2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview : Round 1

The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin this Wednesday and it’s bound to be a good one. Despite my criticism for the current format, it does make for some entertaining first round series’. Let’s break them down starting in the Western Conference.

Western Conference

Nashville (1) VS. Colorado (WC 2)

In a shocking turn of events, the Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs after finishing with just 48 points in the season prior. They even sold off Matt Duchene at the beginning of the season and still made it. They have become a very exciting and fast team led by Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Having a bounce back season from Semyon Varlamov really boosted the team as well. Problem, he is out for the rest of the season.

Nashville went from barely making the playoffs last year all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. This year they had an incredible regular season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy. They have the best top 4 in the NHL with Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi, and PK Subban. Pekka Rinne had a huge season for Nashville in net, posting a .927% save percentage and eight shutouts.

The Predators are far and away, the better team. Colorado not having Varlamov is going to be a huge issue for them also. Jonathan Bernier had a solid season as backup to Varlamov, but Berniers’ few playoff appearances were not inspiring. Subban, Josi, Ekholm, and Ellis is a much better top 4 than Barrie, Johnson, Girard, and Zadorov. To counter that, Colorado’s top line of Landeskog-Mackinnon-Rantanen is better than Nashville’s top line of Forsberg-Johansen-Arvidsson. Both teams have decent forward depth but I have to give the edge to Nashville. I think Colorado will hang with Nashville for six games. Nashville is just clicking on all cylinders right now and I don’t see Colorado being able to stop them.

Winnipeg (2) VS. Minnesota (3)

Minnesota had another good regular season. Eric Staal played like it was 2008 again and Jason Zucker had a career year. Their blue line is great when it is healthy. Unfortunately, their two best guys in Suter and Spurgeon are out. Devan Dubnyk has been a top 10 goalie in the league the past few seasons also.

Winnipeg finally broke out as a top team in the West this year. Their offense is as good as any in the league. Their center depth is fantastic with Mark Schiefele, Bryan Little, and Paul Stastny. They have Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nik Ehlers to play alongside those guys. Connor Hellebuyck took a massive step forward this season and was one of the best goalies in the league.

Minnesota really doesn’t matchup well against Winnipeg at all. The Wild really lack the star power to go far in the regular season and we have seen that in the past multiple seasons now. Center depth is what gets you far in the post season and the Jets have just that. I am taking the Jets in five games.

Vegas (1) VS Los Angeles (WC 1)

The Kings returned to their old form this season under their new coach, John Stevens. Anze Kopitar had a huge bounce back season and has put his name in the Hart Trophy conversation. Dustin Brown has also gone from boat anchor to relevant player. They also have Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Drew Doughty, on their back end.

Vegas completely took the league by storm this year, winning the Pacific Division as an expansion team. They are one of the quickest teams in the league. Their “top line” of Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault has been one of the most productive in the league this season. Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt have been great on the back end for Vegas. Flower is also playing like its the year 2008.

The speed of the Vegas squad is a force to be reckoned with. However, I like Los Angeles in this series. LA is a much more experienced playoff team as they have two very recent Stanley Cups. I think the Kings will take care of the Knights in seven games.

Anaheim (2) VS San Jose (3)

Anaheim had a very strange season. Everyone seemed to get hurt for them, but they still managed to make it work. Derek Grant was their top line center for a few games for crying out loud! John Gibson took a huge step forward in terms of becoming an elite goalie as he has always been projected to be. Rickard Rakell has become a great top line winger and Ondrej Kase is emerging as a solid piece for the Ducks. Their defense is also very solid with Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Brandon Montour.

San Jose is looking to prove that they can still contend in the Western Conference. The same core is still there (minus Patrick Marleau) from the 2016 run. Evander Kane will be looking to be a force for the Sharks in his first career playoff series. He is coming off a very strong campaign this season.

This seems to be a very even series to me. It’s very boring to say, but this series really does come down to goaltending. I am not sure how long John Gibson will be out for. Ryan Miller has had a great year as the backup to Gibson and has had playoff success in his career, however.  Martin Jones has been a very good playoff goalie in his 30 career starts, posting a .925% save percentage. Between these two teams, I really don’t have a preference as to which I like more in terms of depth. I am just going to guess here and say the Ducks take the series in seven games.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay (1) VS New Jersey (WC 2)

New Jersey surprised all of us by making the playoffs after acquiring the first overall pick last season. Their speed has taken the league by storm and they have become a very effective team. Taylor Hall is obviously the story in New Jersey after willing this team into the playoffs.

Tampa Bay ended up barely winning the East after Boston went on an absolute tear in the last 40 games of the season. Tampa got off to a blistering hot start but really came back down to Earth to end the season. Stamkos and Kucherov have been one of the best duos in the NHL this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the clear cut Vezina winner to start the season, but has since fallen off a bit. It is rumored that he is becoming fatigued. Their defense is also very strong with the likes of Hedman, Stralman, and now Ryan McDonagh.

New Jersey has been very average to end their season and I don’t think Tampa should have any issues with them. Tampa is the deeper team in all aspects and I think they should take care of the Devils in five games.

Boston (2) VS Toronto (3)

The Leafs are back in the postseason and a more experienced team than last year. They are the deepest team in terms of forwards in the NHL. Freddy Andersen has been great for Toronto all season. The back end has been shaky at times and could be reason for concern for the Leafs.

Boston has obviously been a force to be reckoned with this season with their dangerous 63-37-88 top line. Tuukka Rask is looking like his old self as a top 10 goalie in the league. They have a great top D pair in Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara. They have revamped forward depth with Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen and the front of things. David Krejci and Backes are still effective players as well.

This series obviously brings back haunting memories to me as a Leaf fan. However, I am well aware that this Leafs team is not that Leafs team. I really do like the Leafs in this series. They have matched up well against Boston in the past two seasons. I don’t think either team is too particularly good on the back end. Boston’s top line is more than likely going to be glued to the Matthews line at all times. I truly think the Leafs have better depth than Boston and will be able to outscore them when their top line isn’t on the ice and overcome the Bruins in seven games.

Washington (1) VS Columbus (WC 1)

It’s funny, Columbus finished worse in the standings this year than they did last. But I like their team alot more this year. Artemi Panarin has really come in and made a huge difference for the Jackets. Pierre-Luc Dubois is bursting onto the scene as an NHL talent as well. Their defense is also very good with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski at the head of it. They also have the best goalie in the world, Sergei Bobrovsky.

Washington had yet another good regular season, despite shedding some pieces in the offseason. They still have the original core of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson and Holtby. They have solid complementary pieces in Oshie, Niskanen, Burakovsky, and Eller.

I think this is the year Columbus can finally win a playoff series. Now that the pesky Penguins are out of their way in the first round that is. Washington is the deeper team, but I really like the the back end of the Blue Jackets. I think this will be a fantastic series to pay attention to. I am taking the Blue Jackets in seven games.

Pittsburgh (2) VS Philadelphia (3)

WOOOOHOOOO buckle up everybody!

Philly made their way back to the playoffs after finding competent goaltending. Shayne Gostisbehere has merged into an elite offensive defenseman. Sean Couturier finally added scoring to his fantastic defensive play. Claude Giroux went back to his old ways along with Jakub Voracek.

Pittsburgh is still that same team from the past two seasons. Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, Murray. We all know how great they have been in the postseason and there really isn’t anything new here.

This is going to be a wicked, fun series. This hasn’t happened since 2012 and that series was awesome. I’m not a big hockey fight guy, but when Crosby fought Giroux, that was insanely entertaining. This series is bound to get chippy and aggressive. At the end of the day however, the Penguins are the Penguins and will take care of the Flyers in six games.

Stanley Cup Final

I am predicting a Nashville VS. Toronto cup final. Nashville should come as no surprise to anyone. Toronto is obviously going to catch some people off guard.I am well aware that the Leafs path to the cup final is one of the hardest possible. Here is my thought process :

  1. Leafs matchup well against Boston, I think they should be able to take care of them. No doubt it will be a very tough series.
  2. The Leafs have played Tampa very well all season and the Lightning have been very human over the past two months.
  3. Screw it, they can beat the Penguins. They have before.

It is obviously a long shot, but I seriously think they can do it. They’re a good team guys.

This is shaping up to be a very entertaining postseason, and I could not be more excited.

Posted in NHL

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