There is nothing quite like the NHL playoffs, and many sports fans believe the hockey playoffs provide the most postseason excitement of any sport. The pucks drop on Wednesday as the playoffs begin all across North America.
Tampa Bay vs. New Jersey
Top seed Tampa Bay can score with the best teams in the NHL. The Lightning are explosive, but not known for being all that physical.
The Devils came out of nowhere this season, led by Hart Trophy contender Taylor Hall. They too can score, but do not have a ton of playoff experience. The real wrench in this matchup is that the 8 seed Devils surprisingly swept Tampa during the regular season.
Prediction: Tampa wins in 6, but just when you think you have this series figured out, the opposite happens.
Boston vs. Toronto
There will be no love lost between this battle between two Original 6 franchises. Boston, when healthy, is quite possibly the most complete team in the conference. It seems as though they should have all of their players, which will be a huge boost.
Toronto may have the most young talent in the East and beat Boston 3-1 during the regular season. The home games will be absolutely electric, which should give the Leafs a boost.
Prediction: Boston in 7 in a hard fought, closely contested series.
Washington vs. Columbus
Talk about disrespect! The Blue Jackets rested their top line, best defensemen, and their goalie so they would lose and play Washington instead of Pittsburgh. Columbus lost the regular season series 3-1, but did win the final game.
Washington has been largely under the radar this season. Ovechkin yet again led the NHL in goals, but he has hardly been mentioned.
Prediction: Columbus in 6. Until Washington can prove that they can do win in the playoffs, go against them.
Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh
In recent years the Penguins have dominated this in-state rivalry, and this year was no different with the Penguins sweeping the regular season series 4-0. Pittsburgh put it on cruise control for most of the season and seemed content to just skate by. At the same time, the Flyers had to scrap all the way to the final game of the season just to earn a spot in the postseason.
The Flyers have questions at goaltender and have a very young defense. Pittsburgh should be more rested than their opponent, and have experience on their side.
Prediction: The Penguins take the series 4 to 1 in a bunch of high scoring games. If you are looking to bet on individual games, take the over.
Vegas vs Los Angeles
The Vegas Knights might be the best story in all of professional sports. This season the Knights became the winningest expansion franchise in the history of the NHL, and they bring an exciting brand of hockey to the playoffs.
Los Angeles is a veteran team with lots of playoff experience. Their goalie, Jonathan Quick, has won playoff series by standing on his head in the past.
Prediction: Kings in 6. The physicality and experience of the Los Angeles team will be too much for the Cinderella Vegas team.
Anaheim vs San Jose
Another in-state rivalry pits the Ducks against the Sharks. The Sharks come in cold, going 5-4-1 over the last 10 games, but they did win the season series 3-0-1.
Anaheim is riding a 5 game winning streak and has taken 8 of the last 10, but the health status of John Gibson is still a question mark as the playoffs begin.
Prediction: The Kings-Sharks series is one of the toughest to call. Sharks get the edge because of health and will take it in 6.
Nashville vs Colorado
Last season the Avalanche only earned 48 points and came out of nowhere to make the playoffs on the last game of this season. Colorado is one of the best teams on home ice, but is sub 500 on the road.
Smashville looks to avenge last year’s Stanley Cup Final disappointment. They have swept the regular season series from Colorado.
Prediction: Nashville easily rolls 4-0.
Winnipeg vs Minnesota
Winnipeg’s closest NHL competitor is actually Minnesota, making this something of a regional rivalry even though it extends across international borders. The Jets are another surprise and Connor Hellebuyck just set the NHL record for wins by an American-born NHL goalie.
Minnesota has a versatile roster with a top-tier goaltender. They are a dark horse to surprise out west because Dubnyk can shut anyone down.
Prediction: The Jets win in 6. This was a tough draw for the Wild, who might have been able to beat anyone other than Nashville.