The most difficult championship to win in pro sports is the Stanley Cup, and the tournament to decide who hoists the greatest trophy in sports begins tonight. It seems that the gap between the one and eight seeds shortens every year, with true parity coming to the NHL. This makes predicting the winners extremely difficult, especially when factoring in hot goalies, injuries, and home ice advantage. Last year, I went 7/8 in round one, so let’s see if I can get it perfect this time:
Tampa vs Columbus:
Tampa is just too loaded. Columbus is a tough, scrappy team. They will inflict some pain on the Bolts, but coach John Tortorella will submit to his former franchise. Sergei Bobrovsky is not consistent enough to shut down this offense. Stamkos, Pointe, Kucherov, Killorn and McDonagh will shine in this series. Tampa in 5.
Washington vs Carolina:
The Hurricanes have a bright future, but the Caps are champs for a reason. They are battle-tested, hungry, and absolutely stacked. Ovechkin & company played great, physical hockey down the stretch after a lackluster regular season. Something tells me they were saving it for the playoffs. Watch out for Oshie and Kuznetsov in this one. Caps in 6.
Boston vs Toronto:
A rematch from last year, where the winner gets a date with the NHL’s best team, and the loser potentially sees their coach fired. I would love to pick the Leafs here, especially with a potential second round matchup featuring the Islanders vs Tavares. The last time JT was in the playoffs, he willed the Isles to a first round win over Florida. As high octane as Toronto’s offense is, the B’s can match them with Bergeron, Pastranack and Marchand, and are overall better defensively and in goal. This one will likely go the distance again, but it’s very difficult to pick against the better defensive team. Bruins in seven.
Pittsburgh vs Islanders:
Another tough series to call. The Islanders played tight team hockey all year, reminiscent of the old Devils of the 90s and 2000’s. The combination of Lou as GM and Trotz as coach has proven successful, with a return to hard-nosed, disciplined hockey. But let’s be honest here. The Pens of this generation are three time Cup champs, and have a loaded arsenal of offense coming via Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Kessel and Letang. These guys know how to win when it counts, and they have a significantly better power play. As much as my gut says to go with the Isles, I can’t pick against Crosby in the big dance. Pens in seven in enemy territory.
Calgary vs Colorado:
This should be a fun series. Both clubs know how to score, and both are full of great young talent that will be in the spotlight for years to come. Colorado got a taste of the playoffs last year when they tangled with the Nashville Predators. Calgary is a talented young group that hasn’t been there before. This will be my big upset pick of round one. Nathan Mackinnon will lead the Avalanche to a first round upset! Colorado in seven.
Nashville vs Dallas:
I am surprised Dallas hung in there and qualified. They have a talented team that knows how to play defensive hockey. However, their current squad would not be able to beat the Predators from last season, let alone this season. Nashville made some significant moves at the trade deadline, adding gritty, playoff proven talent like Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle. They are big, strong, fast and experienced. Nashville on home ice in five.
Winnipeg vs St Louis:
These two teams drew the shortest sticks in their division and instead of playing Dallas, they get to face each other. It’s ashame that we will lose one of the top five teams in the league in round one due to the new playoff format. St. Louis got hot in the second half after a coaching change and put themselves in the race to win the division. They’re a physical team that can score, but so are the Jets. Winnipeg has playoff experience and lots of goal scoring. They will wear you down and beat you up. The only question mark for them is in goal. This thing goes the distance, but Winnipeg takes it in seven.
San Jose vs Vegas:
This will be another great series, especially since it’s a rematch from last year. Both teams can skate and score. I love the Golden Knights’ addition of Mark Stone at the deadline. He fully replaces the void left by James Neal’s departure, and he’s much younger. As always, defense prevails in the playoffs, so I’ve got to go with Fleury and Vegas in this one. He will outplay Martin Jones and lead the Golden Knights to a seven game victory.