Yahoo Sports' guide to Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Look at it shimmer. (Getty)
Look at it shimmer. (Getty)

If you’re one of those people that belongs to 13 fantasy leagues, subscribes to notifications for all 31 teams on your Yahoo Sports app (good company man, here), and has the NHL Network programmed into “favourites” on the remote control in your living room, perhaps this post isn’t for you.

But if there are things in your life beyond the NHL, the following perspective could come in handy.

Here’s our guide to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Everyone’s chasing the Predators

Yeah, real courageous take to start, right?

Nashville, with its league-best 117 points, is unsurprisingly my pick for the league’s best team — and I outlined much of the reason why, here.

In short, the team has talent at all positions, unmatched balance and incredible consistency. And the competitive advantages the Predators will hold over opponents will only be strengthened by the experience this core gained from last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, and that unruly building they belong to.

Don’t you miss this

As far as the most anticipated series goes, the trendiest selection is Pittsburgh-Philadelphia. And why not? Nasty, goal-filled games really are the most fun — and those tend to break out when the Penguins and Flyers clash.

But it seems that for months now, the Bruins and Maple Leafs — two of the league’s elite teams — have been sizing each other up for the opening round. And with that anticipation, I have built up an expectation in my mind about what the series could be.

For the Bruins, and if we’re lucky, the cost of failing to optimize their path to the Stanley Cup Final with a pitiful effort versus the Panthers on the last day of the season is an out-and-out slugfest with the Leafs, who have the talent to test Boston’s remarkable shift-to-shift efficiencies.

Upset special

So it’s a live dog you want? You could do worse than siding with the Blue Jackets.

Columbus has two ways to threaten the Capitals, who are returning far less equipped than the two previous postseasons. The Blue Jackets carry the league’s hottest offence into the tournament, one that has churned out only fractionally less than four goals per game in their last 20. And second, given his ability to catch fire and the uncertain situation in the opposing crease (update: it’ll be Philipp Grubauer), Sergei Bobrovsky could steal the series on his own should Columbus’s attack happen to go cold.

Over in the west, a late-season skid cost the Sharks the No. 2 seed and home-ice advantage versus the Ducks. But Anaheim’s strength — goaltending that has allowed a paltry 2.09 goals per hour across its last 18 games — is uncertain given the injury status of John Gibson. This, and one of the friendlier paths to the final, might make San Jose worth a flier on a longer play.

Group of Death

It’s an unforgiving road for the Avalanche and Devils, but it has to be kinder than the ugliness bound to happen in the Metropolitan bracket.

X-Factors

Artemi Panarin — Who would have ever thought the Breadman would outshine Patrick Kane? Panarin’s franchise-record 82 points wound up being six better than his ‘ol pal in Chicago. A creative dynamic the Blue Jackets have desperately needed, Panarin could serve as the missing piece for a franchise still searching for its first-ever series victory.

Evander Kane — Both in and out of the lineup, we’ve seen the impact Kane has had on the Sharks. He had eight goals and five assists in his first 13 games after his acquisition at the trade deadline, helping lead San Jose on a 11-2 run. Since, the Sharks have just three points in the last six games — a run that overlaps with Kane managing an apparent hand injury.

Jeff Carter — It was a Herculean effort from Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty in leading the Kings back to the playoffs. But with 13 goals and 19 points in 21 games since returning to the lineup after missing most of the season with an ankle injury, Carter helped them over the line and could enormously impact the wide-open Pacific Division bracket.

The Penguins can’t do it again, can they?

Who can definitively say no?

After spending the first half of the season treading water at the bottom of the division, the Penguins kicked it into gear around Jan. 1 — almost like the plan all along after their second consecutive title season was to take the rest of 2017 off.

Since the calendar turned, the Penguins have led the NHL in goals and goal differential, and GM Jim Rutherford filled the most significant loss from their back-to-back championships with a centre that possesses more talent (and a much stronger postseason scoring pedigree) than Nick Bonino in former Senator Derick Brassard.

What sticks out as a significant concern for Pittsburgh is its goaltending. In his first season without Marc-Andre Fleury to lean on, Matt Murray has provided mostly mixed results and is recently coming off an injury.

What’s the deal with Vegas?

Gah. Who knows?

On one hand, you can’t fake a fifth-place finish across an 82-game season in the NHL. But on the other ….. like, how? With teams’ spare parts, this expansion club, which failed to perform at a particularly elite level by any measure, steadily stacked up 51 wins. That’s good for the first page on NHL.com when sorting for wins across over a century in the NHL. Incredible.

Anyway, in what appears to be a coin-flip opening-round matchup, Vegas’s waves of uptempo attack stack up well against a more plodding Kings team that depends so heavily on a small collection of superstars. If they can survive that, the challenge will increase with either the Sharks or Ducks, but it wouldn’t be until the third round that the Golden Knights would meet one of the NHL’s truly elite teams.

Unexpected like it was in the regular season, Vegas has the potential to extend this storybook start.

Pick section

Round 1

Lightning in four
Bruins in seven
Blue Jackets in six
Penguins in six

Predators in five
Jets in five
Golden Knights in six
Ducks in seven

Bracket

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