NHL Playoff Picture

A breakdown of every first round matchup

April 11, 2018 - 11:00 am

Can you feel it, can you? It’s that time of the year where it seems like every team steps up their games and we get to see incredible hockey. It is time for the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s time to see which team will hoist Lord Stanley’s Trophy. So, get ready, grab a coffee or a soft drink depending on which one you like better, and let’s break down each and every matchup for the first round of the playoffs.

Eastern Conference- Lightning vs Devils

I guarantee that the Lightning did not want to see the Devils in their first round match up. The Lightning haven’t won a single game against the Devils in the regular season, losing to three different goaltenders by one goal each game. So, what do the Lightning need to do to have the edge in the match-up. First, score first. This may seem like a stupid point but it’s a valid one. The Lightning in their three matchups with the Devils have not scored first in any game. So get a hot start and see how the Devils react to the situation. Second, for the love of all that is good, help out Vasilevskiy. Most of the Devils goals against them were on a rebounder or on a fast break. Help him by pushing Devil players out of the zone. They should start with this and then see where it takes them.

But what about the Devils? Well for them to pull off the upset, don’t change a thing. Really and truly, they have the advantage already from the regular season, so they don’t have to change much. They should take advantage of the opportunities given to them from the Lightning. Every rebound, open look, or turnover, they need to take full advantage of them.

So who is going to win this series? This is a tough one for me, however, I think this series has the opportunity to go 7 games but I think the Lightning are a smart playoff team. They are going to look to shut down Taylor Hall and rely on one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the league this year, Vasilevskiy.

Prediction: Lightning in six

Bruins vs Maple Leafs

There are few match ups in the first round that make me jump with joy and make me love the NHL Playoffs and this is one of them. We have one of the hottest teams in hockey since the all-star break vs the team that I picked to lead the East in the preseason. Plus, this is the first time we have seen this match up in the playoffs since 2013, where the Bruins came back from a 4-1 deficit in game 7 to win 5-4 in OT. So, what do the Bruins need to do to make sure they continue their winning ways against the Leafs in the playoffs?

They need to try to pressure the goal early and often. The Bruins are 9th in the NHL in shots per game and have won 34 of 45 games that they have outshot their opponents during the season. So, keep up the pressure and keep their front three quiet with your defense. One last thing is to trust Rask. I know most fans don’t right now, but this is the series that he is going to need the faithful to help out.

For the Leafs it’s a simple thing, spread the puck out. Make sure the playmakers have the room to do so. Also make the Bruins dig deep into their bench. The Leafs have, in my opinion, one of the best benches in the NHL, whereas the Bruins are shaky with the health of their bench.

This series should go seven games and I think it will. I have said to a lot of people that I love the Leafs since the preseason, but I think the Bruins have what it takes to take this series again.

Prediction: Bruins in seven

Capitals vs Blue Jackets

This one makes me scared so much that I have lost a bit of sleep over it. I will state right here, right now, that I am a Capitals fan, but I will keep my own fandom out of my analysis of this match up. For me, this is a tough one, I think that the Capitals are a strong team, but I think no one is giving the Blue Jackets a strong chance in this match up. I mean the Capitals did lead the season series 3-1, but this match up will be different.

For the Capitals, they need to be supportive of Grubauer. This is the first time someone else besides Holtby has started a playoff series since 2011 and Grubauer is going to need everyone’s support to build his confidence. Second take the offensive pressure off of Ovechkin. Kuzentsov and Oshie need to be the in the trenches players for the Caps and try to open up lanes for Ovechkin in later games.

For the Blue Jackets, this is going to be simple yet hard to do, don’t go to the Penalty Box. If they want to win this series they need to play clean. Blue Jackets have the 5th worst Penalty Kill percentage in the NHL but have let up an average of 2.8 goals per game, 9th best in the NHL. They also need to make sure that their defense helps Bobrosvsky. They need Bobrosvsky on the case if they want to upset the Capitals, and the only way that can happen is if the defense blocks the onslaught of shots coming their way from the Capitals.

For me, this series is an interesting one. I think the Capitals are the better team but their playoff history has me scared to predict them to do anything.

Prediction: Capitals in six

Penguins vs Flyers

Isn’t it the best when we get a rivalry match in the playoffs? This is going to be a gruesome match and if you have never watched hockey, this might be the match up you want to see. All rules are out the window and emotions will take over. So, what does each team need to do to win if they can keep their sanity?

For the Penguins it’s going to be simple, spread the puck around. Three of the Penguins players have over 80 points this season because they spread the puck better than most teams in the NHL. They also need to make sure they keep their swagger. They have Murray as a goaltender, who is probably one of the best playoff goaltenders in the NHL today. Have Murray be the guy to make the big plays, after all that is his specialty in the postseason. Finally, don’t let the three peat put any more pressure on you. Force the Flyers to try and beat you and get them to change their game plan.  

For the Flyers, get the Penguins to play your game. Flyers love a physical style of play but they also love a defensive style of play. Only allowing 30 shots per game which is 5th in the NHL. The Flyers also need to survive the first period. They score the majority of their goals in the second period and that’s where they need to gain a lead if at all possible.

For me, I am going to enjoy this match up just for the bad blood between both teams. However, I think that the Penguins are just the better overall team right now. I think that they will win but I don’t know if they will do so without injuries.

Prediction: Penguins in six

Western Conference- Predators vs Avalanche

What was the Cinderella team last year is now the favorite to win it all. They are in a similar match up that they had last, but with the roles reversed. Everyone is expecting something out of the Predators while the Avalanche barely made it to the postseason. So what’s it going to take for each team to win and move on?

For the Predators, it is as simple as rely on your morals. The Predators have, in my opinion, the best defense in all of the NHL. They have the best defensemen, Josi and Subban, and they have Pekka Rinne. Pekka Rinne was not only one of the best named hockey players in the NHL last year but was also a wall for the Predators. One other thing is they have home ice for the playoffs, which means they have to face all of the catfish and the craziness that is a Nashville crowd.

The Avalanche need to do two things. First, get the Predators in penalty trouble. The Predators lead the NHL in penalty minutes served per game with over 11 minutes per game. That’s a sixth of the game playing a man down. That is something they need to use with them having the 8th best power play in the NHL. The second thing is to get MacKinnon going. Mackinnon had 58 assists as well as 39 goals this season and he will be the focus for the Predators. He needs to be the one to spread the puck around and see if he can get people open.

For me this is the match up that I think might be a mismatch and really think that the Predators have too much fire power and with them having home ice it’s going to be hard for anyone to beat them.

Prediction: Predators in six

Jets vs Wild

Is there a hotter team heading into the playoffs than the Jets? No, not the New York Jets, I am talking about the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are 11-1 in their last 12 games of the regular season which included 5 overtime wins while the Wild have been having a hard time with their footing recently.

For the Jets it’s simple, don’t change a single thing. Don’t even question things. They are the hottest team right now and have everything going well for them. So, don’t change a thing and keep the Wheeler and Laine rotation going strong.

For the Wild, try to extend the game. If they keep it close till the 3rd period there is a chance for the Wild to sneak in and win. In fact, most of the Wild’s Offence happens in the 3rd period while the Jets score their goals in the first. Try to find a way to help Dubnyk and minimize most of the shots on goal for the Jets.

Overall I think the Jets are too good of a team right now for the Wild. The Wild can surprise and maybe win one road game but that might be all.

Prediction: Jets in six

Golden Knights vs Kings

What a more fitting challenge for the Golden Knights in their first playoffs than against the Kings. The Kings have won both of their Stanley Cups from the Wild Card position and Quick in the playoffs is always fun to watch. This is going to be one of the most fun scenes in the playoffs, I could make it about the cities but instead let’s keep it to what is going to happen on the ice.

Vegas has to score first, plain and simple. They are 36-6-1 when scoring first this season and that needs to be a focus for them going against the Kings because they are 25-3-4 when scoring first. Also, they need to rely on veteran experience to help them out. As a first year organization, it’s going to be needed for your veterans to come out and help with first game nerves.

For the Kings, they should keep up the things that helped get them here, the defense. The Kings lead the NHL in Goals scored against them and Penalty Kill. If this stays this way, then this could frustrate some of the inexperienced players from the Golden Knights. They also need to make the Knights go to the penalty box. The Knights only spend 6:49 per game in the penalty box, second best in the NHL. They should try to get the Knights to foul them and make them go into the box to help the Kings out.

Overall, this is going to be a fun one with two of my favorite goaltenders facing off. If this gets into a shootout, I think the Golden Knights have too much firepower to lose.

Prediction: Golden Knights in six

Ducks vs Sharks

Final matchup of the playoffs has the Ducks and Sharks going at one another. This is going to be one of the closest matched teams going against each other in the West Coast. Both teams have some firepower but there are flaws in both of their games.

For the Ducks, if they are going to win, they are going to need their defensemen to show up and help get them there. They don’t have a lot of people that score points on their team, but they have enough to cause problems. The Ducks need their defense to keep them in the game and for them to create short hand chances to get the Sharks off guard.

For the Sharks, they need to have the Ducks foul them, which shouldn’t be hard. Ducks are 5th in the NHL in Penalty Minutes. Also keep the shots up. The Ducks allow 33 shots per game, so their defense does enough for them to win games but when you have 11 players with double digit goals this season, they can’t stop them all.

This is a close one, I think that the Sharks are going to keep pressing the Ducks until the Ducks can’t take anymore. Plus the Sharks’ playoff beard game is the strongest in the league.

Prediction: Sharks in 7

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