The Qualifying Round is set to begin this weekend, and we’ve got some interesting matchups on deck, to say the least. And part of the fun of the few days heading into those series is getting to toss around ideas and make some projections and guesses as to who’s going to comes out on top. We’re going to start by looking at the Eastern Conference play-in matchups, and some of our staff have made their picks for the winners of those four series. Let’s get into!
Stats below are at 5-on-5 and are provided by Natural Stat Trick.
No. 5 Penguins: 40-23-6. 52.25 GF%. 50.86 CF%
No. 12 Canadiens: 31-31-9. 50.87 GF%. 54.43 CF%
Ryan Q.: As funny as it would be to see the Penguins lose to Montreal, I have a hard time believing that will actually happen. In a way, this is kind of a good thing, because I know for a fact that Pittsburgh will win the draft lottery if they lose to the Habs.
Craig: Yeah, it would be hilarious to see the Pens lose in the first round but I don’t see it happening. Especially since they are getting Jake Guentzel back. Also we don’t want them to have a shot at picking Alexis Lafreniere.
Kurt: Y’know ... I mean ... I want to ... well ... the Habs are a team that could give Pittsburgh problems! I really think that! They’re a fairly smart team that doesn’t make a ton of mistakes and they have some depth. But I also don’t see them having the top-of-the-lineup strength to handle both Crosby and Malkin. Pittsburgh advances in ... five.
Mike: Montreal had COVID-19 issues/concerns early on at the outset of training camp 2.0 and really don’t want to miss out on a chance at Lafreniere, do they? Besides pride, they got 99 reasons not to be there. Penguins sweep ‘em.
Maddie: I’m watching the Canadiens play their exhibition game right now and oh man do they not look good. I think it’s possible that Price steals a game for them, but I think that even with a Sidney Crosby who isn’t at full speed, the Habs are going to be outmatched.
Kyle: In all honesty, this series basically depends on which Carey Price the Habs get. If they get “best goalie on the planet” Price, I can easily see them winning this series. If they don’t, then I think Pittsburgh walks right over them. I think we see the latter, and the Pens win in four with Price stealing one game.
Drew: Neither team are very deep, but it’s obvious that Pittsburgh have the better top end talent. They’ll obviously all be rusty, but I can’t see Montreal having much of a shot here. Penguins in four.
Brad: I do think that the Penguins take this series due to star power alone. However ... Crosby didn’t look very Crosby-like in their exhibition game against the Flyers, and Murray didn’t have a great season. Those are two big factors. Don’t count out the Habs.
Ryan G.: The Canadiens have no business being anywhere near the playoffs. Period. Even with Sidney Crosby getting back up to speed, the Penguins have enough talent to take down the Canadiens. Carey Price in Montreal’s only hope, but I think the Penguins sweep.
Kelly: If you’d asked me a week ago, I’d have said Pens take this easy. And I still think the Penguins take this, but after seeing them in the exhibition against the Flyers and seeing that Sidney Crosby is clearly not 100%... I dunno. It makes you stop and consider a bit longer than you might have otherwise. There’s also the goalie situation, in that they don’t really know who is the better of the two and neither has been particularly remarkable. That said, the Habs aren’t even going to try, they’re trying to win that lottery. Pens in 4.
No. 6 Hurricanes: 38-25-5. 50.90 GF%. 54.30 CF%
No. 11 Rangers: 37-28-5. 51.19 GF%. 46.73 CF%
Ryan Q.: Justin Williams is back. Therefore, the Hurricanes are going to beat the Rangers in five games, and Williams will earn a new nickname — Mr. Game 5.
Craig: I’m going with the Hurricanes here. I think they’ll be able to control the game and I don’t trust the Rangers’ defense. I think Igor Shesterkin could help to keep them in games and possibly steal some, but I think the Canes are going to be spending a lot of time in the o zone and New York won’t be able to handle it.
Kurt: Artemi Panarin and Mika “Mike” Zibanejad are terrifying but I’m pretty sure that after them the Hurricanes have the twelve or so next best players in this series. They have enough defensive depth to throw at those guys that they’ll have some trouble really breaking through in this series, and Carolina’s all-around depth makes me think they’re going to roll whenever those guys aren’t on the ice. I hate — hate — showing confidence in a team with Petr Mrazek in net over a team with Igor Shesterkin in net, but still, ‘Canes in four.
Mike: Echoing what Kurt said above: Panarin and Zibanejad. Couple that with them shooting on Mrazek and man Carolina is going to need all that depth to get past the Fighting Train Stations. They’ll do it, but it’ll take five games.
Craig: Why on God’s green earth would you echo anything Kurt says? (Owned.)
Kurt: im not owned! im not owned!
Kyle: I desperately hope the Canes win because man this Rangers team is just annoying. It’s literally just Panarin and Zibanejad carrying a corpse of a hockey team. I’m with Mike, Canes in five.
Drew: I’m in the vast minority here, but I think the Rangers win this series. Carolina have better depth but if Panarin and company can translate their success in the later stages of the regular season here, they’ll give quite the challenge. I also don’t trust Petr Mrazek to perform well in the clutch. It’ll be very very close but Rangers in five.
Brad: I tend to lean towards the team with the most star power, given that those are the players that can steal games, and in this series, that’s the Rangers. Sadly, I do think Panarin, Zibanejad, and Shesterkin can take three-out-of-five here. But go Canes.
Maddie: Brad and Drew, no thanks. I do think goaltending is going to be something of an x factor here, and I wouldn’t be super surprised if whoever the Rangers put in goal gets hot and just wills the team into the first round. But, top to bottom, I feel better about the Hurricanes. I think it very well could go to five games, but I’ve got the Canes.
Ryan G.: This is going to be an interesting series. The Rangers looked like they were fading in March, but now they have a second life and a real chance to make the playoffs. However, the Hurricanes are pretty deep and should have enough to edge them out in five games.
Kelly: Literally the only thing about this series that makes me consider an upset is the Canes’ goaltending situation. That said, I want to believe that a more balanced team like the Canes wins over the Rangers 2-good-players-and-a-bunch-of-trash model, but this is hockey, folks. Also the Dougie Hamilton thing isn’t great for the Canes! He’s pretty good! Thinking Canes in 5.
No. 7 Islanders: 35-23-10. 48.65 GF%. 46.67 CF%
No. 10 Panthers: 35-26-8. 50.64 GF%. 49.79 CF%
Ryan Q.: Sergei Bobrovsky was a total disaster during the regular season, and for reasons I still don’t understand, the Islanders are actually pretty good. I think Mathew Barzal is going to have a field day.
Craig: I guess the Islanders. The Panthers love giving up goals and Bob is a big part of that. New York also plays a more structured game and I think Florida’s inability to do anything defensively will cost them.
Kurt: I have no feelings about this series whatsoever other than that I would very much enjoy seeing Sergei Bobrovsky and Joel Quenneville get dunked on, quickly. Which, since I want to see it, means it’s gonna be Panthers in a long, boring, drawn-out five.
Mike: Kurt is wrong. Barry Trotz will somehow get this sorry bunch to the next round because the Panthers just can’t be good at this sport and it would rip a hole in the space time continuum if they were to win a playoff series since it happens like once every 20 years. Islanders in four.
Kyle: I can’t think of a series of hockey that sounds more boring than Panthers vs. Islanders. I hope Florida wins because I want to avoid any chance of facing Barry Trotz voodoo magic, but I think that voodoo gets him and the Isles by Florida in five.
Drew: Somehow, the Islanders continue to play good defensive hockey, and I think that’ll translate well to this series. They won’t let in many goals against, and with Sergei Bobrovsky looking like a traffic cone in net this year, I think the Islanders’ young guns will pick the Panthers apart. NYI to sweep.
Brad: So I am watching the Panthers play right now, and they are making me want to say that the Islanders will sweep them. They look really bad! At the same time I don’t think the Islanders are good either. I don’t know, and quite frankly I don’t care. I’ll go with... the Islanders.
Maddie: Yeah, in any other matchup I really wouldn’t trust the Islanders, but the Panthers are just really not very good. I think the Panthers might be able to win one game, but I think that’s going to be about it. Isles in 4.
Ryan G.: I keep going back to the Panthers selling at the trade deadline when thinking about their playoff hopes. But then again, I don’t think the Islanders are that good either. Sergei Bobrovsky will likely be the difference maker in the series, but I see the Islanders winning in four games.
Kelly: lol the Panthers are a fucking joke, Isles sweep this easy.
No. 8 Maple Leafs: 36-25-9. 50.16 GF%. 52.03 CF%
No. 9 Blue Jackets: 33-22-15. 50.61 GF%. 49.11 CF%
Ryan Q.: Easy one. Leafs beat Columbus, then immediately lose to Boston in the next round. We know how this movie ends.
Craig: What Ryan said.
Brad: Thirding this.
Kurt: Imagine the Leafs losing to the Columbus Hockey Blue Jackets in a playoff round. Imagine the content that would be created if that event were to transpire. It would bring us content on a scale hitherto undreamt of. We, as a universe, are not ready for that. Even if Columbus is bringing back like half a dozen guys that got injured during the regular season. Leafs in four. I’m sorry.
Mike: How quickly people write off the Fighting Tortorella’s even after they owned the living crap out of the Lighting in the first round last playoffs. Columbus is going to make the Leafs sweat in this series, and we’ll find out what their playoff mettle is like. But in a long series, the Leafs’ top-end talent is too much for the BJ’s —Toronto in five.
Kyle: Oh look it’s the stupid cannon team that somehow hung around this year despite losing Panarin and Bobrovsky, who now stinks (smells bad). Toronto wins because they just have to, right?
Drew: I think the Elvis magic will wear out and the likes of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Tavares will pick apart Columbus’ defense, which has good top end talent but lacks depth. Toronto wins in four games.
Maddie: I’m not going to lie, a little part of me is afraid of the Blue Jackets because I remember what they were able to do to the Lightning last year. But that was still a different team, and I really like this Leafs team. I think this could well go to five games, but I think the Leafs are just so much more skilled than the Blue Jackets, and I think that’s going to win out.
Ryan G.: Torts pulls some Torts magic and the Blue Jackets take down the Maple Leafs, causing panic in Toronto. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, the Maple Leafs win the draft lottery. But really, Leafs in four.
Kelly: I need Toronto to win this because I cannot stand hearing about John Tortorella and the Blue Jackets for one single second longer. The Leafs are a better team, they just need their stupid goalie to hold his shit together and hope that whichever random Belarussian the Beej found on the street somewhere and threw into net doesn’t play lights-out and make Torts look good again. I don’t like the Blue Jackets. Go Leafs, Leafs in 4.