It’s finally here, the NHL playoffs. USA TODAY’s Kevin Allen breaks down the potential upsets, the player to watch, and who’s going to be holding Lord Stanley’s Cup when it’s all said and done.
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET when the Boston Bruins visit the Ottawa Senators (NHL Network) and the Montreal Canadiens host the New York Rangers (NBCSN).
USA TODAY Sports’ NHL staff takes a stab at first-round predictions:
(1) MONTREAL CANADIENS VS. (WC1) NEW YORK RANGERS
Kevin Allen: Rangers in 6. Can’t a quality offense beat a quality defense just once?
Jimmy Hascup: Canadiens in 6. The Rangers can’t bank on Henrik Lundqvist being the better goalie and covering up for defensive miscues in this series.
Mike Brehm: Canadiens in 5. The Rangers defense isn’t the greatest and goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a down year. He will be outshined by Carey Price.
MORE PLAYOFF PREVIEWS:
(2) OTTAWA SENATORS VS. (3) BOSTON BRUINS
Kevin Allen: Bruins in 5. Special teams will give Boston the edge in this series. Patrice Bergeron’s faceoff skills will also be important.
Jimmy Hascup: Bruins in 6. It only goes this far because of the Bruins’ banged-up blue line.
Mike Brehm: Bruins in 6. Count on Brad Marchand to be rested and motivated after his suspension. The Bruins’ key will be neutralizing Erik Karlsson, who’s coming off an injury.
(1) WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. (WC2) TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Kevin Allen: Capitals in 4. There’s a big difference between qualifying for the playoffs and succeeding in them. Just ask the Capitals.
Jimmy Hascup: Capitals in 5. Washington is a more refined version of the Maple Leafs, who were playing critical games until the end.
Mike Brehm: Capitals in 5. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin lost in their first career playoff appearances and Auston Matthews will do the same. The Capitals have better depth, experience, defense and goaltending.
(2) PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. (3) COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Kevin Allen: Penguins in 5. No one, John Tortorella least of all, liked how the Blue Jackets have been playing lately.
Jimmy Hascup: Penguins in 6. Kris Letang’s absence hurts, but the Penguins have the experience to advance.
Mike Brehm: Penguins in 6.
Brandon Dubinsky has to be salivating about another chance to tangle with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins must overcome the loss of Kris Letang. But the Blue Jackets will find it hard to turn around a season-ending 1-5-1 slide.
(1) CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS VS. (WC2) NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Kevin Allen: Blackhawks in 7. There’s a reason why the Blackhawks have won 65 playoff games since 2010.
Jimmy Hascup: Predators in 6. Nashville has the league’s best defense and a forward group that is dangerous and deep.
Blackhawks in 7. This is a tough Predators team, but the Blackhawks are seasoned and Jonathan Toews is back in form after a slow start.
(2) MINNESOTA WILD VS. (3) ST. LOUIS BLUES
Kevin Allen: Wild in 6. Believe in Bruce Boudreau. Believe in Devan Dubnyk. Believe that the Wild have the right offensive-defensive mix to get it done.
Jimmy Hascup. Wild in 6. Bruce Boudreau’s team is built for the playoff grind, and Devan Dubnyk gives them an edge.
Mike Brehm: Wild in 6. Minnesota set a franchise record for wins and points and that’s despite a 1-7-2 stretch in March. They turned it around with a four-game winning streak. Time for Bruce Boudreau to show some playoff chops.
(1) ANAHEIM DUCKS VS. (WC1) CALGARY FLAMES
Kevin Allen: Flames in 6. Matthew Tkachuk will be in the middle of it if the Flames upset the Ducks.
Jimmy Hascup: Ducks in 6. It’s hard not to overlook how the Ducks finished the regular season: 11-0-3.
Mike Brehm: Ducks in 7. Considering how well Flames goalie Brian Elliott played after regaining his No. 1 job, he will steal some games. But the Ducks will take advantage of home ice in Game 7.
(2) EDMONTON OILERS VS. (3) SAN JOSE SHARKS
Kevin Allen: Oilers in 6.
After watching the Oilers down the stretch, how can you doubt Connor McDavid’s ability to lead this team?
Jimmy Hascup: Oilers in 6. The Oilers’ season is not a fluke, and the health of key Sharks Joe Thornton and Logan Couture tip the scales further.
Mike Brehm: Oilers in 5. Yes, Connor McDavid is making his first playoff appearance, but he should continue his late-season surge and shine against a team that was porous at times down the stretch.