The NHL regular season is officially over and the postseason picture is set. Sixteen teams will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup and 15 teams will focus on how to get better for the 2019-2020 season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will be the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season and they won 62 games during the regular season. The next closest amount of wins in the NHL this season was the Calgary Flames with 50 and the Boston Bruins with 49.
The Washington Capitals will look to win back-to-back titles. The Pittsburgh Penguins just did that two years ago. It is very possible those two teams will face each other once again in the postseason this year.
The Eastern Conference is a lot tougher than the Western Conference and an east team should win the cup, but who knows. An east team has won the cup for the past three seasons.
Speaking of the east, who is playing who and who will win each series?
East: Metropolitan Division: (WC1) Carolina Hurricanes vs (1) Washington Capitals: The Hurricanes are a pesky team and they play hard, but they lost all four match ups against the Capitals during the regular season. I expect the same to occur because Carolina is in the postseason for the first time in a decade and Washington is looking to win another Stanley Cup Title. I don’t expect Alex Ovechkin and the crew to fall behind in the first-round this time around. The Washington Capitals have a much bigger edge between the pipes than the Carolina Hurricanes do and that will be the difference in the series. I think Washington needs to end this series quick because the New York Islanders or the Pittsburgh Penguins will give them fits in the second-round. The pick: Washington in 5.
(3) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (2) New York Islanders: In the history of this playoff format, a number one or two seed has never lost in the first round if you play in the Metropolitan Division. This should be good news for the Islanders, but the Penguins could be the first team in the Metro in this playoff format to break that streak. Pittsburgh has a ton of offensive weapons in the line up. They are much better on paper, but New York plays with heart, grit, style, and swagger. Barry Trotz knows this Penguins team inside and out and he will have a plan ready. The question is will his squad be ready to execute it? If they are, it could be a very difficult series for Pittsburgh and if not, New York could be golfing really quick. Another question is how mentally ready is goaltender Robin Lehner for the postseason? He was excellent during the regular season, but Lehner has never been in postseason action before. Matt Murray will be ready to role in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but will his inconsistency at times cost them? The pick: Pittsburgh in 6.
Atlantic Division: (WC2): Columbus Blue Jackets vs (1) Tampa Bay Lightning: Columbus is in the postseason for the third straight season, but they have yet to win a playoff series in franchise history. It doesn’t bode well for them against a power house Tampa Bay team. The only chance the Blue Jackets have in this series is if Sergei Bobrovsky plays well and if the Presidents’ Trophy curse strikes. No matter how you look at it, this is going to be a very quick series. The pick: Tampa Bay in 4.
(3) Toronto Maple Leafs vs (2) Boston Bruins: For the second straight season, Toronto and Boston will play each other in the first-round. The Bruins had the most points in the NHL this season. They are much better balanced than the Maple Leafs are and Boston should win this series. That being said, Toronto hasn’t won a playoff series since the 2003-2004 season and I have a gut feeling some way some how the Toronto Maple Leafs will finally win a playoff series. Toronto doesn’t want to lose three first-round playoff series in a row and it could put Mike Babcock’s future in doubt. The pick: Toronto in 6.
West: Pacific Division: (WC2) Colorado Avalanche vs (1) Calgary Flames: This is going to be a very fun series to watch no doubt. Colorado and Calgary both have very high octane offenses. The Flames had the best record in the west, but they have defensive and goaltending issues heading into the postseason. It could very well cost them in this series because the Avalanche has been getting better goaltending play right now. Both of these teams have super stars on the ice. Room for error in this series will be really small. Calgary took down Colorado in all three contests during the regular season, but they were all close contests. The same could happen here in the postseason. The pick: Colorado in 7.
(3) Vegas Golden Knights vs (2) San Jose Sharks: This could be the most unentertaining series in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Vegas doesn’t have really any superstars on the ice and San Jose has been slipping on its head as of late. The difference in this series will be that the Golden Knights have Marc-Andre Fleury and the Sharks don’t. The pick: Vegas in 5.
Central Division: (WC1) Dallas Stars vs (1) Nashville Predators: Both of these teams took it out on each other during the regular season and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it happen once again in the postseason. This series could also be very low scoring because Dallas has Ben Bishop between the pipes and Nashville has Pekka Rinne between the pipes. The Stars have Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin who can take over a series. The Predators don’t have many offensive weapons other than Filip Forsberg. Home ice will play a role in this series. The pick: Nashville in 7.
(3) St. Louis Blues vs (2) Winnipeg Jets: These two teams will be playing each other for the first time in the postseason. This could an epic series. St. Louis was dead in the water at one point until goaltender Jordan Binnington was called up from the AHL and then he took over and the Blues rode the momentum wave. St. Louis is a very physical team. Winnipeg is also very physical. Before the season began, I picked them to win the Stanley Cup. They are the one team out west that I think could beat an east team in the finals this season. Connor Hellebuyck needs to be really sharp in net for this series for the Jets or they could be disappointed in the first-round this season after reaching the conference finals a season ago. The pick: Winnipeg in 7.