After 82 grueling games and a season’s worth of drama and intrigue, the Stanley Cup Playoffs finally get underway on Wednesday night, and there are a ton of captivating storylines that will thrill hockey fans over the next two months.
Can the Washington Capitals, who once again have won the President’s Trophy as the league’s best regular season team, finally break through and win the Stanley Cup that has eluded them for so long? Can Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid lead their teams on a long playoff run? Can the Chicago Blackhawks win their fourth Stanley Cup in eight seasons?
All of those questions will be answered in the coming weeks and months, but before we look too far ahead, it’s time to answer a much more immediate question: who will advance to the second round?
Here are our picks for the first round series.
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers
Pick: Canadiens in 6
The Rangers have some incredibly talented players, but the Canadiens have the bruising physicality and the outstanding goaltending to win at least one playoff series, and it’s really hard to pick against Claude Julien and Carey Price here.
Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins
Pick: Bruins in 6
The Bruins have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL down the stretch, and they’ve got plenty of firepower to overwhelm the Senators, as guys like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will look to best Craig Anderson in an interesting matchup.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pick: Blue Jackets in 7
It’s almost unfair that two of the best four teams in the NHL will meet in the first round, but thanks to divisional scheduling, that’s simply a reality that fans will have to deal with here. It would be extremely tempting to pick the Penguins here, but we’re picking against the defending Stanley Cup champions because of the number of injuries on their blue line, and because of the goaltending prowess of Sergei Bobrovsky.
Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Pick: Capitals in 5
The Maple Leafs are one of the most exciting young teams in the entire NHL, but the Capitals are locked, loaded, and hellbent on proving that they can win on the league’s biggest stage. We’re looking for big series out of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby here.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames
Pick: Ducks in 6
This series is one of the closest matchups in the playoffs’ opening round, but we’re going with the top seed in the Pacific to advance. The Ducks have a good amount of scoring balance, a solid defense, and solid goaltending, and even though injuries could hamper them, their center depth and those other factors should be good enough to beat the upstart Flames.
Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks
Pick: Sharks in 7
The Oilers are one of the most dangerous teams in the postseason, with their plethora of young talent, but can Cam Talbot help lead them into the second round? In a coin flip series, we’re leaning toward the Sharks’ experience to carry the day.
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
Pick: Blues in 7
The Wild are entering the playoffs on the downswing after an incredible run to start the season, and the Blues are coming in red hot. Even with that in mind, the Wild are a ludicrously talented team, and this series could easily swing on whether Devan Dubnyk or Jake Allen can find the form that they’ve shown at times this season.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
Pick: Blackhawks in 6
A lot of experts are picking the Blackhawks in this series, but there is no reason in the world to sleep on the Predators. They are an excellent team, loaded with depth and talent when the game is at 5-on-5, but we’re going with the Blackhawks for several reasons.
First and foremost, the Blackhawks are a much deeper team than they were last season, boasting three lines with scoring punch and some strong young players like Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman that are capable of really pushing the game forward.
Secondly, the Blackhawks have plenty of options on their blue line, which was a definite weakness last season. The team will still ride their top three guys hard, with Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson both getting a ton of minutes, but Joel Quenneville has monitored their workload closely, and that should pay some dividends this series.
Finally, Corey Crawford has proven time and again that he is a strong goaltender when the postseason begins, and after getting chased from the series the last time that Nashville met the Blackhawks, he’ll likely be looking to extract revenge and show up with a big performance for his team.