And here we go. The Pittsburgh Penguins and 23-other teams begin the prelude to the second-season nearly four months later after the NHL playoffs should have started. The National Hockey Now family, which is six outlets deep (and growing), communed via electronic communication to discuss the teams we cover, how the matchup against their opponents, and to predict what happens next.
Also, you can win a free PHN+ subscription. Enter your predictions in the comments section, and if you get all eight (just the winner, not the number of games), you win a free year subscription to PHN+. If no one gets all eight, I’ll consider seven, as long as too many people don’t tie (and hopefully this turns out better than our last contest in which we asked everyone to guess the first Phase 2 workout group, but the Penguins didn’t release the answer).
The Penguins tangle with the Montreal Canadiens at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. There isn’t much debate about who wins this series.
NHL Qualifying Round, Eastern Conference
George Richards, Florida Hockey Now: Pittsburgh in 4. Sid and Geno and Guentzel and Zucker will be too much for Carey Price – though if anyone can steal a series, it’s him.
Christian Arnold, NYI Hockey Now: Pittsburgh Penguins in 4. It’s hard to pick against a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, among an already talented roster. Carey Price won’t make it easy, but in the end, the better team will come out on top, and that is Pittsburgh.
Jimmy Murphy, Boston Hockey Now: Penguins in 5. Carey Price will do his job and give his team a real chance, and Brendan Gallagher will drive Sidney Crosby nuts, but in the end, there’s just too much skill on the Penguins for the horrid Habs blue line to handle. Evgeni Malkin leads the way offensively for the Pens, and Tristan Jarry becomes the starter by Game 3.
Adrian Dater, Colorado Hockey Now: Pittsburgh Penguins in 4. Sid and Geno and Guentzel and Zucker will be too much for Carey Price – though if anyone can steal a series, it’s him.
Sheng Peng, San Jose Hockey Now: Penguins in 3. For all the hype, Carey Price had a decidedly average season. He’s certainly capable of turning it on, but I’m counting on a superior Pittsburgh squad to steamroll Montreal.
Rob Simpson, Toronto Correspondent: Penguins in 4. Carey who? The Penguins healthy with fresh legs? A sweep wouldn’t shock me. Man to watch: Conor Sheary.
Dan Kingerski, Pittsburgh Hockey Now: Penguins in 4. The Penguins will control their own fate. Montreal is fast, but so are the Penguins, as well as more talented, bigger, stronger, and more experienced. Only the Penguins can beat the Penguins in this series.
Here’s the rest of the Eastern Conference:
Kingerski, PHN: Carolina in 5. New York was a galloping thoroughbred towards the end of the season, but Carolina has something special. It will be a fun, not overly physical series. New York’s goaltending and scoring depth could make the difference here.
Rob Simpson: Rangers in 5. Never underestimate the puck pressure and determination of the Canes. NYR with a plethora of goaltending. Hocus pocus focus: Jesper Fast
Arnold, NYI Hockey Now: Islanders in 5. A healthy Islanders squad will be a tough challenge for the Florida Panthers. This won’t be an easy series for the Islanders, but a healthy Casey Cizikas and Adam Pelech returns them to the team that won 10 straight games and recorded points in 17 consecutive contests.
Richards, FHN: Panthers in 5. If the Panthers cannot stay patient and wait out the steady-handed Islanders, they’ll be in trouble. But the Islanders don’t offer the kind of firepower that should scare Sergei Bobrovsky too much.
The company is evenly split here.
Dater, CHN: Leafs in four. Columbus is just too boring of a team to watch, and Toronto’s high-flying forwards will just plain outskate them. Torts will blow a gasket at some point.
Kingerski, PHN: CBJ in 5. Upset special, baby! Never bet against John Tortorella and the perennial feisty, underdog Blue Jackets. They can skate with Toronto, they can pound Toronto, and they will beat the uber-talented Toronto.
Dater, CHN: Blackhawks in 5. Corey Crawford is healthy again, and Toews and Kane have designs on one more run.
Murphy, BHN: Oilers in 3. Like in Toronto, home ice isn’t really home ice, yet it is. These wheels too much to handle, and #97 is possessed. Watch: Oscar Klefbom.
Richards, FHN: Jets in 5. Winnipeg has one of the best goaltenders going in Connor Hellebuyck, and he is going to be the difference-maker here. This could be a wild series, the only all-Canadian one on the qualifier docket.
Arnold, NYI HN: Flames in 5. Winnipeg’s defense is suspect heading into this matchup. Calgary has a roster that can take advantage of that.
Peng, SJHN: Coyotes in 4. Arizona has been a sleeper team for me the entire season, here’s their chance to prove it.
Simmer: Predators in 4. Other than the off-ice nonsense, likely the least intriguing series. Pred’s have been down this road and still have a decent backend. Fresh old legs. Who wins the goalie matchup wins the series. Besides the men in the cage: Matt Duchene
Kingerski, PHN: Vancouver in 4. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and a young but hungry Vancouver team should steam roll the Minnesota Wild who are caught in the middle of rebuilding without enough young pieces. Dubnyk was abysmal this season.
Murphy, BHN: Wild in 5. A series of question marks: Depth on D, goaltending. This comes down to who’s ready to play, who has the legs and the heads to match. I’ll go with age.
Sheng Peng’s San Jose Hockey Now: 1. TB 2. PHI 3. BOS 4. WSH
Jimmy Murphy’s Boston Hockey Now: 1. TB; 2. WSH; 3. BOS; 4. PHI
Adrian Dater’s Colorado Hockey Now: 1. PHI; 2. TB; 3. BOS; 4. WSH
George Richards’s Florida Hockey Now: 1. TB; 2. BOS; 3. PHI; 4. WSH
Christian Arnold’s NYI Hockey Now: 1. BOS; 2. TB; 3. PHI; 4. WSH
Dan Kingerski’s Pittsburgh Hockey Now: 1. WSH; 2. TB; 3. PHI; 4. BOS
Rob Simpson: 1. WSH; 2. TB; 3. BOS; 4. PHI
Rob Simpson: 1. COL; 2. STL; 3. VGK; 4. DAL
Sheng Peng, San Jose Hockey Now: 1. VGK2. DAL; 3. STL; 4. COL
Jimmy Murphy’s Boston Hockey Now: 1. COL; 2. VGK; 3. DAL; 4. STL
Adrian Dater’s Colorado Hockey Now: 1. STL; 2. COL; 3. VGK; 4. DAL
George Richards’s Florida Hockey Now: 1. COL; 2. VGK; 3. STL; 4. DAL
Christian Arnold’s NYI Hockey Now: 1. STL; 2. VGK; 3. COL; 4. DAL
Dan Kingerski’s Pittsburgh Hockey Now: 1. VGK; 2. COL; 3. STL; 4. DAL
OK, enter your picks below. May the odds forever be in your favor.