As the qualifying round rages on, I compiled predictions from my fellow Gone Puck Wild Contributors Brandon Quast and Dylan Loucks as well as Site Expert Lake Martin.
Here is our predictions for the qualifying round:
Edmonton Oilers (5) vs Chicago Blackhawks (12)
Aaron: Hawks in 5
— This will be a very interesting series to watch and this is my darkhorse selection in the Western Conference. The Oilers are very dependent on their starpower in Connor Mcdavid and Leon Draisaitl. Although, they have upgraded their roster with the acquisition of Athanasiou, who may be a defensive liability, but still provides the scoring touch and speed the Oilers were desiring. I believe the X-Factor for the Oilers in this series will be Kailer Yamamoto who notched 11 goals and 26 points in the last 27 games. Their goaltending is okay and they are provided with a ton of offense from the back end.
The Blackhawks are not as dependent on their starpower in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Hawks have the better depth with the likes of Alex Debrincat, Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach and Alexander Nylander. They also have a couple key young defenseman in Connor Murphy, Olli Maatta and Slater Koekkoek. Corey Crawford had a Vezina caliber season which gives the Hawks the goaltending edge.
Lake: Oilers in 4
— Kane and Toews will force a game four but will ultimately fall short. Their rookies will not be able to keep up with the premiere talent in McDavid and Draisaitl.
Dylan: Hawks in 5
Brandon: Oilers in 4
Nashville Predators (6) vs Arizona Coyotes (11)
Aaron: Coyotes in 5
— The Nashville Predators are a scary team on paper with the likes of Fillip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Victor Arvidsson, Mikael Granlund, Calle Jarnkrok and Craig Smith. For some reason, this team has been unable to make significant damage in the postseason despite having three first-pairing defenseman in Josi, Ellis and Ekholm. The Predators also have a solid netminder in Juuse Saros.
The Arizona Coyotes are the exact opposite, they are a younger team that relies on elite goaltending and their youth. The Coyotes youth includes Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak, Conor Garland, Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer and Barrett Hayton. They also have veterans Taylor Hall, Phil Kessel and Derek Stepan. Their defensive core is nothing special but is led by Jakob Chychrun who was by far their best defenseman. They also have the best goalie tandem in my opinion in the NHL in Kuemper-Raanta.
Lake: Coyotes in 4
— After adding Matt Duchene, they (the Predators) have been very underwhelming. Granlund got hot down the stretch, but does that hold? Goaltenders were not much to write home about. If they win the series, it will be because of the blue line and their top-six.
Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall will come alive in this series. The Coyotes goaltending is so good with Kuemper and Raanta and their blueline bends but hardly breaks.
Dylan: Predators in 5
Brandon: Predators in 4
Vancouver Canucks (7) vs Minnesota Wild (10)
Aaron: Wild in 5
— Everyone knows that Vancouver has the more elite forward group with the likes of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser Tyler Toffoli, Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. Their defense is nothing special with the exception of star defenseman Quinn Hughes. However, they did get Vezina-Caliber goaltending from Jakob Markstrom, something that is a clear advantage for the Canucks.
The Wild are not a good team when it comes to generating offense but the Wild’s shooting percentage ranked second this season in the NHL. So, the Wild were a very good finishing team. The Wild have a lot of depth and will likely depend on Kevin Fiala. The Wild have one of the best defensive cores in the NHL, a clear advantage for the Wild in the series. The Wild’s biggest and only hole is goaltending, or for better terms, lack of goaltending.
Lake: Wild in 5
— This will be the best series to watch in the West, these teams had some bad blood in the regular season as well. They tied in goal-scoring, nine goals a piece. If the Wild can get decent goaltending, the Canucks will have to really battle. If the Canucks youngsters start hot, it will be hard for the Wild to keep pace. But playoff Parise, the resurgence of Dynamite Matt Dumba, the continuation of game-breaker Kevin Fiala will push the Wild over the edge.
Dylan: Wild in 4
Brandon: Wild in 5
Calgary Flames (8) vs Winnipeg Jets (9)
Aaron: Jets in 4
— The Flames are an interesting team, they have the firepower up front with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm yet they seemingly all had down years this season. Their defensive core is solid with the likes of Giordano, Brodie and Anderssson. It will be interesting who goes in between the pipes.
The Jets are solid up front with Scheifele, Laine, Connor, Ehlers and Wheeler. The Jets defense is incredibly concerning but they have the best goaltender in the NHL this season in Connor Hellebuyck.
Lake: Jets in 4
— Calgary was an interesting squad in the regular season. After winning the division last year and upset by Colorado in the playoffs, they never got it going in the regular season. Winnipeg will go as far as Hellebuyck will take them. He is a monster in net. Their offense is fantastic, it just matters what happens on the backend.
Dylan: Jets in 4
Brandon: Jets in 3
Pittsburgh Penguins (5) vs Montreal Canadiens (12)
Aaron: Penguins in 3
— The Penguins are one of the best teams in the NHL. Their offense is stacked with the likes of Sideny Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust. Their defense is led by Kris Letang and rookie John Marino. Their goaltending situation is interestin, Jarry is clearly the better goaltender analytically but because Murray is a Stanley-Cup Champion, he will likely get the start in game 1.
The Canadiens are a very good offensive team, very good at generating offense but have a lack of finishing ability. They are led by Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi and Phillip Danault. They have a good defensive core but Carey Price has not been an elite goalie for a couple years now, so I doubt he wins the series, maybe steals a win.
Lake: Penguins in 3
— The Penguins are stacked from top to bottom. Their biggest question mark is in net, but I think Jarry/Murray get it done. Price will have to stand on his head to give the Canadiens a shot.
Dylan: Penguins in 4
Brandon: Penguins in 3
Carolina Hurricanes (6) vs New York Rangers (11)
Aaron: Rangers in 5
— This is a very intriguing series and should be very fun to watch. I give the Hurricanes the offensive and defensive edge but I am still picking the Rangers in this one. I think Panarin, Zibanejad, Fox and Shesterkin will steal this series from the Hurricanes.
Lake: Hurricanes in 5
— This is a must watch series in the East. Carolina looks like such a fun team top to bottom and could challenge anybody if it gets rolling. The Rangers have Panarin and Zibanejad who were otherworldly after the All Star Break.
Dylan: Rangers in 5
Brandon: Hurricanes in 5
New York Islanders (7) vs Florida Panthers (10)
Aaron: Panthers in 5
— The Florida Panthers are led by their two elite Jonathan Huberdeau, Alexander Barkov and Mike Hoffmman up front while Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad lead the backend. Sergei Bobrovsky will be the biggest question mark going into the series and whether he can become the elite goaltender he once was.
The Islanders will rely on their systems and defensive game. They will also need solid goaltending from Varlamov to beat the Panthers.
Lake: Panthers in 5
— The Islanders play a stout defensive style and the Panthers are a fairly balanced squad. I think playoff Bob comes in and steals the series.
Dylan: Panthers in 4
Brandon: Islanders in 3
Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
Aaron: Blue Jackets in 5
— The Toronto Maple Leafs have an elite group of players including Matthews, Marner, Tavares and Nylander. They also two elite defenseman in Morgan Reilly and Jake Muzzin. They have an elite goaltender in Freddy Andersen but he had an awful season so that remains a big question mark.
The Blue Jackets are a really good team defensive team with solid goaltending. They are not a good team offensively which will be the biggest aspect whether or not they can compete with a team like Columbus. Columbus was injured practically all year and yet ended where they are, their defense and goaltending helps them upset the Leafs.
Lake: Leafs in 5
— This series is the epitome of skill vs will. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a team more talented than the Maple Leafs, but their work ethic was in question throughout the season. They look fresh and ready to go. The Leafs got to rest, rehab, and reset. It’ll be a battle.
Dylan: Columbus in 5
Brandon: Leafs in 4