2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Predictions
The opening round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs begins today. Here’s my predictions for each series. For a detailed preview of each club, check out my analysis at Featurd.com.
Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche. The Avs carry some impressive firepower in Nathan MacKinnon and Miko Rantanen. They’re going into this series minus sidelined goaltender Semyon Varlamov and defenseman Erik Johnson. Even with those two, the Avs would be hard-pressed to match the impressive depth of the Predators. From goaltender Pekka Rinne to a rock-steady defense anchored by P.K. Subban and Roman Josi to a strong offense led by Filip Forsberg, the Preds are simply too much for the Avalanche to contain. Prediction: Predators in four.
Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild. It’s the first-ever postseason series between these two regional rivals. The Jets can count on a high-octane offense powered by Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine and solid goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. The Wild can hold their own offensively, thanks in part to resurgent stars Eric Staal and Zach Parise. They can also depend on veteran netminder Devan Dubnyk. However, the absence of top defenseman Ryan Suter could be a void too big to fill. Prediction: Jets in six.
Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings. The Golden Knights succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in their inaugural season by topping the Pacific Division. Led by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal, they’re not lacking playoff experience. The Kings, however, aren’t too far removed from their championship years. Core players Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick enjoyed bounce-back years and they got a late-season boost by the return of Jeff Carter. Their postseason pedigree should make the difference. Prediction: Kings in six.
Anaheim Ducks vs San Jose Sharks. This match-up between Pacific Division rivals seems destined to go the distance. It could be the most physical of the opening-round contests. While the Ducks surged down the stretch, they enter this series with top blueliner Cam Fowler sidelined and goalie John Gibson banged up. The Sharks are without center Joe Thornton but could have the advantage with a better power play and a healthier Martin Jones between the pipes. Prediction: Sharks in seven.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils. Led by MVP candidate Taylor Hall, the Devils are a promising young team. Backup goalie Keith Kinkaid did a fine job taking over for struggling starter Cory Schneider. Tampa Bay stumbled a bit down the stretch and there’s some concern fatigue is catching up with starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. However, the Bolts offensive firepower, led by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, should prove too much for the inexperienced Devils. Prediction: Lightning in five.
Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs. Since December, the Bruins were among the league’s dominant teams. They have considerable depth throughout their roster and experienced playoff stars such as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the young Leafs have the offense to make life difficult for the Bruins. Toronto’s lack of skilled blueline depth, however, should tip this series in favor of Boston. Prediction: Bruins in six.
Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets. On paper, the Capitals should dominate this series, but they have a well-deserved reputation for coming up short in the playoffs. Starting goalie Braden Holtby struggled this season and backup Philipp Grubauer has just two postseason appearances. The Jackets blew hot and cold this season and netminder Sergei Bobrovsky doesn’t have a stellar playoff record, but this could be the year they could finally put it all together to win their first-ever playoff series. Prediction: Blue Jackets in six.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers. Sparks fly whenever these rivals face off in the postseason and this year shouldn’t be any different. The Flyers have a developing young blueline while forwards Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are coming off career-best regular seasons. Goaltending, however, remains their weakness. The defending champion Penguins have considerable experience, led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a healthy Kris Letang. Goalie Matt Murray’s had his difficulties this season, but if he’s in good form the Pens should persevere. Prediction: Penguins in six.