By Logan Franz
The NHL 2019 playoffs are slated to begin on Wednesday, and the real excitement begins. This regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning ran away with the President’s Trophy as if they were Usain Bolt running a track with a whopping 128 points. The next closest team, the Calgary Flames finished the season with 21 less points- the equivalent of 10 wins and an overtime loss.
However, this apparent division in power between Tampa Bay and everyone else doesn’t make the playoffs any less exciting. As the saying goes, once a team makes it to the big dance, anything is possible. KCOU Sports’ Logan Franz offers a prediction for each series ahead of puck-drop Wednesday night.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets made a late season push at the deadline acquiring talent like Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene from the Senators while Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are on expiring contracts and are expected to walk this season. This is their final push forward and so it’s only fitting that when they gear themselves up to give themselves a chance, they get the most dominant team in the standings we’ve seen since the 1995-96 Red Wings as their opponent. Nikita Kucherov has been as dominant as anyone in the NHL, leading the league in points this year and the team is so fast and so dangerous. They haven’t lost consecutive games since early February and they’re going to be a massive challenge for the Blue Jackets.
Prediction: Lighting in 4.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Islanders
It’s rare that you see a team lose a star player and then get better- but that’s exactly what has happened to the Islanders after losing John Tavares. The Islanders don’t score as often as a lot of teams in the league, ranking 21st in goals for. They have a nice balance of offense and defense that helped them to collect wins but dealing with the high volume scorers on the Penguins roster such as Crosby, Guentzel, Malkin and Kessel may prove to be problematic for them in this series.
Prediction: Penguins in 6.
St. Louis Blues vs Winnipeg Jets
The Blues started the season towards the bottom of the standings, decided they didn’t like that very much, and wanted to win.
So they won. And they won a lot. Now, St. Louis finds itself in the playoffs. These playoffs seem destined to be more predictable than most because there’s such a division of power in the powerhouse teams versus the next tier of teams but if there’s any team that’s a dark horse to make a run from a spot that’s not a 1 or 2 spot, it would be the Blues. Jordan Binnington has been a brick wall this year in net with a record of 24-5-1, a save percentage or 0.927 and five shutouts. Binnington will have his work cut out for him when the team travels to Winnipeg to face off against the likes of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Patrick Laine but the amount of scoring decreases very drastically without those three. The Blues defense needs to work primarily to shut down those three and they can come out of this series victorious.
Prediction: Blues in 7.
Dallas Stars vs Nashville Predators
The classic defensive barnburner. If the Islanders don’t score as much as a normal NHL team, then the Stars really don’t. The Stars ranked 29th in the league in goals for and still managed a +8 goal differential which is a huge outlier at the bottom of the standings in that stat. Stars and Predators are two of the best teams at allowing pucks not to go in either net as they are low in the goals for column but at 2nd and 3rd in the goals against column. The Predators have the best defensive core in the league with a top four of Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban and that’s what the driving factor for the series seems to be.
Prediction: Predators in 6.
Vegas Golden Knights vs San Jose Sharks
The Golden Knights have came down to Earth from their Stanley Cup run last year and their team looks less powerful than last year. Gerrard Gallant is a fantastic coach who has managed to get the most of his talent like Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Mark Stone and while the Sharks are a pretty vanilla team overall, they definitely deserve to be in these playoffs. They score a lot and prevent a lot of goals against them which is pretty much the purpose of being a hockey team. However, the Golden Knights seem like a much better constructed team and a team that gets the best out of their roster and that will help them advance in the playoffs.
Predicition: Golden Knights in 7.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins
The Maple Leafs looked like one of the best teams in hockey to start the season and slowed down later on but still look like a great team as the playoffs approach. Tavares felt like a missing piece for them that’s really put them over the top. Toronto has one of the best power plays in the league but they also had the fewest opportunities this season and Boston will need to limit them in this series because they have a lot of power on that power play that will score when given the chance. As for Boston, their roster is very solid up at the top, they can spread scoring around and if any team in the Eastern conference has a chance to challenge Tampa Bay, it would be the Bruins.
Prediction: Bruins in 6.
Carolina Hurricanes vs Washington Capitals
The Hurricanes snuck into the playoffs at the very end of the season and have to play one of the toughest teams in their conference in the Capitals. The Hurricanes have some decent firepower but they aren’t quite at the level they need to be to be Stanley Cup contenders yet. The Capitals have a lot of weapons in Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetzov and Nicklas Backstrom whereas the biggest threat on the Hurricanes is Sebastian Aho. Carolina might need another year before they’re taken seriously as a contender.
Predicition: Capitals in 5.
Colorado Avalanche vs Calgary Flames
This series is one of the most intriguing of the first round. The best line in hockey in Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen (provided Rantanen is healthy) playing against arguably the second best line in hockey in Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Elias Lindholm. That’s the headliner for this matchup, and then there’s so much more like the dominance of Phillip Grubauer this season- boasting a 0.917 save percentage and the Flames’s Giordano-Brodie defensive pairing being one of the NHL’s best this season. Top to bottom, the Flames roster looks like a better unit, and the better team will end up taking this series.
Predicition: Flames in 6.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org