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NHL Playoffs Central Division First Round Series Predictions: Hurricanes set to storm past Predators

NHL Playoffs Central Division First Round Series Predictions: Hurricanes set to storm past Predators

The Central Division proved to be more of a challenge than the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning were expecting. The Bolts stumbled over the line as they finished third, so won’t have  home-ice advantage for their Sunshine State showdown against the Florida Panthers in round one.

The Carolina Hurricanes were top dogs in the Central Division, taking first place with 80 points and they’ll now face the wildcard of the division in the Nashville Predators, who edged out the reigning Western Conference champions Dallas Stars to snatch the fourth seed.

Let’s take a look at how both First Round series could play out.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. Nashville Predators Predictions

Carolina Hurricanes -245
Nashville Predators +200

On paper, this could be the most one-sided series of the first round with Carolina just stronger than Nashville in every department. Pre-season doubt about the Canes’ goaltending has been firmly put to bed with Alex Nedeljkovic, who has the highest save percentage in the league, and Petr Mrazek very good between the pipes. As well as having depth in goal, they are also stacked on defense, where Dougie Hamilton leads the way, while the top-six is amongst the best in the league, highlighted by Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Vincent Trocheck. The Canes are also ranked in the top three on both the power-play and penalty killing.

With all that stacking up against Nashville, it looks like an easy passage through to the second round for Carolina. The Preds haven’t read the script all season long though and while they lost the first six regular-season meetings with the Hurricanes, they won the final two by a combined 8-1 scoreline. Juuse Saros has taken over as the first choice in goal and looks top class, registering a .943 overall save percentage. However, Nashville just doesn’t score enough — they are the lowest scorers in the playoff, and though will fight hard, they should ultimately fall short.

Verdict: Carolina in five

Be sure to also check out our picks and predictions for who our expert thinks will win the Stanley Cup!

Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Predictions

Jonathan Huberdeau is looking to take down the champs in the first round of the playoffs.

Apr 17, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA;Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11) is congratulated as he scores a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lighting -146
Florida Panthers +120

For the first time ever we have a playoff series between the two Florida franchises and it looks like being a thriller. Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996 but looks to have all the weapons needed to shock the defending champions.

The Panthers enter the postseason having won 11 of their last 14, which includes three wins over the Lightning as they edged the regular-season series 5-3. Jonathan Huberdeau has been brilliant all year for Florida with 61 points, scoring seven points in seven games against the Lightning, while trade-deadline acquisition Sam Bennett is averaging more than a point per game. There are question marks over Sergei Bobrovsky in goal but when you’re averaging a division-best 3.36 goals per game, mediocre goaltending might be enough to see them through.

Tampa Bay is counting on the returning Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos helping this team to go up a level. However, Kucherov hasn’t played all season and Florida will no doubt target him. Andrei Vasilevskiy is still a top-class goaltender with a .925 save percentage on the season but he wasn’t at his best down the stretch and the Bolts will need him to get hot if they are to stop the free-scoring Panthers. The Lightning’s Stanley Cup experience means they won’t panic if they get down in the series but the Panthers are worth taking a chance on.

Verdict: Florida in seven

Don’t forget to also check out our picks and predictions for who wins the NHL Playoffs series in the East Division!

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Last updated: Fri 14th May 2021

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