Needless to say, the country needs this. There are two things in sports that Canada badly needs right now. One is the Jays, and the Jays to be good which out of the gate they sure have been. Obviously not EVERYONE is a Jays fan in Canada, but they are without a doubt “Canada’s team”, and could really have a major part in the healing process. The other is the Stanley Cup playoffs which thankfully begin tonight. I don’t know about you, but I still can’t read or see anything on the tragedy without losing it. And while I have some mild connections to the whole situation and feel that way, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult this all must be for anyone who is directly connected, and there are thousands who are. So we could all use a distraction for a bit. Let’s hope that for all of us this ends up being one of the greatest playoff years ever. Lot’s of OT’s, lot’s of series going the distance, high scoring, intense play, and for once some high end officiating. But while we need this distraction, don’t confuse distraction with forget. We’re never forgetting the 2017-18 Humboldt Broncos.
1 Vegas Golden Knights vs WC1 L.A. Kings
I just don’t see it for Vegas. It’s not just that the Kings have so much experience. It’s not that the core of the Kings team have two Stanley Cups. It’s not that Jeff Carter is finally back and looks terrific. I mean, sure, that all helps a lot. I wasn’t going to pick against Vegas no matter who they played necessarily. But I’ve maintained since about December when I first wrote how the Golden Knights were for real and were going to the playoffs…this team is likely to get picked apart in the playoffs.
Kings in 5
2 Anaheim Ducks vs 3 San Jose Sharks
I believe everyone sees this as a coin flip, and everyone sees this going six or seven, as do I. The thing people miss on the Sharks anymore is that this isn’t Joe Thornton’s team. Couture, Pavelski, Burns, Vlasic, Jones and now Kane. And they have a nice second wave of guys in Hertl, Meier and Donskoi. I sound like E.J. Hradek right now rattling off names rather than actually looking at the series, but I think in the case of the Sharks it’s important to point out because we all believe it’s the same old Sharks. But they face a lot of issues here. I see a lot of the media pointing at the Sharks being under the radar, well the Ducks have been the better team in the second half of the season, they’re deeper both up front and on the blueline, and if John Gibson stays healthy he’s been the better goaltender this season. I really believe this one will be one of the best in the first round, but I have a habit of picking the Ducks this time of year.
Ducks in 7
1 Nashville Predators vs WC2 Colorado Avalanche
This is just going to be a complete beat down I fear. I’m not afraid to say that I’ll be pulling for the Avs. Probably not to win the series, but to at least take it six or seven. But the reality is that I don’t recall seeing a mismatch like this since the 2005 lockout. This is reminisent of 1999 when the Dallas Stars just had missed winning the Cup the year prior and were better that season, vs the Oilers who had barely squeaked in and without Curtis Joseph it really was just a hell of an accomplishment that they made the playoffs. I’ve never felt more confident in suggesting that a series will be a sweep, although I really hope I’m wrong because I’d love to see MacKinnon put on a show and the Avs give the Preds a lot of fits in this series. Plus, Avs head coach Jared Bednar is a Humboldt guy, so he might be carrying their torch more than anyone in the league right now.
2 Winnipeg Jets vs 3 Minnesota Wild
I could see this one being a sweep too. Coming into this season I didn’t have the Jets to make the playoffs, but maintained that if they got a goaltender then they’d really take off. Well they got a goaltender, and I see them as legitimate threats to win the Cup. I think they’re more of a threat to win it all this season than the Oilers were last season, and a lot of people going into last year’s playoffs like the Oilers to go deep (I’m talking national media, not homer media). So that’s the Jets, and then on the other side of things I hope that we’ve all learned our lesson about a Bruce Boudreau coached team by now. They just can’t do it in the playoffs, and while that would have been enough for me to write them off already, now they’re without their best player. Not just their best defenceman, and I’m a big Eric Staal fan, but Ryan Suter is the MVP of the Wild and he’s now out. MAYBE the Wild’s experience or Devan Dubnyk can extend the series, but I don’t believe the Wild have any chance in this series.
Jets in 5
1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs WC2 New Jersey Devils
Have I picked an upset yet?! I don’t think I have. Even though I’m pretty adamant about the Kings beating the Golden Knights, I’m pretty sure most have LA beating Vegas (just maybe not as quickly as I believe it’ll be). But this one I believe has serious potential to be a major upset. I like how the Devils matchup with the Lightning. Right now, the Devils might have the better goaltending as Vasilevskiy has been terrible down the stretch. The Lightning play with a ton of speed, but the Devils have just as much. I obviously don’t love the Devils depth up front or on the blueline compared to Tampa’s, but the Devils couldn’t be playing with less pressure on them. We saw last season with Toronto vs Washington how the big favourites can have so much trouble with the low seed with nothing to lose. Ultimately, I’m going to take Tampa, and as I said with Washington last season (though it turned out to be wrong), a tight/close call type of series for the Lightning could be perfect for them moving forward.
Lightning in 7
2 Boston Bruins vs 3 Toronto Maple Leafs
Probably going to be the best series of the first round. You have three candidates for this moniker: Ducks/Sharks, Bruins/Leafs, Pens/Flyers. But this one is probably the two best teams to meet in the first round. I’m not sure how the Bruins did what they did this season. I wasn’t the only one who believed they weren’t even going to compete for a playoff spot this season, and yet they were competing for the President’s trophy in March. But the Leafs have had their number the last two seasons. And the Leafs, especially for being in the biggest hockey market on the planet, really don’t have much pressure on them. Most in Toronto know how good they are, but most seem to think they’re well behind both Tampa and Boston. I’d probably agree. This really is a coin flip, most are going to say the Bruins get it done, the more I give this thought I keep coming back to how this Leafs team has skipped steps in their development which leads me to believe that the Leafs are going to find a way to get this done.
Leafs in 7
1 Washington Capitals vs WC1 Columbus Blue Jackets
Entering the series, this one is of little interest to me. BUT…when you look at everything, this could be the biggest dark horse for best series of the first round. Two pretty evenly matched teams. But the big thing for me is that the Blue Jackets appear to be peaking, while the Caps have just coasted as they always seem to do. The decision to go with Philip Grubauer over Braden Holtby to start the playoffs is certainly interesting. The thing I see in this series though is that the Blue Jackets have better goaltending, better defence, are a little faster, and much more physical. I think they’re going to pound the Caps in this series.
Blue Jackets in 6
2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs 3 Philadelphia Flyers
On one hand, the Flyers have no goaltending, far less experience, on paper lose almost every matchup. BUT…the Flyers get up for the Pens. We are very far removed from the 2012 season. That was a much different Pens team, that was the Paul Holmgren/can’t keep their composure Flyers. This version of the Flyers still has some passionate players like Giroux, Simmonds, and Gudas is a filthy SOB. But for the most part they’re much more of a level headed and cerebral organization than they were six years ago. I’m not sure this will be the series most are expecting, but I do believe it’ll be close and high scoring series. Neither team has great goaltending at the moment, but then again Matt Murray has proven himself now in back to back playoffs and Brian Elliott is a battler who has a lot to prove after last years debacle. Have to go with the champs here though.
Pens in 6
Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets
I believe the Jets will pull the upset over the Preds in what could be the series of the playoffs. Fast, physical, terrific goaltending, yet plenty of high scoring games. AKA just like their regular season games. Meanwhile, the Ducks will have two of those types of series with the Sharks and then if my predictions are correct the Kings in the second round. If that’s the case, these two will beat each other up pretty bad, and I believe the Jets will be the team to limp on to the final.
Jets in 7
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets
At the start of the year, this is what so many people had in the East final. As I said earlier, I believe that Tampa is going to struggle with the Devils but that could serve them well moving forward. I wanted to say they’d play the Pens here, but I believe the Pens will see a long and somewhat physical series with the Flyers (again, not as physical as most believe, but it’ll still be physical), and then will get a similar series against Columbus and the Jackets could really pound the Pens into submission. So the Lightning and Jackets, and if the Lightning are getting to this point then they’re clicking like they were early on this season. And if that’s the case, I’m not sure the Blue Jackets would have much of a chance.
Lightning in 5
Stanley Cup Final
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Winnipeg Jets
I can’t believe I’m picking the Jets to go to the final. I really believe it’ll either be the Jets or Preds, and I don’t like how the Preds were seemingly always flipping a switch in games. That’ll catch up with them in the playoffs, so by that logic I’m left with the Jets (and I really hope I’m right!!) They’ll play Tampa, who frankly I don’t feel great about calling them to go this far. But it might help Tampa that they didn’t cruise to the finish and had Boston push them near the end of the season. If Stamkos is healthy, and Vasilevskiy gets right, this team should win it all. If they’re getting to the final, I believe they’ll win it all. The Jets will punish them, and the Jets won’t be anything of a pushover. But ultimately, I believe the Lightning are winning their second Stanley Cup.
Lightning in 6
Conn Smythe: Victor Hedman
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