Congratulations to the eight teams for making it this far. Half the battle is getting to this point. You play a total of 82 games just to have your entire season decided by a maximum of seven games at a time. There’s no question that this is the best time of year. Only one team can win in all and it all starts with this round. Let’s take a look at which teams will be moving one, and which teams will be playing golf a lot earlier than they hoped. As always, you can send your love/hate tweets to me on Twitter @fuzzychris91. 


Boston Bruins Vs. Florida Panthers

Let’s get the easiest series out of the way early. The Boston Bruins finished first in goals against per game, second in goals per game and a goal differential of +127.  They also set a new league record with 65 wins in a single season. They are in a league of their own and the Florida Panthers aren’t going to be able to slow them down.

The Panthers are an average hockey team that isn’t great defensively. If it wasn’t for Matthew Tkachuk, they probably don’t get to this point. To make matters even more complicated, we don’t know who’s going to start game one for them. Sergei Bobrovsky has been dealing with an injury and Spencer Knight is still away from the team. Alex Lyon has done well since coming up, but he’s an AHL goalie facing off against an elite Bruins team. I’m not expecting a miracle from him or the rest of this team. This series should be over in a week

Prediction: Boston in 4

Carolina Hurricanes Vs. New York Islanders

The Carolina Hurricanes finished as the top team in the Metropolitan Division, while the Islanders just snuck into the postseason thanks to Pittsburgh being unable to beat two of the worst hockey teams just once. Carolina is a solid team all around, but they have struggled a bit over the last couple of weeks.

Mathew Barzal is expected to be ready for Game One of this series and he definitely brings some offensive help to the team. Ilya Sorokin has been very good this season and he will have to be just as good if he wants to give his team any chance of making it to the next round. Carolina should still be the favorite in this series because they are the better team in every category; offense, defense, and goaltending. It may not be a big gap between some of those categories, but they should be able to wrap up this series in six games. 

Prediction: Carolina in 6

New Jersey Devils Vs. New York Rangers

I’m not going to lie-- this is the series I’ll be making time to watch. The New Jersey Devils were elite this season, while the Rangers loaded up at the trade deadline and are looking to make a serious push. Both teams are great and it’s going to be a fun series to watch, but only one team can move on to the next round.

New Jersey finished fourth this season in shots per game and fifth in goals per game. They went out and added Timo Meier at the deadline to give them another weapon up front that can score goals. Jack Hughes and Nich Hischier had themselves a season and we saw the emergence of Dawson Mercer. There’s no question that New Jersey can score goals, but can they defend?

The Rangers added Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane before the deadline, and while both players aren’t as elite as Meier, they do help fill out the top six. The key to this series will come down to two things: the Rangers' third line and their goaltending. Good teams have an elite third line and New York has one with Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. Those three are going to be counted on to take some pressure off the big boys. The last one is probably the most important. Igor Shesterkin didn’t have an *elite* season this year, but he still put up some very respectable numbers. We aren’t going to take anything away from Vitek Vanecek-- who was very good this year-- but in a seven-game series, we are taking Igor all day, every day. He’s the key to New York coming out of this round. If he stumbles, then the Rangers have no chance. He’s going to face a ton of shots and he needs to be ready to steal at least one game for his team. 

One thing is for sure; this series is going to be fun to watch. It’s a shame that one team has to go home so early. 

Prediction: New York in 7

Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Did I save the best series for last? No, but I didn’t want to upset Maple Leaf fans earlier. Figured it would be best to wait until the end to let them know that this won’t be the year they make it out of the first round. 

Toronto is a good hockey team and Kyle Dubas did everything possible to give his team a chance to win, but unfortunately for him, he wasn’t able to pick his first round opponent. This is the worst matchup in the first round for Toronto because they have to deal with a team that has been to the Stanley Cup Final for three consecutive years. I want to believe that they have what it takes to move on, but they can’t beat a team that is this experienced at winning.

Tampa Bay had its struggles this season and they do have some holes in their roster, but overall, they scored two more goals this season than the Leafs. We talk about how good Toronto’s offense is, but Tampa Bay was able to match them. They did give up more goals than the Leafs, but in a seven-game series, you know the entire world is going to take Andrei Vasilevskiy over Ilya Samsonov. Vasilevskiy is elite and he plays his best hockey at this time of the year. He can steal multiple wins for his team and just push them to the next round. Toronto may have gone out and gotten defense to help them sure up their blue line, but none of those players are really above average and they still don’t have as solid of a blue line as the Lightning. 

Toronto is going to need a miracle to get out of this round. They have weapons up front, but unless they play good team defense and help their goalie out, it will be another offseason of disappointment. 

Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6