NHL Playoff Preview: NESN ‘Experts’ Make Their Picks For Qualifiers, Round-Robin | NHL

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Today is the day.

On Saturday, the NHL *officially* will restart, with the qualifying round and round-robin tournament set to begin in Toronto and Edmonton.

You know all about the format by now, so let’s jump into some predictions from NESN.com’s Lauren Campbell, Logan Mullen and Mike Cole.

Eastern Conference Round-Robin

Lauren: Bruins, Capitals, Lightning Flyers — One of my “bold predictions” for the playoffs was that the B’s would lock up the No. 1 seed, so I can’t go back on that now. Boston, historically, has had trouble with Washington, but the Bruins still are hungry after what happened last season. And a fully rested, (mostly) healthy team could be trouble.

Logan: Capitals, Flyers, Bruins, Lightning — There’s really not much science to this, but the Bruins struggle to play the Capitals well, and the Lightning have a bunch of pieces they still are trying to jam together. Any loss hurts at this point, and of the four teams the Capitals seem best positioned to just hit the ground running.

Mike: Lightning, Bruins, Capitals, Flyers — More or less guessed. The Lightning and the Bruins are the two best teams, so I’ll just assume it plays out that way with Tampa Bay edging Boston … in a shootout.

Eastern Conference Play-Ins
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens

Lauren: The Canadiens were 10 points out of a playoff spot when the NHL halted, while the Penguins lost eight of their final 11 games. But the Pens boast Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin on their lineup. And if Matt Murray can turn on the playoff mode, the Habs will be in serious trouble. Penguins in five.

Logan: The Canadiens most certainly don’t belong in this tournament. Maybe Carey Price gets hot, but that’s a lot to ask. Penguins in four.

Mike: The Penguins, despite having two of the best players in the world, feel like a dark horse right now. A dominant first-round showing should change that. Penguins in three.

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers

Lauren: The Rangers would not have made the postseason had it not been for the 24-team format. Their talent up front in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, a strong blue line and Igor Shesterkin who amassed 10 wins In 12 starts, should be enough to push them onto the next round. Rangers in five.

Logan: Losing Dougie Hamilton really hurts Carolina, especially against a team that has as much top-six firepower as the Rangers. Plus, New York has no shortage of what should be decent goaltending options, and they boat-raced the hurricanes in the regular season. Rangers in five.

Mike: As Logan mentions, the loss of Hamilton could be a tough one for the Canes. If anyone wants to complain about this playoff format, it should be Carolina, which drew a brutal draw against a very talented New York team. Rangers in five.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers

Lauren: The Panthers are deep on defense and have five players with at least 20 goals — a number that probably would be higher if the regular season was played in full. Panthers in five.

Logan: This might be lofty, but I can see Sergei Bobrovsky handling this situation well, and the Panthers have some of the most offensive upside in the tournament. I’ve been all-in on Florida since the preseason, so I won’t stop now. Panthers in five.

Mike: The only thing I can say for certain about this series is that it doesn’t excite me at all. I do, however, think the Panthers’ offensive firepower is too much for a defensive-minded New York team to fend off. Panthers in four.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets

Lauren: Columbus is gritty and has the slight edge to beat the Maple Leafs. Toronto’s game isn’t as physical as the Blue Jackets’, and Toronto’s defense doesn’t quite stack up to its opponents. Blue Jackets in four.

Logan: Could see this one going either way, but the Leafs have been such a tire fire this year and their defense is just so bad. The Blue Jackets really struggle to score, but I think they’ll score just enough to surprise some people. Blue Jackets in five.

Mike: It wouldn’t be shocking at all to see John Tortorella’s team fluster Toronto in a short series, but I just think the Maple Leafs have too much talent for Columbus to keep pace. Maple Leafs in five.

Western Conference Round-Robin

Lauren: Avalanche, Stars, Blues, Golden Knights — The Avalanche were right on the heels of the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues when the NHL paused. Only the Bruins and Lightning won more games than the Avs at that time. If they can pick up where they left off, they could surprise you and snag that No. 1 seed.

Logan: Stars, Avalanche, Golden Knights, Blues — The Stars’ stellar defense will win out as teams try to find their legs. And, bold prediction alert, Jordan Binnington gets off to a slow start.

Mike: Blues, Stars, Golden Knights, Avalanche — At this point, results from the last year make it too hard to doubt the Blues.

Western Conference Play-Ins
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks

Lauren: Logan will give the Blackhawks a game in this series, but I think Edmonton sweeps despite the veterans Chicago has. Strange things always happen in the postseason, though. Oilers in three.

Logan: I’ll spot the Blackhawks a game because of their experience and young forward talent. They should get rolled though. Oilers in four.

Mike: The more I think about this series, the more I think there’s upset potential, but in the end, the Oilers’ stars find a way to avoid complete disaster. Oilers in five.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

Lauren: This could be a fun series. Arizona’s defense is stacked and both its goalies are healthy. They say defense wins hockey games, right? Coyotes in four.

Logan: Nashville’s had such a weird year, and though things are starting to get bizarre for the Coyotes (thanks, John Chayka), I don’t think it’s enough to deter them right now. Coyotes in five.

Mike: Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros? That’s the question in net for Nashville, but either should be good enough to get by Arizona. Predators in four.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild

Lauren: The Wild did win the season series 2-1, but the young guns in Minnesota haven’t been very dependable. I think Vancouver boasts the talent to get it into the next round. Canucks in five.

Logan: I’ve been down on the Wild all year. I just don’t see them figuring out Jacob Markstrom enough to make this series overly competitive. Canucks in four.

Mike: I’ve fully talked myself into a deep run from a Canucks team that seems to have a perfect blend of high-end young talent and battle-tested veterans. Think they roll here. Canucks in three.

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets

Lauren: I don’t see the Flames, who ranked 20th in the league in goal scoring, doing much against Connor Hellebuyck, who had a 2.57 goals-against average with six shutouts this season. Jets in three.

Logan: I’m having a tough time envisioning the Flames doing enough to outweigh what Connor Hellebuyck likely will bring to this series. Jets in five.

Mike: Will the pause help the Flames’ first line regain its mojo from last season or further its funk from this year? I’m leaning toward the latter. Jets in four.

Thumbnail photo via John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports Images





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