1. Tampa Bay Lightning vs 5 Columbus Blue Jackets
With Tampa being the odds-on favorite to win the 2019 Stanley Cup, it would be hard to believe that they would bow out early. But on the other side you have Columbus who went all-in at the trade deadline, parting with a number of draft picks just to win 1 playoff round which is something they are the only team out of 31 in the NHL to have never done. For that, this series will end as expected, but will go longer than most will predict.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Lightning in 7
2. Boston Bruins vs 3. Toronto Maple Leafs
A rematch from last year, the Bruins have shown in the past that they know how to beat the Leafs, have their number (went 3-1 against them in the regular season) and are in their heads - big time. On the flip side, there are 3 reasons why the Leafs can beat them this time: they are deeper at center with John Tavares, deeper on defence with Jake Muzzin and the core of their team is much younger, with another year of experience under their belt.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Leafs in 6
1. Washington Capitals vs 4. Carolina Hurricanes
The defending champion Capitals are looking for a repeat under a new head coach this time around and are primed to go on another run. The Hurricanes have been playing lights-out hockey lately, but it's time in the words of Don Cherry that these "Bunch of Jerks" take their act and go home.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Capitals in 5
2. New York Islanders vs 3. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Islanders are the league's biggest surprise this year, and it all starts with head coach Barry Trotz. However this is not a team that will either go on a long playoff run nor guaranteed to make the playoffs every year. The Penguins still have a lot of championship experience and pedigree up and down their roster, they only have so many shots left to win, and they know it.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Penguins in 6
1. Nashville Predators vs 4. Dallas Stars
The Preds still fly under the radar when it comes to finishing at the top of the standings, but here they are again. They will be facing a difficult opponent in the Stars, who have a good team and should give them fits but are not nearly deep enough to get out of "Smashville" alive.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Predators in 6
2. Winnipeg Jets vs 3. St. Louis Blues
The Jets have looked shaky in the 2nd half of the season, but will be relatively healthy which if on their game they are tough to beat. The Blues have been the complete opposite, storming up the standings after starting in the 1st half near the bottom of the league. It was mostly powered by a rookie goalie, who has never been here before.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Jets in 7
1. Calgary Flames vs 5 Colorado Avalanche
As long as the Flames goaltending holds up, they could go on a long run starting with the weakest seed which they earned by finishing 1st in the Western Conference. Most teams in the west were in the race late due to the fact nobody jumped up and grabbed the last couple of playoff spots that were up for grabs the whole time. The Avalanche are a great story, but in reality are not actually a playoff team.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Flames in 4
2. San Jose Sharks vs 3. Vegas Golden Knights
How many years in a row can the Sharks finish with 100+ points, be one of the top contenders and still end up empty-handed? Well, here we go again as they go all-in again with the off-season acquisition of Erik Karlsson, who is back healthy just in time for the playoffs. As for last year's West champion Golden Knights, can they go on a long run again in year 2? Just for the record, there are 3 teams in the Western Conference that made the playoffs finishing with less points than the Montreal Canadiens who did not make the playoffs - Dallas, Colorado and this Vegas team. Can not take them seriously again. Magic will run out much earlier this time.
ARMCHAIR GM LINE: Sharks in 7