The NBC Sports Edge staff have gathered to give their first-round picks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are eight series to get to, so let’s get to it.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news and updates. Plus, it allows you to easily track your favorite players. Get it here!
PITTSBURGH-NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Ryan: Pittsburgh beats the Islanders in 7 games – These are two pretty evenly matched teams. As it was in 2019 when they met in the first round, this is basically a battle of offense versus defense. The Islanders handedly won that battle with their four-game sweep, but I think this year’s Penguins are even better thanks in part to the addition of Jeff Carter, who has fit into the team beautifully. The X-Factor here is Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry, who has only one game worth of playoff experience.
Corey: Pittsburgh in 6 – I’ve been burned by the Penguins before in past playoffs, but I’m going back to them again even though the Islanders have had some success in the postseason of late. I think having Semyon Varlamov banged up going into the playoffs is worrying and not having Anders Lee puts Pittsburgh ahead. They are getting healthy at the right time and their depth will serve them well in this series.
Anna: The Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the New York Islanders in 6 games: The Pittsburgh Penguins head into the playoffs after clinching the East, which was perhaps the most competitive division in this realignment. The Penguins have been looking the way they did during their Stanley Cup winning runs as of late and have truly dispelled doubts that their era of dominance was over. The Penguins played well in spite of injury, but they will head into the playoffs with Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup. Sidney Crosby also had a great regular season this year, and it is important to note that he has a history of playing very well against the Islanders. New York edges out Pittsburgh in terms of netminding, with Semyon Varlamov consistently posting great performances all year. However, I predict that Pittsburgh’s playoff experience will help them pick up a win in this first round that is sure to be very competitive.
Jeff: Islanders over Penguins in 6 Games – The Penguins have arguably pulled off the most impressive season after many had written them off. The Jim Rutherford saga seems like ages ago and the Pens (and Sidney Crosby) went silent and just put in the work. However, I really like the Islanders and the moves they did at the deadline. They can run four lines and have the goaltending to get them far.
Joey: Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders: Penguins in six. The Islanders aren’t fun to watch, but they’re difficult to knock out of the playoffs when they play the defensive style Barry Trotz asks them to play. Two seasons ago, they managed to sweep Pittsburgh in the first round, but I think the Pens are ready for them this time around. The acquisition of Jeff Carter has paid off for Pittsburgh while the Kyle Palmieri trade just hasn’t worked out the same way for New York.
Michael: Penguins in seven – This may be the most boring series in the first round as the Islander will grind it out and not allow the Penguins a lot of free ice. The Pens still have the great Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should be well rested after missing seven weeks with a lower-body injury. The Islanders have the better goaltending and could sneak out a series win if all games are low-scoring as that is the way they win.
Consensus: Pittsburgh 5 Islanders 1
Editor’s Note: All the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders playoff action can be streamlined here.
Ryan: Boston beats Washington in 6 games – The Bruins have been amazing since the acquisition of Taylor Hall. They were a great team before that, but Hall really seemed to be the missing piece that rounded out their offense. As I noted in my preview article, Boston averaged 2.72 goals per game before the Hall trade and 3.41 goals per game after it. If the Bruins can maintain anything close to that offensive pace on top of their strong defense and goaltending, then it will be hard for the Capitals to get by them, even with Washington’s talented roster. If Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov is able to rise to the occasion though, it should make things interesting.
Corey: Boston in 7 – I think both the matchups in the East are very close and this series could be a toss up. The Bruins brought in some much-needed depth up front and on the back end prior to the trade deadline and they appear to be healthier that Washington going into the postseason. I am also concerned that the goaltending of the Capitals won’t be able to hold up, while Boston has great depth in the crease and Tuukka Rask has a lot to prove on the final year of his current contract.
Anna: The Washington Capitals defeat the Boston Bruins in 7 games: The Boston Bruins have played well against the Capitals this season, going 4-2-2, and this is especially important for a team that has struggled against Washington in the past. Tuukka Rask also ended his regular season with seven wins in his past nine appearances. Washington’s netminding, on the other hand, is definitely not what the Capitals had expected heading into the year. It is likely that Vitek Vanecek will receive a bulk of the starts and it is difficult to predict how well he will handle playoff pressure. The Bruins also have the important addition of Taylor Hall, who has scored 14 points in 16 games since coming to Boston. However, despite all the logic pointing to Boston, it is tough to ignore how good of a playoff team Washington can be. They have all the pieces to pull off a win in this series, and although I think it will go all the way to seven games, I have Washington coming out with a win.
Jeff: Bruins over Capitals in 7 Games – This is arguably the best matchup across all the opening rounds and it’s set to kick off on Saturday. The Bruins, desperate for some secondary scoring, landing Taylor Hall for just a second-round pick and he has eight goals and 14 points in 16 games as a member of the organization. I’m really liking what Boston is able to trot out and with John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin battling some injuries, it might be a one and done for the Caps.
Joey: Washington vs. Boston. Bruins in six. I think Tuukka Rask has something to prove this postseason. Bruins fans dumped on him when he left the bubble last season and he’s in a contract year. I think he’s going to keep rolling in the playoffs. On the other side, the Capitals have Vitek Vanecek, who is unproven in the playoffs. That’s the biggest difference between these two teams. I like what Vanecek did in the regular season, but doing it as a rookie in the playoffs is way different.
Michael: Boston in six. The Bruins have been playing at a different level since acquiring Taylor Hall from Buffalo at the trade deadline. He gives them two great lines with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak capable of being a top-three line among NHL teams, if not higher. Washington has been hurting of late with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and others ailing and that may be enough for the Bruins to knock off the second seed in the East. Boston also has the superior goaltending with Tuukka Rask better than rookie Vitek Vanecek and sophomore Ilya Samsonov.
Consensus: Boston 5 Washington 1
Editor’s Note: Watch all the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins playoff games as they are streamlined here.
Ryan: Carolina beats Nashville in 5 games – Any series could go any way, but at least on paper this is the series I feel is the most one-sided. The Predators forwards have left plenty to be desired this season with defenseman Roman Josi winning their scoring race with 33 points, so Nashville’s hopes are largely on the idea that goaltender Juuse Saros and their talented defensive core completely frustrate the Hurricanes. The problem is that not only are the Hurricanes a strong offensive team, they’re even better defensively, so Nashville doesn’t have an area in this series where there’s a clear edge in their favor.
Corey: Carolina in 5 – This is one of the bigger mismatches on paper going into the first round. Carolina has plenty of depth and Nashville will probably have a hard time keeping up. Juuse Saros may have to stand on his head to make this series interesting and that probably won’t be enough because the Hurricanes can match them with play in the crease. Carolina also has a big edge in special teams play.
Anna: The Carolina Hurricanes defeat the Nashville Predators in 6 games: The Hurricanes have developed into serious cup contenders and this first round matchup provides them with ample opportunity to get the ball rolling early in this postseason. One of the most important factors in this particular matchup is the goaltending. Juuse Saros was a significant factor in Nashville securing the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central. He has a record of 21-11-1, with a save percentage of .927 and a GAA of 2.28. He will have to be at the top of his game, especially with how secure Carolina is in their crease. The Hurricanes have two solid goaltending choices with Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic. Nedeljkovic in particular is having a great year, with a save percentage of .932 and a GAA of 1.90. When considering goalies with at least 11 starts, he has the best save percentage and GAA in the entire league. In terms of offense, Carolina has a clear advantage with dynamic players like Sebastian Aho, who finished off the regular season very strong. Thus, the outcome of this matchup really falls on the shoulders of Saros.
Jeff: Carolina over Nashville in 7 Games – I was very tempted to take the Preds in this one, as Juuse Saros has arguably been the best goaltender in the league since March but the Hurricanes have quietly put some tremendous numbers and Alex Nedeljkovic has been every bit as good as Saros, if not better. Sebastian Aho and Vincent Trocheck are probably the most underrated 1/2 center punch in the league, and I’m excited to see Aho pick up from where he left off in the bubble last year (12 points in eight games).
Joey: Carolina vs. Nashville: Hurricanes in six. The Hurricanes are fast and talented, and I’m not sure how the Predators are going to stop them. The other issue, is that the Preds have been playing for their playoff lives for weeks now. How much does this group have left in the tank? For them to have a chance against Carolina, they’ll need Juuse Saros to steal the series.
Michael: Carolina in five. Nashville played great late in the season to get into the playoffs but the Hurricanes are more talented at forward and that will be enough to win. The Predators have been getting incredible goaltending from Juuse Saros but the Canes top-two of Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic have been slightly better all season. Sebastian Aho is turning into a stud forward, while there is nothing wrong with Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, Martin Necas or defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
Consensus: Carolina 6 Nashville 0
Editor’s Note: The Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators first round Stanley Cup playoff action is streamlined here.
Ryan: Tampa Bay beats Florida in 7 games – I love this year’s edition to the Panthers and the Lightning do have some major question marks. How will Nikita Kucherov do after missing the entire season (assuming he plays at all)? Similarly, will Steven Stamkos be ready and will he be at 100 percent? The Lightning are such a good team though that even with their best two players being question marks, they’re hard to bet against. They still have star forwards Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat, along with one of the best defensemen in the league in Victor Hedman and arguably the league’s top goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy. In the cap era, the amount of talent on this team is absurd.
Corey: Tampa Bay in 6 – Florida had a great year and I think they can push the Lightning, but ultimately the defending Stanley Cup champions will prove to be too much to handle. With Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos set to return, Tampa Bay gains two of the best forwards on the league. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman are big factors as well that give the Lightning more advantages over the Panthers. Florida would have been a big contender, but they got a difficult draw in the opening round.
Anna: The Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Florida Panthers in 7 games: This is an especially interesting matchup since the Panthers managed to edge out the Lightning in the Central standings, finishing right above their state rivals. However, it is important to note that the Lightning will see Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos return to their lineup for the playoffs. These additions, along with having Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal, will undoubtedly be a great asset to Tampa. Despite the impressive regular season that the Panthers posted, it will be tough for them to thwart the Lightning come playoff time and so I have the defending champions coming out on top. This is sure to be a close and competitive series though.
Jeff: Tampa Bay over Florida in 6 Games – If I was a Lightning fan, I’d be worried about the health of Ryan McDonagh and Victor Hedman heading into the postseason but you have to be thrilled to know that both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov will be ready-to-roll in the battle of the state of Florida. I think the Panthers missing Aaron Ekblad will be huge and as much as I love Chris Driedger, it’s one of those situations where every goalie will have a short leash for the Panthers (could all three play at some point?).
Joey: Florida vs. Tampa Bay: Lightning in 7. I struggled predicting this series. The Lightning are getting Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back and I think that’s going to make a huge difference. But don’t sleep on Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Those guys can make a big difference for the Panthers in this series. In the end, I think it will come down to depth and Tampa Bay has more of it.
Michael: Florida in seven. The Lightning get Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back in their lineup but it may take them a few games to get back in game shape and that could prove detrimental to the Lightning’s chances of winning. Barkov and Huberdeau are as every bit as good as the Lightning duo when they are 100 percent. Another factor for Tampa Bay is that defenseman Victor Hedman is playing hurt and will likely require surgery when the season is over. That hurts. Andrei Vasilevskiy is capable of standing on his head and he may be the only player standing in the way of a Panthers win in the battle of Florida.
Consensus: Tampa Bay 5 Florida 1
Editor’s Note: All the Florida Panthers-Tampa Bay Lightning action can be seen here via streamline.
Ryan: Toronto beats Montreal in 6 games – Will this generation of Maple Leafs finally win a playoff series? I think this is their best chance yet. Auston Matthews has never been better, goaltender Jack Campbell has been strong, and the team has some valuable veteran depth in Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, and Wayne Simmonds. Add in the acquisitions of Riley Nash and Nick Foligno and this feels like the most complete team the Maple Leafs have had in a while. Montreal still has the tools to give them trouble though, especially if Carey Price comes back and rises to the occasion.
Corey: Toronto in 6 – The Maple Leafs have some playoff demons to exorcise and I think they finally do that this year. I see Toronto’s depth and skill being too much for the Canadiens. A lot has been made of Montreal’s physical defenders, but the Leafs have the ability to push through that. Both teams are getting healthier before the postseason and neither team has a decided edge on special teams. Toronto has plenty of talent up and down the lineup, which should finally put them into the second round.
Anna: The Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Montreal Canadiens in 7 games: The Maple Leafs finished on top of the North division and may finally have the opportunity to win a playoff series with this first round matchup. Auston Matthews put up phenomenal numbers this year, as he scored 41 goals in 51 games played to lead the league in goals. He has almost as many goals as the leading scorer on Montreal has points this season, so it is evident that Toronto has an offensive edge in this first round. There is a lot of uncertainty in goal on both sides of the ice in this matchup, which could be a game-changer and that is why I predict that this series will be rather close. It is also hard to ignore how much difficulty Toronto has in converting good regular season performances into effective playoff runs, and so this series will go the distance but I have the Maple Leafs finally breaking their curse and making it to the second round.
Jeff: Toronto over Montreal in 4 Games – The Canadiens are expected to get most of, if not all their injured players back for the postseason but clips of Shea Weber taking shots with one hand just a week before the series is supposed to begin is not promising. For the most part, the Leafs have dominated the Habs this season and I don’t see that changing. Montreal’s only hope is if they get the bubble version of Carey Price.
Joey: Toronto vs. Montreal: Maple Leafs in six. Montreal is going to get Carey Price, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault back and that’s huge. But can they compete with a loaded Maple Leafs team? Stopping Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander is going to be a problem for the Habs. The only way this Leafs team falls apart is if their goaltending lets them down, which is entirely possible.
Michael: Toronto in five. The Maple Leafs are the best team in the North and were 7-2-1 against the Canadiens this season. The Leafs are superior up front with Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner a lot better offensively than anything the Habs have, including Tyler Toffoli. The Maple Leafs got a lot tougher in the last six months, adding Wayne Simmonds, Nick Foligno and Riley Nash at forward while T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian have been a huge help on the blueline. Carey Price is capable of stealing a series (just ask the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins) but he is coming off a concussion and may or may not be ready for the start of the series.
Consensus: Toronto 6 Montreal 0
Editor’s Note: Catch all the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens action here.
Ryan: Edmonton beats Winnipeg in 5 games – The Jets have been in a freefall lately, losing nine of their last 11 games, so they’re limping into the playoffs. Perhaps they’ll turn things around once the stakes are higher, but they’ll have a tough time against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are playing at a level above anyone else this season. As we’ve seen in the past, those two can’t carry the Oilers on their own, but they’ll have some help thanks to talented offensive defensemen Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse, forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Kailer Yamamoto providing some offensive depth, and goaltender Mike Smith having a solid campaign.
Corey: Edmonton in 6 – The Oilers could make this a very short series if the regular-season matches are any indication, but I think Winnipeg will find ways to slow Edmonton down in the playoffs. The Oilers will probably need more than just Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to defeat the Jets. but I still believe they will manage to break through and take advantage of Winnipeg’s struggles defensively.
Anna: The Edmonton Oilers defeat the Winnipeg Jets in 5 games: Connor McDavid posted ridiculously impressive stats during the regular season, picking up 33 goals and 71 assists for a total of 104 points in 55 games played. He nearly had two points per game in the 2020-21 campaign. McDavid led the league by far in points, but the next closest player to him is his teammate Leon Draisaitl, who posted 83 points this season. It will be difficult for any team to contain this level of offensive dominance, and thus I do not see this series playing out that long. Connor Hellebuyck has showcased in the past that he has the ability to put up great performances, but he finished his regular season with a lot of inconsistency and that is why I have Edmonton pulling out the win in five games.
Jeff: Edmonton over Winnipeg in 7 Games – The Jets have been a train wreck since mid-April and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are usually not too kind to teams that enter on a bad run. The key for Winnipeg will be to get the Connor Hellebuyck that won the Vezina Trophy last season. I see this series as potentially being a coin flip between the two, but I’ll side with the team that can throw out Connor McDavid.
Joey: Edmonton vs. Winnipeg: Oilers in seven. Yes, the Jets are bigger and deeper than the Oilers, but I think Edmonton’s high-end talent is going to carry them for at least one round. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were the top two point-getters in the league in 2021 and I’m not sure the Jets be able to come up with an answer for them.
Michael: Winnipeg in seven. The Jets are back in the winning column after losing nine of 10 and should give the Oilers all they can handle. They are better overall at forward with plenty of depth including Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers and Pierre-Luc Dubois and while the Oilers have the best player in the world in Connor McDavid as well as Leon Draisaitl, I like the Jets. They also have the better goalkeeper in Connor Hellebuyck over the Oilers Mike Smith. The only thing that scares me is the McDavid factor and he could will the Oilers to a victory.
Consensus: Edmonton 5 Winnipeg 1
Editor’s Note: All the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets playoff action can be streamlined here.
Ryan: Colorado beats St. Louis in 6 games – I don’t want to be dismissive of the Blues who are just two years removed from their championship and have largely the same team, but the Avalanche won the Presidents’ Trophy for a reason. They have one of the best forward trios in the league in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, plenty of offensive depth, a strong defensive core thanks in part to the rise of Cale Makar and Samuel Girard, and a major Vezina Trophy contender in Philipp Grubauer. Health is something of an X-Factor for them, but they look like strong favorites in this series.
Corey: Colorado in 6 – The Avalanche were sidetracked by injuries last year in the postseason and they have some concerns there this time around as well, but they will too much for the Blues to handle. I like the way St. Louis has been playing down the stretch, but the Avalanche are on a completely different level and their depth and skill will be overwhelming for St. Louis.
Anna: The Colorado Avalanche defeat the St. Louis Blues in 4 games: The Colorado Avalanche officially secured the Presidents’ trophy and it will be tough for any opponent to stop this dynamic team in the playoffs. Of all the first round matchups, this is the one that I think has the highest likelihood of being a sweep. The Avalanche have impressive depth in every position. Mikko Rantanen has 66 points in 52 games played during the regular season. Nathan MacKinnon is not far behind either with 65 points in 48 appearances. In terms of goaltending, the Avalanche have Philipp Grubauer, who has completed the regular season with a save percentage of .922 and a GAA of 1.95. Colorado is simply stronger on all fronts than St. Louis, and so I see them easily coming out on top.
Jeff: Colorado over St. Louis in 7 Games – Like most people, I really enjoy watching the Avalanche play. There’s just something about watching Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon with the puck on their stick. Unfortunately for them, I think the Blues can prove to be a tricky matchup. Jordan Binnington has played better and there is a chance all their injured players could be back for the postseason. The Avs have some injury question marks of their own but I still believe they can overcome the Blues.
Joey: Colorado vs. St. Louis: Avs in six. No disrespect to the Blues, but the Avalanche are way deeper up front and on defense. The only way the Blues can really push Colorado is if Jordan Binnington steps up like he did when the Blues won the cup two years ago. I just don’t see how St. Louis is going to stop Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and the rest of the squad.
Michael: Colorado in five. The Avalanche have the better forwards, defensemen and goaltender as they have the best first line in the NHL with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Philipp Grubauer is the superior goaltender to Jordan Binnington and the Avs young defense, starring Cale Makar, Samuel Girard and Devon Toews are superior to the Blues. The Blues may sneak one game at home but the Avs are much the better team.
Consensus: Colorado 6 St. Louis 0
Editor’s Note: All the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues playoff action can be streamlined here.
Ryan: Vegas beats Minnesota in 6 games – While the Avalanche held the tiebreaker over Vegas to win the division and the Presidents’ Trophy, I think Vegas has the top team in the league. The Golden Knights are the closest the NHL has to a squad devoid of weaknesses. That said, I am interested to see what Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov does in his first playoff series. Even if I don’t expect Minnesota to win, this should be a great experience for him.
Corey: Vegas in 6 – The Golden Knights and Wild had some tight games during the regular season, which is why this series could be close. Still, I like Vegas to ultimately come out on top. The status of Max Pacioretty is a bit worrisome, but the Golden Knights still have enough offensive firepower and depth to get past the Wild.
Anna: The Vegas Golden Knights defeat the Minnesota Wild in 6 games: The Minnesota Wild have seen a spark in their team with the addition of rookie Kirill Kaprizov this season. He has secured 27 goals and 24 assists for a total of 51 points in 55 games played. However, in the playoffs he will have to face off against the solid netminders that will man the Vegas crease. Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner rotated starts all season, and it paid off as they secured the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. Vegas has perhaps the strongest goaltending situation heading into this postseason, with two very solid options and Fleury in particular having a plethora of playoff experience. It will be tough for Minnesota to hold up against them and I think they will not be able to pull out more than two wins in this series.
Jeff: Vegas over Minnesota in 5 Games: – It’s hard not to like the Golden Knights. Despite having to dress a shorthanded roster for plenty of games this season due to limited cap space, Vegas has looked incredible. If they can avoid some goaltending drama this time around, the Golden Knights will be poised for a deep run. You won’t find too many brackets that don’t include either Vegas or Colorado in the final.
Joey: Vegas vs. Minnesota: Golden Knights in six. Vegas needs to get Max Pacioretty and Alec Martinez back from injury, but I think they’ll take care of this pesky Wild team. Minnesota gave Vegas a hard time during the regular season, but I don’t think that’ll transfer over into the playoffs. The Golden Knights have the luxury of having two starting caliber goaltenders on the roster. So, if one struggles, they can just turn to the other.
Michael: Minnesota in seven. No team has given the Golden Knights more trouble than the Wild over their short tenure. Even this season, the Wild were 5-1-2 against Vegas. They will rely on goaltender Cam Talbot to beat the Golden Knights and while Vegas looks to be on paper the better team, I think the Wild, who have been the biggest pleasant surprise this season, have enough to win in seven.
Consensus: Vegas 5 Minnesota 1
Editor’s Note: All the Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild playoff action can be streamlined here.