2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview

There’s Nothing Better Than Playoff Hockey

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview

Washington Capitals left wing and captain Alex Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup after the Capitals beat the Golden Knights in Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

Washington Capitals left wing and captain Alex Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup after the Capitals beat the Golden Knights in Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

Washington Capitals left wing and captain Alex Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup after the Capitals beat the Golden Knights in Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

Washington Capitals left wing and captain Alex Ovechkin hoists the Stanley Cup after the Capitals beat the Golden Knights in Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

AJ Shaw and Joey Goodsir

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After an exhilarating 82 game schedule, the NHL postseason is about to kick off tonight, and we here at The Forest Scout want to give you our preview for the first round matchups for the postseason.

Overall, I have broken up the eight first round matchups amongst me and Joey Goodsir, who I am very excited and happy to have write this preview with me. So, without any further ado, let’s preview the first round matchups for the Stanley Cup playoffs!

 

AJ’s Series Previews

 

Carolina vs. Washington (Series Starts Thursday Night, 6:30 CT)

The Washington Capitals ended years of heartbreak and playoff failures last season by winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

So far this season, the team has been near the top of the NHL standings, and look poised for another deep postseason run barring any injuries or poor play.

The Capitals core has always been a major factor for them in head to head series. The leader of this group is captain Alexander Ovechkin, who has been clearly the best goal scorer of this generation.

The Capitals defensive unit, while not great, is solid, and the team is able to roll four lines with size, speed, and skill, which plays a major role for them as well.

The key for the Capitals this postseason will be the play of goalie Braden Holtby, who had a stellar postseason last year en route to the championship. If Holtby can play the way he did last year, the Caps have a great shot of repeating.

As for the Carolina Hurricanes, this “bunch of jerks” team is making the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and only the second time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

For most of their history since moving from Hartford, Connecticut in 1997 – and they payed tribute to their original home this year –

…the Hurricanes have either played below average in the regular season or make the playoffs and go on an unexpected deep run like they did in 2006 and in 2009 when they went to the Conference Finals.

The team’s young core, lead by Sebastian Aho, who has turned into an elite goal scorer, poises fear in any team, and they have tons of veteran leadership to help their young guys during the grueling minutes of postseason hockey.

However, Carolina’s nice season just isn’t enough. Washington is clearly the better team and coming off their cup win last season. Overall, I have to give Washington this series.

Washington in Four

 

Columbus vs. Tampa Bay (Series Starts Wednesday Night, 6:00 CT)

The Tampa Bay Lightning are incredible. There is nothing else to say. Good night every—oh wait my imaginary boss — that I made up in my head to make this part comedic even though it was clearly unfunny — says I have to finish the preview, so here we go.

The Lightning are coming off an incredible regular season. When you talk about teams being loaded with talent, the Lightning are not just loaded with talent, they’re LOADED with talent.

The core of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman to name a few, lead the Lightning into the postseason giving them their best chance to win a Stanley Cup since Stamkos arrival to the NHL in 2008.

However, the team has been given the choker label over the last few seasons, and unless they can make the Cup finals and win, that label is going to remain the same as it has been for the past few years.

As for Columbus, the team has gone all in the final years of Artemi Panarin’s and Sergei Bobrovsky’s contracts with the trade acquisitions of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel at the trading deadline.

These playoffs will be critical for Columbus, as Panarin and Bobrovsky look like they will not be back next season. If the Blue Jackets fail to make it deep in the postseason, this core will end up being one of the biggest wastes of talent in recent NHL history.

However, Tampa Bay is the better team here and Columbus has had an inconsistent season, so I have to go in favor of the Bolts.

Tampa Bay in Five

 

Dallas vs. Nashville (Series Starts Wednesday Night, at 8:30 CT)

This is an interesting matchup. Dallas and Nashville are quite similar when it comes to their forwards and goalies, but Nashville’s defensive unit really gives them an advantage in this series.

For the Predators, a Stanley Cup run is a major necessity for them this season, and the only way that is happening is if their depth steps up. That was a major issue for them last season, and I believe if they had the depth playing well last season, they would’ve won the Cup.

Overall, I like this matchup, but I have to favor Smashville, and in fact they’re my pick to make it out of the Western Conference.

Nashville in Six

 

Colorado vs. Calgary (Series Starts Thursday Night, 9:00 CT)

After an extended period of poor play over the past few seasons, the Flames had the best record in the Western Conference this season. The team, like Tampa Bay, is loaded with talent at the forward, defensive, and goalie positions.

Colorado meanwhile had a up and down regular season, but finally got their heads on straight and made the playoffs as a wild card for the second straight season.

Their forward core, like Calgary, is loaded, but their defense and goaltending are a concern compared to Calgary, and that is why I have Calgary winning this series.

Calgary in Five

 

Joey’s Series Previews

Hello everyone! It’s unfortunately been months since I have written a sports preview, so thanks Shaw for inviting me to do this, it’s a thrill.

Hockey is the absolute best. Don’t waste your time watching the anticlimactic NBA playoffs, we all know what will happen before The Finals tip off in June. Like Charles Barkley has advised you to, enjoy the race for the cup instead. This year, I think almost every team could win, so it’s gonna be awesome.

Although these weird (but way more entertaining) playoffs may help me get a lot of this wrong, I’m excited to get right into the previews!

 

Toronto vs. Boston (Series Starts Thursday Night, 6:00 CT)

Ok, so I have been watching hockey for basically my entire life, and this is the first round series that shows me that the straight 1-8 playoff format from years past is just simply the better system than going by divisions.  

I don’t know, maybe it’s nostalgia from the (sadly) growingly-less-recent glory years of my hockey fandom (Red Wings winning cups, of course the Hawks soon after), but it doesn’t seem like it’s just that. This is an absolutely fantastic matchup that deserved to happen later in the playoffs. But, it is a weird playoff setup this year team-wise division system or not, so I guess we will have to live with it.

Other than this matchup being between two fantastic teams, it is also going to be a fun one because the matchup has a history. It’s kind of easy to point and laugh at Maple Leafs fans about this Original Six draw recently, considering that they have played the Bruins in the first round twice in recent memory (2013 and 2018), losing both times in seven games.

2013 was especially memorable. Coming out of nine years out of no-shave season, The Leafs were up 4-1, and then this happened late in the third…

This year, however, things are considerably different. Legendary coach Mike Babcock has fully built Toronto into a fully functioning playoff contender, and the Bruins are a clear second best team in the league behind the President’s-Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.

As said, this matchup is fantastic and it is injustice that it is happening in the first round. Both teams score a lot of goals, and get good goaltending from Michael Hutchinson (TOR) and Tuukka Rask (BOS). The difference is the defense, in which Boston maintains a slight advantage despite mutual inconsistency, along with a more successful power play.

Toronto’s defense could show up for the playoffs considering that it is going to be coherent for the first time (no more injuries), but I think the experience the Bruins have will quell any surprises that may bring.

While it seems like it can be easy to conclude Bruins in six, this thing seems bound for yet another Game 7. It’s gonna be another close one, and while I’m hoping for Babcock success eventually (and that could quite possibly happen this year), it will be a Bruins win due to their significant home ice advantage at the Gah-den. I’d start hating on the new playoff system already if you are a Leafs fan.

Bruins in Seven – Again

 

Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders (Series Starts Wednesday Night, 6:30 CT)

They’re back. It’s the Pens. It’s Sidney Crosby. We hate them, but this is exactly what they are made for – to crush our souls beginning in April and likely all the way into June. The trash talking has already begun.

This year however, the New York Islanders have faced major changes, creating a playoff-qualifying defensive wall that plays in Uniondale, despite a playoff-missing scoring hot streak of a team last year in their unfavorable temporary move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn (The Isles will play at Nassau Coliseum in the first round, and will play at Barclays in subsequent rounds if necessary).

Both teams boast solid goaltending, with Matt Murray doing business as usual for the Pens, and Robin Lehner being a driving force for the Islanders this year (Thomas Greiss is even a notable backup).

All the Islanders have to do to keep this a series is avoid dependence on special teams – the Isles are not favorable at all on the PP and do not hold much of an advantage killing penalties. Considering that things clean up for playoff time I think that they can do this.

All of this makes the X factor lean towards offensive play, and while I would love to see the Islanders win (and enjoy NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s head exploding) which very much could happen, I think that the corsi numbers show that the Penguins have just been able to take control of the puck slightly more often.

While it seems like just the first step in yet another Pens run,  I don’t think it will be as small as expected, as Barry Trotz’s high-level coaching of the Isles will lead this series to a seventh game (these very close long series in the beginning and more decisive ones at the end are why this division playoff system is bad, NHL).

Also, yes, this does set up for potential Caps/Pens in the next round (unless the Hurricanes actually happen, which I think will).

Pens in Seven

 

St. Louis vs. Winnipeg (Series Starts Wednesday Night, 7:00 CT)

This series will be fun. It probably will be terrible for ratings considering the small teams, but that makes the environments just a bit more passionate. Like this…

It’s always great to see the Winnipeg White Out in the playoffs (sorry Penn State fans, but this is the original), and this is a fun Jets team that has been excitingly poised to show off their home ice advantage for a while.

But (and this is a big one), the Blues are hot. Crazy hot. So hot, they almost took that home ice advantage away from Winnipeg. The crazy thing is, It seems like not too long ago when St. Louis was in last place and things were looking quite bleak.

Soon enough however, the Blues climbed the western conference standings (albeit not too hard as no team seemed to want that last spot) but impressively landed the third spot in the central.

It seems unfortunate, but likely, that Winnipeg may get tripped by a hot team once again (it was the Vegas Golden Knights last year). However, as the theme of this preview has been, it may be more even than predicted.

Despite the Blues hotness, there is that recency bias that may push things too far. Winnipeg reamins the better team (with both explosive offense and rock-solid goaltending), but is just a matter of capitalizing on the moment for them.

I really want to pick the Jets here. Really really badly. It would be fun to see. But I’ve been waiting for this kind of Blues team to show up for playoff time and they are here.

Your best chance at beating the Lightning will end this first round series at home in Game 6. Sorry, Hawks fans.

Blues in Six

 

Vegas vs. San Jose (Series Starts Wednesday Night, 9:30 CT)

This series is a weird one for me, despite the fact that it was probably the most expected. The real joke of a race was not for the final Western spot, but the one where any spot other than the first one in the Pacific seemed to be up for grabs – and not in a good way.

Both of these teams did not really throw that crazy good of a season together but they seemed fine, and then trailed off significantly at the end.

It just seems crystal clear that Marc Andre-Fleury is the biggest question here. He is a playoff legend, but is not the most solid he can be in terms of health. He didn’t have an amazing regular season, but once again, I said playoff legend.

Vegas will have to take the questions about Fleury extremely seriously, as a good Fleury could mean another nice run and a shocked San Jose Sharks team, but not so good Fleury will doom the Golden Knights and end things promptly.

The good news for them, on the other hand, is that the Sharks have maintained some pretty bad goaltending this year, which makes their clear positioning as the better team statistically a little less clear and my confidence in a Sharks win lower.

One of the most important things to know when picking the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that there is always gonna be a team that will take the win in the first round that probably doesn’t deserve to.

For that reason, even though I think that the Knights will spark in this first round and take advantage of the holes in the Sharks’ goaltending in some close games, I think that the Sharks will get away with their flaws for the time being.

I’m not going to apologize to the Vegas bandwagon fans, but to the true fans that have been there since the beginning — the core fans that were there in 2016. Sorry guys, but this year will unfortunately not be like last year.

Sharks in Five

 

Check out the standings in The Forest Scout’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge:

https://bracketchallenge.nhl.com/leagues/tfstanley-cup-bracket-challenge