NHL First Round Preview
There are so many headlines heading in the 2018 playoffs: Will the Washington Capitals finally overcome their playoff demons? Will the Pittsburgh Penguins win their third straight Stanley Cup, in something that hasn't been done in over 30 years? Will the year of Philadelphia continue?
Can the Nashville Predators get back to the Stanley Cup Finals? Can Vegas win it all in their first season as an expansion team? Whatever the headlines are, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs never disappoint. 9 out of the 16 teams in the 2018 postseason also made it to the 2017 postseason. The Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Philadelphia Flyers are the newcomers to the 2018 postseason.
Eastern Conference: Metropolitan Division: (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets vs (1) Washington Capitals: The Columbus Blue Jackets couldn't afford to play the Pittsburgh Penguins again in the first round. I am not saying the Washington Capitals are scrubs, but Columbus needed a different opponent in the first round and it might be better mentally for them. The Washington Capitals feel like they don't have a lot of pressure on them this season because they didn't win the Presidents' Trophy. They will have goaltending issues to start the series because will it be Philipp Grubauer or Braden Holtby between the pipes? No matter who it is, Sergei Bobrovsky will have a solid first round knowing he isn't playing Pittsburgh. Columbus and Washington both have solid top two lines, but the depth scoring and defensive play will be the difference in this series. The pick: Columbus in 6.
(3) Philadelphia Flyers vs (2) Pittsburgh Penguins: The last time the Flyers and the Penguins met in the postseason was in 2012 and the Flyers beat them in 6. Goaltending is much different now than it was in that series. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov were horrendous. The goaltending matchup in this series will be Brian Elliott and Matt Murray. They both have calmer demeanor's. Pittsburgh has scored five goals in each game against Philadelphia this season. Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. Philadelphia has Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek. Both offenses are capable of putting the puck in the net at any moment. Both teams are average defensively. The difference in this series will be coaching and goaltending. The pick: Pittsburgh in 6.
Atlantic Division: (WC2) New Jersey Devils vs (1) Tampa Bay Lightning: The Devils surprisingly swept the season series 3-0 against the Lightning, but the playoffs are a different animal. This is Taylor Hall's and Nico Hischier's first crack at it, but veterans like Michael Grabner, Patrick Maroon, and Brian Boyle will help out the cause because they have been there before. However, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are ready for another deep playoff run. Andrei Vasilevskiy will clearly out play Keith Kinkaid between the pipes. The pick: Tampa Bay in 5.
(3) Toronto Maple Leafs vs (2) Boston Bruins: Even though Toronto won the season series 3-1, they are going to feel a different affect in the playoffs. Toronto loves to move up and down the ice, but Boston loves to bang people around. The Bruins have some injuries, but they have a very good defense and promising rookies ready to step up. The Maple Leafs might have the best offense in the playoffs, but the defense and goaltending will be their downfall. These two teams will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The pick: Boston in 7.
Western conference: Pacific Division: (WC1) Los Angeles Kings vs (1) Vegas Golden Knights: This is the first time ever an expansion team made it to the postseason. They couldn't of drew a worse matchup than the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have the playoff experience to make another playoff run. Jonathan Quick will be more calm in net when the game is on the line compared to Marc-Andre Fleury. Both teams aren't deep offensively and they are going to have to rely on their depth scoring and defense to step up. The pick: Los Angeles in 6.
(3) San Jose Sharks vs (2) Anaheim Ducks: San Jose isn't playing its best hockey heading into the postseason. Anaheim usually plays well at the end of the season and heading into the postseason. Ryan Getzlaf and Cory Perry are going to have to be better than they were in the regular season. I think the Sharks have better goaltending in Martin Jones compared to Anaheim's John Gibson and/or Ryan Miller, but the Ducks are more physical and tough than the Sharks are. The pick: Anaheim in 5.
Central Division: (WC2) Colorado Avalanche vs (1) Nashville Predators: The Predators won the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history. Nashville is on a mission to get back to the finals and win it all. They have a far better roster than Colorado does. The Avalanche had a great turnaround in 2017-2018 after finishing with the worst record in the NHL in 2016-2017. At the end of the day, Colorado is going to run into a buzzsaw. The pick: Nashville in 4.
(3) Minnesota Wild vs (2) Winnipeg Jets: This is by far the most interesting series in the first round in the west. Even though the Wild and the Jets were a good distance apart in the standings to end the regular season, it is going to be an even playing field when the series begins. Both teams have good defenses and goaltending. The difference in this series is going to be special teams. The pick: Winnipeg in 7.