2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round

image.pngPhoto Credit: CBS Sports

The Stanley Cup playoffs are here. This year, the playoffs fall perfectly in the sports calendar, starting immediately after the Final Four. As an NHL fan, the start of the playoffs is basically a holiday, giving me no reason to look away from the TV. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the first round matchups for Lord Stanley’s cup.

Calgary Flames (P1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

Image result for flames vs avalanchePhoto Credit: NHL.com

The Flames finished the season with the best record in the west and will be the heavy favorite in this series. They also took all three matchups with the Avalanche this season. Calgary is led by Johnny Gaudreau who tallied 99 points on the season. The Flames boast five 20-goal scorers on the season. The Avalanche will have the only 40-goal scorer in the series with Nathan McKinnon, and the first line of McKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog will be expected to carry the scoring for Colorado. Calgary still has some questions in goaltending, but Mike Smith and David Rittich have both been adequate. Colorado has benefited from a recent surge by Philip Grubauer.

San Jose Sharks (P2) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (P3)

Image result for sharks vs golden knightsPhoto Credit: NHL.com

This is a rematch of last year’s second-round series, which the Knights took in six games. San Jose landed Erik Karlsson in the offseason and are loaded with veterans including Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Evander Kane. The Sharks finished the season with 3.52 goals per game, second-most in the NHL. Vegas was a bit more inconsistent in their sophomore season, but picked up Mark Stone during the season and have strong production from Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Both teams have strong depth, and this should be an exciting series to watch.

Nashville Predators (C1) vs Dallas Stars (WC1)

Image result for predators vs starsPhoto Credit: NHL.com

Nashville didn’t exactly blow everybody away like last year’s regular season, but ended with 100 points and atop the Central nonetheless. Both the Predators and Stars are coming into the playoffs hot. Nashville finished 8-2-1 in their final 11 games and Dallas finished 5-1-1 in their last seven. The Predators do not blow anyone away on the stat sheet, but their defensemen combined for 197 points on the season. Stars’ goaltender Ben Bishop led the NHL with a .934 save percentage, and had seven shutouts. Dallas is also strong on special teams, with an 11th-ranked power play and fifth on the penalty kill at 82.8 percent.

Winnipeg Jets (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)

Image result for jets vs bluesPhoto Credit: NHL.com

Jets’ coach Paul Maurice expects this series to be “an absolute grinder.” This phrase best describes the second half of Winnipeg’s season, which saw them finish 14-14-3 in their last 31 games. Meanwhile, the Blues were 23-6-4 after February 1st, second to only the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both teams have star power in Patrick Laine for the Jets and Vladimir Tarasenko for the Blues. Winnipeg’s power play was fourth in the league at 24.8 percent, and will face St. Louis’ penalty kill which ranked ninth in the NHL at 81.5 percent. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington quietly had one of the best seasons in the league with a 24-5-1 record, a .927 save percentage, and a 1.89 GAA.

Tampa Bay Lightning (A1) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (WC2)

Image result for lightning vs blue jacketsPhoto Credit: NHL.com

There is nothing else to say about the Lightning. They are the team to beat in the playoffs, and they outscored their first-round opponent in the Blue Jackets 17-3 in three regular-season matchups. Just know that 128 points is the most since the 2006 Red Wings and Nikita Kucherov led the league with 128 points (over 1.5 per game). As for the Blue Jackets, this is their “all-in” year, and playing their first-round series against the best team in the NHL will be their biggest test. The Blue Jackets had their struggles after acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel at the deadline, but won seven of their last eight games to clinch a playoff berth.

Boston Bruins (A2) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (A3)

Image result for boston bruins vs toronto maple leafsPhoto Credit: NHL.com

Last year, the Bruins eliminated the Leafs in a wild 7-4 game 7. Boston tied Calgary for the second-best record in the league with 107 points. Toronto looks to reach the second round for the first time since 2004. Despite playing only 66 games, David Pastrnak tallied career-highs in goals with 38 and points with 81 for the Bruins. Both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak won over 20 games in net this season. Rask is expected to be Boston’s starter for the postseason. Meanwhile, John Tavares put up career numbers with 47 goals and 88 points on the season. However, the Maple Leafs struggled down the stretch, especially goalie Frederik Andersen. This series will depend on whether Andersen can hold up in net.

Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (WC1)

Image result for capitals vs hurricanesPhoto Credit: NHL.com

Carolina is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but unfortunately will not be featuring their awesome post-game celebrations. Meanwhile, their opponent will be the defending Stanley-cup champion Capitals, who won all four regular-season matchups against the Hurricanes. For Washington, this was a status-quo regular season, with Alexander Ovechkin scoring 51 goals to lead the NHL. Carolina is lead by 21-year old Sebastian Aho who had a career season on his way to 83 points. In net, Braden Holtby is expected to start for the Capitals while Petr Mrazek has emerged as Carolina’s starter. Mrazek went 11-2-0 in his final 13 starts with a 1.68 GAA and a .944 save percentage.

New York Islanders (M2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (M3)

Image result for penguins vs islandersPhoto Credit: NHL.com

The New York Islanders lost John Tavares…and then proceeded to earn their most points in a season since 1983-84 (103). The two teams have not met since December 10th. Pittsburgh overcame several key injuries throughout the season to secure third in the Metro division. Second-year center Matthew Barzal led the Islanders with 82 points on the year despite only scoring one goal in his last 24 games. Sidney Crosby reached 100 points for the sixth time in his career with 35 goals and 65 assists. Robin Lehner finished the season with a .930 save percentage, good for second in the NHL, and will be the Islanders’ probable starter for game one. Thomas Greiss has also been a viable backup. Matt Murray has had his difficulties this season, but is the clear starter for the Penguins.

Staff Picks:

Me West: Flames in 6, Knights in 6, Predators in 6, Blues in 4 East: Lightning in 5, Bruins in 6, Hurricanes in 7, Islanders in 7

Chi Okare West: Flames in 4, Sharks in 6, Predators in 6, Blues in 7 East: Lightning in 5, Bruins in 7, Capitals in 6, Penguins in 5

Jack Morris West: Flames in 6, Knights in 7, Predators in 5, Jets in 6 East: Lightning in 5, Bruins in 6, Capitals in 6, Islanders in 7

Evan Rasor West: Flames in 5, Sharks in 7, Predators in 6, Jets in 6 East: Jackets in 7, Bruins in 5, Capitals in 6, Penguins in 6

Tim Newell West: Flames in 5, Sharks in 7, Predators in 6, Jets in 6 East: Lightning in 4, Leafs in 7, Capitals in 5, Penguins in 7

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s