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Breakdown, predictions for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs

Detroit — So what can the NHL do after that?

The qualifying round turned out to be full of major upsets, memorable comebacks and the hockey world getting to know some new stars.

However, with Pittsburgh, Edmonton and Toronto all having been eliminated, a lot of star power is suddenly gone.

But, now the 16-team playoffs begin — the actual first round of the playoffs as hockey fans have known them — and again, there are so many intriguing matchups.

Most of those matchups involve upstart lower seeds that probably wouldn’t have even made the playoffs if not for the pandemic, and the newly created playoff format the virus, and the pause to the season, created.

Unexpected giant slayers like Montreal and Chicago — both No. 12 seeds, and 11th-seeded Arizona — are playing with growing confidence after not even being in the playoff picture before the season paused.

Also something that will be interesting to watch: Powerhouses such as Boston, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington looked uneven and ragged for long stretches of the round-robin tournament, among the top four seeds in each conference.

Can they rebound and get up to speed in this round?

Here are the first-round series:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(All games played in Toronto)

(1) Philadelphia vs. (8) Montreal

Records: Philadelphia 41-21-7, .645 winning pct.;  Montreal 31-31-9, .500.

Qualifying round: Philadelphia was 3-0-0 in round robin; Montreal d. Pittsburgh, 3-1.

Story lines: The Flyers could be the most impressive team thus far in this NHL return-to-play format. But can they overcome the confident Canadiens who upset the more talented Penguins?

Prediction: Philadelphia in 6.

(2) Tampa Bay vs. (7) Columbus

Records: Tampa Bay 43-21-6, .657; Columbus 33-22-15, .579.

Qualifying round: Tampa Bay was 2-1-0 in round robin; Columbus d. Toronto, 3-2.

Story lines: A rematch of last year’s major upset, in which Columbus swept the Presidents Trophy-winning Lightning. Not much has changed. Columbus is lurking again, while Tampa Bay might be without injured F Steven Stamkos and D Victor Hedman.

Prediction: Columbus in 6.

(3) Washington vs. (6) New York Islanders

Records: Washington, 41-20-8, .652;  N.Y. Islanders 35-23-10, .588.

Qualifying round: Washington was 1-1-1 in round robin; Islanders d. Florida, 3-1.

Story lines: Islanders coach Barry Trotz coached Washington to a Stanley Cup victory in 2018. Current Washington coach Todd Reirden was Trotz’s assistant. 

Prediction: N.Y. Islanders in 7.

(4) Boston vs. (5) Carolina

Records: Boston 44-14-12, .714; Carolina 38-25-5, .596.

Qualifying round: Boston was 0-3-0 in round robin; Carolina d. N.Y. Rangers, 3-0.

Story lines: Despite having the best record during the regular season, Boston was winless in the roun robin. Were the Bruins knocking the rust off? Carolina was impressive in every department.

Prediction: Boston in 6.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(All games played in Edmonton)

(1) Vegas vs. (8) Chicago

Records: Vegas 39-24-8, .606; Chicago 32-30-8, .514.

Qualifying round: Vegas 3-0-0 in round robin; Chicago d. Edmonton ,3-1.

Story lines: Chicago pulled off an upset eliminating the younger, star-driven Oilers. But Vegas is much deeper, can match the Blackhawks in playoff experience, and could be peaking.

Prediction: Vegas in 5.

(2) Colorado vs. (7) Arizona

Records: Colorado 42-20-8, .657, Arizona 33-29-8, .529.

Qualifying round: Colorado was 2-0-1 in round robin; Arizona d. Nashville, 3-1

Story lines: A year older and experienced, the Avalanche continue to look like a team capable of winning the Cup. But Arizona looked dangerous, with dangerous G Darcy Kuemper, who stopped 152 of 163 shots vs. Nashville.

Prediction: Colorado in 6.

(3) Dallas vs. (6) Calgary

Records: Dallas 37-24-8, .594; Calgary 36-27-7, .564.

Qualifying round: Dallas, 1-2-0 in round robin; Calgary d. Winnipeg, 3-1.

Story lines: The Stars became the No. 3 seed after a shootout win over St. Louis, the lone bright spot during an inconsistent start to the postseason. Calgary got stronger as the series against Winnipeg progressed.

Prediction: Calgary in 7.

(4) St. Louis vs. (5) Vancouver

Records: St. Louis 42-19-10, .662; Vancouver 36-27-6, .565.

Qualifying round: St. Louis, 0-2-1 in round robin; Vancouver d. Minnesota, 3-1.

Story lines: The defending Stanley Cup champion Blues had the best record in the West during regular season — but never got going in the round robin. Vancouver’s young stars gained valuable experience against Minnesota.

► Prediction: St. Louis in 6.

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Twitter: @tkulfan

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