2019 NHL PLAYOFFS

Eric Cohen
BarnBurner Sports Writer

@realericcohen

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


1st ROUND PREVIEW & PICKS

The 1st round of the playoffs is always exciting and this year should be no different. There is a ton of parity in the league and Tampa Bay seems to be the only team that is elite. In the West you could almost make a case for 5 or 6 of the teams to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Here are my round one predictions: 
 
Lightning vs Blue Jackets: Columbus went all in at the trade deadline to get into the playoffs, and their reward, a date with the Lightning who look unstoppable setting win records winning the Presidents trophy. Columbus has the talent to make this interesting but will need Sergei Bobrovsky to stand on his hand. Neither Bobrovsky or the Jackets have ever won a playoff series and that probably won't change against this powerhouse. Pick: Lightning in 6
 
Bruins vs Maple Leafs: Well, here we go again. For the 3rd time in recent memory the Maple Leafs will try to advance out of round one by beating the Bruins. We have known this match up for months and the Leafs hope the final few weeks of the season were just a hiccup. The Leafs struggled defensively down the stretch and watch Frederik Andersen turn a Vezina season into an average finish. These 2 teams are very similar to last year but the Leafs have added 2 key pieces in John Tavares and Jake Muzzin. While everyone in Toronto was fixated on Andersen's late struggles, Tuuka Rask had a very average season. Toronto should have the edge in goal which could make the difference in a battle between 2 evenly matched teams. Pick Toronto in 6
 
Capitals vs Hurricanes: No surprise the Caps are back in the playoffs while the Canes ended the longest drought in the NHL returning the dance for the first time in 10 years. Carolina has the edge defensively and should be able to go toe to toe with the defending champs but a common theme in the post-season is goaltending and Braden Holtby is more reliable then either 2 goalies Carolina has the option to go with. I do expect a tight evenly played series and the Champs will be tested!! Pick Washington in 7
 
Islanders vs Penguins: It is amazing that the Islanders went from being the worst defensive team in the league to a playoff team with home ice advantage in the first round. Good on the Barry Trotz for getting this group to the playoffs in his 1st year with the team. The Pens have way too much experience most notably with Sidney Crosby Evgeny Malkin and Kris Letang who have all won multiple Cups. Hard to see Islanders having enough offense to keep up with the Penguins. Pick Pittsburgh in 6
 
Flames vs Avalanche: Calgary has a great team with average goaltending. Plenty of question marks about both Mike Smith and David Rittich. Neither goalie is good enough to steal you a series but if the Flames get balanced scoring they might be alright with just average goaltending. The Avs are very top heavy. After their top 3 scorers there is very little balance on the bottom 3 lines. Calgary is definitely talented enough to win this series in quick fashion. Pick Flames in 5 
 
Golden Knights vs Sharks: This is the series I am most looking forward to in the West. Both teams looked elite a month ago but neither finished very strong. The problem for the Sharks is Martin Jones. He was awful down the stretch. Vegas should be getting back a healthy Marc Andre Fleury who helped the Knights reach the Finals last year including a 6 game series win over these Sharks in round 2. This will also be a match up between 2 former Senator super stars in Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson. Again both teams are very strong so I lean to the big goaltending edge which it appears the Golden Knights have. Pick Golden Knights in 6
 
Blues vs Jets: It is hard to believe the Jets did not win their division after having a comfortable lead with just days remaining but Winnipeg was bad down the stretch and have a number of their superstars struggling. Patrik Laine is the player most point to but others have failed to score down the stretch as well. The Jets also had 3 key injuries on the Blue Line but all 3 defensemen are expected to be good to go for game 1. The Blues were dead last in the league in January but since then only Tampa Bay had more points. St.Louis comes in red hot but on paper Winnipeg is the more talented team. The Jets are a vegas underdog in this series and possess great value at plus money. If the Jets play the way they can they should win this series. Pick: Jets in 7
 
Stars vs Predators: This is expected to be the lowest scoring series because of Pekka Rinne and Ben Bishop, and 2 teams that play very well defensively. Goals will be hard to come by and the Stars will compete in this series because Bishop has been a top 3 goaltender in the league this year. Dallas finished the season stronger than Dallas and their superstars responded well after being called by their owner. To me it's a coin flip so I will take the home team in game 7. Pick Predators in 7
 
Enjoy the playoffs!!!