Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets: This series will feature two previous Vezina winners. Holtby vs Bobrovsky should be a great matchup. Both teams can also put the puck in the net. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Panarin, Atkinson, Werenski; goals will happen. Something has to give. Series line currently: Washington (-130), Columbus (+110).
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils: Andrei Vasilevskiy and his .920 save % will do everything in his power to keep the Devils’ offense in check. Nikita Kucherov (100 pts) is an offensive force to be reckoned with. Taylor Hall (93 pts) provides the offense for the Devils. Tampa Bay has what it takes to dominate this series, but I can see the Devils keeping it close. Series line currently: Tampa Bay (-350), New Jersey (+275).
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers: A heated rivalry in the first round? I’ll take it! These teams hate each other. They have provided us so many great matchups over the years. You’ll see finesse on the ice……..and probably some blood. Two-time defending champs Pittsburgh will look to three-peat. The Flyers want nothing more than to knock them out early. Literally and figuratively. Series line currently: Pittsburgh (-225), Philly (+185).
Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs: The Bruins can score across 4 lines with regularity. They have 4 players with 59 points or more. And they have Tuukka Rask. A .917 save % and 2.32 GAA gives them a guy between the pipes that won’t budge much. Toronto spreads the scoring love as well. But a healthy Auston Matthews makes them dangerous. They have Frederik Andersen (2.81, .918) in the net. This should be a good series, as the lines would suggest. Series line currently: Boston (-145), Toronto (+125).
Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche: Nashville is the Vegas favorite to win it all. They got a taste last year, but fell short. They’ll be hungry. They are solid both on offense and defense. And Pekka Rinne is one of the best in the game in the net. Nathan MacKinnon is the centerpiece for Colorado. This guy can score. Semyon Varlamov is no slouch between the pipes either. Most people, including Vegas, aren’t giving these guys much of a chance though. Series line currently: Nashville (-560), Colorado (+380).
Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings: Vegas has taken the hockey world by storm this season. They’ve broken countless records. But can they sustain under the bright lights? They feature 4 players with at least 60 points. They play with a lot of energy too. And Marc-Andre Fleury (2.24, .927) is legendary between the pipes. But don’t count out the Kings. Anze Kopitar (92 pts) has had a stellar season. Jonathan Quick (2.40, .921) has shown what he can do in the postseason. Series line currently: Vegas (-140), LA (+120).
Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild: Raise your hand if you predicted the Jets to be here. Exactly. Blake Wheeler (91 pts) has been their guy this season. Connor Hellebuyck (2.36, .924) has been a pleasant surprise as one of the top goalies. No household names here, just solid hockey. This Wild team is what their fans envisioned a few years ago when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signed as free agents. Minnesota looks as though they’ve put it all together this season. Devan Dubnyk has been very good, Wild fans hope he can hold down the fort in the playoffs. Series line currently: Winnipeg (-220), Minnesota (+180).
Anaheim Ducks vs San Jose Sharks: Anaheim got here despite injuries to key players this season. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the guy other teams love to hate, will be crucial to Anaheim’s success in the postseason. The Sharks have experience. Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton; these guys have been there, they’ve done that. This may be the highest scoring series of the first round. Series line currently: Anaheim (-130), San Jose (+110).
Guys, I’m ready for this to start. But alas, we have about 24 hours until it’s a go. Kick back, pop a cold one, enjoy some hockey.