It might seem weird to spend most of this paragraph talking about an unrelated team, but whatever, this series is an easy call. And, between the Roy and Subban trades, a Nashville vs. Colorado is a perfect place to discuss/laugh at the ongoing trainwreck that is the Montreal Canadiens. It blows my mind that they're apparently sticking with Bergevin and Julien, and not giving this team the total housecleaning it so desperately needs. In the last three seasons, the Habs have twice missed the playoffs and been a first-round knockout the one year they did make it --- can you imagine a Canadiens franchise ever standing for this kind of mediocrity? It blows my mind.
* Winnipeg over Minnesota in seven
Great underrated regional rivalry here, as Minneapolis is the closest NHL city to Winnipeg. I'm still not entirely sold on the Jets as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They seem like the typical "one year away" sort of team that has a big season to announce itself on the scene, but is still missing a piece or two. I may be underrating the Jets or overrating the Wild in predicting a seven-gamer here, but I think it'll be tight.
* Anaheim over San Jose in six
The Ducks were my preseason Stanley Cup pick, so I might as well at least take them to get out of the first round, especially when they're facing such notable chokers as the Sharks. Prescient as always, let's note that my predictions included the Rangers as Anaheim's finals opponent, plus the likes of the Oilers, Blackhawks, Stars, Canadiens, and Panthers all making the playoffs. Smooth Jimmy Apollo's got nothing on me!
* (Las) Vegas over Los Angeles in seven
Conventional wisdom said that the Golden Knights would be the usual terrible expansion team, and then conventional wisdom said that they wouldn't keep up their hot start, or that they'd make the playoffs, or win the division. And now, the same pundits are making the Kings a popular upset pick for the first round. To this I say, oh ye of little faith! I'm sorry, what makes L.A. particularly impressive? Their 50 years of NHL experience over Vegas won't make a lick of difference since I just think the Knights are better.
* Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in six
The Eagles' Super Bowl and the 76ers' potential status as Finals contenders gives me some pause that we're living through a Philly sports renaissance, but on paper, this isn't a tough matchup for the Penguins. I don't want to say that the defending champs caught a break but....well, they totally caught a break. The Flyers aren't bringing much to the table here aside from an interstate hatred.
* Washington over Columbus in six
This one could be tricky, as it's not out of the realm of possibility that Sergei Bobrovsky stands on his head to steal a series. If there's any team the Blue Jackets could upset, it's definitely the notoriously choke-loving Capitals. I'll go chalk here since I'm a chicken with basically all of these predictions, but this one gives me some significant pause.
* Tampa Bay over New Jersey in five
Easy series here for the Lightning, so I'll take the space to rant about the NHL's stupid playoff structure. There is some major lopsidedness going on when you arrange the bracket by divisions. Going by point totals, the East is 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. t3, 5 vs. 6, and t3 vs. 7. This is certainly not fair to the Bruins and Maple Leafs, and it really isn't even fair for the Lightning, to have to face one of these titans in the second round instead of in the Eastern final. The sooner the NHL decides to re-adopt the old playoff format the better.
* Toronto over Boston in six
Yes, the Leafs have more or less owned the Bruins in recent games. Yes, 2013 was a long time ago and the Leafs roster is almost entirely different. Yes, the Leafs have essentially had three months to prepare for either the Bruins or Lightning, since the stupid playoff structure made the Atlantic's seeding a foregone conclusion weeks ago (aside from that brief spell when it looked like Toronto might still steal first overall). But man, this is a nervous matchup for Maple Leafs fans simply based on all the history between these two teams. The Leafs have been so good, and so promising this season, and to have them dropped in the first round again, and to the Bruins of all teams, would be seen as a real disappointment. Even I'd be let down, and I still think Toronto is also in the "still a year away" department.
Still, this was my preferred matchup of the two Atlantic powers. I have little confidence that the Leafs can beat Tampa, but I can definitely see them topping Boston. In my head, the Leafs got their playoff jitters out of the way last year and are now ready to make some noise in the second round. Go Leafs go!
* Nashville over Winnipeg in seven
* Anaheim over Vegas in six
* Pittsburgh over Washington in six
* Tampa Bay over Toronto in six (sigh)
* Nashville over Anaheim in six
* Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh in seven
Stanley Cup Finals: In the battle of warm-weather hockey markets, I'll pick the Predators to get over the hump and top the Lightning in seven games. Nashville vs. Tampa Bay was actually my preseason pick for the 2016-17 Finals, so maybe I was just a year early. Rangers fans are desperately hoping this pattern repeats itself next season.