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Picks and Predictions for All 8 NHL First Round Playoff Series

Dallas Stars v Vegas Golden Knights

(Photo : (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)) LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – OCTOBER 17: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Vegas Golden Knights skates with the puck against Jason Robertson #21 of the Dallas Stars in overtime of their game at T-Mobile Arena on October 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Stars 3-2 in a shootout.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin, and there are several high-profile matchups on tap for the most exciting postseason in professional sports.

Over the next two months, we’ll narrow the playing field down from 8 qualifying teams in each conference to just one left standing to hoist the Stanley Cup.

After a drama-filled race to the finish line of the regular season, the matchups are set, and it’s time to break them down and give a series prediction. 

RELATED ARTICLE: NHL Playoffs First Round Preview: Predators Look to Stay Hot, Upset Canucks

NHL First Round Series Playoff Predictions

Out of the Metropolitan Division, the New York Rangers took the crown, while the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders won the other two automatic qualifying spots, automatically meaning they’ll play each other. The Rangers draw the lesser wild card Washington Capitals.

In the Atlantic, the Florida Panthers won the division, and they’ll draw the higher-ranked wild card Tampa Bay Lightning. The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs square off in the two-three showdown.

READ MORE: NHL Playoffs Series Preview: Oilers, Kings Locked in for Third Straight First Round Showdown

M1: New York Rangers vs. WC2: Washington Capitals

This is a massive mismatch on paper, as the Rangers dominated for almost the entire season, ultimately winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top regular season team. 

While the Rangers have been done in at times by lack of concentration and spotty defense, those shouldn’t be issues for them in a playoff environment against a clearly inferior opponent. 

New York dominates on special teams and has good enough goaltending at 5-on-5 to win there too. Artemi Panarin just completed his best season yet, and he’ll have plenty of scoring help from Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck, and an improving Alexis Lafreniere. 

The Pick: New York Rangers in 5

READ MORE: NHL Playoffs First Round Preview: Rangers Look Poised to Stomp Capitals

M2: Carolina Hurricanes vs. M3: New York Islanders

The Hurricanes loaded up at the trade deadline, adding Jake Guentzel to form what immediately became an ultra dynamic first line with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis.

For a team built around denying high quality chances, the Islanders sure did give up a lot of them this year, ranking 17th in the league in expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. It’s not horrible, but it’s a far cry from where they need to be to be at their best.

The Islanders formula to win is improving the defense, getting either Mathew Barzal or Bo Horvat to catch fire, and Sorokin stealing a game or two.

That could all happen, but even if it does, the Hurricanes could still win this one in six or seven. 

The Pick: Carolina Hurricanes in 5

RELATED ARTICLE: NHL Playoffs Series Preview: Hurricanes Enter First-Round Rematch With Islanders as Big Favorites

A1: Florida Panthers vs. WC1: Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning’s depth is a far cry from what it used to be, but a Nick Paul and a Tanner Jeannot sprinkled into the bottom six feels like a couple opportunities to have guys down the lineup who can win a game.

While Florida may not be quite at the level they were at for most of this season right now, injuries to Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe can explain a lot of that, and the Panthers have the depth, skill, play style, and goaltending to win this series.

The Pick: Florida Panthers in 6

READ MORE: NHL Playoffs Series Preview: Panthers, Lightning Renew Sunshine State Rivalry

A2: Boston Bruins vs. A3: Toronto Maple Leafs

The no-Patrice-Bergeron-factor is the other big thing in this series, as the Bruins have in the past been able to rely on the Bergeron line to both erase the opposition’s best group and score in bunches with Marchand and Pastrnak. 

While there are postseason question marks on both sides, Toronto’s combination of uncertainty in net, instability on defense, and inconsistency in production in this environment from their superstars makes them tough to roll with.

The Pick: Boston Bruins in 7

RELATED ARTICLE: NHL Playoffs First Round Preview: Can Maple Leafs Reverse the Curse Against Bruins?

C1: Dallas Stars vs. WC1: Vegas Golden Knights

This is just the perfect playoff series, both teams have so many guys who excel on both ends of the rink and play the physical brand of hockey that tends to elevate in the playoffs. They both can roll four lines and trust three groups of defensemen, and they are both well-coached with goalies who could steal the series.

It’s an impossible one to pick, but I like the high-end of the Stars roster just a little bit more. Give me Dallas.

The Pick: Dallas Stars in 7

READ MORE: NHL Playoffs First Round Preview: Golden Knights Start Title Defense Against Loaded Stars

C2: Winnipeg Jets vs. C3: Colorado Avalanche

Winnipeg is good enough to win a game without Hellebuyck totally stealing it, and Hellebuyck is good enough to steal one but that might be it for the Jets in this series.

Colorado utilized the trade deadline as an opportunity to rectify some serious depth concerns, and this roster looks like it’s in much better shape than at any other point this year. It won’t be a cakewalk, but the Avs take this one.

The Pick: Colorado Avalanche in 6

RELATED ARTICLE: NHL Playoffs First Round Preview: Avalanche, Jets Set to Do Battle

P1: Vancouver Canucks vs. WC2: Nashville Predators

Either goalie could win this series for his team, but assuming Thatcher Demko and Juuse Saros both play at a solid to good level, I actually like the upset in this series. 

Look for Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg to give the Canucks fits, and while Vancouver’s top line is great, it’s been prone to cold spells at times this year. A quiet two games from the top Canucks could spell doom.

The Pick: Nashville Predators in 7

READ MORE: Hurricanes Acquire Jake Guentzel from Penguins; Add Major Scoring Threat

P2: Edmonton Oilers vs. P3: Los Angeles Kings

While this is the most complete team the Oilers have ever surrounded Connor McDavid  with, questions do remain still about whether the secondary scoring will be enough to win the Cup.

It may not be, but it and everything else about this team will be enough to handle Los Angeles.

The Pick: Edmonton Oilers in 5

READ MORE: Rangers Fill a Need, Acquire Alexander Wennberg from Kraken

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