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It’s time for the greatest two months in all of sports: the Stanley Cup Playoffs! Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks have missed the postseason yet again, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be talking about the NHL postseason.
The CHGO Blackhawks crew of Greg Boysen, Mario Tirabassi, and Jay Zawaski have gotten together to give you their first-round predictions.
Colorado Avalanche (C1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)
Greg: I picked the Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup before the season started, and I’m not backing off now. They have far too much talent to allow the Predators to make this much of a series. Unless Colorado suffers multiple injuries and Nazem Kadri gets suspended again, they roll through this round. Avalanche in 4.
Mario: Much like Florida and Tampa Bay, the Avalanche are a team I have a hard time seeing losing a seven-game series in these playoffs. They definitely won’t against this Nashville team. Avalanche in 5.
Jay: For the vast majority of the season, the Avalanche, in my opinion, were the best team in the NHL. They’re big. They’re fast. They’re deep. They’re a team that’s been a solid dark-horse Stanley Cup pick for years, but they’re one of the favorites this year. But Nashville is no slouch. The health of goalie Jussi Saros could be the difference in a Nashville upset. He’s missed the last couple of games with a lower-body injury, and his status isn’t clear. Nashville is the one team in the league to beat the Avalanche three times this season, but their luck runs out here. Avalanche in 5.
Minnesota Wild (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)
Greg: This should be a fun and physically taxing series. I think it will come down to goaltending and the Wild have the better tandem. Marc-Andre Fleury will get the Blackhawks four wins closer to a first-round draft pick. Wild in 7.
Mario: I’ll never root for St. Louis, and Fleury could help the Blackhawks get a first-round pick this year (pending they don’t win the lottery), so I’m all-in on the Wild here. Wild in 5.
Jay: As soon as Minnesota acquired Fleury, I became a tongue-in-cheek Wild fan. After all, if they reach the Western Conference Final (and Fleury records four of those wins), the Hawks get a first-round pick. Jokes aside, I have been making a habit of watching the Wild often since the deadline, and hot damn, are they an impressive team. This series boasts two of the league’s hottest teams heading into the playoffs. Since March 16, the Wild have gone 19-2-3. In that same span, the Blues have put together a 15-5-3 record. The Blues, historically, have the Wild’s number. Over their last 14 meetings, the Blues are 12-1-1. St Louis coach Craig Berube is 13-1-2 all-time vs. Minnesota. Wild in 7.
Calgary Flames (P1) vs. Dallas Stars (WC1)
Greg: The Flames are built for the postseason with a big and skilled team led by a two-time Stanley Cup winner behind the bench. They will get revenge on the Stars for knocking them out of the bubble two years ago. Flames in 5.
Mario: Calgary looks like a TOUGH out in a seven-game series. I like Joe Pavelski and want to see him win a Cup, but I don’t think Dallas can overcome this Calgary team. Flames in 5
Jay: When I look at what I want the fully rebuilt Blackhawks to look like, it’s the Flames. I love the way they play the game. They are built for playoff success. Meanwhile, the Stars barely got into the playoffs and were never really impressive at any point this season. It’s almost as if Vegas failed so much that Dallas had to get in. That said, I’m intrigued by the first line matchups in this series. Calgary rolls out Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm. The Stars’ top line is impressive in its own right. Roope Hintz, the soon-to-be household name Jason Robertson, and the ageless wonder Joe Pavelski are formidable, but that’s where the Calgary/Dallas comparisons end. Flames in 5.
Edmonton Oilers (P2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (P3)
Greg: Duncan Keith will likely have a lot of Blackhawks fans cheering for Edmonton this spring. Much like Jay said about the Stars, I think the Kings are here more of a product of Vegas’ failures than their success. They have a bright future, but I think this playoff run will be short-lived. Oilers in 6.
Mario: The Stanley Cup Playoffs always seem to provide a shocking upset. This is where I feel like it comes this year. Apologies to Keith, but the chaos of a Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl first-round upset is too much to pass up. Kings in 6.
Jay: And the winner for the series I’ll be paying the least attention to goes to (drumroll please) Kings and Oilers! Meh. If the Oilers don’t win this series, there’s a major, major problem in Edmonton. They have two generational talents up front in McDavid and Draisaitl. The Kings will be without defenseman Drew Doughty, who is out for the season after undergoing wrist surgery, so it will be fascinating to watch the Kings’ young defensemen, Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence, match up against Edmonton’s stars, but I doubt it will be enough. Oilers in 6.
Florida Panthers (A1) vs. Washington Capitals (WC2)
Greg: The Panthers have been an offensive juggernaut during the regular season. They led the league in goals, but the Capitals are no slouch either, as they finished 10th in the category. They both gave up 242 goals on the season, but Florida is just too deep and has better goaltending on paper. The Presidents’ Trophy winners will move on. Panthers in 5.
Mario: For as much as I like Alex Ovechkin, this Panthers squad looks like a well-oiled machine. Plenty of former Blackhawks connections too. I don’t know who is beating them in a seven-game series. Panthers in 5.
Jay: Florida is my pick to win the Stanley Cup this season. I placed my bet on PointsBet before they traded for Claude Giroux, and now I’m even more confident in my pick. That said, this should be a pretty fun series. The pressure is on Florida, and the Caps are a playoff-tested team. I think this could be one of those series like we saw during the Blackhawks Cup runs, where it took them a game or two to find their rhythm. Like the Hawks, if the Panthers get out to an 0-1 or 0-2 start, they have the talent and depth to dig out of that hole. I’m not concerned. Panthers in 6.
Toronto Maple Leafs (A2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (A3)
Greg: Death, taxes, and the Maple Leafs losing in the first round. At least it won’t be to the Bruins this season. Toronto keeps trying to do the same thing over and over. They have a great offense but still give up too many goals. You can’t beat the Lightning trying to win every game 7-6. The Bolts are looking for their third straight Cup win, and their reign will last for at least one more round. Lightning in 7.
Mario: Tampa Bay is deep. I want Brandon Hagel to play a role in the Lightning making a run. They are my pick to three-peat, and the Maple Leafs truly feel like a cursed club. Lightning in 7.
Jay: It’s a shame that this matchup must happen in the first round because one awesome and exciting team will be going home far too early. I don’t hate the Maple Leafs like so many hockey fans do, but it does delight me that their biggest issue, goaltending, could have been solved by Kyle Dubas giving Kyle Davidson a first-round pick for Fleury. That aside, I’m rooting for the Leafs. I’ll take all the Auston Matthews I can get. I’m not sure how much I need to say about the back-to-back Cup champion Lightning that we don’t already know. Loaded top to bottom. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the world’s best goaltender. They’ve got one of the league’s best coaches in Jon Cooper. They’re really, really good. Lightning in 7*
*I predict Toronto to lose in the most painful way possible. Perhaps blowing a 3-1 series lead. Or losing in quadruple overtime. Something along those lines.
Carolina Hurricanes (M1) vs. Boston Bruins (WC1)
Greg: I love the Hurricanes and picked them to go to the Stanley Cup Final before the season. They have a tough draw in the opening round with the battle-tested Bruins. To make matters worse, starting goaltender Frederik Andersen is dealing with an injury and his status for the series is uncertain. However, I still think they have enough talent to overcome any issues they may have in the crease. Hurricanes in 6.
Mario: Carolina has injury issues in net heading into their series against Boston. Never a good thing. But if Andersen can’t go, it would be quite fitting to pile on the Blackhawks this year and see Antti Raanta lead the Hurricanes past the Bruins. Hurricanes in 7.
Jay: Here’s another playoff matchup happening too early. Boston, the perpetual pain-in-the-ass contender, and Carolina, one of the best overall teams in the NHL. I think this will be the best series of the first round. The Bruins have been a thorn in the sides of the Hurricanes for years. In 2019, the Bruins swept Carolina out of the playoffs. In 2020, they did it in five games. Will that motivate the Canes, or will it intimidate them into repeating history? They’ve had high expectations for years and are the darlings of the analytical world, and with good reason. They’re a great regular-season team. Can my beloved Teuvo Teravainen and the Hurricanes finally get past the big, bad Bruins? I think so. Hurricanes in 7.
New York Rangers (M2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (M3)
Greg: If there is one higher seed that can be upset, it’s the Rangers. They have one of the best goaltenders in the league and the best power play. However, their 5v5 play has been brutal at times this season, and that is going to be exposed in a short series. If the Penguins can make life easy for goaltender Casey DeSmith, they can pull off the upset. If they can’t, then the Rangers survive to the second round. Penguins in 7.
Mario: I like Madison Square Garden. I like Artemi Panarin. I like K’Andre Miller. I’ve always liked the Rangers just a little bit. Rangers in 6.
Jay: The analytics gurus love the Penguins in this series. The Rangers’ results have not matched their expectations, and at some point, some of that luck has to run out, right? Probably, but one thing I know from years of watching hockey is that a goaltender can flat out win (or lose) a series for you, and when I look at the likely goaltending matchup of Pittsburgh’s DeSmith and the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, I’m sticking with my pick. If Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the world, Shesterkin is right on his heels. I think Artemi Panarin and the somehow amazing Chris Kreider pull this one out for the Broadway Blueshirts. Rangers in 6.
The guys will be talking Stanley Cup Playoffs all spring long as the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast will still broadcast five days a week all offseason long!
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