The Stanley Cup playoffs officially start tonight with Pittsburgh v.s. Philadelphia and Winnipeg v.s. Minnesota both at 7:00 PM ET, and then Vegas v.s. Los Angeles at 10:00 PM ET.
With that being said, the way this season played out and how the standings fell, I could not have asked for any better first round match ups.
In the East we have an Original Six match up between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, The Battle of Pennsylvania with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Washington is taking on a hungry Columbus wild card team, and then first seeded Tampa Bay is taking on New Jersey, both of these teams did not qualify for the playoffs last season.
In the West we have President’s Trophy winners Nashville playing Colorado in what has been a turn around season for the ages, Winnipeg and Minnesota which has the potential to be an extremely tight series, Vegas in their record setting inaugural season against a veteran Los Angeles Kings team no one saw coming, and lastly Anaheim taking on San Jose in what is expected to be an extremely competitive series.
Pittsburgh Penguins v.s. Philadelphia Flyers
The Battle of Pennsylvania is set to start tonight at 7:00 PM ET.
Two time defending Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh is looking for a three-peat and has the potential to do so.
Pittsburgh has the leagues best power play of 26.2%, if Philadelphia finds itself in the box often, this series could be over quickly.
However, with the way the Flyers have been playing lately and with Claude Giroux being on fire, if this series stays five on five, Philadelphia can take this series far and possibly win it.
If I were to predict what is going to happen, I would say Pittsburgh wins in six.
Pittsburgh just has too much fire power and ability to embarrass elite goalies for me to take Philadelphia over them, who has had goaltender issues all year.
Washington Capitals v.s. Columbus Blue Jackets
This series is going to be a very competitive and close series.
The Capitals and Ovechkin are in arguably their last chance to bring home a Stanley Cup for the first time.
Washington has had so many teams that could have won the Cup however, they have never been able to actually accomplish it.
The Blue Jackets made it into the playoffs for their second season in a row, this is the first time in franchise history this has happened.
When comparing rosters and line ups, depth wise, I feel Columbus is deeper.
However, Washington’s first line will outplay Columbus’ first line.
If Columbus can with stand the onslaught by Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, I think the bottom six of Columbus will outplay the bottom six of Washington.
In a prediction, I would take Columbus in seven.
I could see Columbus weathering the storm, with Bobrovsky keeping them in the game, and then veterans like Vanek being able to get the job done against a lacking third and fourth line from Washington.
Tampa Bay Lightning v.s. New Jersey Devils
This series is going to be much closer than people think.
Not many people are even giving the Devils a chance, however an interesting fact is that the Devils won all three game against Tampa Bay this season.
I know. What happened in the season has no direct impact on what happens come playoffs, however; not many teams were able beat the Lightning this year once, let alone twice, never mind ALL three times.
In the beginning and middle of season, Tampa Bay was the team to beat.
Since the trade deadline, Tampa Bay has struggled compared to earlier in the season.
The Devils have found themselves back in the playoffs, along with Taylor Hall having an incredible season of 93 points, and a solid chance of the Hart Memorial Trophy for league MVP.
New Jersey plays the style that a team needs to be able to play to compete and beat the Lightning.
However, Tampa Bay does have home ice advantage and lethal scoring threats from Stamkos, Kucherov, and Hedman, along with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net, a Vezina Trophy Finalist.
I see this series going to Tampa Bay but in seven, New Jersey is not going to back down, and this will be a closer series than people are expecting.
Boston Bruins v.s. Toronto Maple Leafs
What else could a hockey fan ask for other than an Original Six match up in the playoffs?
Both of these teams have had incredible seasons and it is a shame that they meet in the first round, because one of these team’s seasons is going to end much sooner than it should.
The Boston Bruins find themselves in a tough first round match up after struggling the last ten games of the season due to injury and fatigue.
Rick Nash, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara, David Backes, and Riley Nash are all players who have or are currently going through some sort of injury.
This is the biggest threat the Bruins face, how hurt are these players and how many more injuries can this team withstand?
Toronto on the other hand appears to be pretty healthy and ready for another playoff appearance after losing to the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals in the first round last year.
With scoring threats such as Matthews, Nylander, and Marner, Toronto can certainly take this series.
However, if the Bruins can find themselves healthy and play their game there’s no reason Boston can’t advance.
My prediction of this series is that Toronto will take it in six.
I see both teams splitting Games 1 and 2 in Boston, Toronto taking Games 3 and 4 in Toronto, Boston winning Game 5 in Boston, Toronto closes it out in Toronto in Game 6.
Nashville Predators v.s. Colorado Avalanche
The President’s Trophy went to Nashville this season for the first time in franchise history.
Colorado has completely turned things around this season after only recording 48 points last season and have found themselves in the playoffs.
This series appears to be lopsided. That’s because it is.
Nashville is arguably the deepest team in the league, one of the best home ice teams, and went to the Stanley Cup last season, and swept Colorado in the regular season this year.
This is also a perfect example of a trap series for the Predators, much like last year’s first round sweep over Chicago.
However I do see Nashville taking this series in six, possibly five if able to win one of the game in Colorado and close it out in Nashville.
Winnipeg Jets v.s. Minnesota Wild
This series has been laid out waiting to happen for over a month, and still people can not decide who will win.
Winnipeg has the best home record and I feel this is going to be the biggest factor of this series.
Minnesota struggled early in the season due to several injuries, however they were able to find themselves a spot in the playoffs.
Ryan Suter being out for the Wild is a huge blow and makes this first round even harder for Minnesota.
However, Minnesota has one thing Winnipeg does not, a playoff win.
Winnipeg has not won a playoff game since relocating from Atlanta and were swept by Anaheim in 2014 in their only playoff appearance.
This series is going to be extremely close, however as stated before, home ice is going to be the deciding factor for me and I see Winnipeg taking this series in seven.
Anaheim Ducks v.s. San Jose Sharks
Anaheim and San Jose is going to be another close series as these two teams have gone back and forth in the Pacific Division this year.
Anaheim fought through injuries in the beginning of the season, but since becoming healthy again the Ducks appear to be in their playoff form and ready for another deep playoff appearance.
San Jose lost their leader Joe Thornton with a knee injury, however the addition of Evander Kane at the trade deadline has brought some positives to the Sharks.
The Sharks can certainly take this series if they play up to their ability, however Kesler, Getzlaf, and Perry all are not fun to play against in the playoffs and will make it extremely difficult for any team to win.
Without any goaltender issues this season, the Ducks are in a position to potentially make a run for the Stanley Cup.
I do see this series going to seven, however I see Anaheim having the edge over San Jose due to home ice and Anaheim’s ability to wear teams down.
Vegas Golden Knights v.s. Los Angeles Kings
This sounds like a mid evil battle, Golden Knights v.s. Kings.
In their first season, Vegas has broken every record possible as an expansion team in their first year.
The Kings appeared to have found some sort of youth in Kopitar, Quick, Brown, Carter, and Doughty as they have had an impressive season after not much expectations.
The Golden Knights have won the Pacific Division and are favorites to beat the Kings, in some predictions rather easily.
I can’t help but remember the time the Kings won the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed, several players from that team are still the core of this team.
In my opinion I honestly see the Kings taking this series to seven games and stealing it from the Golden Knights.
Quick has appeared to have found himself in net, and Fleury could very well hit another cold patch like he has done the past two seasons.
However, it would not be surprising to me if Vegas continues this amazing debut season and beats Los Angeles.
Regardless of what happens, this round is definitely going to have some extremely exciting games worth seeing.
Los Angeles: www.zimbio.com
San Jose: www.sfchronicle.com
New Jersey: www.wfan.radio.com
Tampa Bay: www.northjersey.com