A Look at Each NHL Playoff Series

By Ian Cameron  () 

Here is a brief betting preview capsule of each and every first-round series coming up in the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Tampa Bay Lightning tied the regular season record for most wins in a single season and are the team to beat entering the playoffs. The Presidents Trophy winner has had limited success in the playoffs in past seasons but the Lightning are loaded up front with four dynamic lines that can all contribute to the scoring. They have a deep stable of blue liners and a premier goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Tampa Bay was phenomenal on special teams No. 1 power play and tied for #2 on the penalty kill. Columbus played strong down the stretch to enter the playoffs and cement its spot but the Blue Jackets franchise has enjoyed no playoff success yet to win a series and the same goes with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky who has enjoyed plenty of regular-season success but has underperformed in the playoffs. Columbus will be a tough out but it doesn’t have the depth up front or on the blue line, plus the question marks about Bobrovsky’s recent playoff record will prevent them from pulling off the upset. I like Tampa Bay to win in 6 games.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Boston Bruins knocked off the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round of the playoffs last season. The Leafs will be looking for redemption this time around. Toronto’s defense is a major concern as it played poorly late in the season, although it has finally returned to full health on the blue line with the recent returns of Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner from injury, which should help on the back end. The question is can they play well now that they are fully intact? Toronto has the offensive firepower to always be dangerous but Boston has the edge defensively. Boston also saw improved offensive output late in the season as it finally received some secondary scoring to help its dominating top line featuring Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. I think this series could be higher scoring than some think. Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy has hinted at putting a faster lineup on the ice for this series and try to fight fire with fire. That could lead to some Overs from a game to game standpoint in this series. I think this series goes the distance once again but I also have to defer to Boston once again to win in 7 games.

Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes are one of the pleasant surprises in the NHL this season getting in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They did it with a very close-knit team thanks to the well-publicized postgame celebrations they did on home ice and they bought into the system employed by first-year head coach Rod Brind’Amour, which was be aggressive at both ends of the ice and shoot the puck from anywhere. Carolina only had four forwards with 20 goals or more and Washington had 7 players with 20 goals this season, so the Capitals have greater offensive depth up front. The blue line edge probably goes to the Capitals, too, although the Hurricanes did get better play late in the season from key blue liners Dougie Hamilton and Justin Faulk. Petr Mrazek in net for Carolina was excellent late in the season but has had an erratic track record in the playoffs while Braden Holtby for Washington played terrific in the playoffs last year en route to the Capitals’ first-ever Stanley Cup. Carolina will get a couple of games but I do believe Washington will advance. There could be some Overs in this series as Washington is without a key shutdown defenseman in Michal Kempny and Carolina may be starting the series without Calvin De Haan, who may be its best defensive blue liner. I think Carolina puts a scare into Washington, but the Capitals survive and advance.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders

This could be one of the more intense and physical series of the first round as the New York Islanders face the Pittsburgh Penguins. NY Islanders head coach Barry Trotz orchestrated a remarkable turnaround on defense for the Islanders who went from worst defensive team in the NHL last season to the best in terms of goals allowed. Pittsburgh has actually transformed into more of a defensive team late in the season. The Penguins have been famous for an electric offense led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel among others but they trended 8-2 to the Under in their last 10 games and only scored more than 3 goals twice during that span but were more responsible at the defensive end of the ice. New York will rely on some timely goal scoring and its strong defensive play to get them through this series but they must get more from their power play which ended the season in a massive slump. Home ice could swing this series in the Islanders favor and I applaud Trotz for the job he’s done with this team. He’s also had success besting the Pittsburgh Penguins last season as head coach of the Capitals but I still think the Penguins find a way to win a very long and tough series.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

I think Calgary has an excellent chance to be in the Stanley Cup Finals because I like its four lines which have plenty of scoring prowess and depth and the blue line is terrific. However, the major concern is goaltending as the Flames rely on veteran Mike Smith, who has battled with injuries and inconsistent play in recent seasons as well as David Rittich who had a very solid season but has yet to start a playoff game. If Calgary can even get somewhat solid goaltending, it will win this series and potentially go deep in the playoffs. Colorado had a torrid finish to the season to qualify for the playoffs. The Avs are still guilty of relying a bit too much on their dynamic top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog and sometimes their other lines don’t help out as much. The good news for the Avs is the likes of Alex Kerfoot, Carl Soderberg, J.T. Compher and Derick Brassard all contributed secondary scoring at a much higher rate late in the season. The Colorado defense got good play from Tyson Barrie and Samuel Girard but they are not as deep along the blue line as Calgary. Philipp Grubauer was awesome late in the season in net for NHL COVERAGE  BY IAN CAMERON 15 AUGUST 30 – SEPTEMBER 3 NHL COVERAGE Colorado to get them in the playoffs but he also struggled mightily in his only two career playoff starts last season for Washington before getting replaced by Braden Holtby so the jury is out on him in the playoffs. Calgary swept the season series and I think it will advance here.

San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights

The San Jose Sharks will look to avenge a firstround series loss to the Vegas Golden Knights last season, but the Sharks enter this series with a ton of questions surrounding goaltender Martin Jones who was awful late in the season. His .896 save percentage was the second worst of any goalie headed for the playoffs. He’s also had a tough time against Vegas when he’s faced them in his career. San Jose has the four lines and blue line to compete with and beat anyone, but the lack of confidence for Jones is more than enough to derail this team from a lengthy playoff run if he doesn’t play better in the playoffs. Vegas didn’t exactly play great down the stretch, either, but I have to side with them in the series as they have a lethal top six forward group since acquiring Mark Stone at the trade deadline and although their defensive play declined, Marc-Andre Fleury is the goalie I trust more in this matchup to come up with the big save. I think Overs are worth a look in this series. The Sharks were an Over machine all season, especially late in the season, and we could see some 5-4 or 6-5 games in this series, especially with the potential for a lot of penalties due to the chippy and physical nature this series could end up being. I like Vegas here as I simply don’t trust San Jose’s goaltending enough right now to back them.

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars

The Nashville Predators won the Central Division but they really struggled their way toward doing so as Nashville played very inconsistent hockey for much of the second half of the season. The Dallas Stars have been in playoff mode for weeks and have won games thanks to stingy defense and incredible goaltending from Ben Bishop. They have transitioned from an all offense and no defense team a few seasons ago to the exact opposite right now. Dallas has become very accustomed to winning lower-scoring, tighter checking 2-1, 3-1 games. Dallas has the potential to beat Nashville at its own game and the Stars’ special teams particularly their power play started to perform better down the stretch as well. Nashville has a terrific blue line and Pekka Rinne in net is still capable but the offense has been a problem and scoring goals wasn’t something this team did with ease. In a tight, low-scoring series, I see Dallas as a very live underdog here and I think at a 160 series price, backing the Stars is well worth a shot.

Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues

The Winnipeg Jets didn’t play great in the second half of the season, but the Jets are a team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. They got to the Western Conference Final last season and I think the Jets have better hockey in them and will be bolstered significantly from the return of both Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey (who missed the last 20 games of the regular season) on their blue line for this series. St. Louis is the hottest team in the NHL, entering the playoffs and no team has had a better record since January than the Blues. I give them tons of credit for it. Their offense picked up. Their defense was very strong and their goaltending from Jordan Binnington since his call-up from the AHL in taking over the No. 1 goalie spot has been exemplary. However, one must remember, this is still the first-ever playoff series for Binnington and he’s up against a goalie for Winnipeg in Connor Hellebuyck who played his best stretch of hockey all season for the Jets down the stretch and had a very good playoffs for them last season. The fact Winnipeg has home ice is significant since both of these teams proved to be tough at home and Binnington in net for the Blues has worse road numbers than at home. This should be a very close, razor thin margin type of series but I think in a hard-fought 7 games, the Winnipeg Jets will find a way to get past the St. Louis Blues. I expect this to be a hybrid series from a totals perspective. I think the games in Winnipeg will be higher scoring and the games in St. Louis will be lower scoring with both teams having a better chance of dictating their style and pace of play on home ice with last line change.

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