Round Table: The-Rink staff play-in predictions

  

The 2020 playoffs are finally here, so I asked five other writers from The-Rink to tell me who they thought would walk away with victories in the qualifying round.

Here are our picks:

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

New York Rangers vs Carolina Hurricanes

Cris:  CAR in 5

The biggest question mark on the Canes is their goaltending. However, their defense corps is one of, if not the best in the League. I think that, in the end, it is just too much for the Rangers to overcome.

Jeff:  CAR in 5

I really wanted to pick the Rangers. They have a three-headed monster in goal, promising youth, and MVP candidate Artemi Panarin. Unfortunately, they were the second worst team in the Metro this year. They just aren’t ready. I think they make it a series because the Canes have a pretty tense situation in goal, but it won’t be enough. Better days are ahead for the Rangers.

JJ:  CAR in 5

Between the overall tenacity of both of these teams, I can definitely see it going the full five games, with the Carolina Hurricanes edging out the Rangers in a series-deciding Game Five. If there is one thing that I have learned from watching the Hurricanes in the playoffs, it is that you should not count them out. Fresh off their Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season, where they defeated the Capitals in seven games before sweeping the Islanders in the second round, the Hurricanes offensive firepower may prove to be too much for Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.

John:  NYR in 5

Just a hunch – Carolina’s playoff mojo doesn’t carry over to this year. The Rangers have the feel of a team on the rise in a hurry.

Juliana:  NYR in 5

I almost picked the Hurricanes. In my opinion, this series really hinges on two things: goaltending and if Dougie Hamilton can play for the Canes. This prediction is based off him not playing and Igor Shestyorkin stealing the show. It also helps that the Rangers have Hart candidate Panarin leading the offense. This will be one of the more interesting series to watch.

Marie:  CAR in 4

Let me just start by saying, I have no idea. I’m an AHL fan. I only halfway pay attention to the NHL so a lot of my picks will be based more on random feelings than actual facts. But I think Carolina tends to rally and play well when it matters most. As cliché as it sounds, it’s often about which team wants it more, and I think that’s Carolina.

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers

Cris:  EDM in 4

Corey Crawford missed the majority of training camp. Although both teams struggle to defend, the Oilers do have an edge with their goaltending. This should definitely be an interesting series to watch.

Jeff:  EDM in 4

Edmonton has holes but not as many as the Blackhawks have. Edmonton also has two of the best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.  In goal, both teams have question marks, but the Oiler hold the slight COVID edge. If Crawford was available for a full training camp, I would give the Blackhawks the edge in net, but he is really behind the curve. The Blackhawks were last in the Central for a reason. Their defense stinks.

JJ:  EDM in 5

This series I was split on, as I can really see either team taking this series in five games. However, I do believe that the Oilers will have a slight advantage over the Blackhawks. I think the Oilers offensive firepower will eventually prove to be too much for the Blackhawks, and that they just will not be able to put a quick stop to the dynamic duo of McDavid and Draisaitl.

John:  EDM in 4

Whether Crawford plays or not, the match-ups between the nets are in Edmonton’s favor, both center on center, and Edmonton’s blue line corps versus Chicago’s small, softish forwards. Not to mention what may be an absolutely sieve-like Chicago blue line against Edmonton’s overall forward corps.

Juliana:  EDM in 5

Edmonton is simply the better team. They have top-ranked special teams, McDavid, and Draisaitl. That’s really all you need to win. I think the Blackhawks can make this series tough for the Oilers, but they’re lacking too much defensively.

Marie:  EDM in 3

This hasn’t been Chicago’s year, and I don’t see that changing in the playoffs.

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders

Cris:  NYI in 5

This was a tough one. I do think that Florida could pull it off, seeing as they have the offense. However, after the season Sergei Bobrovsky has had, you can’t rely on him to steal the Panthers any games. While the Islanders have difficulty scoring, their defense definitely outperforms Florida’s. If Bobrovsky does manage to get hot at the right time though, this could be a totally different series.

Jeff:  NYI in 5

While I like the Florida roster overall, I think that the Isles’ stingy defense and goaltending will eventually be too much. If the Islanders get in trouble, Joel Quenneville can out-coach just about anybody. Even though they scored a lot of goals in the regular season, Florida just doesn’t have the high-end scoring they will need to overwhelm the Islanders. That said, Bobrovsky will be in goal for Florida and he has carried his team past better opponents in the playoffs.

JJ:  NYI in 4

I expect the Islanders to pull out the series win in four games against the Florida Panthers. Of all of the exhibition games that I watched, the one team that I was not impressed with was the Panthers. They just did not seem like they were prepared, and you absolutely cannot be heading into a series against the New York Islanders with this mentality. While the Islanders may not be the most exciting team to watch, their strong defensive structure has led a lot to their recent success. Along with their defensive structure, the Isles have a good forward corp headlined by Mathew Barzal. Completed with an impressive goalie duo of Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov, I see the Islanders being too much for the Panthers.

John:  NYI in 5

Bobrovsky has been, at times, a good playoff goalie, but he has looked human too often for a $10 million a year guy.

Juliana:  NYI in 5

I truthfully think Florida is a more well-rounded team than the Islanders are, but Bobrovsky looked terrible in the exhibition game against Tampa and he’s been streaky throughout his entire career. If the Isles can tighten their defensive game and play like we know they can, they’ll easily win the series. But the Panthers have Joel Quenneville behind the bench and good offensive firepower. I still think the Isles pull through here.

Marie:  NYI in 5

Just seems like the Islanders are on a roll this season. It feels like they have something to prove.

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Montreal Canadiens vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Cris:  PIT in 4

I would never count out a fully healthy Penguins team. The Canadiens just don’t have the depth necessary to combat that. As well, based on his performance over the last season or so, I do not expect Carey Price to be stealing any games for MON.

Jeff:  PIT in 4

Much like EDM over CHI, the Pens have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Montreal was the 12th seed for a reason. They just don’t have the firepower to take out Pittsburgh.

JJ:  PIT in 3

When it comes to the playoffs, the Penguins know how to step it up to the next level, and with a healthy Crosby and Malkin leading the way, I see the Penguins simply being too much for the Canadians. The Penguins simply have the advantage in all three factors (offense, defense, goaltending) over the Canadians and should easily come away with the series sweep over the Habs.

John:  PIT in 4

I agree with Gatekeeper, this one feels a lot like Chicago-Edmonton for similar reasons.

Juliana:  PIT in 3

Simple explanation: Price is not the goaltender he used to be and Montreal doesn’t have the star power that Pittsburgh does. If Jake Guentzel and Brian Dumoulin didn’t come back, I’d say this series would be closer. But they’re back, so Pittsburgh has a great advantage.

Marie:  MON in 4

This is one of those cases where logic holds no sway with me. My football biases bleed over into hockey. I simply cannot pick the Steelers on Ice Penguins. Also, Alex Belzile (who played a big role when the Eagles won the Kelly Cup in 2017) made the Canadiens roster. I’m not saying he’s going to carry the team or anything, but I love him as a player and hope he gets a real shot (assuming he plays again after that hit he took on Tuesday). Therefore, I’ll cross my fingers and hope for Montreal to pull off the upset.

Winnipeg Jets vs Calgary Flames

Cris:  WPG in 5

Connor Hellebuyck. The goalie has had an MVP caliber season, despite all the pieces WPG lost on the back end (Trouba, Byfuglien etc). Hellebuyck can and will steal the Jets games.

Jeff:  WPG in 5

If you asked this question prior to the season, I would have said Calgary, hands down. Hellebuyck was having an MVP worthy season for the second time in the last three years, though. A hot goaltender can win a cup for a team. I wouldn’t pick them as a cup winner, but Calgary has so many issues and too much drama.

JJ:  WPG in 5

After grabbing the top spot in the Western Conference, only to be eliminated in five games against the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I see the Flames coming back into the play-in round looking to prove everybody wrong. However, once against they will find themselves in a bad match-up, as the Winnipeg Jets are stacked, and I see them coming away with the series victory in five games.

John:  WPG in 5

Scheifele, Wheeler and Laine. This could be the year Winnipeg puts it all together and makes a run. They have the size and talent to be a brutalizing playoff team, and Hellebuyck is hot.

Juliana:  WPG in 5

Despite how similar these teams are on paper, Calgary lacks in goaltending while Winnipeg has Vezina candidate Hellebuyck in net. The stars of the Flames also had down years, while the stars of the Jets still played like stars. If he continues to play like he did during the regular season, the Jets will sneak out of this qualifying round.

Marie: Winner: WPG in 5

Hellebuyck. That is all.

Arizona Coyotes vs Nashville Predators

Cris:  NSH in 5

ARI doesn’t have the scoring depth they will need. While I wouldn’t pick NSH to be a cup contender, they are a more well-rounded team than the Coyotes.

Jeff:  NSH in 4

I’d love to see this upset but I just don’t think ARI can pull it off. As long as the Preds get decent goaltending, they should be able to send the Coyotes home. That’s not to say that Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall can’t put a scare into the Preds, but I just can’t see it being enough to carry the Yotes.

JJ:  NSH in 4

Depth will be an important determining factor in the play-in series, and the Arizona Coyotes – Nashville Predators series will be no different, as I see the Preds advancing to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by eliminating the Coyotes in four games. While the Coyotes do have Kessel, Hall, and Clayton Keller, they simply do not have the same offensive and defensive depth that the Predators do.

John:  NSH in 5

In the end, the Yotes will not have enough versus a deep, albeit perennially under-performing Nashville team.

Juliana:  NSH in 4

Both of these teams greatly lack offense, but the defense of the Predators is simply better than the Coyotes. If Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros can be consistent in net, this is an easy series win for Nashville. If there’s any series where an upset can happen though, it could be this one.

Marie:  NSH in 4

Back when the Colorado Eagles were winning back-to-back Kelly Cups, a certain ECHL owner complained that his team, which (in his opinion) dominated the regular season by playing NHL-style hockey, consistently got beat in the ECHL playoffs. He felt the fast, furious, hard-hitting nature of the ECHL playoffs put his team at an unfair disadvantage. Well, like it or not, the playoffs are a whole different animal in just about any league. What worked in the regular season won’t always work in the post-season. Which is all my long-winded way of saying I don’t think Arizona’s style of hockey is going to cut it.

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Columbus Blue Jackets vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Cris:  TOR in 4

Columbus is at their best when they are playing their system. Due to the break, the play-in round is going to be very similar to early season hockey, where games are decided by talent rather than the systems in place.

Jeff:  TOR in 5

I’d say TOR in 4 but it’s the Leafs. They will find a way to introduce some drama. Elvis Merzlikins is a nice story in goal for CBJ, but TOR can take this series on talent alone. Columbus’ -7 goal differential should be enough to send them to the second draft lottery.

JJ:  TOR in 4

In what should be another close play-in series, I predict the Toronto Maple Leafs to get past the Blue Jackets in four games. When it comes to tenacity, the Blue Jackets can be one of the most infuriating teams to play in the playoffs, as we have seen recently as they swept the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs before being eliminated in six games to the Boston Bruins. Realizing they have to work to make it to the first round of the playoffs, I expect the Maple Leafs to edge out the Blue Jackets in five games, with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews leading the way.

John:  CBJ in 4

Columbus, like Winnipeg and Boston, is a team built more for the grind and attrition of the playoffs. They’re going to follow much the same prescription as they did in sweeping the Lightning last year. Probably not a popular pick, but the Jackets may pull off the early upset again. It’s also easy to see the officiating favor Toronto, in that the games are in Toronto, and it’s… Toronto. That could shift the series very much in the opposite direction.

Juliana:  TOR in 5

This is another fun series everyone should pay attention to. The Blue Jackets are relatively healthy now, and so are the Leafs. While Columbus has a way better defense corps than Toronto, the Leafs have a monstrous offense that can score their way out of almost anything. I’d love to say Leafs in 3 or 4 games, but we know better than to say that. Still, I think Toronto pulls away with a series win.

Marie:  CJB in 4

I’m basing this largely on their sweep of Tampa in last year’s playoffs. They’re a team on a mission.

Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Minnesota Wild vs Vancouver Canucks

Cris:  VAN in 5

I do believe MIN will put up a fight; however, as I mentioned above, the play in rounds will likely be more reliant on talent. Vancouver has the edge there.

Jeff:  VAN in 3

Vancouver has a solid team that has promising young players at every position. Minnesota is stuck between over-the-hill vets and unproven youth. I’m not a Devan Dubnyk fan and feel like he puts up decent regular season stats and then turns back into a pumpkin in the playoffs. The Wild gave up a ton of goals while the Canucks scored a ton. This should make for a short series for the team from the, “State of Hockey.”

JJ:  VAN in 5

Last but not least, we get to the one series that I am personally really looking forward to. This should be fast-paced and hard-hitting series, with the Vancouver Canucks eventually edging out the Minnesota Wild in five games to make their first postseason appearance since the 2014-15 season. While the Wild certainly looked impressive in their lone exhibition game against the Avalanche, I feel like the Canucks’ depth, led by rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes and with Jacob Markstrom as their main last line of defense, the depth of the Canucks should prove to be too much for the Wild.

John:  VAN in 3

Sort of like the Rangers-Carolina prediction. Vancouver just has that feel of a team on a quick rise, where Minnesota is more like Chicago. A team sort of stuck in the middle of the pack and lacking a clear character at this point.

Juliana:  VAN in 5

As boring as the Wild can be, the Canucks give away games like it’s free food. Ultimately, it comes down to lines and defensive pairs clicking. If Vancouver’s top six can score like we know they can, this is an easy series win, but who knows how many defensive lapses they’ll make. I think this series will be closer than some might think, but the Canucks will be heading into the first round of the playoffs.

Marie:  MIN in 5

This is another case where there’s not a lot of logic behind my pick. The two Wild teams (Minnesota and their AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild) seem to pull off victories when I least want them to. I’m predicting that trend will hold true and some really ugly wins will carry them through the qualifying round.

What do you think?

Tell us your thoughts! 

Are we wrong? 

Who do you think will move on to the next round?

Center Ice Forums Round Table: The-Rink staff play-in predictions

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