On May 26 we have introduced to the NHL’s Return to Play Plan and the resulting eight best-of-five qualifying round series’. Here is a quick rundown of the matchups that the league has confirmed if they are able to return to play successfully this summer:
Along with the hockey world, we at CanucksArmy felt a buzz about each matchup and thought it would be a fun idea to make our picks for each. It’s really as simple as that, so let’s get into it, starting out west.
Canucks (-135) vs Wild (+115)
|David Quadrelli||Canucks in 5|
|Stephan Roget||Canucks in 4|
|Jason Jhutti||Canucks in 4|
|Dani Huntley||Canucks in 5|
|Faber||Canucks in 4|
|Michael Wagar||Canucks in 5|
It’s not the flashiest matchup Canuck fans could have asked for, but no one is complaining about the thought of meaningful hockey games.
Vegas books lists the Canucks as favourites and so do we. The staff was unanimous in their picks, citing health, offensive firepower and trust in Jacob Markstrom as prominent reasons for their picks.
Quads: Although John Garrett of Sportsnet came on Canucks Conversation and predicted a three game sweep in favour of the Canucks, I think these are two relatively evenly matched teams and will go the distance.
Stephan: See our recent ‘Preparing for the Wild‘ series for more details, but the Canucks will come out on top in offence, goaltending, and the series overall.
Jason: It won’t be a sweep, but with a healthy Markstrom and Tanev in the lineup and the fact the Canucks traditionally are a team that starts strong, will all be significant factors and too much for the ageing Wild.
Dani: Captain Bo Horvat will make the most of his long-awaited return to the playoffs. He will deliver the Canucks a first-round win by elevating his game to a level we have not seen before. Markstrom will continue his stellar play from the regular season and steal a game or two for.
Faber: I don’t think this series is as close as some believe. Goaltending for the Canucks has carried them this season and the combination of that and their top scorers will be too much for the Wild to overcome. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Canucks sweep.
Michael: The Canucks brush off some early nerves and the top end talent and the powerplay takes over for the Canucks and they never look back after a shaky start. It will be interesting to see what Boeser, Markstrom and Hughes bring in their first playoff appearances, but it will be Pettersson as your series MVP.
Flames (-115) vs Jets (-105)
|David Quadrelli||Jets in 5|
|Stephan Roget||Jets in 5|
|Jason Jhutti||Jets in 4|
|Dani Huntley||Flames in 5|
|Faber||Flames in 5|
|Michael Wagar||Flames in 4|
This one had the staff split right down the middle. The Jets x-factor in goal couldn’t be ignored as he played a part in each of our decisions. The only certainty in this series is the uncertainty our group feels towards it.
Quads: This one is almost a tossup for me, but I think in the end, Connor Hellebuyck will be able to lead the Jets into the best of 16 round.
Stephan: This is going to be the classic knockdown, drag-out first round fight that one team barely crawls out of, only to get smoked in the next round.
Jason: The fans are in store for an old school hockey series, but the edge goes with Vezina candidate, Hellebuyck , between the pipes and the Jets flying past the flames.
Dani: After a shaky season, Johnny Gaudreau will be a major factor for the Flames in this series. On the flip side, Patrik Laine will be invisible. “If I look at myself and think about myself, my game is probably going to look terrible because I haven’t skated for two months,” he said. Despite Hellebuyck’s incredible performance, the Flames will defeat the Jets in game 5 OT.
Faber: The Jets have a huge advantage in goaltending, but Hellebuyck will have to have not skipped a beat over this break for his team to relinquish the Flames. This one could really go either way. If it were a seven game series, I’d bet it goes the distance.
Michael: Everything outside of the blue paint has looked bad for the Jets this season. Hellebuyck stealing a game wouldn’t shock me, but I don’t like betting on goalies. Stable defence from the Flames wins out.
Oilers (-160) vs Hawks (+140)
|David Quadrelli||Oilers in 4|
|Stephan Roget||Oilers in 4|
|Jason Jhutti||Oilers in 5|
|Dani Huntley||Oilers in 3|
|Faber||Oilers in 4|
|Michael Wagar||Oilers in 4|
With 24 teams making the qualifying round, you’re bound to get a few lopsided matchups, and it appears our staff thinks this is one of them. Before reading our brief thoughts on the series, I’m sure you can guess which two players tilted the scales for many of us.
Quads: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl are going to be hungry when they return to play. Coming off an MVP calibre performance in the regular season from both superstars, I think if Edmonton gets even just okay goaltending, they’ll come away with this one.
Stephan: The Hawks’ veteran poise buys them a win, but that’s it. Really, they have no business being anywhere near the postseason this year.
Jason: With likely Hart trophy winner, Draisaitl, and McDavid at the helm its hard to bet against them in a best of five. While the Hawks do have championship and playoff pedigree to steal a few games, the Oilers will win in five.
Dani: McDavid and Draisaitl are poised to light up a Blackhawks team that gives up a lot of quality shots and features inconsistent goaltending. The Blackhawks are fortunate to be here and only made it thanks to a frail Pacific.
Faber: The Oilers will have to outscored the Blackhawks to beat them in this one. Chicago does have some proven winners on their roster and if they could challenge the Oilers top line they will stand a chance.
Michael: The Hawks are one of the bigger pretenders in the qualifying round and the most likely western team to be swept. A rested Connor and Leon could make the Hawks core look older than everyone already thinks they are.
Predators (-130) vs Coyotes (+110)
|David Quadrelli||Coyotes in 4|
|Stephan Roget||Predators in 5|
|Jason Jhutti||Predators in 5|
|Dani Huntley||Coyotes in 4|
|Faber||Predators in 4|
|Michael Wagar||Predators in 4|
Arizona will hope to bring a more inspired game than they did for much of the season, while Nashville looks for answers on their special teams and in goal. Earlier this week, Preds head coach, John Hynes, said this of his goaltending duo “I think both players have to come back with the mindset that they want to have the starting job. We believe both guys can help us win, but it’s going to be a bit of a competition.”
Question marks on both sides seem to have our staff picks split.
Quads: Like the Oilers, I think the Coyotes are going to be hungry to beat a proven playoff team like the Preds, and I think they’ll pull it off. This is Taylor Hall’s last showcase for teams before hitting free agency, so you can bet on him having a great series.
Stephan: This one is a tough call. The Coyotes have nice pieces, but they haven’t gelled together yet. The Preds seem more cohesive, which will help them prevail.
Jason: This one is tough. The series will go the distance and depend on the play of Pekka Rinne and what shape Phil Kessel shows up in. Overall, the experience on the back end for Nashville will help them move on to the round of 16.
Dani: The Coyotes will defeat the Preds with solid goaltending and the ability to restrict opponents defensively thanks to their veteran defensive core of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. The Coyotes will win both special teams battles and the series.
Faber: Nashville is one of the sleeping giants for me. I think the break benefits them a lot. Coyotes are a budding team but I think they will be in the conversation next year. This play-in will be a battle of been there done that vs new kids on the block.
Michael: I’ve convinced myself that the break from hockey favours the veterans. They benefit more from the rest and in this short, intense 5 game series, I’ll take the team who’s played more of these type of games.
Leafs (-165) vs Jackets (+145)
|David Quadrelli||Jackets in 5|
|Stephan Roget||Jackets in 4|
|Jason Jhutti||Jackets in 4|
|Dani Huntley||Jackets in 5|
|Faber||Jackets in 5|
|Michael Wagar||Leafs in 5|
On paper, this should be the Leafs series to lose, but the playoff history of these two teams has almost all of the CanucksArmy staff believing the scrappy Blue Jackets send the Leafs packing. All the pressure is on the Leafs and rookie head coach, Sheldon Keefe to pull his historically underachieving group over the hump.
Quads: Nothing would make Canucks fans happier than seeing Boston not make the playoffs, but they’re already in, so maybe the consolation prize is seeing the Leafs eliminated in the play-in round. If there’s one thing we learned about John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets, it’s to not underestimate them — and I’m sure J.T. Miller and the rest of his teammates in Tampa will tell you the same thing.
Stephan: The Blue Jackets are sneaky-good, and have a few players that can take over the series. Of all teams in the play-ins, the Leafs are under the most pressure, and we all know how well they usually handle that.
Jason: After losing everyone during the off-season, the Blue Jackets still found a way to be competitive under Tortorella. That, and the fat that Frederik Anderson struggles to find his groove after time off is why it will Columbus, and not Boston taking out the Leafs.
Dani: The Leafs don’t have to take on the Bruins in the first round. However, they still won’t make it out on top. Tortorella will have the Jackets fired up and ready to play a physical, feisty style that the Leafs will struggle against.
Faber: The Leafs do not match up well against the play style of the Blue Jackets. I think we will see a couple overtime games in this series and one team will clutch up. To me, that team is the Blue Jackets
Michael: I can’t ignore the talent in Toronto, which is why I have them in 5. However, it will really come down to who dictates play as I think the two teams will want to play with very different style and pace.
Penguins (-220) vs Canadiens (+180)
|David Quadrelli||Penguins in 4|
|Stephan Roget||Penguins in 3|
|Jason Jhutti||Penguins in 4|
|Dani Huntley||Penguins in 4|
|Faber||Penguins in 3|
|Michael Wagar||Penguins in 3|
The addition of Jason Zucker at the deadline only tilts the scales further in what may the most lopsided matchup. The Habs will be praying for a miracle to overcome the depth of the Penguins. We aren’t seeing an outcome where Montreal wins more than one game.
Quads: Now completely healthy, the Penguins are simply a deeper team than the Habs. I think Carey Price will steal one game for his team preventing the sweep, but I don’t see them pulling off the series upset.
Stephan: There’s got to be at least one sweep with series’ only lasting five games, and the smart money is on this series. Habs shouldn’t be here, and the Pens have been here before.
Jason: A healthy Sidney Crosby will take out his boyhood team in 4 games. It would have been a sweep if it wasn’t for Carey Price in net for the Canadiens.
Dani: In the battle of two Canadian superstars, Crosby will get the better of Price. Ultimately, the experience and overall skill of the Pens will defeat the Canadiens who finished with a 31-31-9 regular season record and are just happy to be included.
Faber: I don’t like the Canadiens in the playoffs and I really don’t like the Canadiens against the Penguins in this play-in game. Pens sweep this one.
Michael: These teams were separated by 15 points with Pittsburgh playing 2 fewer games in the shortened season. Need I say more?
Islanders (-110) vs Panthers (+110)
|David Quadrelli||Islanders in 5|
|Stephan Roget||Panthers in 5|
|Jason Jhutti||Panthers in 5|
|Dani Huntley||Islanders in 4|
|Faber||Panthers in 4|
|Michael Wagar||Islanders in 4|
Another series that has our staff split and wondering if the Islanders can pull of what they did last post-season. They don’t play a pretty game, but their system of keeping teams to the outside and relying on goaltending and efficient counter attacks has worked in the past.
On the other end, the pressure is on for management and their big ticket goalie to show results. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers, who sold at the deadline, can use that pressure as healthy motivation.
Quads: New York is a team who has Barry Trotz behind the bench, and I like the style of game they play. They performed well in the playoffs a year ago, and I think they’ll do it again.
Stephan: Another tough call, but the Panthers currently have low expectations. They could use that to their advantage after this lengthy reset.
Jason: Combine the experience of Joel Quenneville with Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Sergi Bobrovsky, who has something to prove, and this could the year the Panthers make a run in the playoffs.
Dani: The Islanders have displayed defensive prowess under head coach Barry Trotz. They will make the Panthers lives difficult by obstructing the neutral zone. Port Moody legend, Mathew Barzal, will lead the Islanders in points.
Faber: I haven’t seen a lot of either of these teams this season but I like the way this Panthers roster stacks up against the defence heavy Islanders. The Panthers have the defence to limit the Islanders but also have some great scorers that can get enough past Semyon Varlamov.
Michael: There may be no team I dislike watching more than the Islanders, but there’s no denying that they’re a well coached machine. The Islanders will grind out the series win, while being outshot badly.
Hurricanes (-135) vs Rangers (+115)
|David Quadrelli||Hurricanes in 5|
|Stephan Roget||Rangers in 5|
|Jason Jhutti||Hurricanes in 3|
|Dani Huntley||Rangers in 5|
|Faber||Hurricanes in 5|
|Michael Wagar||Hurricanes in 3|
The young talent and pace that both teams pay with gives this series the potential to be one of the most entertaining. If it’s not on your radar, it should be. The sheer amount of scoring chances the Canes produce, combined with a Hart candidate will provide plenty of fireworks from two teams that don’t get a lot of attention in our market.
Quads: Again, I’m going with the team who was in the playoffs last year and performed relatively well. I think it’ll be close thanks to Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibenajed, but I’m going with the Hurricanes in the end.
Stephan: Going against the gut here. Rangers are the exact sort of team that surprises in the postseason – young, fast, and full of attitude. Still hope they lose, though, because of Tony DeAngelo.
Dani: This will be a close back and forth series. The Hurricanes have their goaltending duo and Dougie Hamilton healthy for the playoffs. However, the pure skill of the Breadman, aka the rightful Hart trophy winner, Panarin, will not be denied. He will single-handedly carry the Rangers into the next round.
Faber: I like the young group in Carolina and I think this will be the beginning of a franchise that will consistently be in the playoffs for years to come.
Michael: It will be another post-season for Carolina’s up and comers to put their names on the map. I think Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov will storm past the Rangers.
Now that you’ve read the bold predictions of the CanucksArmy staff, let’s hear yours!
Odds via Bet365.