The Stanley Cup Playoffs are always fairly unpredictable, but in Round 1, it was as unpredictable as ever.
Not only were the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated in the first round in a surprising sweep, the leader of the Western Conference, the Calgary Flames, were knocked out as well. Never before have the best in the West and best in the East both been eliminated in the first round of the NHL playoffs. In fact, for the first time in the history of any of the four major North American professional sports leagues (NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL), every division leader lost in the opening round.
So how did we do in Round 1?
As can be expected with this year’s chaotic results so far, with all four wild card seeds reaching the second round... the Blueshirt Banter staff missed the mark in a big way in our playoff predictions.
For the less-surprising series wins, Joe, Mike, Beth, Bryan, Jack, Kevin, Phil, and Miika all correctly predicted the Bruins in Round 1. Mike, Adam, Jack, Kevin, and I all picked the Blues to defeat the Jets, while Joe, Mike, Adam, Beth, Jack, Scott, and Miika all thought the Sharks would move on to Round 2.
Here’s where things got a little more chaotic. Not one of us had the wild card seeds taking out the leaders in the West and East. The Lightning were swept in Round 1, while the Avalanche defeated the Flames in five games. Just over half of us were correct in picking those jerks in Carolina to defeat the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Capitals. Only five of us predicted the Dallas Stars. And just two of us, Beth and Miika, thought it would be the Islanders over the Penguins.
While a few of us at Blueshirt Banter went 4-for-8, Beth wins going 5-for-8 only losing the Lightning, Flames, and Jets.
Now, let’s move on to Round 2.
Boston Bruins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
In a result that few predicted, the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in Round 1. The Bruins, on the other hand, took seven games to eliminate the Maple Leafs.
The Blue Jackets’ post-deadline slide gave reason for concern after going all-in with the additions of Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Keith Kinkaid, and Adam McQuaid. Columbus didn’t just add players, but also retained pending free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, who put on his best postseason performance in Round 1. Clearly, that strategy paid off as they’re on to Round 2 for the first time in franchise history.
The Bruins, on the other hand, are on to the second round the same way they were last year — a seven game elimination of Toronto. They have one of the best lines in hockey in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, but they’re not even starting with that line this series. Instead, Danton Heinen is up on the first line, with Pastrnak on the second to better balance out their scoring. That offense has led to the Bruins’ having a better 5-on-5 expected goal rate than their second round opponent.
The Banter consensus gives the Blue Jackets, the underdogs that took out the league’s best Lightning, the edge in Round 2 over the Bruins — but we think they’ll need at least six games to do it.
New York Islanders vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Two teams that were counted out much of the season, the Islanders and Hurricanes, will face each other in Round 2. Another similarity between these two teams is that it’s their coaches’ first year leading their respective teams; Barry Trotz was the head coach of the Capitals last year, while Rod Brind’Amour was the Hurricanes’ assistant coach. It’s also Brind’Amour’s first season as an NHL head coach.
Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes spoiled the chance for Trotz to take on his former team, the Capitals, in Round 2, with a seven-game series win. The Islanders upset the Penguins in a four-game sweep to get here.
The two teams are also similar in how they went into the postseason with a shared net; Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss split the Islanders’ crease, while it was Petr Mrazek and Curtis McEhlinney in Carolina.
Where they differ is at 5-on-5. The Hurricanes were one of the best teams in terms of Corsi, while Islanders focused more on shot quality than quantity. What’s tricky for the Islanders, is that their opponent generated more high danger chances and were expected to score at a higher rate when factoring in shot quality during the regular season. While the Canes allowed a higher rate of quality chances against (though, fewer shots against in general), they buckled down against the Capitals in Round 1.
With all of that in mind, we’re predicting a series win for the Hurricanes.
San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche
We thought it would be a tight series between the Sharks and Golden Knights, but maybe we underestimated just how tight. When the series seemed all but done, a controversial major penalty was called, and the Sharks stormed back from a 3-0 deficit with four (!) power play goals. Vegas tied the game in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime, but a Barclay Goodrow goal in overtime gave the Sharks the victory.
The resilience of the Sharks is admirable, from forcing a Game 7, to their heroics in what seemed to be the final 10 minutes of their season. But injuries are a concern with this group, from Erik Karlsson who doesn’t appear to be 100 percent healthy, and Joe Pavelski who left their last game with injury. Plus, there’s the unpredictability of Martin Jones in net.
On the other end of the ice are the Avalanche, who battled back from a 4-0 Game 1 loss with four consecutive wins over the the Flames. Headlined by Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado proved to be more than a one-line team in the postseason. The Avalanche had scoring from J.T. Compher, Matt Nieto, and Colin Wilson, among others to move past the Flames.
The addition of Cale Makar only brought more skill to their blue line. And they’re backstopped by Philipp Grubauer, who became their backbone in their push for a playoff berth.
Few expected a Sharks-Avalanche series, as opposed to a Golden Knights-Flames showdown Round 2, but here we are. And, as a group, we’re leaning towards the Sharks in this one.
St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars
Lastly, there’s the Central Division matchup of the Blues and Stars.
Many picked the Jets to win it all back in October. Few had the Blues going anywhere after falling to the bottom of the standings early in the season. A coaching change and the call up of goaltender Jordan Binnington contributed to the Blues’ turnaround.
The Blues’ stingy defense is tough to get past; they were among the league’s best in Corsi against and expected goals in the regular season. Once you get past that defense, you have to beat Binnington who emerged with some eye-catching numbers this season. Up front, they’re no pushover either with Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz struggled in the regular season, but has been clutch thus far in the postseason.
Then, there’s Dallas. Like the Blues, they’re going into the postseason with a new coach behind the bench. Unlike Craig Berube, this is Jim Montgomery’s first crack as an NHL head coach.
The Stars were solid at limiting quality chances against in the regular season, but their primary strengths are their top line and their goaltending. They’re backstopped by Vezina-Trophy nominee Ben Bishop, who has had an outstanding season in Dallas when healthy. Up front, they’re headlined by a first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov and they were lethal in Round 1. Their weakness this year was the scoring depth behind that top line — until they added Mats Zuccarello at the deadline. Zuccarello has helped to spark the Stars, and has formed a solid second line along with Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz.
This is the series we are the most divided about. As a group, we give the Stars a 6-5 edge, and we think it’ll take at least six games to settle the score.