs St. Louis Blues
St. Louis has had an underwhelming season. Losing captain Alex Pietrangelo was a massive hole to fill, and with the team missing Vladimir Tarasenko for the majority of the season, it’s been tough for the Blues to find some consistency in their game. Luckily, they are in the Honda West Division and were able to still secure a spot in the playoffs. This berth will be short lived though as their regular central division foe will steamroll the Blues in five. The Avalanche have been on a mission this season to finally win the cup. Their recent five-game win streak just shows how well they mesh as a team. They won’t have trouble with the Blues and as mentioned prior will take the series in five games.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild
The Wild certainly have the makes of an potential first round upset. They’ve actually had the Knights number this season winning five of their last six matchups. However much of the Wild’s success will come down to Cam Talbot and whether or not he can steal a game or two for the Wild. The Golden Knights have much more playoff experience than the Wild do and should be able to win the series. The Wild have shown to be a speedy and gritty team, so they won’t go down easy. It will be a hard fought series for sure, but Vegas will pull away in seven games.
In the most anticipated playoff matchup this season, the Avalanche will battle the Knights to see who will continue their Stanley cup aspirations. A big factor will be whether or not the Avalanche can stay healthy. In the past few seasons, the only thing that’s hindered the team is injuries and they will need to stay healthy if they want a chance at the Stanley Cup. Although the Golden Knights will be tired from a long series vs the Wild, their full barn at home will be a huge factor in their 7 game series win.
Final 4 matchups and Stanley Cup Predictions
With the 4 teams, Boston, Vegas, Carolina, Edmonton coming out of their respective divisions, the semifinals would be reseeded as the following:
Semifinal 1: Vegas vs Edmonton
Semifinal 2: Carolina vs Boston
Both series will be very entertaining. The Golden Knights home crowd vs no fans for Edmonton will hinder the Oilers cup run. The Knights stingy game plan is just enough against Connor McDavid, and the Knights take the series in six. On the other side of the bracket, two extremely hot teams will face off. Tuuka Rask will come up with numerous big saves and be the deciding factor in this series. The Hurricanes have a very bright future, but fall to the B’s in seven.
Stanley Cup Finals
It all comes down to this. Both teams are elite in their own ways. Vegas plays a muggy game while Boston can play up tempo. It will be the perfect balance of high caliber special teams and great goaltending. In a series that can go either way, the Bruins avenge their Game 7 Stanley Cup Final loss in 2019 to the St. Louis Blues, and pull off the upset in seven games.