Odds and predictions for round one of the NHL’s 16-team playoff bracket

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Ricky Dimon

NHL

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

It feels like the Stanley Cup Playoffs have already begun, and the truth is they have. But the restart games so far have been either “qualifying” rounds or “seeding games.” Now the traditional 16-team bracket begins, with Game 1 in each of the eight series to be played on either Tuesday or Wednesday (be sure to check out our daily NHL expert picks for every playoff game).

Now that dust has settled on seeding battles, the Philadelphia Flyers and Las Vegas Golden Knights have emerged in the respective top spots of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. Will they take advantage during first-round action by playing the teams with the worst records in each conference? Those questions and more will soon be answered.

For now, let’s take at the series matchups and make our predictions.

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Flyers vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens

This marks the Canadiens’ first playoff appearance since 2016-17 and their 3-1 win over Pittsburgh during qualifying action was their first series victory since 2014-15. That performance last week was no doubt impressive, but is this a team that is really capable of sustaining success? It went a modest 31-31-9 in the regular season, barely earning an invite to the restart. Philadelphia, meanwhile, just blitzed through the three best teams in the Eastern Conference (Tampa Bay, Boston, and Washington) in the round-robin seeding games. Pick: Flyers in 5 (-220 to win series)

Boston Bruins vs. (5) Carolina Hurricanes

They aren’t the defending Stanley Cup champions (they arguably should be), but they are the defending Eastern Conference champions. What will the Bruins do for an encore? So far…not much. They lost all three of their seeding games and scored a grand total of four goals in the process. These Hurricanes have plenty of playoff experience, as well, having ousted Washington and the Islanders last year before getting swept by Boston. That result may be alarming, but the ‘Canes simply ran out of gas. Now they are well-rested and supremely confident after erasing the Rangers in three straight qualifying games. Pick: Hurricanes in 7 (+132 to win series)

Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Islanders

The Capitals had won four consecutive first-round series before being bounced by Carolina in 2018-19 (a thrilling seven-game series). They are not about to make the same mistake twice. Alex Ovechkin and company did not look great in the seeding games, but their two losses came by a combined three goals and they at least managed to beat Boston 2-1. The Islanders made mostly routine work of Florida in the qualifying round and they went a respectable 2-2 against the Caps during the regular season, so this should be competitive. But Washington’s experience could be the difference. Pick: Capitals in 6 (-145 to win series)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (7) Columbus Blue Jackets

Here we go again! In a sense, the Blue Jackets are just who Tampa Bay wants to see after they pulled off a playoff stunner for the ages (a four-game sweep, in fact) at the expense of the top-seeded Lightning. Now there is a chance for revenge. Looking at it the other way, however, this may be Tampa Bay’s worst nightmare. The Bolts aren’t as dominant as they were last season (until it ended in a hurry, of course) and the Blue Jackets are better. Columbus is riding high after outlasting Toronto in five games, a series in which it looked like the superior team throughout and should have finished the job earlier. Pick: Blue Jackets in 6 (+190 to win series)

Western Conference

Vegas Golden Knights vs. (8) Chicago Blackhawks

Both of the No. 5 seeds got bounced in qualifying. Not only did the Penguins fall to Montreal in the Eastern Conference, but the Oilers bowed out to Chicago in the West. That also means both of the “home” teams are gone (Toronto in the East and Edmonton in the West). The Blackhawks (32-30-8 during the regular season) had no prayer of making the playoffs under the original eight-team format, but they were saved by the restructure. Vegas is simply in a different class and can answer two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie Corey Crawford with three-time champion Marc-Andre Fleury. Pick: Golden Knights in 5 (-330 to win series)

 St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Vancouver Canucks

Nobody had an answer for Vegas in the seeding competition; not Dallas, not Colorado, and not St. Louis. In fact, the Blues didn’t have an answer for anyone. They finished the regular season with the most points in the Western Conference but returned with losses to the Golden Knights, Stars, and Avalanche. Although they will obviously be more motivated now, those results are still cause for concern. The Canucks, who cruised past Minnesota 3-1 in qualifying, took the regular-season series 2-1 and their lone loss to St. Louis came in overtime. Sound the upset alert! Pick: Canucks in 7 (+180 to win series)

Dallas Stars vs. (6) Calgary Flames

In a contentious qualifying series against Winnipeg, Calgary was by far the better team and totally restored order to the proceedings after losing Game 2. In their three victories, The Flames outscored the Jets by a ridiculous 14-3 margin. You have to like what you saw from Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and the rest of the Flames throughout those four contests. On paper, this is the most even matchup of the entire first round (neither squad is plus money). Don’t be surprised if an ever-so-slight upset is the result. Pick: Flames in 6 (-102 to win series)

Colorado Avalanche vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

As for teams with much longer odds, only the Blackhawks are bigger underdogs than the Coyotes in the first round. For one, Arizona was a mediocre-at-best 33-29-8 during the regular season. The bigger problem, though, is what the Coyotes are facing. Colorado has been a team on the rise for many years now and this could be when it puts everything together for a deep playoff run. Led by center Nathan MacKinnon (93 points), the Avalanche scored the most goals in the West during the regular season (237). They should have way too much firepower in this series. Pick: Avalanche in 4 (-300 to win series)

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