Just how wild was the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs? For the first time in NHL history, the top seed in each conference were upset in the opening round. The Eastern Conference Tampa Bay Lightning, who tied an NHL record for wins in a season with 62, were swept in four games by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The #1 seed in the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames, were eliminated in five games. Then the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals were eliminated along with last year’s Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights.
Presidents’ Trophy Curse?
The last six Presidents’ Trophy winners now have failed to make it into the Stanley Cup Finals. And two-thirds never reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Just like being the #1 ranked team in College Basketball, I think it is fair to say that the Presidents’ Trophy winner enters the playoffs with a huge bullseye on their back. And one wonders if teams put too much emphasis trying to win the Presidents’ Trophy if they are close instead of resting players and are gassed by the time the Stanley Cup playoffs start.
At any rate, the Stanley Cup is now totally up for grabs. Just about any of the eight teams remaining could win it this year if they remain hot. The NHL has a lot of parity and these eight teams left standing are real close in talent.
I decided to team up once again with former Kansas City Blade/San Jose Shark winger J.F. Quintin for predictions.
#4 Columbus vs #2 Boston
Commentary: The Columbus Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning. Keep in mind that Tampa Bay swept Columbus in the three regular season matchups. Just how did they do it? With team great defense and goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky. They clogged the Neutral Zone and hindered the Lightning’s speed rush offense. They had more grit. This is a credit to Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who incidentally won a Stanley Cup Championship as the Lightning’s head coach in 2004.
The Boston Bruins outlasted the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games just as I predicted in my Stanley Cup preview. But what now? The Stanley Cup playoffs are often about momentum and great goaltending. J.F. and I are in complete agreement on this one that Columbus takes out Boston in the series.
My prediction: Columbus in 6 games
J.F’s prediction: Columbus in 5 games
#4 Carolina vs #2 NY Islanders
Commentary: The Hurricanes knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in 7 games. The New York Islanders swept the talented Pittsburgh Penguins with a healthy Sidney Crosby. This should be a very tight defensive series. Before the start of the season, a few touted the Carolina Hurricanes as this year’s version of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has done more with less and is the leading NHL Coach of the Year candidate. Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner is a Vezina Trophy (NHL Goaltender of the year) finalist. J.F. and I are in complete agreement as who advances in this series, only differing in the number of games it will take.
My prediction: NY Islanders in 7 games
J.F’s prediction: NY Islanders in 5 games
#4 Dallas vs #3 St Louis
Commentary: I predicted that both Dallas and St Louis would win their first round series in 6 games mainly due to strong goaltending. This will be an interesting series as St Louis native Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars goaltender) faces the Blues team that drafted and traded him. Bishop is a Vezina Trophy finalist.
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington has now won an amazing 28 games in his first 36 NHL starts. He’s expected to be a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) finalist when when the NHL releases the three nominees on Saturday. If you like great goaltending, this will be the series to watch. J.F. and I both agree who will come out on top in this series.
My prediction: St Louis in 7 games
J.F’s prediction: St Louis in 7 games
#4 Colorado vs #2 San Jose
Commentary: The Colorado Avalanche knocked off the Calgary Flames, the #1 seed in the Western Conference. This was probably the second biggest surprise in the first round after Columbus sweeping Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks knocked off last year’s Western Conference Champion, the Vegas Golden Knights. Albeit, is somewhat controversial fashion with a 5 minute major in the 3rd period of Game 7 that the NHL has now apologized for.
This series is a total contrast in styles. Colorado is a young, fast team led by rising star Nathan MacKinnon. San Jose is made up of a wily group of veterans led by Brent Burns that play a more physical style. Old School vs New School. Which will win out? I am picking the New School Colorado Avalanche in an upset in 6 games. J.F. is taking the Old School San Jose Sharks in 6 games.
My prediction: Colorado is 6 games
J.F’s prediction: San Jose in 6 games
Stay tuned as J. F. and I will preview every round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.