The 2018-19 regular season has finally ended, and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are around the corner. It was another exciting year in the hockey world for all hockey fans, as scoring was up and there were several 100+ players.
With the regular season now in the books, the playoffs begin on Wednesday evening. The long grind to the middle of June begins and hockey fans are very excited.
What are the matchups in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs? Which teams are the biggest surprises? Which teams are the favorites and which teams are the underdogs?
CALGARY FLAMES VS COLORADO AVALANCHE
The Flames are returning to postseason action after missing last season’s playoffs. Meanwhile, the Avalanche are back in the postseason for the second consecutive season.
The Flames are one of the league’s highest scoring teams. They have five players on their roster that recorded over 70 points in the regular season. Their most dynamic player, Johnny Gaudreau finished with 36 goals and 99 points during the regular season.
The Avalanche are back in the playoffs and back in the second wild card like last season. Their top 3 players (Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog) all finished with 70+ points. Like Gaudreau, MacKinnon also finished with 99 points during the regular season.
This series should provide plenty of scoring and physicality for fans. Players like Gabriel Landeskog, Matthew Tkachuk, and James Neal will be featured in this series, so there will be plenty of snarl in addition to the goal scoring.
The Calgary Flames won the season regular series 3-0.
SAN JOSE SHARKS VS VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
The Sharks are veterans of NHL postseason action, as this will be their 13th playoff appearance in the last 14 seasons. The Golden Knights are back in the postseason after finishing as the Western Conference Champions in their inaugural season last year.
The Sharks and Golden Knights are squaring off for the second straight year in the postseason. The Golden Knights won the second-round matchup in 6 games last season.
During the 2018-19 regular season, the Sharks and Golden Knights split their series at 2 games apiece. The star power in this matchup is all over the ice. Sharks Defenseman Brent Burns is one of the most productive blueliners in the NHL, as he led all Sharks skaters with 83 points. For the Golden Knights, their most valuable player is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The former Penguins netminder added another 30+ win season under his belt and carried the Golden Knights on their incredible run to the Cup Final last season.
The Sharks will look for some revenge and will look to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2016.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS VS DALLAS STARS
The Predators are another Western Conference favorite that is looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. The Dallas Stars are returning to the postseason after missing out the last two seasons before.
The Predators were very active at the NHL Trade Deadline, as they added forwards Wayne Simmonds, Mikael Granlund, and Brian Boyle to the mix. These players were added to give the Predators more size and snarl for the postseason.
The Stars are anchored by their two star forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Behind them is a rookie on the blueline named Miro Heiskanen, who took the NHL by storm this season.
In addition to the forwards, this matchup features two netminders that post outstanding numbers. Pekka Rinne and Ben Bishop are two of the league’s most consistent netminders, so scoring goals will not be easy in this matchup.
In the five regular season matchups, the Predators won the series 3-2.
WINNIPEG JETS VS ST. LOUIS BLUES
The Jets have been one of the Western Conference favorites over the last few years. The Blues are returning to the postseason after missing out last year.
The Jets have plenty of firepower with notable forwards Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien gives the Jets a massive physical presence on the blueline.
The Blues struggled through the new year. They were last in the Central Division through December 31. After a second half rally, they almost came back to win the Central Division.
Between two teams that are very familiar with postseason play, this should be a grinding physical series. The main thing to look out for in this series is the goaltending matchup. Blues rookie netminder Jordan Binnington helped propel the Blues back into postseason action with his excellent play. Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck finished with 34 wins during the regular season, ten fewer wins than in the previous season.
The Jets took the regular season series with the Blues 3-1.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The Tampa Bay Lightning led the way for most of the regular season and never looked back. The Columbus Blue Jackets finished the regular season winning 7 out of their last 10 games.
The Lightning won an outstanding 62 of 82 games in the regular season. They finished with a +103 goal differential. The Lightning are loaded, and have one of the most dynamic forwards with Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov finished the regular season with 128 points, which is most among any NHL skater.
The Blue Jackets went all in at the NHL Trade Deadline. They acquired Matt Duchene and others from the Ottawa Senators to boost their chances for a deep Stanley Cup run. With Duchene added to the mix with Artemi Panarin, this Blue Jackets team will be a tough test for the Lightning.
Expect another great goaltending matchup between two Russian-born netminders Sergei Bobrovsky and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning swept the regular season series with the Blue Jackets 3-0.
BOSTON BRUINS VS TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
The Leafs and Bruins are facing each other for the second straight time in the postseason. Like last season, the Bruins will have home-ice advantage. The Bruins and Maple Leafs first round playoff matchup went the entire distance a season ago, and the Bruins prevailed in the matchup.
The Bruins have some dynamic forwards with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron. They are deep up the middle and on the blueline. Their goaltending has been good this season between Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask.
The Maple Leafs have some of the top forwards in the entire NHL. With Auston Matthews and John Tavares up the middle, there is plenty of offense to go around. Mitchell Marner is one of the league’s top wingers, as he led all Maple Leaf skaters with 94 points in the regular season.
These two Original 6 teams will battle it out and this series should provide plenty of excitement.
The Bruins won the regular season series with the Maple Leafs 3-1.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS CAROLINA HURRICANES
The defending Stanley Cup Champions are returning to the playoffs for their fifth straight season. The Hurricanes are returning to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
The Capitals will face against a Carolina team that lacks playoff experience. However, the Capitals are very familiar with Hurricanes Captain Justin Williams, who played with the Capitals from 2015-17.
The Capitals are loaded up the middle with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Lars Eller as their main three pivots. The Hurricanes depth is on their blueline, as Brett Pesce, Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk, and Jaccob Slavin round out their core group.
The Capitals swept the regular season series with the Hurricanes 4-0.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS VS PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the postseason for the 13th straight season. The New York Islanders are returning to the postseason for the first time since 2016.
The Penguins are very comfortable with postseason play and have loads of playoff experience. Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby recorded a 100-point campaign during the regular season. Forward Jake Guentzel led all Penguins skaters with 40 goals.
Led by former Capitals bench boss Barry Trotz, the Islanders are one of the league’s most improved clubs. The Islanders are led by young forward Mathew Barzal, who is an elite playmaker.
The thing to watch for in this series is the goaltending matchup. Penguins netminder Matt Murray has been often injured throughout his career, but has a Stanley Cup ring under his belt. The Islanders goaltending was a big question heading into this season, but goaltenders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss gave the Islanders more stability this season with their outstanding play.
The Penguins and Islanders split their regular season matchup with 2 games apiece.
By: George Foussekis