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Sunday Morning Wrap Up: Predicting the play-in rounds

Yeah, I know it’s a day late.

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers - Game One Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

What better way to wrap up the NHL’s last week in July than with a preview for the postseason (as usual, a day late)? While the Lightning aren’t under way just yet, other teams have begun their postseason (but not playoffs, unless you’re talking about points and records) push for the Stanley Cup. If you’ve followed me for any time at this website, you know I’m down for a good preview/prediction column every now and then. You’ll also know that I’m pretty bad at this. So, feel free to come back and make fun of these picks after the series are over.

While these picks are posting on Sunday, they were all made prior to the puck dropping on Saturday (for the most part, some editing was done Saturday night as you will see).

Some general thoughts.

  • At least one team that had no shot of making the playoffs will win their round. Internet people will be upset about that.
  • Fans of a team that loses their round will convince themselves that they will win the draft lottery.
  • At least one series will see a total of five goaltenders (looking at you Edmonton/Chicago)
  • One team will look like an absolute beast in this round only to get smoked in the first round of the playoffs.

The Western Conference

Edmonton Oilers (5) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (12)

Welcome to the Conor McDavid and Leon Draisatl show. The Oilers have some nice depth (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had 61 points and James Neal potted 19 goals), but Edmonton goes only as far as their top two players take them. As for the Blackhawks, well, they’re here. Good for them. They get to lose in some prime time games. Edmonton in three four. (Like I said, there is some editing. I still think Edmonton takes this series)

Nashville Predators (6) vs. Arizona Coyotes (11)

I feel like a lot of folks are sleeping on the Predators. If I had to pick one long shot to win it all I like Nashville at +3500. Their regular season was a bit ho-hum, but they have a strong top defense pairing in Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis and a deep, if somewhat unspectacular, set of forwards. If Pekka Rinne can fend off Father Time for one more run, they can make some noise. Arizona has not had a boring season. Phil Kesell was brought in, they traded for Taylor Hall, their goaltenders were all hurt and their GM quit on them days before the playoffs started. The offense hasn’t been there, but they are stingy in allowing goals. Nashville wins, but it’s ugly hockey that prevails. Nashville in four.

Vancouver Canucks (7) vs. Minnesota Wild (10)

This is a series I have absolutely no opinion on. Much like the Wild as a team. Vancouver in four?

Calgary Flames (8) vs. Winnipeg Jets (9)

Of all the Western Conference match-ups, this might be my favorite. Winnipeg has had an odd, streaky season and will probably rely way too much on Connor Hellebuyck. Yet, is anyone really sold on Calgary? Are they going to get the pre-All-Star break Johnny Gaudreau or the one that looked like his old self over the last 20 games of the season? Calgary has the advantage on defense even without Travis Harmonic, but their goaltending situation isn’t settled. In a short series that could be a difference. I don’t expect many blowouts in this match-up. Calgary in five (Game 5 goes double overtime)

The Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs. Montreal Canadiens (12)

This should be a mismatch. Montreal isn’t even supposed to be here. They shed whatever offensive depth they had at the trade deadline and are relying on Jonathan Drouin to take the next step and lead their offense. Even if he fulfills his potential they’re not a match for the Penguins. Not at even strength, and god help us all if Pittsburgh gets rolling on the power play. The break gave the elder core of the Penguins a chance to rest and make another run at the Cup. Yet, in the back of every Pens fan’s mind is a bit of lingering doubt manifested in the person of Carey Price. The specter of Carey Price may be greater than the actual Carey Price as it’s been years since he’s been among the elite, but he’s still the Canadiens best chance. Penguins in four.

Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs. New York Rangers (11)

The Rangers are going to rely on Artemi Panarin, Mika Zbinaejad, and whatever goaltender they decide on using for the series. Who knows, maybe they’ll play all three of them (Henrik Lundquist got the nod in game one). Carolina is going to counter with one of the deeper defensive corps in the league. Do I want to see them pull off a Storm Surge victory in an empty arena? Yes, yes I do. The trade they made for Vincent Trocheck acquisition could give the Hurricanes the extra scoring they need to pull this one out. Carolina is the better team, but New York’s power play could make it interesting. Carolina in four.

New York Islanders (7) vs. Florida Panthers (10)

The Panthers signed Sergei Bobrovsky to win a series like this. These two teams are fairly evenly matched, with Florida able to generate a little more offense. Of all of the first round match-ups, this will probably be the one where the coaches generate more press than the players. There are a lot of solid young players (Aleksander Barkov is your current reigning underrated champion) but no real superstars. Florida in five.

Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)

The age-old battle of defense vs. offense defines this match-up. The Maple Leafs boast one of the top lines in all of the NHL in Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Zach Hyman but Columbus’ forecheck will make life tough for them. If Toronto gets solid to good goaltending from Frederik Anderson they should be able to avoid an upset. Toronto in four.

There ya go. Some predictions that are of absolutely no help to you since the series are underway, and that will most likely be wrong in the end.