As we already know in this space, there’s no playoffs for either the Rangers or Devils for the first time ever. This is the first time since Colorado relocated to New Jersey that that’s happened. It’ll be a quiet Spring for our blog. There’s still tomorrow’s NHL Draft Lottery to tune into on NBCSN.
The 2019 NHL Playoffs will go on without either Hudson rival. It all begins on Wednesday night. That includes the only area local in action with the Islanders hosting the rival Penguins at Nassau Coliseum. It’s one of the more intriguing first round match ups. The Isles have home ice in a series for the first time since ’93.
Rather than bore you with a long drawn out playoff preview, I’ll cut to the chase and make predictions for the first round and beyond.
First Round Series
(1) Lightning over (8) Blue Jackets in 5
Observation: Too much firepower from loaded Bolts featuring Kucherov, Stamkos, Point, Hedman, Johnson, McDonagh. Bobrovsky will be under siege.
(2) Capitals over (7) Hurricanes in 7
Observation: The defending champs will get tested by the good skating, pesky Canes led by Aho and Hamilton. The experience of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Kuznetsov, Oshie and Holtby get them through.
(A2) Bruins over (A1) Maple Leafs in 6
Observation: Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak will dominate a weak Toronto D. Krejci, Debrusk lend support. Tavares and Marner are lethal. But the Leafs need Mathews and Kadri to show up. Andersen must steal two games.
(M3) Penguins over (M2) Islanders in 7
Observation: Tough series to call due to how strange the Pens are. But it’s hard to go against Crosby, Guentzel, Letang, Hornqvist and Murray. Malkin and Kessel will show up. I’m not sure the Isles have enough offense. Their tight checking will frustrate Pens, but they need Barzal, Lee, Bailey, Nelson, Eberle, Cizikas, Filppula and Pulock. Lehner will start.
Lightning over Bruins in 7
Observation: It’ll be closer. But unless Boston gets help from deadline disappointments Coyle and Johansson, they can’t match the depth and speed of Tampa. Rask will have to outplay Vasilevskiy.
Capitals over Penguins in 6
Observation: The Pens added solid depth with McCann, Bjugstad and Gudbranson. But they’re beatable. Crosby, Guentzel and Letang have carried them. The Caps are more balanced due to Wilson, Eller, Vrana, Connolly and Orlov.
Lightning over Capitals in 5
Observation: The wear and tear from the last year will start to show for defending champs. The Bolts are better equipped due to Cirelli, Erne and Cernak. McDonagh gives them an edge on the back end.
First Round Series
(1) Flames over (8) Avalanche in 5
Observation: The Flames are loaded with skill, speed and grit led by Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Giordano. Despite iffy goalies (Rittich and Smith), they should roll over Avs, who still rely too much on MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantanen. Grubauer could replace Varlamov.
(2) Predators over (7) Stars in 6
Observation: Despite not playing well recently, the Preds are proven. Expect Forsberg, Arvidsson, Josi, Johansen, Ellis, Subban and Boyle to make a difference. Rinne will raise his level. It won’t be a picnic against a Dallas team that played well without Zuccarello. Seguin, Benn, Radulov, Klingberg have help from Faksa, Heiskanen and Lindell. What’s Zucc’s status? Bishop must outplay Rinne.
(P2) Sharks over (P3) Golden Knights in 7
Observation: Arguably the best series, it could hinge on the goalies. Fleury is my Vezina pick. Jones has been to a Stanley Cup Final. But he’ll need to make the big saves. I think San Jose’s superior skill wins out. Hertl, Pavelski, Meier, Kane, Couture, Burns and Thornton are a handful. What about Erik Karlsson? Vegas is tough. Stone adds needed skill to help Wild Bill Karlsson, Tuch, Smith, Marchessault. Pacioretty and Stastny are keys along with Schmidt and Theodore.
(C2) Jets over (C3) Blues in 7
Observation: The hardest series to pick. St. Louis is hotter coming in led by Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Schenn, Pietrangelo, Parayko and Calder candidate Binnington. They’ll need Schwartz, Perron, Bozak and youngsters Dunn and Thomas to play well. Hellebuyck wasn’t as consistent for the freewheeling Jets, who boast elite stars in Scheifele, Wheeler, Byfuglien. Connor, Hayes and Laine are threats along with Ehlers. Trouba is the best D in the series. Winnipeg has more on the line.
Flames over Sharks in 7
Observation: This is a tough call. But it could come down to the secondary scoring. I prefer the grit of Calgary. That’s what they got Neal for. Bennett, Jankowski and Ryan are tough to play against. Calgary actually might have the edge on D due to Hanifin, Brodie and Hamonic. First to 40 goals wins. Kidding.
Jets over Predators in 6
Observation: A second round rematch. When push comes to shove, Winnipeg knows how to beat Nashville. I’d feel similarly if it’s the Blues. There’s something off about the Preds.
Flames over Jets in 7
Observation: The top six of Calgary is a problem for Winnipeg. Backlund doesn’t get much ink. Neither does Frolik. Jack Roslovic is the wildcard for Winnipeg. Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry are solid supporting cast members along with Little. Laine has been inconsistent all year. Giordano is my Norris pick. He can dominate games. Tkachuk is your classic playoff guy due to his tenacious style. Imagine how Canada will feel if this is the match-up with one advancing to play for the Cup.
Lightning over Flames in 7
Observation: Cue Canadian fans anger here. It would be a 2004 rematch. Insert the controversial Khabibulin save on Gelinas. If the Lightning get through the Bruins, they’ll be here. It’s do or die for them. You don’t win all those games to lose. Vasilevskiy is a top five goalie who can steal games. Point and Johnson are clutch. Stamkos and Kucherov are the deadliest combo on the power play. Hedman can control games. They’ll need help from Miller, who’s never done anything in the playoffs. Palat and Killorn know how to play as do Paquette, Callahan, Girardi and Stralman. If not now, then when?
Conn Smythe: Brayden Point, Lightning