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NHL Playoffs 2018 First-Round Series Predictions: Nashville Predators Prey On Silver Mug
Will Predators Prey On Stanley?
They entered the playoffs a year ago as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and when all was said and done, the Nashville Predators finished just wins shy of taking the Stanley Cup home with them. That was a bit of a shocker, but if Nashville were to win the Cup this spring, no one in the NHL would be surprised. Bovada has established the Presidents' Trophy-winning Predators as the +400 favorites to capture the Cup, and certainly, the Predators would appear to possess all the required elements to go on a long playoff run.
There will be plenty of other storylines emerging beyond the Predators. The Pittsburgh Penguins are seeking to become the first team to win three Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83. The Colorado Avalanche are in the postseason a year after finishing last overall in the NHL. And Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals continue in their pursuit of the first Stanley Cup for both players and franchise.
The Golden Knights Chase Silver Lining
Has there been a better story in the NHL this season than the Vegas Golden Knights? Earning the Pacific Division crown, they joined the 1967-68 Philadelphia Flyers as the only first-year team to win a division title. Now they will seek to emulate another 1967-68 expansion club, the St. Louis Blues, and become just the second team in NHL history to play in the Stanley Cup final in their first season in the league. But it won't be easy.
Those Blues were a veteran club, with many Stanley Cup winners dotting their lineup. And the opponent awaiting the Golden Knights in the first round, the Los Angeles Kings, are a big, heavy difficult opponent that knows how to win in the postseason and still suits up a large part of the core of the team that won Stanley Cups in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
How Each Series will Play Out
Philadelphia Flyers (+185) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (-285) - Pittsburgh's bid for a threepeat begins here, and with six of the NHL's top 27 scorers - Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel and Philly's Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sylvain Couturier, not to mention sub-standard goaltending and weak penalty killing on both sides, expect loads of goals in this set. The Flyers are a young team and Pittsburgh looks too deep. But if Philly gets any goaltending, it could get interesting.
BABB Pick: Pittsburgh (-285)
Columbus Blue Jackets (+110) vs. Washington Capitals (-130) - Here's a switch - the Capitals facing a team with more playoff demons than them. Columbus has never won a series. Washington comes into the playoffs on a 12-3 roll. The Caps are deeper down the middle than the Blue Jackets. Both teams have Vezina winners in goal - Sergei Bobrovsky for Columbus and Braden Holtby for the Caps. But Columbus simply doesn't have anyone capable of taking over a game the way Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin can.
BABB Pick: Washington (-130)
New Jersey Devils (+275) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (-350) - Taylor Hall is absolutely specatacular. He's a definite Hart Trophy contender the way he's carried New Jersey, but he collected 41 points more than any other Devil. That speaks to a lack of depth. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Bryaden Point, Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman. They led the NHL in wins (54) and goals (290), and own a playoff pedigree.
BABB Pick: Tampa Bay (-350)
Toronto Maple Leafs (+125) vs. Boston Bruins (-145) - With a win over Florida on the last day of the regular season, Boston could have avoided this matchup, and the Bruins will live to rue that day. Yes, Boston has looked great this season, but the Bruins finished by losing three in a row for the first time since November. The Leafs are young, hungry, well-coached by Mike Babcock, virtually unbeatable at home, and they've won seven of the last eight from the Bruins, including four of the last five at Boston.
BABB Pick: Toronto (+125)
Colorado Avalanche (+380) vs. Nashville Predators (-560) - Last spring, the roles were reversed. Nashville came in as the eight seed in the West and toppled No. 1 Chicago, so you know the Predators aren't about to take the Avs lightly. With Pekka Rinne in goal and a stellar, two-way defense in front of him led by Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, Nashville is built for playoff hockey. Nathan MacKinnon will make Colorado dangerous, but the Avs are missing two key elements - injured G Semyon Varlamov and D Erik Johnson.
BABB Pick: Nashville (-560)
Minnesota Wild (+180) vs. Winnipeg Jets (-220) - Winnipeg can score goals - the Jets' 273 goals was good for second in the NHL, but only four teams allowed fewer than the 216 goals surrendered by the Jets. G Connor Hellebyck set a record for American-born netminders with 44 wins. And Winnipeg's home-ice advantage is significant. The Wild were in tough even before they lost D Ryan Suter to a broken leg.
BABB Pick: Winnipeg (-220)
Los Angeles Kings (+120) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (-140) - Is Cinderella's skate about to get too tight? Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy liked to say "season is season and playoffs is playoffs" and that's a valid point here. As much as Vegas has looked brilliant this season, of late, they've not resembled world beaters. Do you take the new kids on the block, or go with the squad that has the Stanley Cup rings and suits up C Anze Kopitar, D Drew Doughty and G Jonathan Quick?
BABB Pick: Los Angeles (+120)
San Jose Sharks (+110) vs. Anaheim Ducks (-130) - Both of these teams have endured through injuries to key players. The Ducks turned it on down the stretch, going 13-14-1 since March 1. But we've seen Anaheim come into the playoffs rolling before and get rolled. Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are no longer spring chickens. Neither is Sharks C Joe Thornton, and he might not even play. It's easy to forget that San Jose was two wins away from the Cup just two springs ago.
BABB Pick: San Jose (+110)
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