Well, now that we’re finished with the NHL play-ins and seeding games, we can focus on who wins these eight first-round series and why.
Before we get into that, though, I noticed a few things leading into these series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
First on that list is the performance of the eight teams that were playing round-robin games for seeding. The Dallas Stars, for example, relied on their defense (second-best goals-against in the league this season) to grab the No. 3 seed in the West and the Vegas Golden Knights, who had the best goal differential in the regular season in the Pacific Division, scored 15 goals in their three games to take the top seed in the West.
In the East, the Boston Bruins led the regular season in points, goal differential and fewest goals allowed but didn’t seem to care about the round robin — they didn’t play numerous starters and didn’t win a game. They are the team I’m most interested in seeing how they come out considering their lack of urgency during games against Washington, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
Speaking of Philly, no one in hockey is hotter than the Flyers, considering they were +500 to be the No. 1 seed and won all of their seeding games and are now 21-6 in their last 27 contests.
Also, there were teams that disappointed their fans and myself in the qualification round and no one disappointed more than those Toronto Maple Leafs (AGAIN).
Toronto can have all the offensive weapons in the world (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares) but that doesn’t mean anything once the playoffs start. The Leafs couldn’t get their offense going against the defensive-minded Blue Jackets. This marked the third straight season Toronto has lost a deciding game in the Sportsbook round (previous two were to Boston in seven games).
Now Columbus, which was third-best in goals against this season, will take on a struggling Lightning squad. If you remember, the Bolts were swept out of the Sportsbook round of the playoffs a season ago by the Blue Jackets in a shocking ouster.
Another team that is not moving on is the Edmonton Oilers, who along with the Maple Leafs were the host teams in the NHL’s two bubble cities. The Oilers were an offensive juggernaut during the regular season with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combining for 187 points but they couldn’t match the offense of the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks and were bounced in four games. One thing I can tell you is that home-ice advantage meant nothing.
OK, that’s that. Here’s who I think wins in the round of 16 and in how many games. To find out the up-to-date daily odds for each series, check out our Series Price page.
Harry’s Insight and Predictions for the 8 Series
Eastern Conference Series Prices
Philadelphia Flyers (-240) vs Montreal Canadiens (+195)
Veteran goalie Carey Price was brilliant in stunning the Penguins in the last round but will have to play second fiddle to Carter Hart, the Flyers goalie who turns 22 on August 13. Hart has only given up three or more goals once in his last 10 games and that includes taking down Boston and Tampa Bay to clinch the 1 seed in the East. Claude Giroux brings his leadership and moxie (most power-play goals on team with 7) to this team that finished the regular season winning nine of its final 10 games.
Flyers in 5 games (+335)
Boston Bruins (-140) vs Carolina Hurricanes (+110)
The Hurricanes totally dominated the New York Rangers in a three- game sweep, but that won’t be the case against the defending Eastern Conference champs. Goalie Tuukka Rask is on a mission to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals. Rask led the league in goals-against average and was second in save percentage. David Pastrnak tied for the league lead in goals scored and, despite their effort in the round robin, he and the rest of the Bruins will be ready.
Bruins in 5 games (+485)
Washington Capitals (-170) vs New York Islanders (+140)
There are a number of series that come with interesting subplots and this one might be the most interesting of them all. Islanders head coach Barry Trotz was basically left for dead after winning the Cup in Washington and moved on to the Islanders. This Washington team hasn’t been overly impressive of late and will be in for a battle with the Islanders. I see this going seven games to determine a Sportsbook.
Capitals in 7 games (+475)
Tampa Bay Lightning (-225) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (+185)
This won’t be easy for Tampa Bay, especially considering how they choked in their series last year against these same Blue Jackets. Lightning star defenseman Victor Hedman was injured in their last game and Steven Stamkos hasn’t played since February 25. This Columbus team is led by emerging offensive attacker Pierre-Luc Dubois, who torched Toronto and could do the same to Tampa Bay if they don’t pay attention. Overall, Nikita Kucherov (85 points in regular season) and the Lightning will get their revenge on Columbus after last year’s collapse.
Lightning in 6 games (+400)
Western Conference Series Prices
Vegas Golden Knights (-280) vs Chicago Blackhawks (+225)
Chicago took out the high-powered Oilers in four games but this matchup isn’t a good one for the Blackhawks. They have Patrick Kane (84 points in season) and Jonathan Toews (4 goals, 3 assists vs Oilers) but as a team Chicago was just 28th on the power play and 18th in goals scored. Vegas scored 15 goals in its three round-robin games to capture the No. 1 seed. The Knights have players who can get the job done such as Jonathan Marchessault (2 goals vs Avs to clinch the 1 seed) and Alex Tuch (3 goals in round robin).
Golden Knights in 6 games (+425)
St. Louis Blues (-200) vs Vancouver Canucks (+165)
The Canucks bounced Minnesota in four games and come into this series against the defending champs with the second-highest goal total in the Western Conference behind the Avalanche. JT Miller led the Canucks in points, but rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes is the guy the Blues will have to contain. Hughes had 45 assists in the regular season and toyed with the Wild in that series. The balanced Blues were fifth in the NHL in goals against and third in power-play efficiency. The champs might have a tough time against Vancouver but will get it done at the end of the day.
Blues in 6 games (+400)
Dallas Stars (-120) vs Calgary Flames (+100)
Dallas scored only four goals in three seeding games and was 29th in the regular season in goals scored, with Tyler Seguin the only player on the team to exceed 40 points. Calgary outhustled Winnipeg in four games and let’s not forget the Flames were the 1 seed in last season’s playoffs. Look for Elias Lindholm to be the leader in this series for Calgary. Lindholm had three points against the Jets and during the regular season led the Flames in game-winning goals (7) and power-play goals (8).
Flames in 7 games (+525)
Colorado Avalanche (-250) vs Arizona Coyotes (+205)
The Coyotes have a nice young nucleus and were able to win a playoff series for the first time since their magical run in 2011-12. The Avalanche were third in the league in goals scored and fifth in goals against, which will be the reason the Coyotes don’t win this series. Mikko Rantanen (8 power-play goals in regular season) is the player the Coyotes will need to keep in check if they want to compete. Overall, the offense of the Avs and their stifling defense will be too much for Arizona’s average-at-best offense. This Avalanche squad, which took out the No. 1 Flames a season ago in just five games, is poised and ready to make a long run and won’t look past the Coyotes.
Avalanche in 5 games (+335)