Pepper’s NHL Playoff Rundown

The wait is finally over, playoff hockey is here!

The NHL postseason is one of the most exciting times of the year and it won’t disappoint. Some teams were able to lock up their playoff position a while ago and other teams needing the last game of the regular season to lock up their spot.

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It’s been a whirlwind of a year from the Nashville Predators winning the President’s Trophy to the newly added Vegas Golden Knights making history as they made the playoffs in their first year as a NHL team.

With that being said, there are a few questions looming over certain teams as the begin their pursuit for the Stanley Cup. Can the Pittsburgh Penguins win their third Stanley Cup Championship in a row? Can the Vegas Golden Knights continue to make history as they look for a deep playoff run? Will the Washington Capitals finally make it to the finals? Can the Nashville Predators get retribution for last year’s Stanley Cup finals upset? This is just the beginning…I will be taking you all on a trip through the first round of the playoffs, with an inside look at each matchup as well as my predictions for each series.

Nashville Predators (1) vs Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

Regular season records- NSH: 53-18-11 117pts

   COL: 43-30-9 95pts

Season Series: 10/17/17 NSH 4, COL 1

11/18/17 NSH 5, COL 2

3/4/18 NSH 4, COL 3 (OT)

3/16/18 NSH 4, COL 2

On the Lookout- NSH: Viktor Arvidsson (29G, 61PTS)

   COL: Nathan MacKinnon (39G, 97PTS)

Goalies: NSH- Pekka Rinne 42-13-4, GAA- 2.31, SV%- .927

 COL- Semyon Varlamov 24-16-6, GAA- 2.68, SV%- .920

My Prediction: Nashville Predators win in 5 games

With the Predators sweeping the Avalanche in the regular season they have a huge advantage in this matchup. However, I don’t see a series sweep the first round. The Avalanche still have enough fire power to keep up with the Predators, but I just don’t see it being enough to solve Pekka Rinne. The Predators have been a power house this year and I believe they will continue and defeat the Avalanche.

Winnipeg Jets (2) vs Minnesota Wild (3)

Regular season records- WPG: 52-20-10 114pts

   MIN: 45-26-11 104pts

Season Series: 10/20/17 WPG 4, MIN 3

10/31/17 WPG 2, MIN 1

11/27/17 WPG 7, MIN 2

1/13/18 MIN 4, WPG 1

On the Lookout: WPG- Patrik Laine (44G, 70PTS)

   MIN- Eric Staal (42G, 76PTS)

Goalies: WPG- Connor Hellebuyck 44-11-9, GAA- 2.36, SV%- .924

  MIN- Devan Dubnyk 35-16-7, GAA- 2.52, SV%- .918

My Prediction: Winnipeg Jets win in 6 games

The Jets won the regular season series 3-1 and for the most part the games were close in score. Winnipeg has the rookie Patrik Laine who had a breakout year being a major force to the Jets offense. The Minnesota Wild isn’t a team to take lightly however. I believe the Wild will give the Jets a hard-fought series, but not enough to close it out.

Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs LA Kings (WC1)

Regular season records- VGK: 51-24-7 109pts

   LAK: 45-29-8 98pts

Season Series: 11/19/17 VGK 4, LAK 2

12/28/17 VGK 3, LAK 2 (OT)

2/26/18 LAK 3, VGK 2 (OT)

2/27/18 LAK 4, VGK 1

On the Lookout: VGK- William Karlsson (43G, 78PTS)

   LAK- Anze Kopitar (35G, 92PTS)

Goalies: VGK- Marc-Andre Fleury 29-13-4, GAA- 2.24, SV%- .927

  LAK- Jonathan Quick 33-28-3, GAA- 2.40, SV%- .921

My Prediction: Vegas Golden Knights win in 6 games

The Golden Knights have taken the NHL by storm. They have put together a record breaking year with wins, overall points and making playoffs in their first year. The team of misfits have really come together to become a top competitive dark horse of the league. They also have 3x Stanley Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury in between the pipes giving the Golden Knights the knowledge about what it takes to be a champion. On the other hand, they are playing a team who won it all in 2012 and 2014. It will an exciting series to watch. One where I believe the Golden Knights will continue their historic season as they win their first ever playoff series.

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs San Jose Sharks (3)

Regular season records- ANA: 44-25-13 101pts

   SJS: 45-27-10 100pts

Season Series: 11/4/17 SJS 2, ANA 1 (SO)

11/20/17 ANA 3, SJS 2 (SO)

1/21/18 SJS 6, ANA 2

2/11/18 SJS 3, ANA 2 (SO)

On the Lookout: ANA- Rickard Rakell (34G, 69PTS)

   SJS- Logan Couture (34G, 61PTS)

Goalies: ANA- John Gibson 31-18-7, GAA- 2.43, SV%- .926

  SJS- Martin Jones 30-22-6, GAA- 2.55, SV%- .915

My Prediction: San Jose Sharks win in 7 games

Three out of the four games these two teams played against each other had to go to a shootout. These two teams have played each other tough. Being two out of the three teams in California there is already a rivalry between the two and matching up in the first round will only add fuel to the fire. This series is going to be a long hard-fought battle one in which I see the Sharks coming out on top. This is also my first upset prediction in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs New Jersey Devils (WC2)

Regular season record- TBL: 54-23-5 113pts

  NJD: 44-29-9 97pts

Season Series: 10/17/17 NJD 5, TBL 4 (SO)

2/17/18 NJD 4, TBL 3

3/24/18 NJD 2, TBL 1

On the Lookout: TBL- Nikita Kucherov (39G, 100PTS)

   NJD- Taylor Hall (39G, 93PTS)

Goalies: TBL- Andrei Vasilevskiy 44-17-3, GAA- 2.62, SV%- .920

  NJD- Keith Kinkaid 26-10-3, GAA- 2.77, SV%- .913

My Prediction: Tampa Bay Lightning win in 7 games

This is the only series in the first round where the two teams only played each other three times in the regular season. The Devils swept the Lightning in the regular season. Being one of the only teams to hand the Lightning 3 losses. The Lightning have been building the past few years and it finally has brought them to be one of the top competitors in the playoffs this year. The Devils have turned it around from last year being one of the bottom two teams in the NHL to making the playoffs. They’ve had the Lightning’s number this year, however I think the Lightning will strike and end the Devils season.

Boston Bruins (2) vs Toronto Maples Leafs (3)

Regular season records- BOS: 50-20-12 112pts

   TOR: 49-26-7 105pts

Season Series: 11/10/17 TOR 3, BOS 2 (OT)

11/11/17 TOR 4, BOS 1

2/3/18 BOS 4, TOR 1

2/24/18 TOR 4, BOS 3

On the Lookout: BOS- David Pastrnak (35G, 80PTS)

   TOR- James Van Riemsdyk (36G, 54PTS)

Goalies: BOS- Tuukka Rask 34-14-5, GAA- 2.36, SV%- .917

  TOR- Frederik Anderson 38-21-5, GAA- 2.81, SV%- .918

My Prediction: Toronto Maple Leafs win in 6 games

This series bring an old and long-lasting rivalry back into the light. Two of the Original Six NHL teams will be set to battle it out in the first round of these playoffs. The regular season saw the Maple Leafs take the series 3-1 and I believe that even with the fire power and the acquisition of Rick Nash Boston won’t be able to take down the Leafs ending a successful year for the Bruins. This is my second upset of the first round.

Washington Capitals (1) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (WC1)

Regular season record- WSH: 49-26-7 105pts

 CBJ: 45-30-7 97pts

Season Series: 12/2/17 WSH 4, CBJ 3

2/6/18 WSH 3, CBJ 2

2/9/18 WSH 4, CBJ 2

2/26/18 CBJ 5, WSH 1

On the Lookout: WSH- Alexander Ovechkin (49G, 87PTS)

  CBJ- Artemi Panarin (27G, 82PTS)

Goalies: WSH- Philipp Grubauer 15-10-3, GAA- 2.35, SV%- .923

  CBJ- Sergei Bobrovsky 37-22-6, GAA- 2.42, SV%- .921

My Prediction: Washington Capitals win in 6 games

In the preseason the Capitals were nowhere near the conversations involving the winner of the Metropolitan Division and here they are sitting on top. Ovechkin came just 1 goal short of another 50-goal season scoring two in the last game of the season. Washington has had a few upsetting playoff runs in past years. They’re looking to change that with a team that on paper is a step down from last year, but anything can happen when you have number 8 on the ice. Columbus is looking to have a deep playoff run of their own, but in the end, I believe the Capitals will end the Blue Jackets season early.

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs Philadelphia Flyers (3)

Regular season record- PIT: 47-29-6 100pts

 PHI: 42-26-14 98pts

Season Series: 11/27/17 PIT 5, PHI 4 (OT)

1/2/18 PIT 5, PHI 1

3/7/18 PIT 5, PHI 2

3/25/18 PIT 5, PHI 4

On the Lookout: PIT- Evgeni Malkin (42G, 98PTS)

  PHI- Claude Giroux (34G, 102PTS)

Goalies: PIT- Matt Murray 27-16-3, GAA- 2.92, SV%- .907

  PHI- Brian Elliott 23-11-7, GAA- 2.66, SV%- .909

My Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins win in 5 games or Philadelphia Flyers win in 7 games

The battle for Pennsylvania. Flyers versus Penguins is always a hard-hitting, nail-biting playoff series no matter what happens in the regular season. This year the Penguins swept the Flyers winning the series 4-0 scoring 5 goals in each game. Even though the Penguins had the Flyers number there is always something about this playoff matchup that never lets any fan base down. This will be an interesting series to watch. The Flyers are looking to have a healthy goaltender for this run as it always seems to be the position haunting them. The Penguins are looking for a three peat, but the Flyers are looking to end that dream early. These are two teams that do not like each other so expect a battle of a series. I have two separate predictions for this series. The way the regular season went I see the Penguins beating the Flyers in 5, but being a Flyers fan, I believe if the Flyers win the series it’ll have to be in 7 games.

That is everything you need to know about all the matchups in the first round of the NHL playoffs. I’m expecting a very fast pace and enjoyable first round. Each one of these series are going to be interesting and exciting in their own way. Not one matchup will be a letdown for any fan watching. Enjoy round 1 of the playoffs and stay tuned for the second round as I will have all of my predictions and insiders once the first round is over!

-Anthony Calabrese

Lead NHL and Philadelphia Flyers Contributor  

Twitter: @infinityintuit
Instagram: @infinityintuition

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