NHL Eastern Conference First Round Playoff Predictions


What an exhilarating time we had the first full week of August. The qualifying matchup rounds in the NHL Bubble in the hub city of Toronto were fun, educational and worth all time spent watching and breaking down play. Besides yours truly, who had the Columbus Blue Jackets winning their series, while making the games fun to watch? Coaches John Tortorella and Claude Julien have done some of if not their best work this postseason. The Philadelphia Flyers look to be the team everyone wants to beat and get rid of early in order to take their place in the Stanley Cup race.

With the four teams of the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens advancing, we will see who’s more consistent and threatening for a deep run versus a one-and-done when things get hard. The top four teams finally play for real now that their positions are settled. So without further delay, it’s time for the analyses and predictions heading into these matchups.

#4 Boston Bruins v. #5 Carolina Hurricanes

In a rematch of last year’s conference finals, there’s a different feel for both teams than there was spring of 2019. The Carolina Hurricanes thrashed the New York Rangers, while the Boston Bruins rolled their collective eyes through the Round Robin, placing fourth instead of first. Still, these teams know each other pretty well, and have a history outside of their divisions.

The Hurricanes made a significant move this past offseason and brought in goaltender James Reimer to back up Petr Mrazek, while saying goodbye to Curtis McElhinney. Reimer has history of keeping Boston on their heels a bit, so if the Bruins try to make a fool of Mrazek, Reimer can slow the pace down and trip up the Bruins.

It helps that star players Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Jordan Martinook gained valuable playoff experience against Boston last year. While they looked astonishing in the qualifying round, if they can put up numbers against the Bruins’ famed Perfection Line, then this will be the most exciting series of the first round in any conference.

In order for that to happen, Boston must pick up the pace. Coach Bruce Cassidy counts on his stalwart captain Zdeno Chara and the Perfection Line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand to show up now that these games are meaningful. Tuukka Rask must look like the Vezina finalist people see him as and show up when it matters most.

2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six
The longest tenured captain in the NHL, Zdeno Chara (33, right) faces the task of making sure his team plays like the best team they were in 2019, including his net-minder Tuukka Rask (40, left).


Overall analysis: This has the making of a potential upset if the Bruins are still in sleep-mode, but since the locker room seems to know this is for real, expect them to ease into the series much the way St. Louis might with Vancouver. Let Carolina play their game, adapt, then smother them in the following games. As good as the Hurricanes are against most teams in the NHL, Boston has as much if not more than Carolina does, especially a focused locker room.

Prediction: Boston Bruins win series 4-1

#3 Washington Capitals v. #6 New York Islanders

The Capitals played with more alarm this past Sunday against the Bruins knowing the loser would have to face the potent Carolina Hurricanes. Squeaking out a 2-1 win, the Caps can breathe knowing their opponent is a heavily defensive team and needs just enough offense to get by. However, said-team has two former big names that know the roster of the Capitals very well, as Semyon Varlamov and Islanders head coach Barry Trotz will put up as much of a fight as possible.

The Caps haven’t looked like their usual feisty selves the 2019-2020 season. They’re not as dominant, they’re not on the same page for most of 60 minutes, and Braden Holtby has been porous in net several games– so much so his backups have had to play more than usual. Holtby had a 3.11 goals against average in the regular season, was below a .900 save percentage, and Ilya Samsonov, the inactive back-up/1B starter, recorded the only shutout the Caps had all season. Todd Rierden likely obsesses over what line changes he can make against an Islanders team that split the series with the Caps this regular season, hoping that can help the defense long-term against an offense that isn’t known for scoring in bunches.

John Carlson brings the swagger for his team, but also the needed and most coveted aspects any team would want their key players to have, especially the foresight of what will happen before the puck arrives.

It’s important for the Islanders to score early and often. While their defensemen will have their hands full, the Capitals aren’t an impatient team like the Florida Panthers. They’re a much better playoff team and will take advantage of turnovers and penalties committed. Anthony Beauvillier was great at doing whatever it took to win, and may be a good matchup against Tom Wilson, but Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle need to step up on offense and make Braden Holtby look how he did in the regular season.

Overall analysis: The most important players in this series? Of course the goaltenders, Beauvillier, Tom Wilson and the omnipresent Alex Ovechkin for sure, but John Carlson is the man to watch in any major Capital’s game. A critical player snubbed of an MVP nomination, Carlson is the lifeblood of Washington’s offense, power-play, special teams and his presence makes that roster look more dangerous than they truly are. If Carlson is targeted and snuffed out by Islander defenders, this could be a very long series for the Capitals. Their defense will give New York fits, but if anyone can frustrate Washington to their core, it’s the tandem of coach Barry Trotz and Semyon Varlamov.

Coach Barry Trotz (bald guy in black suit) gets the most out of his core players, such as Jordan Eberle when it matters most. His maneuvering of this series will show who the true winner is.

Prediction: Washington Capitals win series 4-2

#2 Tampa Bay Lightning v. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? The nightmare that threw Tampa’s heavenly season out of the playoffs last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets again want to crash the party and ruin the dreams and goals the Lightning have of accomplishing in the playoffs. While both teams are different from that 2019 series, both teams are the same in a lot of ways, but who will come out on top when the dust settles?

Tampa Bay was the first team out of the playoffs last year and had to take a long, hard look at how to move forward. Adding physical players Kevin Shattenkirk, Pat Maroon and Barclay Goodrow, along with the progression of players Brayden Point, Erik Cernak and Yanni Gourde, the Lightning have added the muscle and grit that they lacked last year. Unfortunately, the losses of Steven Stamkos and especially Victor Hedman may be too much if Columbus wants to test just how much better they truly are.

Speaking of tests, the Jackets have passed most of theirs with flying colors, thanks to Jack Adams (coach-of-the-year) nominee John Tortorella. The man who ironically brought Tampa Bay their only championship around two decades ago, Torts will test Tampa’s defense early on and see how much of a loss Victor Hedman is for their back-end. Pivotal players Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Cam Atkinson took the fight hard to Tampa last year, and will throw themselves again at one of the deepest teams in the east to test their wills. While Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t the Jackets’ goaltender anymore, Joonas Korpisalo may be better, especially since he shut out the Toronto Maple Leafs in half of his starts.

The infamous Joonas Korpisalo split will drive some Tampa Bay scorers crazy, especially if he keeps them out of the net for over 40 minutes.

Overall analysis: This will be a fun matchup, and it will have full attention from those who watched last year’s sweep. While the Lightning have more players to counter Columbus, and the Jackets lost their high scorers from last season, the make up of these teams haven’t really changed. Despite Jon Cooper’s success, Tortorella will be the superior coach of this series, again pulling out as many tricks as humanly possible.

Upset Prediction of the series: Columbus Blue Jackets win series 4-2

#1 Philadelphia Flyers v. #8 Montreal Canadiens

How many people predicted this matchup happening? A lot of analysts certainly did not. The Flyers answered questions about consistent play coming back after months of no regular season action, showing they’re better than what even loyal fans expected. They cruised through the Round Robin 3-0 in the three games they played, and weren’t forced to rely on their best players.

Montreal on the other hand has made the most of the gift given to them by the league and ground out win after win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team with the lowest winning percentage who got into the 24 team format, the Canadiens look like a real threat even outside of Carey Price. Coach Claude Julien has his team, which traded their star players by the All-Star break, looking similar to when he took the underdog 2011 Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup Finals run.

The Canadiens roster has stepped up in every facet, from wingers Dale Weise to Brendan Gallagher. Rookie center Nick Suzuki has proved he can be a quality starter moving forward for the franchise, delivering in aspects showing how this team has evolved and grown. Captain Shea Weber hasn’t aged a day since he was traded to Montreal from Nashville, and Carey Price is yet to fall from his peak. As most underdog teams like Montreal can attest, it’s how good you are in the net that shows how far you’ll go, and Price is as solid as they come.

Claude Julien has his captain Shea Weber (6) and the team believing they’re the ones to go all the way, something he succeeded at in Boston.

Philadelphia’s coach-of-the-year candidate Alain Vigneault has his philosophy of team first and passing-before-shooting mentality in full throttle, as teams who previously went after the Flyers’ stars must respect how Philly involves the whole team in every phase. While back up goalie Brian Elliott has been unpredictable in the postseason, Carter Hart, the undisputed starter, shone brilliantly against the top three teams in the conference, topping all of them. While the big names of captain Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek still shine and leave their marks in every game, breakout players Scott Laughton, Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel have also stepped up and made every line a threat to opposing defenses.

Sean Couturier (14, orange) and Carter Hart (79, orange) will defend viciously, and drop gloves when need be, while Shea Weber and Carey Price (31, red) know their task will be an uphill battle.

Overall analysis: These teams can grind it out, get physical, play defense and have a lot of heart in their games. Both coaches have squared off before in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, with Julien getting the upper hand in the end. Vigneault though has the upper hand in depth, star firepower and a more flexible roster that can easily adapt to how Montreal plays or what game pace can be set. Carey Price will play as best he can, but with the way the Flyers have improved in every facet, there may not be much even he can do, as he found out in the season series with Philadelphia taking two of the three games.

Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers win series 4-1


Eastern Conference Qualifying Predictions Record: 3-1


NHL Western Conference First Round Playoffs Predictions


What an exhilarating time we had the first full week of August. The qualifying round of matchups in the NHL Bubble in the hub city of Edmonton were fun, educational and worth all the time spent watching and breaking down play. Besides yours truly, who had the bottom two seeds winning their matchups, while making the games fun to watch? Cam Talbot looked like his prime self when he helped Edmonton reach the playoffs in 2017. Vancouver looks primed to be a dangerous team in the future within the Pacific, while still learning and working.

With the four teams of the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks advancing, we will see who’s more consistent and threatening for a deep run versus a one-and-done when things get hard. The top four will play for real now that their positions are settled. So without further delay, it’s time for the analysis and predictions heading into these matchups.

#4 St. Louis Blues v. #5 Vancouver Canucks

What a great way to start off the predictions, beginning with the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Blues against a young and feisty Canucks squad. Yes, a lot of people had Vancouver smacking Minnesota last round and they did well, but the fact they got there and were as high a seed surprised many with the lack of depth on their roster. Goaltenders Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko have been big reasons why the Canucks had competitive games, but rookie-of-the-year candidate Quinn Hughes, along with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and captain Bo Horvat have done as much as they can with playing better defense, scoring and passing. They’re physical too, so the Blues can’t push them around as much as they could other teams.

Brock Boeser brings the fire, passion and offensive potency the Canucks need when it matters most. Watch for the Blues to target him by Game 2 at the latest.

This is definitely a team the St. Louis Blues can wake up for and return to their winning ways. Vancouver showed audiences in their series against the Wild they’re feisty, ready to bring fight and want to knock people around. Granted, this plays more to the Blues’ style of play, but St. Louis has looked lethargic and not themselves, much like how the Boston Bruins looked in the Round Robin. Coach Craig Berube wants to know his players are on the same page as he is to recreate the magic of last year’s Blues.

Overall analysis: The Blues get a boost with Vladimir Tarasenko back in the starting rotation. Their best scorer should get hot, but has to take his time since he hadn’t played in a real game since October. Last year’s playoffs MVP Ryan O’Reilly, captain Alex Pietrangelo and Marco Scandella will be needed on the defensive side, especially if the Blues want to give Pettersson and Boeser fits. Once the Blues ease into this series, they should look like themselves before the season paused.

Prediction: St. Louis Blues win series 4-1

Round Robin Craig
The Round Robin for the upper four teams of the conference was all fun in games, but Blues coach Craig Berube demands a heavy workload from his team, especially since St. Louis is favored to make the next two rounds.

#3 Dallas Stars v. #6 Calgary Flames

This might be the funnest matchup of the western conference playoffs, as a vigorous and ready Flames team squares up with the defensive and clutch veteran Stars. The Flames started to find their groove, confidence and depth in their matchup with Winnipeg, and now face a team they went 2-1 against in the regular season.

The Dallas Stars to their credit have shown audiences their instincts of when to go hard and when to score late in games. The additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry should pay off in this series, since both were in the same division as the Flames most of their careers (Pavelski as San Jose’s captain and Perry a feisty scorer in Anaheim), and the return of second-in-command Tyler Seguin is welcomed on special teams and the offense.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Dallas Stars
Former San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski was a coveted player in 2019’s free agency. The Dallas Stars signed him so he could lead them to a deep playoff run and knock out teams like St. Louis. Now he’ll show what he brings to the table in the playoffs.

There’s a lot to look close at and hype up with Calgary. Yes, the Jets were depleted and got scrappy in their elimination game, but key players stepped up who hadn’t in years prior or unexpectedly. Milan Lucic and Cam Talbot, two players from Edmonton the year prior, look like their old selves. Lucic looks like his time as a Bruin a decade ago, and Cam Talbot shows the full confidence and goalie play he had when he backed up Henrik Lundqvist on the New York Rangers. Sam Bennett, Sean Monahan and Andrew Mangiapane racked up points and showed why Geoff Ward played them in critical minutes. Then there’s the presence of Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, who command the attention and/or irritation of many opposing teams’ superstars.

Overall analysis: There’s a lot of pressure on Ben Bishop to return to the Stanley Cup finals after his run with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his team may start or play slow for a good amount of the first few games. The Stars are known to pick up their pace in the middle or late in series/seasons with their defense first philosophy. Captain Jamie Benn has to show up early and often in the first two games for Dallas to show they’re the better team, and their new additions should prove why the Stars paid big money for a long playoff run.

Calgary however, is a physical, fast, and proven team that can take the fight to Dallas where and when it matters most. Even though Cam Talbot is the best goalie for the Flames, he must maintain his spot and continue to show why he was coveted around the league before heading to northern city Edmonton. The bodies in front of him will help whenever possible, but his consistency will resonate and carry the team as far as possible.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames
The man of the hour, regardless of the scorers and offense generated, will be Flames goalie Cam Talbot as he looks as sharp as his New York Rangers playing days. Once that man shows up, Dallas may not stand a chance.

It’s important to note that even though the Flames advanced, there was more interest in their rivals in Edmonton. Players on the Oilers who didn’t show up when needed stated that, “not every series or matchup will be like facing Calgary”, and that definitely should light a spark when the Flames take the ice against the Stars.

Upset Pick of the Conference: Calgary Flames win series 4-2

#2 Colorado Avalanche v. #7 Arizona Coyotes

Both of these teams are impressive, just in opposite playing styles. They’re both at full health, physical and fast. Their goal-tenders are the real deal and will present challenges, and when they both score 4 or more goals, both teams clamp down to win. The difference? The Avalanche are more offensive oriented while the Coyotes are more defensive. As predicted, the Coyotes used their physicality to knock out the Nashville Predators, and did it in four games.

The Avalanche are possibly the best team in the whole conference, and don’t look to slow down anytime soon. Nathan MacKinnon showed why he’s been nominated as a Hart finalist (league MVP nominee), as he’s everything you want in an elite player, especially in these playoffs. Broadcasters Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olczyk said rookie-of-the-year candidate Cale Makar is the defensive version of MacKinnon, showing that these two may be with the Avs for a long time. Captain Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Nieto and J.T. Compher are some of the best supporting cast members Colorado could have in the playoffs. Coach Jared Bednar, the goaltending tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, additions of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Vladislav Namestnikov and Andre Burakovsky should seem like overkill as both the Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights (more on them later) have one of the deepest rosters in the league.

At 21, rookie defenseman Cale Makar (8) has shown the future is bright with the Avalanche, as it’s his and Nathan MacKinnon’s team for years to come. Makar is a favorite to win rookie of the year.

The Coyotes though, will go toe-to-toe as best they can. They added former league MVP Taylor Hall before the season stopped, but they have much more than meets the regular season eye. Darcy Kuemper is one of the best goalies in the league when at full health, with his captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson helping and blocking shots when he can’t find the puck. Offensively, Conor Garland has returned from his leg injury and proved he hasn’t skipped a beat. Phil Kessel is their go-to guy and short-hand specialist Michael Grabner will catch the attention from even the best defensemen in the league.

The Coyotes will rely on Darcy Kuemper (35) to shut down Colorado as much as possible, just like he did against Nashville.

Additional Notes: This series was a 1-1 tie in the regular season, with both teams grabbing a win, but sadly couldn’t play for the tie-breaker in mid-March. Both games took place last fall when the Coyotes were mostly healthy and played at the pace they wanted. Both teams staying healthy will make this series fun as they learn and adapt to each others’ games often.

Overall analysis: The Coyotes aren’t a pushover team and used the season pause to re-gather health-wise and used it well. Their biggest issue has been offensive consistency, something Colorado doesn’t shy away from. It will be hard for the Coyotes to stay in a series against an opponent that scores often. However, if this defensive oriented team can frustrate the Avalanche and force them to commit an average of three more penalties a game, Arizona can make this a longer series than anyone wants.

Prediction: Colorado Avalanche wins series 4-1

#1 Vegas Golden Knights v. #8 Chicago Blackhawks

Once again, the Blackhawks draw one of the best matchups in the Western Conference playoffs, and this should be an exciting and offensively potent series. The Blackhawks will have a lot more to handle than their last series, as the Knights have a full roster that plays great on offense, defense and special teams.

While Edmonton had a really good first and acceptable second line led by a coach who knows how to make the most out of what he has, the Oilers didn’t play good team defense and sported mediocre goaltending. The Golden Knights are a superior team in every facet compared to the Oilers. The Knights are known for the speed of their roster, physicality, taking chances, and dominating pace with all four of their lines. Peter DeBoer has helped the team get their groove back on offense, and the Knights look to finish how they started: dominating western conference play.

The Blackhawks have one of the best captains in the league in Jonathan Toews, a hot-streak goaltender in Corey Crawford, and some of the best young talent in the league in players Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Calvin de Haan and Drake Caggiula. Those four players will be critical components moving forward, but the team needs to play better team defense and not exchange open shot opportunities with a team that could set that kind of tone early on. It’s up to the key vets Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith to make sure Vegas doesn’t rupture the defense and score.

While the Blackhawks defense got better after the first qualifying game against Edmonton, their team defense looked a lot like this throughout the matchup. It’s critical the Blackhawks play tighter team defense against a team like Vegas.

Additional notes: Left winger and leading scorer Max Pacioretty should be ready to go when this series kicks off, and that will be needed firepower for Vegas to get after the red hot Crawford. Robin Lehner and Malcolm Subban have both played for these clubs during the season, so don’t be surprised if the original net-minder for the Knights is Marc-Andre Fleury and not Lehner, as Fleury has and can give the Blackhawks problems.

Overall analysis: Despite the heavy veteran presence for the Blackhawks, it isn’t enough to counter the complete depth the Vegas Golden Knights have. The Knights feast on exposing team defenses and then score heavily once they’ve found weaknesses. The Blackhawks aren’t good at team defense, and that could be the back-breaker early on.

Max & Mark
Max Pacioretty (left) and Mark Stone (right) have been consistent and quality players Vegas has wanted on the ice as much as possible. While Max is the leading scorer and deepest threat on offense, Mark brings the fire and passion that makes the Golden Knights a true threat.

Prediction: Vegas Golden Knights wins series 4-1


Western Conference Qualifying Picks: 4-0