With the start of the 2019 postseason set to get underway in approximately 48 hours, now is a great time to offer up my expert analysis and prediction on each first round NHL Playoffs matchups. Can Alexander Ovechkin and the defending Stanley Cup Champions Washington Capitals go back-to-back after claiming the first title in franchise history a year ago?
2019 Stanley Cup First Round Odds & Game Analysis
2018-19 Regular Season Recap: Chapter 1💯 Six players hit triple digits in points⚡ @TBLightning tied NHL record with 62 wins🏒 All-time high of 138 multi-goal comeback wins🚨 NHL record 7,664 total goalsMore #NHLStats: https://t.co/9YCe2G19U0 pic.twitter.com/7mbfG62bay— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) 7 de abril de 2019
Can the Caps get past all challengers to win the east or will another team like the defensive-minded Boston Bruins or top-seeded and record-tying Tampa Bay Lightning bring home the hardware in the chase for supremacy in the Eastern Conference? The postseason opens on Wednesday with Columbus at Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh at the New York Islanders before Boston hosts Toronto and Washington hosts Carolina on Thursday. Now, let’s get to my expert picks to win each Eastern Conference first round playoff series right now.
Lightning vs Blue Jackets
Analysis: The 62-win Lightning tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins by a team in the regular season in NHL history. Their 30 road victories are the second most in league history behind the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings record of 31. Tampa Bay Lightning finished the regular season ranked first in scoring (3.9 gpg) and seventh in goals allowed (2.7 gpg). Columbus Blue Jackets put together a winning mark, both at home (22-17-1-1) and on the road (25-14-2), but the Blue Jackets rank a decent, but not great, 12th in scoring (3.1 gpg) and 11th in goals allowed (2.8 gpg) and that just won’t be good enough to get past a Tampa Bay team they lost to three times this season while getting outscored by the whopping score of 17-3. I say…the President’s trophy-winning Lightning win this first round series in a sweep!
Pick: Tampa Bay 4-0
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Analysis: Carolina Hurricanes is in the playoffs for the first time in a decade and they won just two fewer games than defending champion Washington Capitals during the regular season. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, they went 0-3-1 in four regular season meetings against Washington and they have an offense that ranks a modest 16th in scoring (3.0 gpg). While Carolina does have an outstanding defense that limits the opposition to just 2.7 goals per game (8th), I don’t see the Hurricanes being able to keep up with a Washington offense that ranks fifth in scoring (3.4 gpg). I know the Caps allow 3.0 goals per game defensively to rank an uninspiring 20th in goals allowed, but the Caps won five of their final seven regular season games and six of 10 while limiting the opposition to a single goal four times while allowing two goals or less six times over the span. Alexander Ovechkin and the defending champs will be too much here for Carolina.
Pick: Washington 4 Carolina 1
Bruins vs Maple Leafs
Analysis: Not only did Boston Bruins finish the regular season ranked 11th in scoring (3.1 gpg) and a stupendous third in goals allowed (2.6 gpg), but the Bruins took three of four meetings against Toronto this season while putting five goals on the board in their first meeting and six goals in their third matchup this season. The Toronto Maple Leafs struggled down the stretch by going 3-7 over their last 10 games while dropping three straight and five of six to close out the regular season. I know Toronto can score with anyone as they average 3.5 goals per game to rank fourth, but the Maple Leafs allow 3.0 goals per game (20th) and have no momentum as they hit the postseason on a bit of a down note. Boston gets it done in a series that looks like it will go six games to me at the very least.
Pick: Boston 4 Toronto 2N.Y. Islanders vs. Penguins
Analysis: Pittsburgh Penguins won five of their final eight games, but the Penguins also alternated wins and losses over their final six games, so they haven’t been the most consistent bunch around. Pittsburgh can put points on the board in a hurry in ranking sixth I scoring (3.3 gpg) and they’ve been solid, if not outstanding in ranking 14th in goals allowed this season (2.9 gpg). The New York Islanders won four of their final five regular season contests and six of eight overall. New York ranks a modest 22n in scoring (2.7 gpg), but the Isles also lead the league in fewest goals allowed (2.4 gpg). These two conference rivals split four regular season meetings with both recording one shootout win and one road win. For me, I like the experience – and high-scoring ways of Pittsburgh to help the Pens win and advance – in seven!
Pick: Pittsburgh 4 NY Islanders 3
Will the Calgary Flames live up to their status as the top-seeded team in the Western Conference? Could the defending Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights get their act together to challenge for the repeat? Will both title hopefuls get beat out by another conference counterpart in the race for first place out west? The postseason opens on Wednesday with St. Louis on the road at Winnipeg, Dallas at Nashville and Vegas at San Jose before Calgary hosts Colorado on Thursday. Now, let’s get to my expert picks to win each Western Conference first round playoff series right now.
Flames vs Avalanche
Analysis: Colorado Avalanche won seven of their final 10 regular season games and beat both, Vegas and Winnipeg over their final six games, so the Avalanche are clearly playing some positive hockey as they get set for the postseason. Colorado also ranks an encouraging 10t in scoring (3.2 gpg) and respectable 15th in goals allowed (3.0 gpg).
While Calgary dropped two straight to close out the regular season, the Calgary Flames also won six of their previous eight games, not to mention they’re the only team in hockey outside of Tampa Bay to reach the 50-win mark this season. Calgary has been stupendous in averaging 3.6 goals per game to rank second in scoring while also limiting the opposition to just 2.7 goals per game defensively (9th).
Calgary has won five straight at home in this rivalry and eight of the last nine meetings against Colorado overall and I don’t expect the top seed in the Western Conference to have any problems winning this first round series – in a sweep no less.
Pick: Calgary 4 Colorado 0
Predators vs Stars
Analysis: Dallas Stars closed out the regular season by winning five of its last seven games while beating Winnipeg and Calgary along the way. While the Stars average just 2.5 goals per game (29th), Dallas also limits the opposition to just 2.4 goals per game to rank second in goals allowed defensively. Nashville won three straight and five of their final six games and seven of 10 to cap off the regular season while recording impressive wins over San Jose, Toronto, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh along the way. Nashville ranks an uninspiring 19t in scoring (2.9 gpg), but the Predators also limit the opposition to just 2.6 goals per game to rank fourth in goals allowed.
The Nashville Predators won three of the five regular season meetings against Dallas, but a pair of those victories came in overtime, so these two teams are clearly pretty evenly matched up this season. Still, with Nashville having a huge edge in experience and the Predators having gone 8-3 in their last 11 meetings against Dallas, things aren’t looking good for the Stars heading into their first round matchup. Still, I like Dallas to win at least two games in this one and possibly three, before narrowly falling to their conference counterparts.
Pick: Nashville 4 Dallas 2
Jets vs Blues
Analysis: Let me get started by saying this first round matchup could turn out to be the most exciting – and competitive – pairing of them all. St. Louis Blues has been on fire for a couple of months now and closed out the regular season by winning eight of 10 while beating Cup contenders like Vegas and Tampa Bay along the way. The Blues average 3.0 goals per game (15th) while limiting the opposition to just 2.7 goals per contest to rank fifth in goals allowed.
Winnipeg Jets hits the postseason struggling a bit, having lost five of their last seven games and six of 10 overall. While the Jets have been so-so defensively in allowing 3.0 goals per game (16th), Winnipeg also owns one of the most explosive offenses in the league as they put up 3.3 goals per game to rank seventh in scoring.
Winnipeg took three of four from St Louis this season while scoring five goals or more in each victory, but the Blues won the last meeting 1-0 back on Dec. 7 and they’re definitely playing better hockey than the Jets right now. Still though, I’m going to back Winnipeg to come out of this series in seven games, mostly because they can explode on teams offensively and they have home-ice advantage against the Blues.
Pick: Winnipeg 4 St. Louis 3
Sharks vs Golden Knights
Analysis: San Jose Sharks won their final two regular season games, but the Sharks also lost their previous two games and seven of their previous eight games overall, so this is a team that enters the postseason not riding a wave of momentum. San Jose ranks a fantastic third in scoring by averaging a stellar 3.5 goals per game, but the Sharks have been abysmal defensively in allowing 3.1 goals per contest (21st).
Vegas Golden Knights also limps into the playoffs in even worse shape, having lost two straight and seven of their final eight games overall. The defending Western Conference champs average a respectable 3.0 goals per game (), but the Knights have been rock-solid defensively in limiting the opposition to just 2.8 goals per game to rank 10th in goals allowed.
While these two teams split their four regular season meetings, Vegas put at least six goals on the board in their two wins and San Jose got both of their wins by a single goal. While San Jose has home-ice advantage in this matchup, I’m going with Vegas to get the ‘upset’ win in this first round pairing for two big reasons. The Knights have the experience of last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals and they have the best goaltender in this pairing by far. This one goes the distance – and Vegas advances.
Pick: Vegas 4 San Jose 3