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updated: 4/11/2018 11:33 AM

Stanley Cup playoffs: Dietz breaks down first-round matchups

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  • Nashville, with goalie Pekka Rinne and right wing Ryan Hartman, opens the Stanley Cup playoffs against Colorado.

    Nashville, with goalie Pekka Rinne and right wing Ryan Hartman, opens the Stanley Cup playoffs against Colorado.
    Associated Press

 
 

Western Conference playoff capsules

Nashville Predators (53-18-11) vs. Colorado (43-30-9)

The skinny:

Since 1980, only two teams -- the 1984 Edmonton Oilers and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins managed to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final after finishing second the year before. Nashville's attempt to become the third team begins against a surprising Avs squad that won just 22 games last season. Colorado will need a miracle to beat the ultra-talented Preds, especially with goalie Semyon Varlamov out with a knee injury he suffered against the Blackhawks on March 31. Colorado went 0-3-1 vs. Nashville this season, getting outscored 17-8.

Prediction:

Predators in 5

Minnesota will be without Ryan Suter (fractured right ankle) when it opens the Stanley Cup playoffs against Winnipeg.
Minnesota will be without Ryan Suter (fractured right ankle) when it opens the Stanley Cup playoffs against Winnipeg. - Associated Press
Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10) vs. Minnesota Wild (45-26-11)

The skinny:

The Jets are 11-1-0 in their last 12 games -- although 5 of those victories came in overtime or a shootout. Winnipeg is young and fast, and has perhaps the best goalie in the league. Minnesota, meanwhile, will be without 33-year-old D-man Ryan Suter (fractured right ankle). The Wild's best chance for an upset is to make the Jets play tight, low-scoring games. Easier said than done, though, against a group like Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor (31 goals), Nikolaj Ehlers (29), Mark Scheifele (23) and Dustin Byfuglien.

Prediction:

Jets in 5.

Vegas Golden Knights players celebrate with center William Karlsson, who led them in scoring with 78 points this season.
Vegas Golden Knights players celebrate with center William Karlsson, who led them in scoring with 78 points this season. - Associated Press
Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7) vs. Los Angeles Kings (45-29-8)

The skinny:

Even after a historic season in which the Golden Knights amassed well over 100 points and became the first modern expansion team to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, there are those who believe Vegas won't get out of the first round. Don't lump me in with that crowd. While it's true Vegas lacks star power, coach Gerard Gallant's group plays a hard-nosed game that translates nicely to playoff hockey. This will be a tough series between two evenly matched squads, but a red-hot Marc-Andre Fleury will be the difference.

Prediction:

Golden Knights in 7

Anaheim (44-25-13) vs. San Jose (45-27-10)

The skinny:

If you're looking for a dark horse in the Western Conference, look no further than San Jose. This team is loaded, tough to play against and very experienced. Anaheim, however, is as tough a first-round foe as you can find. The Ducks, who closed the season on a 10-1-1 run, have been to the conference finals in two of the last three years. Three of the four meetings between these teams went to a shootout, so watch for an entertaining, tightly contested series.

Prediction:

Sharks in 6

Eastern Conference playoff capsules

The Tampa Bay Lightning will need a healthy and productive Steven Stamkos when they play New Jersey in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will need a healthy and productive Steven Stamkos when they play New Jersey in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. - Associated Press
Tampa Bay (54-23-5) vs. New Jersey (44-29-9)

The skinny:

Just how healthy is Steven Stamkos and will he be ready to go for Game 1? With Stamkos (lower body) missing four of the final seven regular-season games, those are definitely the biggest questions in any of the eight first-round series. An inconsistent or unavailable Stamkos opens the door for the entire Eastern Conference, and that includes the upstart Devils, who are led by MVP candidate Taylor Hall. Tampa Bay went just 6-6-1 in its final 13 games, while the Devils went 11-4-1 in their last 16. The Devils also beat the Lightning all three times the teams met this season. Still, a Tampa Bay elimination would be quite the shocker.

Prediction:

Lightning in 6

Washington (49-26-7) vs. Columbus (45-30-7)

The skinny:

Washington (12-3-0 last 15) and Columbus (13-2-2 last 17) are two of the hottest teams entering the postseason. Artemi Panarin racked up 9 goals and 20 assists over that stretch, which is a 140-point pace over a full season. (Think the Blackhawks could have used him?) Columbus went just 1-3-0 vs. Washington, but the Jackets have the better goalie and a great chance to pull off the upset.

Prediction:

Blue Jackets in 6

Can the Penguins become the first team since the 1980-83 Edmonton Oilers to win three straight Stanley Cup titles? Pittburgh opens the playoffs against Philadelphia.
Can the Penguins become the first team since the 1980-83 Edmonton Oilers to win three straight Stanley Cup titles? Pittburgh opens the playoffs against Philadelphia. - Associated Press
Pittsburgh (47-29-6) vs. Philadelphia (42-26-14)

The skinny:

Pittsburgh is trying to become the first team since the 1980-83 Edmonton Oilers to win three straight titles. The Penguins won all four games against the Flyers this season (two in OT). The Pens' Derick Brassard is dealing with a groin injury but might be ready for Game 1. Brassard, acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline, has 21 goals in 72 games. This will be just Philadelphia's third playoff appearance in the last six seasons. The Flyers haven't advanced out of the first round since 2011-12.

Prediction:

Penguins in 6

The Boston Bruins will meet upset-minded Toronto in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Boston Bruins will meet upset-minded Toronto in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. - Associated Press
Boston (50-20-12) vs. Toronto (49-26-7)

The skinny:

Boston is dealing with injuries to Rick Nash (concussion), Riley Nash (ear laceration) and Sean Kurlay (upper body), but all three might be available for Game 1. Boston was on fire for a long time, going 12-2-3 from Feb. 26-March 31, but the Bruins closed the season by losing four of five. They could have finished with the top seed in the East with a victory over Florida in the season finale, but the Panthers prevailed 4-2. Toronto, meanwhile, went 10-4-0 in its last 14 games. Everything points to a potential Maple Leafs upset, but Boston is awfully talented and Tuukka Rask figures to outplay Frederik Andersen.

Prediction:

Bruins in 7

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