Series Preview: The Predators are the real deal. Pekka Rinne will probably win the Vezina, they have a DCore that has guys who can shut you down or make you pay on the scoreboard and they have 13 guys with 10+ goals. A Cup run last year will pay huge dividends this year as they are now a team truly built for this two month grind. The Colorado Avalanche got into the playoffs on the last day with a huge win against their WC2 competitor, St Louis Blues. The story here is Nathan MacKinnon, who missed 8 games and could still win the Hart Trophy. They are a super young team with tons of team speed, skill and have that “excitement” factor. While the Avs are fun, the Preds are methodical and play the right way and wear teams down on their 4 line depth and frustrate them with shutdown D and goaltending. Love the Avs, but they just don’t have enough yet to get passed the favorites to win the Cup.
H2H This Season: NSH 4-0-0 COL 0-3-1
XFACTOR: Nathan MacKinnon’s success
Our Pick: Nashville in 5
Series Preview: Winnipeg has “flown” under the radar all season. Get it? Because they are such a small market, nobody has seen just how good this team is besides diehard hockey fans. Well, it’s time to recognize this team as a Cup contender. Our former teammate, Connor Hellebuyck should be a Vezina candidate, Blake Wheeler quietly had 90+ points, Kyle Connor had 31 goals as a rookie and they have the next-gen Ovechkin. The Jets don’t have a ton of playoffs experience but they have been dominant all season and good luck to a bad road team (Minny) in Winnipeg. Yes, the Wild struggled on the road this season but they also have a great home-ice advantage in the Twin Cities. Eric Staal had a comeback year, Zucker had a career high in goals and they have plenty of other useful scorers that can step up and make it a series. Suter could play all 60 minutes if they let him but he’s done for the year which is a huge blow and Dumba, Brodin and Spurgeon make up a very solid front 4 on the backend. A rising rivalry in the Midwest could be a great series, but the way the Jets play big and fast will be too much for Minny
H2H This Season: WPG 3-1-0 MIN 1-3-0
XFACTOR: Home Ice
Our Pick: Jets in 6
Series Preview: Vegas is a very good team, but this is not the matchup they wanted in the first round. LA has tons of experience, multiple guys who have two cups, including a healthy Jeff Carter, elite DMan Drew Doughty and John Quick. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown had comeback seasons and the Kings are primed and ready to try and knock off the cinderella story of the regular season. Vegas has been buzzing for hockey since opening night and rightfully so. 51 wins and a trip to the playoffs with a bunch of scraps (in a good way) from other teams found this group becoming a tight knit family early on. Billy Karlsson finished top 5 in goals with 43 and they have 4 other 20 goal scorers. They have a pretty solid backend but like most expansion teams, no real standout stud, which may help in their favor. They don’t “rely” on anyone and play a sound game under a really good hockey mind, Gerard Gallant. This series will be great as both teams can score but both have very good, proven goaltenders. It feels like a coin flip, and that is what you’re looking for in a first round matchup
H2H This Season: VGK 2-1-1 LAK 2-1-1
XFACTOR: Fleury vs. Quick
Our Pick: Vegas in 7
Series Preview: Love this series. This rivalry has grown so much in the past 10 years that this feels like the equivalent of a California Pitt-Philly. There may not be a more evenly matched opening round series than Ducks-Sharks. The Ducks can come at you from all angles but honestly, it is their secondary scoring that people will forget about. Everyone knows about Rakell, Getzlaf and Perry, but don’t forget about Kase (20), Henrique (20), and Silfverberg (17). On the blue, Manson has turned into a monster since his time at Northeastern and Montour and Fowler are both scary skilled, puck moving DMen. Finally, they have one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL, and future USA (Hopefully Olympic) goalie, John Gibson. SJ has been here before, although they may be without Thornton early on. Another team deep with scoring with 11 10+ goal scorers but it is their big guns that do the real damage. Burns, Couture and Pavelski are so electric on the PP and can keep them in games with their experience and smart play. They don’t have a ton big names besides the big 4, but are really good at getting jobs done, hence why they were in the Cup two years ago. This series will be a war but a healthy Getzlaf and a little better goaltending gives Anaheim the edge. It’s a shame one of these teams has to go out first round.
H2H This Season: ANA 1-1-2 SJ 3-0-1
XFACTOR: If Joe Thornton returns
Our Pick: Anaheim in 6
Series Preview: The Tampa Bay Lightning have elite level skill all over their roster, 54 wins and a +60 goal differential. New Jersey has MVP Candidate, Taylor Hall, rising star Nico Hischier and guys who fill roles well. Although Tampa has not played at the same, dominant level in the second half and the Devils have been playing playoff hockey for a month and a half, Jersey doesn’t have the skill set, depth or goaltending to stop Kucherov, Stamkos, Point and Gourde; All 60+ point producers. On the other side of it, Hedman seems like the perfect shut down defenseman for the Devils only scary threat to score and Keith Kincaid probably isn’t capable of getting the Devils to the next round. The Devils could steal a game or two but they are just out matched against a well-built Lightning team.
H2H This Season:NJD 3-0-0, TB 0-2-1, all 1 goal games
XFACTOR: Taylor Hall’s success
Our Pick: Lightning in 5
Series Preview: There are a few series that REALLY stand out and this one is definitely one. An Original 6 rivalry with two very evenly matched, but two very different teams. The Bruins are built for the playoffs and have the players and the past to back it up. They have three 30 goal scorers, Zdeno Chara and McAvoy are ready to log shutdown minutes and Tuukka (and Khudobin) has been great. They skidded down the stretch with the chance to play NJ but they have incredible depth to get the job done in a number of different ways and have played through injury all year. The Leafs finished the season with the 2nd best PP, six 20 goal scorers and only 7 points behind the B’s and that’s with their franchise player, Auston Matthews missing 20 games. Freddie Anderson had a great year for them but what scares me is Boston wearing down their DCore led by Gardiner and Rielly. This series is going to be incredible and it’s not crazy to think it could go the distance and home-ice will have a huge advantage.
H2H This Season: BOS 1-2-1, TOR 3-1-0
XFACTOR: Bruins secondary scoring
Our Pick: Boston in 7
Series Preview: In the first round of the playoffs, there doesn’t often seem to be “under the radar” matchups, but this might be the one. Washington, maybe to it’s favor, isn’t talked about as the favorite like the have been for quite some time. Maybe this year, they can just relax and play hockey without the pressure of NEEDING to get to the Cup or passed the Pens. Besides the greatest scorer of our generation, they boast elite playmakers, a high volume of secondary scoring and three DMen who can score too. Grubauer and Holtby could be rotating depending on the night but don’t sleep on Columbus. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski have become serious studs on the backend and Bobrovsky has had another great year. They don’t score a ton but they are also stingy and don’t give much up. Panarin and company will have to try and outscore the high flying Caps and the Jackets are playing their best hockey of the year.
H2H This Season: WSH 3-1-0, CBJ 1-3-0
XFACTOR: Caps +PP vs. Jackets -PK
Our Pick: Capitals in 6
Series Preview: If there is a series where stats and analytics go out the window, it’s this one. This is going to be an absolute war for the battle of Pennsylvania (Me vs. Nick). The Pens strengths are easy to tab; Scoring, PP, star power and their experience of winning back to back Cups. It is possible that this is their toughest series, physically. Crosby, Malkin and Kessel are so dangerous but you can’t forget about playoff heroes, Guentzel and Hornqvist. Philly has a legit Hart candidate after an insane year by Giroux, but also Voracek, Couturier (career year), Konecny and Simmonds who are all big scorers. Neither team has an elite back end or goaltender so it could be very high scoring and electric to watch. Keep in mind that the Pens were terrible on the road and Philly is a hostile environment which could bring momentum swings to the series. This could be the series of the playoffs if it’s a Pitt-Philly series of old.
H2H This Season:PIT 4-0-0, PHI 0-2-2
Our Pick: Pittsburgh in 7
M4 Cup Picks
Terrence: Tampa Bay vs. Nashville
Nick: Pittsburgh (Shocker) vs. Winnipeg
Drew:Pittsburgh vs. Winnipeg
Chris: Boston vs. Winnipeg