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NHL First Round Playoff Picks, Part One

Looking into the cloudy crystal ball for NHL playoff picks

Edmonton Oilers v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s one of the best times of the year in sports - the action and excitement of NHL playoffs are upon us and the chase for the Stanley Cup starts in earnest tomorrow night.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but my record was 10-2 in the opening two rounds last year. (Toot toot!)

Then again, no one is going to be your biggest cheerleader if you aren’t leading the parade, so always remember that dear readers.

Anyways, this time around I have to admit about being a lot less confident going into making some picks. It’s not difficult to think that many of these matchups could go either way. That makes predictions challenging — but should make the viewing experience that much more exciting too. While I can’t say I have a good feel for how it will play out, let’s try to have a good time anyways. We’ll start by previewing the series that kick off on Monday.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders

The Hurricanes enter with what I’m seeing as -190 odds to win (+160 for NYI), which isn’t that big of a spread for teams that were separated by 20 points in the regular season standings.

A reason for those close odds is that there is a big problem immediately visible when it comes to the makings of a potential upset: the favored/better team can’t finish at all, and the underdogs have excellent goaltending. If you wanted to dream up a matchup that could give instant problems and realistic chances for an upset, you would be harder pressed to find a better stylistic clash than that right there.

Carolina under Rod Brind’Amour have long been darlings of having a consistently superior process to almost everyone in the NHL. The Hurricanes possess the puck a ton, they do not allow much defensively with their structure and almost always have the advantage in scoring chances. That will likely be the case in this series, as the Islanders will need Ilya Sorokin to continue to play at an extremely high level to have a puncher’s chance.

The NYI power play is dreadful, though they should get a skill boost with the expected return in Game 1 from their best offensive player in Mat Barzal. Otherwise, across the board the Islanders profile as a mediocre team that is propped up by superior goaltending.

For a bet, I do like the value and chances that the Islanders can potentially pull an upset. However, for a prediction, I will somewhat reluctantly side with the better team to clear a tricky matchup.

Prediction: Carolina in 6

Boston Bruins vs. Florida Panthers

The record-setting Bruins take their ridiculous 65 wins into these playoffs and are an overwhelming favorite in this series (-320 to +250 for Florida). But it should be noted that the Panthers have a very high-powered offense and may have the horses to put a bit of a scare in Boston.

The Bruins are a far superior team and shouldn’t have too many problems with this one. Visions of 2019 still dance in my head when I predicted Tampa (the last 60+ game winner) to sweep Columbus, and the exact opposite happened. But that series went off the rails for the Lightning when Nikita Kucherov got suspended and back then in 2019 Sergei Bobrovsky was dealing a lot more smoke than he has had ever since. I don’t believe Boston is as fragile or prone to falling apart when the times get tough, they are built for a deep playoff run in every position from the net to defense and deep at forward.

Overall, I don’t think there is too much reason to over-think this. Patrice Bergeron will do what he does and limit Aleksander Barkov, and then the rest of the matchups should be overwhelmingly in the Bruins’ favor.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild

According to Vegas, this is the closest first round matchup we profile today, with Dallas at -140 and Minnesota having +120 odds. Despite that near coin flip, on paper a lot of signs are pointing to the Stars matching up very well with the Wild (or just about anyone, really).

Minnesota only has a few quality forwards, and one of them in Joel Eriksson Ek is coming into the playoffs injured (after blocking an Evgeni Malkin slapshot in the Pens/Wild game earlier this month). The electric Kirill Kaprizov has also been battling injury as of late.

Dallas enters the playoffs on a six-game winning streak. If they get on a run it could be a star-making spring for Jason Robertson to get on the national radar and get the spotlight and recognition for being the elite player that he truthfully already is on the ice. Robertson is in a groove, scoring 18 points (5G+13A) in just his last eight games played.

As playoff series goes, this could be one of the most tightly contested events of the first round. A lot of the indicators and signs are pointing to Dallas, but just for the fact that anything can happen in a short series (and, admittedly, the Wild have a lot of former Penguin players like Marc-Andre Fleury that I would like to see do well), I am picking them.

Prediction: Wild in 7

Edmonton Oilers vs. Los Angeles Kings

Edmonton is coming in with a fairly commanding -220 odds in their favor according to bookmakers (+180 for Los Angeles). This series will likely be defined by how much success the Kings can have - or not have - at trying to limit the awesome power that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will bring to the table.

Shaky goaltending for both teams could also bring this to the realm of the unknown, neither side can be all that confident in the level of netminding they are going to receive. LA has received a boost from trade addition Jonas Korpisalo showing well with a .921 save% in 11 games, but he’s also a career .904% goalie and will be tested by the offense that the Oil have.

Both power plays are extremely lethal, as are the finishing levels on both teams for converting their chances. If you’re thinking could lead to some very high scoring games in this series, I am right there with you.

In the end, we’ve seen that McDavid and Draisaitl can push the Oilers through early rounds of the playoffs almost on their own with an excessive amount of scoring. McDavid recorded 33 points in 16 playoff games last spring, Draisaitl was right on his heels with 32 points. I expect that star power alone is enough to tip the balance in this meeting.

Edmonton has hit a groove, winning their last nine games of the regular season. They also have several players besides their big two that are red hot (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 16 points in the last nine games, Evan Bouchard has 10, Zach Hyman has six goals).

Prediction: Oilers in 5

Feel free to share your predictions, and better yet, join up on the free to enter PensBurgh Bracket Challenge to show off those prognostication skills.