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Join the Pensburgh bracket challenge, plus first round predictions

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Can you predict the NHL playoffs?

NHL: MAR 27 Islanders at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tomorrow the quest for the Stanley Cup begins for 16 teams all vying to etch their names on the fabled chalice.

You can join our Pensburgh NHL bracket challenge (for free) right here!

League Name: Pensburgh
Password: Score87

Maybe a prize for the winner? I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes.

If you want a cheat code here are my predictions for the first round..

West

Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues

—Colorado clinched the Presidents Trophy as the best regular season team. St. Louis has had a decent second half of the season to make the playoffs, but they don’t have the same swagger of their Stanley Cup win two years ago (which feels like about 10 years ago at this point). Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs are deeper and better. STL has a good road record, I wouldn’t be surprised if they win one of the first two games and it raises an eyebrow that this could be a competitive series....But they’re not going to win many if any more. Avalanche in 5.

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild

—Minnesota was a pleasant surprise this year. Unfortunately for them, they run into the Vegas buzzsaw that allowed the fewest goals in the league this year and has plenty of fire power themselves. This one might get lopsided. Vegas in 4.

North

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

—As much as I would like to predict the Habs pulling another early upset under similar conditions (playing in empty Canadian buildings, facing a heavy favorite, etc) I just can’t do it. Montreal is a team that is very messy right now, led by a coach possibly/probably out of his element, and Shea Weber has a bum thumb. Toronto gets out their long playoff drought, they just have to this time, don’t they? Maple Leafs in 5.

Edmonton Oilers vs. Winnipeg Jets

—This might be one of the most fun and watchable first round series across the league. Connor McDavid is must watch TV, scoring 104 points in 55 games in what should be a unanimous MVP season. Leon Draisaitl is awesome too with 83 points. Then there is one other Oiler forward with 25+ points (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 35). Can two really good players boost an otherwise wholly mediocre team past the first round of the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s gonna be a hell of a time watching. I’m betting the “maybe not” though I’m not confident in it at all. Jets in 7.

Central

Carolina Hurricanes vs. Nashville Predators

—Nashville went 7-2-1 down the stretch to fight their way into a playoff spot. The Hurricanes are a lot more skilled and balanced down their lineup, though. Young Alex Nedeljkovic has been great in net recently, is he finally the answer to Carolina’s long running problem to not get enough goaltending to match their skater talent? It’s looking like he could be. Hurricanes in 5.

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

—Florida has home ice and is the higher seed, but still feels like a really big under-dog considering that the defending champion Lightning are getting Steven Stamkos back and getting Nikita Kucherov for the first time all season. Defenseman Victor Hedman is gutting through an injury that will reportedly require off-season surgery, but otherwise it looks like all systems go again for Tampa. Can Florida pull what would be a thrilling and unexpected upset? Doubtful, but it would be fun if they are being over-looked by many once again. Lightning in 6.

East

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders

—I will save an official prediction for tomorrow, but one interesting angle from reading a lot of previews and predictions is how many are defaulting to NYI having a huge edge here. Maybe that will happen on the ice, but Semyon Varlamov is 1-3-2 with a .897 save% against Pittsburgh this season. He has been great against the rest of the division, but the Pens have found ways to light him up. For his career, in 15 starts against PIT, Varlamov has a .899 save%. Unless that changes in a major way, a lot of the conventional wisdom about how folks are picturing this series playing out might look a lot different...

Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

I predicted it would be Pens/Bruins in the second round prior to the season (where I also predicted correctly all four East playoff teams correctly and 13/16 playoff teams overall, not to brag), and see no reason to change this end of it.

Something just feels amiss in Washington right now. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov are currently on the COVID list, for the second time this season, and now for 11 days and presumably will miss at least the start of the series.....All of T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Justin Schultz, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson are either less than 100% right now, or were injured not long ago.

On the other side of the coin, Boston is hitting on all cylinders. Since the trade deadline their combined score of all the games is 58-32 and they’re 12-4-1 since adding Taylor Hall to the club. (The Caps are outscoring opponents 44-37 since the trade deadline). The Bruins look like a deep, dangerous team right now that can go on a run.

Just feels like Washington has too much drama, too many injuries and too much adversity right now, and Boston is too good. Is Vitek Vanecek going to beat Tuukka Rask in a series? Is Craig Anderson going to dress in a playoff game in the year of our Lord 2021? Don’t see it happening for the Caps. Bruins in 6.