The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here. Below is a full preview of each first-round series, along with Stanley Cup predictions and advice on how to approach your fantasy hockey playoff pools.
Check out the FTN NHL Bet Tracker for Future bets and for picks throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I gave a few of my favorite bets for each series below as well as NHL Fantasy Hockey Playoff Pool targets.
Today's episode of Mean Streets
(8) Washington Capitals (+260) @ (1) Florida Panthers (-340)
WAS 4 @ FLA 5 OT FLA 3 @ WAS 4 WAS 4 @ FLA 5
GF: WAS 3.29 (10) / FLA 4.11 (1)
GF/60 (5v5): WAS 2.7 (11) / 3.33 (1)
GA: WAS 2.95 (13) / FLA 2.95 (12)
GA/60 (5v5): WAS 2.37 (11) / 2.46 (17)
PP: WAS 18.2% (23) / FLA 24.4% (5)
PK: WAS 80.4% (12) / FLA 79.5% (16)
SF/60 (5v5): WAS 30.08 (15) / FLA 37.25 (1)
SA/60 (5v5): WAS 28.32 (6) / FLA 29.22 (9)
HDCF/60 (5v5): WAS 10.49 (21) / FLA 14.29 (1)
HDCA/60 (5v5): WAS 10.71 (12) / FLA 11.65 (22)
Alex Ovechkin - 50 Evgeny Kuznetsov - 24 Tom Wilson - 24
Aleksander Barkov - 39 Sam Reinhart - 33 Anthony Duclair - 31
Alex Ovechkin - 90 Evgeny Kuznetsov - 78 John Carlson - 71
Jonathan Huberdeau - 115 Aleksander Barkov - 88 Sam Reinhart - 82
The case was made for the Florida Panthers in the preseason when I picked them at 22-1 to win the Stanley Cup. Their biggest question mark then is the same now as they head into the playoffs, and that’s goaltending. Last week, the status of Aaron Ekblad was the biggest concern Florida fans had, but he has a chance to play in Game 1 after practicing in full over the weekend.
Goaltending may be the reason the league’s best team isn’t crowned the champion at the end. However, their offense is too strong and the Capitals have been shaky in net as well. Both teams allowed 2.95 goals against this season, so let’s go with the team that led in goals, shots and high-danger chances at 5v5/60 this season. Florida also had a league-high 34 wins on home ice, so we have that going for them as well.
We saw 25 goals in three meetings between these two teams, so don’t be afraid to hammer the over button. Point, assist and goal props will be on full display in the FTN Bet Tracker. This Panthers team can score, so you’ll rack up plenty of points even if they get bounced in the second round. Toronto and Tampa Bay are the only two teams I see beating Florida in the Eastern Conference.
Prediction: Panthers in 6 Playoff Pool Targets: Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Claude Giroux, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, Aaron Ekblad, Alex Ovechkin, Anthony Duclair Deep Sleepers: Carter Verhaeghe, Mason Marchment Best Bet: FLA -1.5 (-150), FLA in 6 (+133) Top Goal Scorer: Aleksander Barkov +550, Jonathan Huberdeau +1300 (.5u), Claude Giroux +1900 (.5u)
(7) Boston Bruins (-105) @ (2) Carolina Hurricanes (-115)
Sebastian Aho - 81 Andrei Svechnikov - 69 Teuvo Teravainen - 65
This is one of the toughest series for me to call. We have a Carolina Stanley Cup future ticket in the FTN Bet Tracker, so I think we’re all rooting for CAR deep down, but the Frederik Andersen injury has me concerned. He’s already ruled out of Game 1, and if he doesn’t show up it could be the deciding factor, despite strong numbers from Antti Raanta (2.45 GAA & .912 SV%). Carolina finished with the best goals against average in the league (2.44), and they had the game’s best penalty-kill percentage (88%). The goaltending has been strong all season long, as has the 5v5 play. They finished fifth in shots on goal and third in shots against at 5v5/60. However, the Bruins were second in shots for and allowed the fewest shots at 5v5/60. Boston matches up really well with Carolina.
Both teams are very strong at 5v5, and both are extremely stingy with good special teams. Carolina created the second-most high-danger chances at 5v5/60, but the Bruins allowed the fewest. Boston only scored one goal in their three matchups with Carolina - all losses. They had a different goalie in each start. I expect Linus Ullmark to carry the load, as he finished the last month of the season with a 1.41 GAA & .950 SV% (382:15 MIN).
Give me the experience that comes with the Bruins’ top six forwards. I’ll admit that the uncertainty of Andersen has me wavering. I don’t expect to see a lot of offense in this series, but I do see it going the distance. I’m mostly shying away from both teams in fantasy hockey playoff drafts.
Prediction: Bruins in 7 Playoff Pool Targets: David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk, Teuvo Teravainen, Charlie McAvoy, Tony DeAngelo Deep Sleepers: Erik Haula, Seth Jarvis Best Bet: Patrice Bergeron more goals than Nino Nierreiter (-120) Top Goal Scorer: David Pastrnak +425
(3) Tampa Bay Lightning (+100) @ (2) Toronto Maple Leafs (-120)
TB 1 @ TOR 2 OT TB 5 @ TOR 3 TOR 6 @ TB 2 TOR 1 @ TB 8
GF: TB 2.48 (7) / TOR 3.80 (2)
GF/60 (5v5): TB 2.81 (8) / TOR 3.1 (3)
GA: TB 2.78 (6) / TOR 3.07 (19)
GA/60 (5v5): TB 2.28 (6) / 2.72 (22)
PP: TB 23.9% (8) / TOR 27.3% (1)
PK: TB 80.6% (11) / TOR 82.1% (8)
SF/60 (5v5): TB 29.6 (17) / TOR 33.31 (9)
SA/60 (5v5): TB 29.14 (8) / TOR 29.74 (11)
HDCF/60 (5v5): TB 12.8 (5) / TOR 13.15 (3)
HDCA/60 (5v5): TB 10.56 (10) / TOR 10.46 (9)
Steven Stamkos - 42 Brayden Point - 28 Nikita Kucherov - 25
If this series started a month ago, I may have leaned the Maple Leafs. They’re still playing very good hockey, as their 15 wins over the last six weeks rank third in the league. I wouldn’t be shocked if they beat the Lightning. I say this knowing they haven’t made it out of the first round since 2003-04. I also think if they finally find a way to get out of the first round, the relief and boost of confidence could take them on a very deep run. They’re that talented. Unfortunately, they've run into hot goaltending over the years, and I don’t expect things to be any different this time around.
Tampa Bay flipped a switch in the final couple weeks of the season and showed me something in their 8-1 win against the Maple Leafs on April 21. I understand Auston Matthews didn’t suit up in that game (neither did Brayden Point), but the Maple Leafs’ biggest issue crept into their game that night and it’s goaltending. Toronto ranks 19th in goals against and 22nd in goals against at 5v5/60. Tampa Bay ranks sixth in goals against in both categories. Toronto can skate with anyone offensively, and I love the addition of Mark Giordano. I also love the additions the Lightning made at the deadline, and some of those players started to click offensively at the right time. The ultimate difference for me is Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes.
We’re getting the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions at plus money to beat a Maple Leafs team that hasn’t shown us they can win on the big stage. There’s a first time for everything, but you have to prove it to me first. I don’t think the Bolts will win the cup again, as they’ve just played too much hockey over the past couple of years. I like them in this spot though. The winner likely gets the Florida Panthers, so there are players on TB and TOR who could be difference-makers in your fantasy hockey playoff pools.
Prediction: Lightning in 7 Playoff Pool Targets: Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, Victor Hedman, William Nylander, John Tavares, Alex Killorn Deep Sleepers: Ondrej Palat, Michael Bunting, Nick Paul, Ross Colton, Anthony Cirelli Best Bet: TB to win +100; Nikita Kucherov more goals than John Tavares (-125) Top Goal Scorer: Auston Matthews +250
(3) Pittsburgh Penguins (-110) @ (2) New York Rangers (-110)
Artemi Panrin - 96 Mika Zibanejad - 81 Chris Kreider - 77
It’s really hard to go against Sidney Crosby in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but goaltending has let him and his squad down over the past couple of seasons, and I feel like we’re in for a repeat of that. Casey DeSmith vs. Igor Shesterkin is quite the mismatch. The Rangers finished second in goals against and fourth in goals against at 5v5/60. They had the game’s fourth-best power play and seventh-best penalty kill.
Pittsburgh generated much more at 5v5 than the Rangers and had the third-best penalty kill which is a key factor in making a run. The Pens were in the top 10 in high-danger chances for and against, while the Rangers were in the bottom 10 in both categories. We could easily see six or seven one-goal games in this series. We got a good look of how things could play out, as New York took all three meetings in a two-week span (March 25 - April 7). The Pens scored three goals over those three games and only had four goals in four games against New York. Shesterkin is that good, and he’ll be the difference-maker.
I don’t think we’ll see either team get by Florida, Tampa Bay or Toronto, so I have players from Pittsburgh and New York down my rankings list.
Prediction: Rangers in 7 Playoff Pool Targets: Artemi Panarin, Sidney Crosby, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Adam Fox, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin Deep Sleepers: Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Rickard Rakell Best Bet: Rangers to win -115 Top Goal Scorer: Artemi Panarin +1300; Mika Zibanejad +850
Nashville took three of four against Colorado, including the last three matchups. None of that really matters, though, as the Preds will likely be without Juuse Saros for the entire first round. Vegas has this as the most lopsided series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I have to agree with them. Colorado to win in four is +330, and the Avs to win in five is +220.
Both of these teams actually had very similar numbers this season. Colorado certainly has the edge on offense, but both teams finished with almost identical percentages on special teams. Nashville allowed fewer shots and high-danger chances at 5v5 than the Avs, and they weren’t far behind in GA/60. Colorado’s biggest issue over the last couple of years has been their penalty kill and lack of production in the faceoff circle. They still struggle on draws, but the addition of Artturi Lehkonen should help the PK a great deal.
Don’t feel like it’s the end of the world if you don’t get a lot of Colorado players in your snake drafts, as they’ve been the favorite in each of the past three seasons and failed to get out of the second round. Minnesota or St. Louis will not be an easy matchup for them.
Prediction: Avalanche in 5 Playoff Pool Targets: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky Deep Sleepers: Artturi Lehkonen Best Bet: COL sweep +330, COL 4-1 +220; COL -2.5 Games (-110) Top Goal Scorer: Nathan MacKinnon +550; Valeri Nichushkin +1200
Jason Robertson - 41 Roope Hintz - 37 Joe Pavelski - 27
Matthew Tkachuk - 42 Elias Lindholm - 42 Johnny Gaudreau - 40
Joe Pavelski - 81 Jason Robertson - 79 Roope Hintz - 72
Johnny Gaudreau - 115 Matthew Tkachuk - 104 Elias Lindholm - 82
Calgary leads in just about every H2H category, and I expect them to make quick work of Dallas. The Flames finished inside the top six in goals and allowed the fewest at 5v5/60. Dallas ranked 30th in goals for at 5v5/60 and ranked 22nd in shots for. Only Arizona scored fewer goals at 5v5/60 than Dallas over the last five weeks of the season.
Meanwhile, the Flames allowed the fifth-fewest goals and the third-fewest high-danger chances at even strength. I expect Calgary to go on a run and think they have an easier path to get to the third round than the Avalanche. This was a big reason why I put CGY in the FTN Bet Tracker at 25-1 in February. Jacob Markstrom at 20-1 to win the Conn Smythe has my attention.
Prediction: Flames in 5 Playoff Pool Targets: Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson Deep Sleepers: Andrew Mangiapane, Blake Coleman Best Bet: CGY -1.5 (-145), ; Flames 4-1 +275 Top Goal Scorer: Matthew Tkachuk +600, Johnny Gaudreau +600
(3) St. Louis Blues (+130) @ (2) Minnesota Wild (-150)
STL 6 @ MIN 4 - Winter Classic MIN 3 @ STL 4 OT MIN 5 @ STL 6 OT
GF: STL 3.77 (3) / MIN 3.72 (5)
GF/60 (5v5): STL 2.99 (5) / MIN 2.33 (2)
GA: STL 2.91 (11) / MIN 3.04 (16)
GA/60 (5v5): STL 2.55 (18) / MIN 2.34 (9)
PP: STL 27% (2) / MIN 20.5% (18)
PK: STL 84.4% (5) / MIN 76.1% (25)
SF/60 (5v5): STL 28.69 (25) / MIN 31.72 (11)
SA/60 (5v5): STL 31.73 (23) / MIN 29.84 (12)
HDCF/60 (5v5): STL 10.16 (24) / MIN 10.81 (16)
HDCA/60 (5v5): STL 11.8 (26) / MIN 9.46 (2)
Vladimir Tarasenko - 34 Pavel Buchnevich - 30 Jordan Kyrou - 27
Kirill Kaprizov - 47 Ryan Hartman - 34 Kevin Fiala - 33
Vladimir Tarasenko - 82 Robert Thomas - 77 Pavel Buchnevich - 76
This is the toughest series for me to call. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see seven games, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t see shootouts. These two teams combined for 28 goals in their three meetings with the Blues winning all three. Two of the three wins came in overtime, and the other win came at the Winter Classic.
The Blues have the edge in goals for, goals against and their special teams was much better. They have the NHL’s second-best power play and fifth-best penalty kill. Minnesota struggled in both of those departments, which is more often the difference in a playoff series. Having said that, the Wild were a much stronger 5-on-5 team, as they finished ahead of the Blues in goals for, goals against, shots for, shots against, high-danger chances for and against, and it wasn’t really close. Minnesota allowed the second-fewest high-danger chances at 5v5/60, and the Blues ranked 26th in HDCF/60 despite finishing fifth in goals at 5v5/60.
Ultimately, I’m leaning with the better 5v5 team and the better goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury. I believe we could see all four goalies make an appearance in this matchup which would make for a very entertaining series. I think the Wild are a better sleeper team, as they match up better against the Avs than the Blues do. There are plenty of deep-league sleepers on these two teams though, and they could be the difference in your pool if the Avs get bounced early.
Prediction: Wild in 7 Playoff Pool Targets: Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, Vladimir Tarasenko, Mats Zuccarello, Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, Jared Spurgeon, Torey Krug Deep Sleepers: Matthew Boldy, David Perron, Jordan Kyrou, Joel Eriksson Ek, Brayden Schenn Best Bet: 7 games +200 Top Goal Scorer: Kirill Kaprizov +380, Kevin Fiala +750, Vladimir Tarasenko +750
(3) Los Angeles Kings (+200) @ (2) Edmonton Oilers (-200)
LA 5 @ EDM 11 EDM 5 @ LA 2 LA 3 @ EDM 4 SO EDM 3 @ LA 2
GF: LA 2.87 (20) / EDM 3.48 (8)
GF/60 (5v5): LA 2.34 (23) / EDM 2.73 (9)
GA: LA 2.83 (10) / EDM 3.06 (18)
GA/60 (5v5): LA 2.29 (8) / EDM 2.61 (19)
PP: LA 16.1% (27) / EDM 26% (3)
PK: LA 76.7% (22) / EDM 79.4% (17)
SF/60 (5v5): LA 33.53 (8) / EDM 32.54 (10)
SA/60 (5v5): LA 27.31 (2) / EDM 30.87 (17)
HDCF/60 (5v5): LA 12.82 (4) / EDM 11.94 (10)
HDCA/60 (5v5): LA 11.39 (17) / EDM 10.98 (13)
Adrian Kempe - 35 Phillip Danault - 27 Viktor Arvidsson - 20
Don’t be surprised if the Kings lead this series at some point or if they push the Oilers to six or seven games. Los Angeles allowed the second-fewest shots at 5v5/60, they created more shots and high-danger chances, and they allowed fewer goals overall and at 5v5/60 than Edmonton.
The difference between these two teams is very clear; Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Edmonton has much more firepower, and Los Angeles had the worst power play of all the teams in the playoffs. Their penalty kill ranked 22nd in the league, and the Oilers check in with the third-best power play in the league. Special teams will be the deciding factor here.
Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault are two strong defensive centers, I just don’t know where the offense is going to come. Mike Smith rattled off nine-straight wins over the last month and supported a 1.66 GAA with a .951 SV% over that span. He’s been terrific, but it’s not something I think he can sustain throughout the playoffs.
Prediction: Oilers in 6 Playoff Pool Targets: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard Deep Sleepers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyson Barrie Best Bet: EDM -1.5 (-115) Top Goal Scorer: Leon Draisaitl +250, Evander Kane +750
Chris Meaney is an award-winning sports writer, producer and host. He’s the host of Mean Streets, FTN FAAB Cast, Fantasy Hockey Picks & Bets and FTN Live where he covers NFL, MLB, NHL & NBA. Meaney has been working in the in the fantasy sports industry for 10 years plus years making pit stops at The Athletic, The Fantasy Footballers, Anthem Sports & Entertainment, Fantrax, TQE, NBA Fantasy, LineStarApp, Newcap Radio and more.