The puck will drop on the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight, as 16 teams fight to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
From the East, it’s the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and New Jersey Devils. The eight teams out of the West are the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings.
Hockey is a fluid sport with numerous factors influencing each game. Even more considerations have to be made when predicting a playoff series, such as playing styles, regular season matchups, home-ice advantage, and injuries. But with all of that in mind, the playoff results are still unpredictable.
Here at Blueshirt Banter, all 12 of us have submit our Quarterfinals predictions. Along with our picks for who will win each matchup, we’ve also guessed the series length. As the playoffs progress, we’ll revisit our selections and continue to make predictions as the later round matchups are set.
New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The leaders in the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning (first in the Atlantic Division, 54-23-5, 113 points) will return to the playoffs after missing last season, facing off against the New Jersey Devils (second wild card, 44-29-9, 97 points). It’s the Devils first playoff appearance since losing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, and their accomplishments this season have surpassed all expectations after they finished 27th last year with 70 points.
At 5-on-5, the Lightning take 51.62 percent of the shot share; the Devils haven’t had as much success, taking less than 49 percent of the shot attempts. The Lightning have had their struggles in their own zone at times this season, but the addition of former Rangers’ captain Ryan McDonagh gives their first pair of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman support. Even after considering their struggles though, they’ve still had a more effective defense than the Devils. As for special teams, Tampa Bay’s power play ranks higher, while the Devils are ahead in penalty kill efficiency.
While the Devils have Taylor Hall, whose 93 points were sixth in the league, the Lightning have both Nikita Kucherov (100 points, third in league) and Steven Stamkos (86 points, 12th in league) up front. Plus they have two number one defensemen in Hedman and McDonagh, and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The Devils, on the other hand, are rolling with backup Keith Kinkaid since Corey Schneider’s play has slipped.
With all of that in mind, our consensus is that the Lightning will take this series.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
In the Atlantic Division, it’ll be a rematch of the 2013 Quarterfinals with the Bruins (second in Atlantic, 50-20-12, 112 points) and Maple Leafs (third in Atlantic, 49-26-7, 105 points) facing off.
The Maple Leafs had the second most effective power play during the regular season while the Bruins were fourth; on the penalty kill though, the Bruins are ahead in third while the Maple Leafs rank 11th – and their struggles have been as evident as ever in the last stretch of the season.
The Bruins 5-on-5 play has surpassed the Maple Leafs with the second-best 53.66 Corsi for percentage; the Maple Leaf’s 49.86 percent is in the bottom half of the league (17th). While their offensive generation is close, it’s their shot suppression that separates them – Boston’s 51.29 Corsi against per 60 leads the league, while Toronto’s 59.22 is the seventh from the bottom.
Both teams have dynamic top lines, with David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand in Boston and Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander in Toronto. And both have the forward depth to support their top lines. The Bruins have an edge with their defense, but the Maple Leafs have it in net with Frederik Andersen.
Most of us see this series taking at least six games, and we’re leaning towards the Maple Leafs by a slight margin.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Washington Capitals
The Blue Jackets (first wild card, 45-39-7, 97 points) will start their 2018 playoff journey in Washington D.C. when they take on the Capitals (first in Metropolitan, 49-26-7, 105 points).
The Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff series in franchise history, as they’ve been eliminated in the first round each of the three times they’ve made the playoffs. This year, they’re looking to change that with a series victory over the Capitals – a team with regular season accomplishments, but no Stanley Cup in their team history.
The Capitals have offensive fire power in Alex Ovechkin, who was one goal short of 50 this season (87 points, 11th in league), Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. John Carlson headlines their defense. While they have an established team with an established goaltender in Braden Holtby, they’ll begin the playoffs with backup Philipp Grubauer in the starter’s net.
Artemi Panarin led the Blue Jackets with 82 points this season, while rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois impressed by finishing third on the team in points. On defense, they have the stellar roving combination of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. And in net, Sergei Bobrovsky’s their backbone.
Neither’s special teams rank in the top 10 in terms of efficiency. At 5-on-5 though, the Blue Jackets are expected to score almost 52 percent of the goals (9th in league) at the second highest rate of 2.5 per 60, while the Capitals are only expected to collect less than 47 percent of the goals.
While the Blue Jackets don’t have a winning playoff history, the majority of us think that they’ll change that this season with a first round win, but we’re learning towards it taking seven games.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
It’ll be a battle of Pennsylvania as the Flyers (third in Metropolitan, 42-26-15, 98 points) challenge the reigning Stanley Cup champion Penguins (second in Metropolitan, 47-29-6, 100 points).
The Penguins not only have weapons in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, but they have depth surrounding them. The Flyers offense is highlighted by Claude Giroux’s 102 point (second in league) bounce back season, Sean Couturier’s offensive breakout, Jakub Voracek’s consistent scoring. Plus, they have an excellent top pair on defense with Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov leading the way.
At 5-on-5, they both face a similar rate of shot attempts against of approximately 55 per 60. It’s their offensive generation that separates them, as the Flyers almost match their shots against while the Penguins exceed it with a 60.51 Corsi for per 60.
Where both may struggle is in net. Matt Murray hasn’t met expectations this season and has had his own injury struggles. The Flyers have a Brian Elliot-Peter Mrazek tandem that isn’t too inspiring either. However, Murray has recent playoff history with two consecutive Stanley Cup wins.
We’re picking the Penguins to move on, but most of us think it’ll take at least six games to qualify for the second round.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Nashville Predators
The Avalanche (second wild card, 43-30-9, 95 points) just made the playoffs with a win in their final game of the season, and unfortunately for them, that landed them in a first round matchup with the Predators (first in league, 53-18-11, 117 points).
The Predators’ leading scorer was Filip Forsberg with 64 points, which isn’t that inspiring, but they’re a team that scores by committee. Plus, they get help from their blue liners P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. On the other hand, the Avalanche’s offense was highlighted by their first line, particularly Nathan MacKinnon (97 points, fifth in league) and Mikko Rantanen (84 points).
Despite not having one dominant scorer, the Predators have been dominant as a whole. They control more than 51 percent of the shot share at 5-on-5 and generate offense at a high rate; the Avalanche only take 47.57 percent of the shot attempts at 5-on-5. The Avalanche also concede a high rate of 60.26 shot attempts against per 60, and are only expected to score 1.98 goals per 60 (second lowest in league).
Plus, the Predators have an advantage in net. Semyon Varlamov is out with injury, forcing the Avalanche to rely on Jonathan Bernier and Andrew Hammond.
We were unanimous in our selection of the Predators, with differing opinions on the length. But we’re mostly in agreement that this probably won’t go seven.
Minnesota Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets
In another Central Division battle, it’ll be the Wild (third in Central, 45-26-11, 101 points) against the Jets (second in Central, 52-20-10, 114 points). Since returning to Winnipeg, the Jets have only made the playoffs once and they didn’t make it past the first round. This year’s a different story, as their roster is talented in all aspects.
The Jets are ahead in the special teams battle and their 5-on-5 play. Their 51.5 percent Corsi for exceeds the Wild’s 47.18. The Jets create not only a higher volume of shots but quality shots, so they’re expected to score at a higher rate. The Wild have been stronger against quality attempts though, limiting their expected goals against to 1.95 per 60; that could change as they proceed without Ryan Suter, who fractured his ankle earlier this month.
Not having Suter hurts the Wild, but their goaltending has been a strength in recent seasons with Devan Dubnyk in net. Unfortunately he hasn’t been at his best this season, playing just slightly below expectation with a 0.930 5-on-5 save percentage. When factoring in shot quality though, his minus-7.55 goals saved above average is discouraging. On the other side of the ice it’ll be Connor Hellebuyck, who has reached career highs this season.
Ten of us have picked the Jets to defeat the Wild, and we’re anticipating it going five or six games. If the Wild are to win, we think it’ll take the full series.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Vegas Golden Knights
The Kings (first wild card, 45-29-8, 98 points) return to the playoffs to face off against the Golden Knights (first in Pacific, 51-24-7, 109 points).
Few expected the Golden Knights to even make the playoffs this season, let alone lead the division. The Kings meanwhile looked like they could return to the postseason after front office and coaching changes, even though they kept much of their core in tact.
There have been standout individual performances on both teams, with bounce back years from Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown in Los Angeles. In Vegas, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have both been great after being let go by the Panthers, and William Karlsson’s scoring (43 goals) has been outstanding.
The Kings have the edge with the league’s best penalty kill, and both have been fortunate in terms of goaltending. The Kings and Golden Knights 5-on-5 play is too far apart either. The Golden Knights take just under 51 percent of the shot share, while the Kings take just 50 percent. Their underlying numbers in their own zone are fairly close too.
This season was a major change for the Kings, who were known for their possession over the last few years. But even when that was their identity, they didn’t score nearly enough and weren’t expected to because they didn’t take as many quality chances. They still leave much to be desired in that area, as their 2.17 expected goals for per 60 is the sixth lowest in the league; the Golden Knights are ahead with 2.33 per 60.
This looks like it’ll be one of the more evenly-matched series, but more of us think the Golden Knights – despite their lack of experience as a team – will eliminate the Kings.
Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks
Lastly, there’s the battle of California between the Ducks (second in Pacific, 44-25-13, 101 points) and Sharks (third in Pacific, 45-27-10, 100 points).
Anaheim’s full season numbers are somewhat deceptive when considering the injuries they faced early this season and the lineups they had to dress. A rough start can skew their full season numbers, so San Jose being ahead of them in terms of Corsi, expected goals, and so on, may not tell the full story.
The Ducks are moving forward without Cam Fowler, who is out with a shoulder injury. But early this season, they showed they can manage without some of their best players; it just forces them to rely on their goaltender John Gibson even more. He’s managed that task with a 0.926 save percentage in all situations and 14.09 5-on-5 GSAA (third in league). Then again, that requires him to be healthy, which has been a problem for all players in Anaheim this season.
The Sharks’ goaltending hasn’t been nearly as much of a strength as it has for the Ducks, but their defense is solid with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic leading the way. Their offense has been boosted by deadline acquisition Evander Kane as well, although they’re still missing Joe Thornton, who is not expected to start the series.
We’re giving the Sharks the edge in this series and the majority of us think it’ll take six games.
*5v5 data via Corsica.hockey