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NHL Playoffs Picks, Matchups and Breakdowns for First Round

NHL Playoffs Picks, Matchups and Breakdowns for First Round

After a high octane qualifying round, the first round of the NHL playoffs officially begins this week. On paper, round one looks to be just as entertaining as the qualifying round with very competitive match-ups in both conferences. Taking a look at a quick breakdown of each series

Western Conference

Colorado: –250 | Arizona: +250

Forwards: Advantage – Colorado

With a top-three NHL player in Mackinnon surrounded by an incredible cast of supporting players like Rantanen, Landeskog, and Kadri, the Avalanche are too difficult a match for the Coyotes, who have a score by committee type of team.

Defense: Advantage – Colorado

Complete opposites in the type of defensive style; while Colorado’s defense is looking to push the pace and move the puck, Arizona looks to shutdown teams with solid defensive play from Hjarlmasson, Demers and Chychrun. In the end the mobility of the Colorado defensive secures the edge. 

Goalie: Advantage – Arizona

Both Colorado and Arizona have tandem goaltending. However, the edge here goes in Arizona’s favor; this tandem has been injury prone the last few years but when they’re healthy they are the most underrated duo in the league.

Pick: Colorado in 5

The only way Arizona can win this series is shutting down a high powered offensive and Kuemper being able to steal games. This is a very tall task for them and I don’t see them being able to accomplish it.

Las Vegas: -230 | Chicago: +190

Forwards: Advantage – Las Vegas

The depth of Vegas is too much for Chicago to handle. Kane and Toews have all the playoff experience to pull off a win in this series but the surrounding cast doesn’t have enough to beat a high horsepower team like Vegas who’s been there before.

Defense: Advantage – Las Vegas

Again experience is key for Chicago but its d-core is showing their age. They won’t be able to keep up with the pressure Vegas can put on. Add in the mobility of Vegas’ defensive core and it’s a clear advantage for them.

Goalie: Advantage – Las Vegas

The rivalry between Lehners old team is here. With another tandem goaltending combination for Vegas, plus Fleury’s experience they can steal games in any series they play. A tandem of Crawford and Subban is just no match for them. 

Pick: Las Vegas in 6

Experience is key and Chicago’s core has a lot more of it than Vegas does. But old age and a new coach had Chicago barely make it into play ins, while Vegas has continually been on the climb ever since they entered the league.

Dallas: -130 | Calgary: +110

Forwards: Advantage – Dallas

High speed and high scoring is the name of the game for Dallas. This is an offensively driven team that likes to be creative. Throw in the experience of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to lead them and they could be dangerous. 

Defense: Advantage – Dallas

John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen are the real difference makers on this blue line. It’s not that Calgary has a worse defensive core but there’s something special about these two players that give them the advantage. 

Goalie: Advantage – Dallas 

The most clear advantage for Dallas is in the net. Experience and talent wise Bishop is unmatched in the series. Bishop’s size and athleticism could be the  difference maker as he has the ability to steal games.

Pick: Calgary in 7

While Dallas has the advantage on paper in these 3 categories, Calgary plays a very physical brand of hockey which is proven time and time again to win playoff games. The confidence and in your face attitude of the Flames will be the key difference in this series. 

St. Louis: -200Vancouver: +155 

Forwards: Advantage – St. Louis

The stanley cup champions are coming back with a very similar roster. The pause in play has allowed Tarasenko to recover from his injury. Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson will cause some fits but the physical play of the Blues will grind down this Vancouver team.

Defense: Advantage – St. Louis

The depth of St.Louis on defense isn’t comparable here. Yes Vancouver has rookie sensation Quinn Hughes, but the style of game St. Louis looks to put him through a wall with a strong forecheck and leave him ineffective. 

Goalie: Advantage – St. Louis

A rookie goalie who came out of nowhere to help St.Louis go from last place to first place and win them a Stanley Cup. How can you bet against this kid? Binnington’s attitude and confidence makes him one of the scariest goalies in the league to go against and gives the Blues the advantage here.

Pick: St. Louis in 6

Experience and the hard nosed game plan against a softer high skilled team in Vancouver will let St.Louis take this series. This is not a sly on Vancouver they’re a very exciting team to watch but their time isn’t now.

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia:  -250Montreal: +210

Forwards: Advantage – Philadelphia 

The Flyers have one of the deepest offensive units in this year’s playoffs. With Couturier and Hayes leading the way down the middle of the ice, and having Konecny, Giroux, Van Riemsdyk, and Voracek on their wings, look for this offensive unit to continue their high scoring pace.

Defense: Advantage – Montreal 

Shea Weber and Jeff Petry lead the back end for the Canadians and surprisingly enough lead the Canadians in goals as well. The Canadians play a very strong defensive game with 5 of their 6 defensemen coming in above 6’1 this is a very big, strong, and physical defensive group that play a very suffocating brand of hockey.

Goalie: Advantage – Montreal

Carey Price is arguably the best goalie in the league. In the qualifying round he posted a 1.67 goals against average. He can single handedly steal a game and potentially a series if he can get hot and continue his qualifying round play.

Pick: Philadelphia in 5

Philadelphia is just too much for Montreal to handle. While Montreal was able to upset the aging Penguins, the Flyers are true cup contenders and will make due of Montreal quickly.

Boston: -150Carolina+155

Forwards: Advantage – Boston

With the big 3 of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak leading the way up front and the depth the Bruins possess it’s no surprise they were the presidents trophy winners this regular season. Their performance in the 3 round robin games was very disappointing however if the Bruins can find their game, look for them to consistently fill the net.

Defense: Advantage – Carolina

Carolina may have the best top to bottom defensive unit in the league. With Dougie Hammilton seemingly making a return to the lineup who had a Norris Trophy season pre-injury, this unit can not only produce offensively but can smother teams completely shutting them down.

Goalie: Advantage – Boston

With Rask making his return to the Boston net, they find themselves with an elite goaltender who has the ability to steal games for them. Coming into the bubble there were some questions about his health and the possibility of a nagging injury. When Rask is healthy and on top of his game there are very few goalies around the league that are better.

 Prediction: Carolina in 7

The rematch is here from last years Eastern Conference matchup. It will be a very close series but the how Carolina has performed in the bubble, I see Carolina “upsetting” Boston in 7 games.

Washington: -180N.Y Islanders: +150

Forwards: Advantage – Washington 

Ovechkin is the pillar of this offensive unit that has a very large advantage in this series over the Islanders. The Islanders top 9 does not stack up to the Capitals top 9 

Defense: Advantage – Washington

While the Islanders do play a very strong defensive brand of hockey, the back end for the Capitals has the advantage in my mind for this series. With Norris trophy finalist John Carlson leading the way on the back end, look for Carlson to match up and shut down Mathew Barzal.  

Goalie: Advantage – Washington

Washington has a distinct advantage in net for this series. It’s tough to bet against Brayden Holtby in a 7 game series, Holtby is a world class goalie that has the ability to stand on his head and steal a series himself. 

Pick: Islanders in 7

Much like the Calgary and Dallas series, all signs on paper point to Washington winning this series. However the trap system Barry Trotz has implemented for the Islanders is very tough to play against and generate offense. Look for the Islanders to slow Washington and make it very difficult for them to find their game on a consistent basis.

Tampa Bay: -225Columbus: +185

Forwards: Advantage – Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay has one of the strongest offensive units in the league. With Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point leading the way down the middle of the ice, the Lightning are extraordinarily deep and all four lines are able to create offense.

Defense: Advantage – Columbus

Seth Jones and Zach Werenski lead the way on the back end for Columbus giving the Blue Jackets arguably the best D pairing in the league. This allows them to not only shut teams down but create offense from the back end in a very unique fashion.

Goalie: Advantage – Tampa Bay

Having a healthy Vasilevskiy in net for the Lightning gives Tampa Bay the edge in goaltending for this series. Vasilevskiy is a world class goaltender and if the offense in front of him fails to keep their 3 goal a game average, Vasilevskiy can steal games and propel the lighting into the next round.  

Prediction: Columbus in 7

Overall this series will be very close and could come down to goaltending. The Blue Jackets were able to not only upset the Lightning last season, but swept them. I like Columbus in this series because of the physical brand of hockey they play, which has been Tampa Bay’s kryptonite in recent playoff series.

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