NHL Round 1 Playoff Preview
Published: Tuesday, Apr 24th 2018, 6:04 am
By: Stephen Safinuk (@Safimod)
***Before I get started, like Greg and Alex before me, I want to pass along my condolences to all those who have been affected by the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy on Friday night in Saskatchewan. My heart aches for those parents who lost sons, and those families who lost brothers, husbands, and friends. It’s been a difficult period here at home, but my heart is moved by the way the world has come together over the past few days. I get tears in my eyes when I see images of sticks left out for the players, mics/headsets left out for Tyler Bieber, and score sheets left out for Brody Hinz. ***
After a long, long NHL season, the playoffs are upon us. 16 teams vying for the opportunity to lift Lord Stanley’s Mug high above their heads, but only one will be successful. Let’s take a quick look at all 8 1st round series.
Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh begins their run for a 3rd consecutive run against the Flyers in the battle of Pennsylvania. This series will be an offensive onslaught, with 4 of the top 10 scorers from the regular season in this series (Giroux, Malkin, Kessel and Crosby). It would be my professional opinion that you take the over in every game this series, as both teams roll into the series with question marks in net. Murray hasn’t been at the top of his game recently, and bad Philadelphia goaltending is just a playoff expectation.
The Penguins went 4-0-0 vs the Flyers in 2017/18 and I see no reason for that to change in the playoffs.
Penguins in 5
Columbus vs Washington
Another regular season in the books sees the Washington Capitals atop the Metro division. Will this be the year they finally break through and make it to the conference finals, or will they flounder once again. It appears the coaching staff has lost confidence in all-star netminder Braden Holtby, who will start the NHL playoffs riding the pine as Philipp Grubauer takes his place between the pipes. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are on a role since the trade deadline, going 14-3-2 and leading the NHL in goals for.
Columbus was 1-3 against Washington this season, but has been a better team in the 2nd half of the season. The switch in goal for Washington would seem to give them a better chance given Holtby’s struggles, but it won’t be enough.
Blue Jackets in 6
Toronto vs Boston
I promised myself I wouldn’t be like every other preview article and comment that this is the first playoff meeting since the Leafs epic game 7 collapse versus Boston in 2013, so I’ll make sure and avoid that topic. Wait…Oops.
Toronto will have their hands full with a Boston team that can both score goals with regularity, and play solid defensive hockey in front of an always stellar Tuukka Rask. But Toronto has no issues putting the puck in the net either, as they finished 5th in the NHL in goals for. The question mark for them will be Frederik Anderson in net. While he has had a great season for the Leafs, they cannot continue to allow a ton of shots on not and expect to beat teams like Boston.
This is one of those great battles of Veteran prowess (Boston) versus youthful exuberance (Toronto) and I believe the veteran prowess will prevail. Boston is one of the most well-rounded teams going into the playoffs. The Leafs quest to end the long streak of not winning the Stanley Cup will end in round 1.
Boston in 5
New Jersey vs Tampa Bay
Taylor Hall is a legitimate contender for the NHL’s Hart Trophy. Let that sink in for a moment, before we dissect this playoff series.
This series is going to come down to depth. The Lightning have it and the Devils do not. If the Tampa Bay Lightning can contain Taylor Hall (93 points) their next leading point getter in 2017/18 was Nico Hischier at 52 points. The Devils are not a well-rounded team. They are a team that rode one play to the playoffs. New Jersey may have swept the season series versus Tampa, but I see the exact opposite happening in the playoffs. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov et all, are 1 of my picks to make the conference finals in 2018, and the Devils will likely be nothing more than a small bump on the road.
Lightning in 4 *NB* Now that I’ve basically disrespected the Devils organization (no offense intended) I would not be surprised to see them win this series.
Colorado vs Nashville
I’d like you to take a moment and go back and read my comments on New Jersey vs Tampa Bay for a moment, but replace New Jersey with Colorado, and Nashville with Tampa Bay. Replace Taylor Hall with Nathan MacKinnon. This is the NHL’s version of the battle of David vs Goliath, but in this rendition, Goliath is much more likely to squish David like a bug.
Nashville comes into the playoffs as the President’s Trophy winners and while we’ve seen in the past that President’s Trophy winners are more likely to lose in the first round than win the Stanley Cup (Hi Washington, how you doing), this is not your average President’s Trophy winner. While they are 7th in goals for, they have no players in the top 50 in points in the NHL. They are a well-rounded team that can score from any line, with solid defense and a likely Vezina winner in Pekka Rinne in net.
Predators in 4
San Jose vs Anaheim
The battle of California kicks off tomorrow when Anaheim and San Jose meet in Anaheim. Originally, this felt like a tough series to predict, but given the injury to Ducks starting goalie John Gibson, I’m having much less trouble.
I saw firsthand how important Gibson is to the Ducks, when he held the fort down in Winnipeg during CFL Week in a 3-2 OT loss. He was peppered with 42 shots in that game, when the ice seemed constantly tilted in the Jets favour. With Gibson out, the Ducks will lean on Ryan Miller to hold down the fort against a Sharks team that comes into the playoffs on a cold streak. They have also been one of the league’s highest scoring teams over the past month, so while they may not be winning games, they are getting scoring depth, which is pivotal in the playoffs.
With Miller a question mark, and the Sharks having a good scoring touch going into the playoffs, I’ve must give the edge to San Jose
Sharks in 7
Los Angeles vs Las Vegas
Las Vegas has been the Cinderella story of the 2017/18 season. Led by a team of literal cast offs from other franchises, the Golden Knights finished the season 5th in the NHL. Led by William Karlsson’s 43 goals, the Golden Knights have offense to spare with 5 players finishing with 20 or more goals. While they may have a ton of offensive power, finishing 4th in goals scored, they will be up against a Los Angeles Kings team that gave up the fewest goals against. Who doesn’t like a battle of offense vs defense?
In net, Marc-Andre Fleury had one of the best seasons of his storied career, finishing with a GAA of 2.24 in 46 games. His counterpart, Jonathan Quick, is also having a career season between the pipes.
In the end, when 2 teams are playing great defensive hockey, but one can score, I gotta give the series to the team that has been shown to put the puck in the net with regularity. The Cinderella season will continue.
Knights in 7
Minnesota vs Winnipeg
In a battle of teams that left and returned, the Jets and North Stars (sorry, Wild) battle in what will be a very entertaining affair. For Minnesota to win this series, they will need to do what has only happened 9 times in 41 games this season. They will need to win a game on the road in front of the raucous Winnipeg Jets faithful. Having said that, it only takes 1 road win, and the Wild do have a great home record as well at 27-6-8.
A lot will come down to how well a young, inexperienced Jets team will play when the playoff lights come on, especially goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Given their success all season long, I see no reason the Jets will falter in the first round.
Jets in 5
Check back at the conclusion of round 1 - I will be back with a round 2 preview.