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First Round Predictions: Eastern Conference

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Spoiler alert: not everyone picks the Lightning.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are only one day away! As you may recall, earlier this year the Defending Big D staff made our predictions for the 2018-19 season. Naturally, most of them were dead wrong, so we figured we’d offer ourselves a chance at redemption this postseason.

Yesterday, we made our predictions for the the first round in the Western Conference. Today, we’ll wrap it up with the teams in the Eastern Conference. Once again, we’ll include a final tally for each series so you can see who we collectively favor for each series.

Washington Capitals (Metropolitan 1) vs Carolina Hurricanes (Wild Card 2)

Taylor: While I love the feel good story of Carolina making it into the postseason after a 10-year drought, facing the defending champions is a tough draw. Washington’s been there before, and I think they’ll dispatch Carolina with ease. Capitals in 5

Robert: This series might be the most entertaining one of all. Capitals in 7

Kathleen: You know you want the “bunch of jerks” to win, and you may even be willing to give up another Alex Ovechkin “Summer of Cellying” to see it. Hurricanes in 7

Logan: Will the Capitals be able to make it to the Stanley Cup Final a second time? If Ovechkin has anything to say about it, then the answer is “да.” Carolina stormed through the East to get their first playoff spot in nine years. Prepare for stormy tensions on the ice and more than a few heated tempers. Hurricanes in 7

Derek: The defending champions might seem like the odds-on favorites here, but there’s a certain magic to this Hurricanes team. Despite their overall lack of playoff experience, they’re going to stun a Capitals team that’s still feeling a bit of a Cup hangover. Hurricanes in 7

Wes: Does last year’s win doom the Capitals to complacency (more realistically how bad does losing Michal Kempny harm the defense)? Do you believe in the Storm Surge? As much fun as it could be, the Capitals weather an early storm to advance. Capitals in 6

Tyler: You can’t help but root for the Hurricanes, who just snapped a nine-year playoff drought. But the Capitals are the defending champs for a reason, and are bringing back essentially the same exact team. Capitals in 5

Rob M: The Hurricanes are a good story and they are a good hockey team, clinching their first birth since 2009. However, the Capitals are balanced and tested, as they look to start a title defense. Capitals in 5

Jessica: Carolina has been one of this season’s Cinderella stories. Not everyone in the hockey world could get on board with their brand of “buying in,” but it paid off. Say all you want about defending Cup hangovers, because it’s real. This Capitals team has been feeling the aches and pains this year and will show it even more in the postseason. Hurricanes in 7

Mark: The Hurricanes have been a breath of fresh air this season. Another toss-up series, but the Capitals revert to the mean. Hurricanes in 6

Cody: I’m a big fan of the “jerks” over in Carolina. They play a high-paced game and can really create offense. I don’t think Holtby will be able to keep up over the series and this one goes the distance in surprising fashion. Hurricanes in 7

Final Tally: Hurricanes in 6, Capitals in 5

New York Islanders (Metropolitan 2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (Metropolitan 3)

Taylor: Just when you think the Penguins are done, they turn it on and make the playoffs yet again. The Islanders will get some extra something from fans as they return to the Nassau Coliseum, but I just don’t see them beating a Sidney Crosby-led Penguins squad. Penguins in 6

Robert: This might be the least entertaining series of all. Enjoy your Jennings Trophy, New York, if Lou Lamoriello even lets you display it publicly. Penguins in 4

Kathleen: This one really should be a barnburner; the Islanders and the Penguins balance each other’s strengths on a knife edge. But the Islanders have Robin Lehner, who has reinvented himself as an elite tender this season. Islanders in 7

Logan: Despite the loss of John Tavares, the Islanders came out of the gate swinging this season. Pittsburgh is making their 13th consecutive playoff appearance — an NHL record. Playoff fatigue and an aging roster will be Pittsburgh’s downfall against the hungry, fast Islanders. Islanders in 7

Derek: No matter how much the Penguins win, they just keep wanting more. Barry Trotz is getting everything he can out of his new team and that’s going to be true again in this series, but the Penguins are Terminator-like in their determination to keep winning, and still have the talent to make it happen. Penguins in 7

Wes: New York’s allowed the fewest goals in the league this season. That matters. Is it weird that I’d feel more comfortable were they the best offense and 21st-ranked defense? I feel like, in a series, the experienced Penguins offense will find just enough to do away with the upstart Islanders. For this year, at least. Penguins in 5

Tyler: Like Dallas, the Islanders have elite goaltending that can carry them far into the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, the Penguins have good goaltending and elite scoring. Robin Lehner can only steal so many games. Penguins in 6

Rob M: I have a feeling the Penguins are on the down swing of things this year, just not looking like the same team from years past. The Islanders are a defense juggernaut and have offense talent to compliment their strength. Islanders in 6

Jessica: It feels like the Penguins have become the new Chicago Blackhawks/Los Angeles Kings of a few years ago. Clawing their way to the postseason, winning two-in-a-row isn’t enough, and they’ll keep on charging. New York got a new spark, with Barry Trotz now at the helm and their young stars stepping up to the plate, and in this matchup, the youngsters win out. Islanders in 7

Mark: Pittsburgh with their top end skills will find ways to push through the Islander defense. Penguins in 6

Cody: The Islanders are an incredibly efficient defensive team with their goaltenders winning the Jennings Trophy for least amount of goals allowed. But, give me the names of their top three scorers. Exactly. Penguins in 6

Final Tally: Penguins 7, Islanders 4

Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic 1) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (Wild Card 2)

Taylor: The Lightning is the team to beat in the league, and the Blue Jackets are not the one that’s going to do it. Lightning in 4

Robert: Hockey punishes great offense with great misfortune. Blue Jackets in 4

Kathleen: The Lightning were a regular-season juggernaut, while the Blue Jackets grabbed the brass ring at almost literally the last minute. How far will momentum carry Columbus? I’ll guess it will be to two wins. Lightning in 6

Logan: Welcome to Tampa Bay, where lightning strikes with frequency, speed, and accuracy (Nikita Kucherov, we salute you). Columbus just barely clawed their into the playoffs after acquiring Matt Duchene, whose playoff curse may be a very, very real thing. Lightning in 5

Derek: Poor Columbus. They made all those moves to bolster their roster, only to draw one of the best regular season teams in NHL history in the opening round of the playoffs. Tampa Bay is just too good, and this year is their year. It’s going to be a long summer in Ohio. Lighting in 4

Wes: I admire the Blue Jackets for loading up at the deadline. It’s just a shame their reward is the best team in who knows how long. Playoff Jon Cooper is interesting, but not enough to make this the series his team wobbles. Lightning in 4

Tyler: After deciding to go all in at the trade deadline by trading for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, the Blue Jackets just barely made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Lightning meanwhile won 62 games, tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most in NHL history. This one won’t even be close. Lightning in 4

Rob M: I saw a tweet that mentioned Columbus sold the farm to play Tampa Bay in the first round. Well, they will get to restock the farm early for the next harvest. Lightning in 4

Jessica: This just goes to show that no matter how many big roster moves a team makes and that even if they make it into the dance by the skin of their teeth, the playoff setup will always come back to bite them in the backside. This matchup is all about goaltending and who can score more, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the league-leading Lightning come out on top. Lightning in 5

Mark: The Blue Jackets went all in for this playoff spot. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky aren’t nearly enough against the Lightning juggernaut. Lightning in 5

Cody: Imagine jeopardizing like three first round picks and two second round picks in trades and retention just to run into one of the best teams in the salary cap era. This wasn’t a good gamble. Get the brooms. Lightning in 4

Final Tally: Lightning 10, Blue Jackets 1

Boston Bruins (Atlantic 2) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic 3)

Taylor: To me, this matchup is going to be the closest, and I’m not sure there is a clear-cut edge for either team. I think it goes seven, and Toronto fans will see ghosts of “it was 4-1!” but rewrite history in their favor this time. Maple Leafs in 7

Robert: Robert has chosen not to predict this series, instead hoping for Giant Meteor in 4

Kathleen: The Bruins know the postseason inside and out, but the Leafs may have the talent in place to win a series this year. This series should be exciting either way. Maple Leafs in 7

Logan: It’s a repeat of last year’s Round One all over again. Toronto, however, have one very important on their roster — John Tavares. Boston’s young core can’t carry their older roster and aging defense all the way. Maple Leafs in 5

Derek: I would call this one of the best rivalries in hockey, except for the fact that it’s been pretty one-sided lately. The Leafs will get another chance to exorcise their Bruins demons, but will ultimately come up short. Despite intense media scrutiny, the Leafs will learn from the experience and come back better next year. Bruins in 5

Wes: I do not trust Frederik Andersen. Not one bit, and you cannot make me. Bruins in 6

Tyler: Toronto is one of a few teams to limp into the playoffs, while Boston has been arguably the second best team in the NHL since the new year. Can’t wait to see Mike Babcock’s seat get red hot. Bruins in 6

Rob M: This series is interesting — the Bruins come in as a formidable opponent with talent and experience everywhere. The Leafs are a young, skilled, hungry team, who are looking to take the next step. They take that step in a high powered seven-game thriller. Maple Leafs in 7

Jessica: As much as I would want to believe that Toronto can take another round against Boston and win, this just hasn’t been their season against the Bruins. Bottom line: the big, bad Bruins are going to take it against the streaky and discombobulated Maple Leafs. Bruins in 5

Mark: Long time foes, neither of which have an obvious advantage. My heart says Leafs, but my head says Bruins. Bruins in 7

Cody: Let me flip a coin. Bruins in 7

Final Tally: Bruins 6, Maple Leafs 4, Giant Meteor 1


Who do you all think will win in the first round? Are any of you brave enough to join Robert and pick Columbus over Tampa Bay? If so, are you actually serious about it? Comment below!