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THE MOJ: Pay attention, here’s how round 1 of the NHL playoffs will unfold

Moj leans heavily towards the favourites as the chase for the Stanley Cup opens
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Abbotsford’s Devon Toews celebrates with the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche on June 26. (Twitter photo)

Some will say it’s the best time of year for hockey fans – the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a nightly smorgasbord of high-intensity hockey that feeds your appetite.

With the NHL playoffs upon us, we have decided to have a little fun and make some predictions when it comes to the first round.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#P1 VEGAS versus #WC2 WINNIPEG

The biggest storyline in this series is goaltending.

Many believe the only way that Winnipeg wins this series is if Connor Hellebuyck can steal the Jets a game or two. Meanwhile the Golden Knights have had to use five different netminders this season.

The Knights will start 30-year-old Laurent Brossoit in Game One – Hellebuyck’s former backup – and hope he can deliver. Brossoit’s only playoff experience is a 27-minute stint as an Oiler in game four of the opening round of the 2017 playoffs against San Jose when he came in for Cam Talbot in the midst of a 7-0 Sharks win.

Brossoit will have a short leash as Vegas does have Jonathan Quick ready to go if necessary, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.

The Knights have more high-end players and should knock off the Jets if they get any goaltending.

VEGAS IN SIX

#C1 COLORADO VERSUS #WC1 SEATTLE

The Avalanche wrapped up their season on a heater - winning 16 of their last 19 games and regaining the swagger they had last year as Stanley Cup champions.

All indicators point to this being a short series but the Kraken aren’t supposed to be here as a second-year team in the NHL. They have absolutely zero pressure on them and those types of teams can pose a dangerous threat.

Yes, the Kraken have some depth up front but their goaltending has been an issue all season long and because of that, Colorado is a lock to win this series.

COLORADO IN FIVE

#P2 EDMONTON versus #P3 LOS ANGELES

The Kings were without the services of forwards Kevin Fiala and Gabriel Vilardi in game one but still managed to win 4-3 in OT.

It was a character win for the Kings on the road without two of their top forwards but can they withstand that hit over the course of a series?

Connor McDavid leads a high-octane Oiler attack that features the likes of Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. That quartet produced 189 goals between them and will be difficult to stop.

The Kings will give the Oilers all they can handle and we need to pick an upset somewhere.

LOS ANGELES IN SEVEN

#C2 DALLAS versus #C3 MINNESOTA

Much like Los Angeles, the Wild went on the road and won game one 3-2 in OT but asking goaltender Filip Gustavsson to stop 52 of 54 shots on a nightly basis isn’t a recipe for success.

The Stars have tremendous scoring depth of front with some proven playoff performers sprinkled in. They’re also rock solid on the back end as well.

Minnesota can’t match up with Dallas’ firepower and will need Gustavsson – or Marc-Andre Fleury – to steal this series for them.

That’s not going to happen.

DALLAS IN SIX

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#A1 BOSTON versus #WC2 FLORIDA

Where do we start with the Bruins?

How about a record-breaking 135-point season that was fueled by an offence that finished second in goals with 301 while allowing a league-low of only 174 goals?

This team also doesn’t know what the brake pedal is having won eight games in a row to end the season.

The only concern I have with teams that dominate like this is what happens when they face some adversity. It’s unfamiliar territory for teams that cruise through a regular season such as the Bruins. The only blip for Boston this year was losing three of four before the All-Star break and then the first game after.

The Bruins won game one by a score of 3-1, so they’re on their way.

BOSTON IN FIVE

#A2 TORONTO VERSUS #A3 TAMPA BAY

It’s scary to think the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won a playoff series was in 2004 when they beat the Ottawa Senators in the opening round.

Fret not Leaf Nation, your drought ends this season.

The Lightning are finally paying the price for going to the Stanley Cup Finals the last three years. The intensity of 71 post-season games has taken its toll on this group and the salary cap has hurt Tampa’s Bay’s depth – particularly on the back end.

They still have a championship pedigree and Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes, so they won’t be an easy out but the Leafs finally get it done.

TORONTO IN SIX

#M1 CAROLINA VERSUS #WC1 ISLANDERS

Big things were expected from the Hurricanes this year and the depth of the club was tested by losing Max Pacioretty at the start of the season but in the end this club still managed to rack up 113 points and win their division.

That depth will be tested even further now that Andrei Svechnikov is unavailable as well but the Canes have too much talent to lose to the Islanders.

Out since February 18th, Matt Barzal returned to the Islanders lineup in game one but the Hurricanes still prevailed 2-1.

Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin will probably keep the Isles in this series by maybe stealing a game or two but Carolina will advance.

CAROLINA IN SIX

#M2 NEW JERSEY VERSUS #M3 RANGERS

This cross-town rivalry should be one of the better first round matchups.

New Jersey has plenty of firepower having scored 291 goals – good for fourth-best in the league – while the Rangers only allowed 219 – which was the fourth-best in the circuit.

On paper, the Devils have the advantage but the games are played on the ice.

The Rangers have added players such as Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko that know what it takes to win a Stanley Cup to a team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

The Devils, meanwhile, are making their first post-season appearance since 2018.

This will be a great series, but in the end, the Rangers and their experience prevail.

RANGERS IN SEVEN

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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