The NHL playoffs are FINALLY here, and we’ve got some absolutely incredible matchups. Who’s going to win what series? What team’s got the best chances to go to the Cup? Will the Penguins 3-Peat? We here at PSF have got you covered. Without further ado, the 2018 NHL Playoff Predictions.
Atlantic #1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs Wild Card #2 New Jersey Devils
If I’m at all spot on with my analysis on any series, this one will likely be it. The Devils slipped into the playoffs by one point and have been riding a hot goaltender in backup Keith Kinkaid into the playoffs. If they hadn’t gone 7-2-1 down the stretch, they likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs to begin with. While they’re being carried by a likely Hart Trophy finalist in Taylor Hall, I don’t think the team around Hall will be able to pick up the slack whatsoever, which leaves them in a tough position against a high flying Tampa Bay Lightning roster.
Now, onto the Lightning. This is an incredibly well put together roster, ending up with the top record in the entire Eastern Conference. This comes with many, many reasons. The Lightning have six 20-goal scorers on their roster, including Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, both of whom ended up over a point-per-game during the season. On the back end, they have Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, and Mikhail Sergachev, all of whom are incredibly talented assets who all have two-way abilities and can shut down the opposing team when asked. That’s a scary sight for any opponent. Then, counter in the fact that goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy put up a .920 save percentage this season… oh boy.
So, the prediction. I’ll take the Lightning in 5, although I wouldn’t really be surprised to see the series go 6 with how often home games are won. I’d guess that the Lightning don’t have many issues with the Devils, with just sheer firepower and team ability having a major gap in this series.
Atlantic #2 Boston Bruins vs Atlantic #3 Toronto Maple Leafs
The rivalry continues, and boy, oh boy… this is going to be incredible. The Bruins ended up just one point behind the Lightning for the top record in the East and their punishment was to face one of their biggest rivals in the Maple Leafs. This series may be the toughest to pick, for a multitude of reasons.
First things first, goal scoring should be at a premium in this series. Not because either goaltender is bad, but because both offenses are super fluid and both teams produce at a crazy high level. The Bruins have one of the best top-lines in hockey, with three 30-goal scorers in Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron. That in itself is scary, almost guaranteeing that the Bruins top line will score on you at least once, maybe more. Throw in talented players like David Krejci, Danton Heinen, Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, and Ryan Donato… that’s a hell of a lineup.
The Leafs are no slouch either. The top three point-getters on this team are aged 20 (Mitch Marner), 20 (Auston Matthews), and 21 (William Nylander). These three studs are are all incredible talents and are super, super hard to contain, making this a task for the top line of the Bruins who may be more concerned in stopping the high-powered offense that the Leafs are known for. With guys like James Van Riemsdyk, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Patrick Marleau, and Nazem Kadri behind the three young guns, we could see a series here with an incredible amount of scoring chances created, and that takes us to the goaltending.
Goaltending may end up making the difference in this series. Which goaltender can make the big saves? With Frederik Andersen of the Maple Leafs at a .918 save percentage and Tuukka Rask of the Bruins at a .917 save percentage, we’ll really have to see who the star of the series is. Both of these goaltenders are known for being rock solid and consistent, and both make crazy saves on a pretty game-by-game basis,
Picking a winner is easier said than done, and the old adage “you’re not in trouble until you lose at home” may end up being key for this series. With two evenly matched teams, the Bruins having home ice advantage may sway the series, so I’ll take the Bruins in 7, winning a nail-biter at TD Garden in front of the sold out crowd of 17,565.
Metro #1 Washington Capitals vs Wild Card #1 Columbus Blue Jackets
The curse of Washington looks to be broken for yet another year, with the Capitals facing off against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In my eyes, there’s a clear winner of this series. Not knocking the Blue Jackets, but having to face against the league leading goal scorer with a goaltender who’s usually not great in the playoffs is a scary thought. CBJ’s Sergei Bobrovsky has had some issues in the playoffs throughout his career, posting an .882 SV% last year, a .908 SV% in 2013-14, and an .877 SV% in 2010-11. While this could change easily with how good Bobrovsky is as a goaltender, I’d say the chances are he may struggle a bit.
This series will come down to the star-power, and both teams have players who’ve been in the playoffs before and can lead by example. The Capitals have Alex Ovechkin, who’s the league’s leading scorer yet again, on top of Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, star goaltender Braden Holtby, and Norris-contender John Carlson. Compare that to the Blue Jackets having Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, and stud rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois. Edge… Capitals.
Personally, I’ll take the Capitals in 6. I just feel like this Columbus team is still a step or two behind the top dogs in the conference and Alex Ovechkin is hungrier than ever to finally get the monkey off his back and make a deep run into the playoffs. Either of Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky can steal a game with their stellar goaltending ability, but I feel as if the Capitals are much more built for a series and they should win.
Metro #2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs Metro #3 Philadelphia Flyers
As the previous tweet says… buckle up. This is going to be a hard-fought, nasty series between on of the best rivalries in hockey. I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this series, but it seems like the consensus has the Penguins winning this series easily… I’ll tell you why that’s wrong.
The Penguins SHOULD win this series. Let’s face it, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, and more studs from top-to-bottom, this Penguins team should be a strong bet to make the Conference Finals again. The one area that scares me about the Penguins more than anything is goaltending. Matt Murray’s finally shown weakness and posted just a .907 save percentage in the regular season, and as a goaltender commonly referenced to have a weak glove hand, that’s not a good sign against the Flyers.
The Flyers have a tremendously high powered offense, lead by Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux. The beauty of this Flyers team is their depth. The Flyers had 11 players who scored 10 goals this season, including five over 20 goals. That should frighten Penguins fans, especially with players like Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, and Wayne Simmonds all able to grind out close to the net and get into the dirty areas to score. This will be a nasty series on the back end too, and Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have shown to be two of the best young two-way defensemen in the NHL. Could the Flyers provide an upset for the ages of the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins?
This series will likely go seven. The realistic, “crowd-sourced” opinion would likely tell you that the Penguins will win in 5 or 6, but I’ll go with the Penguins in 7. Home ice is huge in the playoffs. Having that crowd behind you can make all the difference. Both arenas are known for being generally tough to play in and both fanbases are extremely supportive and strong. This should be one for the record books.
Central #1 Nashville Predators vs Wild Card #2 Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche have made an incredible run from worst-in-the-NHL to a playoff team, lead by my Hart Trophy pick Nathan MacKinnon. What a shame that they’ve run into the reigning conference champions and current best team in the league in the Nashville Predators. Can the Avalanche pull off an upset? That remains to be seen.
Before getting into things, I will say this… the Avalanche have a better shot at winning this series than any other wild card team does, in my eyes. This is a team with an incredible passion and excitement, running on fumes to get to this point as is… and they don’t want to be done just yet. This is the Nathan MacKinnon show. He is an absolutely electric hockey player who has benefitted on having a bigger role with the mid-season departure of Matt Duchene, and he’ll look to ride that into the sunset and bring some playoff wins back to Colorado. With Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Barrie, and Gabriel Landeskog all having tremendous years around him, this Avalanche team is not as deep as most playoff teams, but they’re as talented up top as most if not all.
Now, the Predators. I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. That’s a fact. This Predators team is fun to watch, skilled, exciting, and just overall an extremely talented bunch. With just 29 losses all season, including only 18 in regulation, this Predators team is TOUGH to beat. This team doesn’t have many high powered scorers, but what they do have is 13 10-goal scorers. Talk about depth. Lead by Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, P.K. Subban, and Roman Josi, this Predators team is extremely defensively sound as well. They’ve helped their goaltender Pekka Rinne have a career year, with a .927 save percentage and potentially a Vezina going his way. With that scoring depth and incredible defensive play, I find it’s going to be hard to pick against the Predators. For that reason, I’ll take the Predators in a very hard-fought six games.
Central #2 Winnipeg Jets vs Central #3 Minnesota Wild
This will be the shortest series of them all. I’m pretty convinced on that one. As much as I’d love to see a hard fought seven game series, I think that’s unlikely. Sad to say, but the truth may hurt.
Winnipeg! Back at it again in the playoffs with the white out crowd, and this season you have something to be thrilled about! 114 point season, 52 wins, one of the most high powered offenses in the NHL… can the Jets make a run? 110%, they can. Patrik Laine is a beast. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are STARS. Kyle Connor’s turning into something extremely special. Dustin Byfuglien’s one of the scariest defensemen in the league. Oh, right, and Connor Hellebuyck with a .924 save percentage… oh boy, Minnesota, you’re in for one.
Now, the Wild. This Wild team has a lot of tier-2 talent, but outside of guys like Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund, can someone who’s a bit less prominent pick up the slack? We know Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba can all play at a high level, but with Ryan Suter missing the entire postseason with surgery, will they be able to get over the hump and really figure it out? Devan Dubnyk’s had another good year with a .918 save percentage, but can the Wild match the Jets speed and skill?
The answer to that is probably not. The Jets should win this series in 5. Maybe 6. I don’t see any way it goes over 6, unless the Wild get random production from guys like Jared Spurgeon and the oft-injured Zach Parise. Winnipeg should win this series.
Pacific #1 Vegas Golden Knights vs Wild Card #1 Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are probably thrilled about this matchup, but should they be? Long story short, no. Not one bit.
Vegas has shown the entire hockey world that they are absolutely, positively for real. This team of ragtag misfits who were all abandoned by their teams in the expansion draft have come together and had one of the most incredible seasons of any team in professional sports, breaking records along the way. This team is no joke. William Karlsson scored 43, yes, 43 times this season en route to an almost point-per-game season. Jonathan Marchessault had 75 points in 77 games. Even afterthought David Perron put up 66 points in 70 games, all thanks to incredible coaching from Gerard Gallant. Veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury put up a .927 save percentage on the year, just furthering the idea that Vegas is for real.
Now, the Kings are a playoff team. We all know that’s the case. We’ve seen them take wild card teams on runs and win the entire Stanley Cup within the last few years… but can they do it this year? Anze Kopitar’s been incredible, with 92 points on the season. Drew Doughty put up 60, right below Dustin Brown’s career resurgence with 28 goals and 33 assists (61 points). This series will go straight down to Jonathan Quick’s ability to steal a game. Quick’s known to be an acrobatic, “different” goalie. He was one of the best this season, but the need for him to be sharp is extremely, extremely prevalent if the Kings plan on making a run.
The Vegas Golden Knights will win this series in 6. It’s a cinderella story. It’s something you can’t really put your finger on how this happened, but you don’t want it to stop. I certainly don’t want to see it end here. Vegas in 6.
Pacific #2 Anaheim Ducks vs Pacific #3 San Jose Sharks
This series really just screams “meh” at me. I’m not excited yet, but I’m sure that’ll change when they get on the ice and get physical, as you’d expect a series between these two teams would.
Anaheim. What can you say about the Ducks other than that it’s kind of surprising they’re getting home ice in the playoffs after so many close games all season. Having that experience winning tight games will help a ton come playoff time, and you’ll need experience against the extremely experienced Sharks. The Ducks have a new scoring leader in Rickard Rakell, with the usual suspects in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry behind him. Can John Gibson (potentially Ryan Miller if Gibson’s injury is serious) buckle down and stop the Sharks offensive firepower?
The answer is yes, but it won’t be easy. This Sharks team has the efficiency thing down pat, with several players shooting over 13% on the season, including Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. With Brent Burns always willing to throw pucks on the net and generate the rebounds in tight, I think the Sharks are a formidable opponent for the Ducks tight style of hockey.
Who wins? I’ll take the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in this showdown of California’s finest teams, simply because I feel as if John Gibson is going to outplay Martin Jones and help steal a few games for the Ducks. The scoring should likely be even, but I’ll give the Ducks the nod defensively and in net.
Rest Of The Way
Here’s how my bracket fills out the rest of the way…
Nashville over Winnipeg in 7
Vegas over Anaheim in 6
Tampa Bay over Boston in 7
Washington over Pittsburgh in 6
Nashville over Vegas in 5
Tampa Bay over Washington in 6
Stanley Cup Finals:
Tampa Bay over Nashville in 7