This is going to be a wild ride. For the first time in league history, there will be a 24-team postseason to determine who will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup this summer. Here are some predictions for the play-in round.
#5 Pittsburgh v. #12 Montreal
This should be a good series. The Penguins have had a remarkable season given how banged up they were at times. The way the team played surely puts Mike Sullivan at the top of the list of Jack Adams candidates. Montreal is decent, but not good. Carey Price isn’t what he used to be and the Canadiens simply lack the scoring and depth to be able to make much noise. The Canadiens will be able to steal a game in this series, but Penguins will wrap it up in four games.
PIT WINS SERIES 3-1
#6 Carolina v. #11 NY Rangers
This is perhaps the ideal opponent for the Blueshirts. However, the postseason is a completely different animal than the regular season, so just because the Rangers swept the season series it does not mean they’ll be able to replicate those results. Carolina is an extremely solid team both offensively and defensively, and they are also very well coached. The Rangers are extremely inexperienced in the postseason so this will be a huge test on the young guys on the roster.
The biggest question mark could perhaps be in net. Do they start their hot-shot rookie Igor Shesterkin, the solid young workhorse Alexandar Georgiev, or the veteran postseason mastermind Henrik Lundqvist? It’ll be a great battle during the abbreviated training camp, but ultimately I believe it will be Shesterkin who gets the nod. Despite Carolina’s ability to both score and defend, I think the Rangers offense and energy will be able to subdue the Canes solid play. The Rangers will make it back to the round of 16 for the first time since 2017 in five games.
NYR WINS SERIES 3-2
#7 NY Islanders v. #10 Florida
Let’s just take a moment here to realize how lucky the Islanders are that the season got put on hold. Heading into this hiatus the Islanders had lost seven straight games. This matchup between the Islanders and the Panthers is a rematch of a playoff series from several years ago. The Isles won that one, but not this time. The Islanders have a serious lack of scoring ability, whereas the Panthers have a very good offense lead by Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Additionally, despite his average play this season, Panthers’ netminder Sergei Bobrovsky knows how he needs to play in the postseason and will rise to that level. It will be a hard fought series but the Isles will not be able to figure out Bobrovsky or stop the Panthers elite forwards.
FLA WINS SERIES 3-2
#8 Toronto v. #9 Columbus
Don’t be fooled by the seeds. Columbus is not that good. If the standings were structured like the NBA, where it was just wins and losses, then the Blue Jackets wouldn’t even be above a .500 win percentage. They have lost 15 games in overtime, meaning they have earned 15 points from LOSSES. Just let that sink in. They’re not that good. They were banged up this year and Coach John Tortorella did a masterful job keeping the ship afloat. However, they simply lack the offensive firepower to compete with the Leafs offense. They’ll manage to win a game, but I can’t see much more. Additionally, the Leafs have been unable to prove themselves in the postseason, losing in the first round every season recently. New head coach Sheldon Keefe has also had profound postseason success at every level of hockey in which he has coached. Toronto is not losing this series.
TOR WINS SERIES 3-1
#5 Edmonton v. #12 Chicago
This will not be much of a series. It will be entertaining to say the least, but world superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going to steal the show. Edmonton has finally gotten to a level that they can be proud of and they will not take that lightly. I feel bad for the Blackhawks though. They’ve spent the whole season thinking they were a really good team while simultaneously being a bottom-10 team the entire time. Sure, they still have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and a core of youngsters headlined by 2019 #3 overall pick Kirby Dach, but that is not going to be enough. They’ll put up a fight and steal a game, but that’ll do it.
EDM WINS SERIES 3-1
#6 Nashville v. #11 Arizona
Listen to this weeks new episode of Forever Blueshirts Radio and you’ll hear several of my colleagues pick Arizona in this one. I have to disagree with that though. I believe the Coyotes have a very promising future, but there’s one thing the Predators have that the Coyotes do not: Pekka Rinne. Is Rinne pretty old now? YES! But is he still pretty good? ALSO YES! Pekka will return to brick wall form for the playoffs and give Arizona a really tough time. Sure, Taylor Hall, Phil Kessel, and Clayton Keller is a heck of top forward group. But the play of Rinne, the leadership of Roman Josi, and the grit of the Nashville role players is going to send Arizona packing early. This is going to be one of the most entertaining first round matchups, so buckle up.
NSH WINS SERIES 3-2
#7 Vancouver v. #10 Minnesota
It is amazing that we are talking about the Wild and the playoffs. There were times this season that Minnesota just looked completely utterly lost and I am impressed that they managed to fight their way out of the group of bottom-feeders. That is not saying much and I still do not expect much. Vancouver is led by Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and a solid goaltending unit led by Jacob Markstrom. And don’t forget our old friend JT Miller. This will be more than enough to steamroll the Wild.
VAN WINS SERIES 3-0
#8 Calgary v. #9 Winnipeg
This is the hardest series in which to pick a winner. These teams are pretty even and both have a lot to prove. The Flames had a very storied season. High expectations following last season that they never lived up to and all the drama surrounding former head coach Bill Peters and his dismissal. The Jets also did not live up to their expectations, performing significantly poorer than in seasons prior despite the magnificent play of goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Ultimately, I think the combination of a better goaltender and deadlier forward group is going to put Winnipeg over the edge. This should be a great series to watch.
WPG WINS SERIES 3-2