Updated: Aug 20
Analyzing each matchup, and predicting which team will advance in each series.
Below are my picks for every NHL first round series. You can see my Qualifying Round picks here. Just quickly, I picked five of the eight series' correctly. Which, not to brag but...was better than all the NHL experts.
I (like pretty much everyone else) got both five versus twelve seed matchups, Pittsburgh vs. Montreal, and Edmonton vs. Chicago, wrong. The other series I was incorrect on was Calgary versus Winnipeg, and I will stand by that if Winnipeg had Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine for the entirety of that series, it would have been a different story.
1. Philadelphia Flyers
8. Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: 2-1 PHI
X - Factors: Carey Price, Matt Niskanen
The Flyers were the league's hottest team before the break, and they tore through the other three Eastern Conference teams in the round robin. In doing that, they jumped from the four seed all the way up to the one seed in three games. Montreal on the other hand shocked the hockey world when they knocked out the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games. I don't see that happening here. Pittsburgh was clearly not ready for playoff hockey, but Philadelphia is. Shea Weber is the best player in this series, but he can only play so much. For Montreal to win, they would need the Carey Price of old to stand on his head.
Pick: Flyers in five
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
7. Columbus Blue Jackets
Season Series: 1-0 TBL
X - Factors: Cam Atkinson, Tyler Johnson
The Lightning and Blue Jackets meet in the playoffs for the second year in a row, after Columbus shockingly swept Tampa last season in the first round. The Blue Jackets are coming off of a thrilling five game series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. With Seth Jones and Zack Werenski on the blue line logging tons of minutes, they honestly can beat anyone. They also have an excellent goaltender tandem. This series really could go either way. If the Lightning don't have both Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, then I am going with Columbus. While saying that, Tampa is the most talented team in the league, and will find ways to score. They are going to be playing with a vengeance as well.
Pick: Lightning in six
3. Washington Capitals
6. New York Islanders
Season Series: 2-2
X - Factors: Braden Holtby, Anthony Beauvillier
The Washington Capitals do not look like themselves. They played really poorly in the round robin, and their one win against the Boston Bruins, they really didn't deserve. Braden Holtby has played really well, but that's pretty much it. Alex Ovechkin looks disinterested. Evgeny Kuznetsov is not creating plays. Most importantly, their defense without John Carlson looked lost. They will need him in this series. The Islanders on the other hand made quick work of the Florida Panthers. They have bought in to the team game, and legitimately look like a team that could make a run this year. They should be the favorite going into this series.
Pick: Islanders in seven
4. Boston Bruins
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Season Series: 1-0 BOS
X - Factors: Jake DeBrusk, Dougie Hamilton
The Bruins lost all three round robin games, and really did not look like themselves. Despite poor play though, they lost the final two games by one goal apiece, and easily could have won both of them. This only shows that if/when the Bruins wake up, they will once again be incredibly tough to beat. The top line has not yet scored a goal, but how long can you really keep those guys down? The Carolina Hurricanes dominated in their qualifying round sweep of the New York Rangers. The Canes are hot so anything can happen, but this just isn't a good matchup for them. They rely on their top line for a lot of their goals, and that is not going to work versus Boston.
Pick: Bruins in five
1. Vegas Golden Knights
8. Chicago Blackhawks
Season Series: 2-1 VGK X - Factors: Robin Lehner, Kirby Dach
Right now, Vegas might be the team to beat in the NHL. They went 3-0 in round robin play, and just have so much depth. Chicago knocked off the five seed Edmonton in the qualifiers. Not many picked this veteran group to knock off Connor McDavid and Leon Draisait. The problem though was that the Blackhawks really could not stop those two and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They were simply trading goal for goal, and that is not going to work versus the Golden Knights, because Vegas is much better defensively than Edmonton. In addition, Chicago simply does not have the bottom two lines to match up with Vegas.
Pick: Golden Knights in six
2. Colorado Avalanche
7. Arizona Coyotes
Season Series: 1-1
X - Factors: Andre Burakovsky, Clayton Keller
I picked the Avalanche to make the Cup Finals before the season, and have absolutely no reason to change that now. They have top end talent, new depth, and finally a goalie they can rely on. They were 2-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of Vegas in overtime. The Coyotes won their first playoff series since 2012, as they defeated the Nashville Predators in four games in the qualifying round. Arizona just doesn't have the players to keep up with the Avs. Darcy Kuemper is their best player, and he is going to have to carry them if they want to win this series.
Pick: Avalanche in five
3. Dallas Stars
6. Calgary Flames
Season Series: 2-1 CGY
X - Factors: Tyler Seguin, Cam Talbot
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin had pretty bad years by their standards, and they were even worse in round robin play. In general, the Stars were just not playing good hockey. I know they have the talent to contend, but what they have shown me so far just indicates that they are due to get knocked out early. The Flames largely dominated a beat up WInnipeg Jets team. How much that means for their future is uncertain, but they definitely put in a good perfromance. Cam Talbot was the storyline for me. He was excellent in net (1.51 GAA and a .945 SV%). If he can keep it up, the Flames could be dangerous.
Pick: Flames in seven
4. St. Louis Blues
5. Vancouver Canucks
Season Series: 2-1 VAN
X - Factors: Jordan Binnington, Bo Horvat
There are a lot of reasons that I am heavily considering picking Vancouver in this series. St. Louis, as I predicted, had trouble in the round robin, as they lost all three games. Their hard nosed style of hockey normally is great for the postseason, but this year, it just might not get the job done. They are having a tough time adjusting to real speed games. That is not a problem you want to have versus Vancouver. The biggest problem though has been Jordan Binnington, who has played very poorly. My opinion is, if he plays well, the Blues win. If he doesn't, they will lose this series.
Pick: Blues in seven