Bourne’s Bracket: Picking winners in first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs

Kyper and Bourne discussion getting us hyped up for the Maple Leafs' first-round matchup with the Boston Bruins, breaking down both teams' chances and comparing rosters to see where the advantages may lean.

You may have noticed that the more established members of the hockey media do everything they can to avoid being tied to any predictions. The reason for that is, you can only be made to look like an idiot (when you’re right, the answer was always “obvious”) and so the less you open yourself up to that, the better.

I, my friends, am either not established enough, or not smart enough to avoid making picks. I can’t help myself. That’s half the fun of sports, isn’t it? I once went 8-0 in Round 1 about 12 years ago and haven’t stopped talking about it since.

See, I just did it again.

And so, here we are. On the eve of the most exciting first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs in some years, I will once again pretend to know what’s about to happen. Come along for the ride.

Eastern Conference

Florida Panthers (1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (WC1)

Preamble: These two teams have played twice in the past three years, with Tampa mopping them up 4-2 en route to a Cup in 2021, then winning 4-0 the following year. Last year — Florida’s big year — they didn’t square off. There’s legitimate juice to the Sunshine State rivalry.

Winner: Florida

Really?: Yeah, Tampa is the sexiest “underdog” pick of the first round, but they’re still an underdog.

Rationale: Both teams have goalies that can get red hot, and while Tampa still has several Hall-of-Famers playing at top-end levels, I just can’t see their defence withstanding the temperature to which the Panthers are capable of turning it up. I mean, they put up 29 shots in a single period this past week, and they’re generally a mean, physical team. I think it’s enough to take down the greats in T Bay, but they won’t go down without a fight.

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

Preamble: These teams are painfully close. By goal differential, they were one goal apart in the regular season. The Leafs have unbelievable offence, with questionable D and goaltending. The Bruins have great D and goaltending, with questionable offence.

Winner: Toronto

Really?: Yeah, it’s roughly a coin-flip matchup, it’s not that crazy a suggestion. The Chicago Cubs won a championship after a 108-year drought.

Rationale: In the second half of the season the Leafs got better (including a red-hot run of nearly 30 games where they led the league in points) while the Bruins cooled off after a hot start. The Bruins won the season series handily, collecting eight points while the Leafs got just two, but the underlying numbers for the Leafs stars vs. the Bruins’ best D were very good (particularly Auston Matthews vs. Charlie MacAvoy).

Obviously, Ilya Samsonov (and Joseph Woll) can turf this whole thing by playing poorly, but if Samsonov can be the goalie he was in Round 1 last year — just a .900 save guy — games will be close, and the Leafs have more game breakers. The whole plan has been built on the Leafs’ top scorers scoring, and with no Selke or Norris contenders on the Bruins, I like their chances of having a round where they finally break through, and Matthews, Marner, and Nylander shine.

New York Rangers (1) vs. Washington Capitals (WC2)

Preamble: The Rangers won maybe the least-discussed Presidents’ Trophy in recent history, just kinda limping into it without much fanfare. But obviously you have to win a lot to make that happen, so let’s take a moment to give them their flowers. Congrats.

Also, the Caps are the worst goal-differential team to make playoffs in 33 years, despite being in the top half of the league in save percentage. Which says something.

Winner: The Rangers.

Really?:  Obviously.

Rationale: Not to be too dismissive, but I have eyeballs? With the Rangers’ plus-53 goal differential, the two teams were 90 goals different in the regular season. The Caps are slow, don’t defend well and don’t score much. They’ll try like hell and maybe Charlie Lindgren steals them a game and they get the “Nobody believes in us!” free pass. But if this series sees a sixth game I’ll be shocked.

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Carolina Hurricanes (2) vs. New York Islanders (3)

Preamble: I would’ve really liked the New York Islanders in the playoffs — what with their 18 of 20 possible points in April — against basically anybody not named the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, they’re playing a team named that.

Winner: Carolina Hurricanes

Really?: Definitively.

Rationale: As much as the Islanders have “playoffs style” forwards and the potential for streaky good goaltending, two things are true. The Hurricanes control play better than any team in the NHL, and the Islanders are basically the opposite among playoff teams. In sum, I expect at least two-thirds of the game to occur on the Isles’ side of the rink, and you just can’t win four of seven games doing that.

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Western Conference

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC1)

Preamble: The Preds have a couple of true talents in Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg, but the club just isn’t that sexy past those names, rolling out a second line of Zucker-Sissons-Jankowski, and third line of Beauvillier-Novak-Evangelista. Good players, but not exactly the league’s elite. But the team just kept coming in the second half, winning and winning and playing super structured, competitive hockey. They’re going to be an annoying out.

Winner: Vancouver

Really?: Yeah, “annoying,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Rationale: I’m a big believer that elite talent gets it done in the playoffs. Let’s call Quinn Hughes/Roman Josi a wash. Let’s call Juuse Saros and Thatcher Demko a wash, even though Demko was near-Vezina good this year. And let’s look at things from there. The Canucks just have so many weapons, like the 100-plus point J.T. Miller, 40-goal guy Brock Boeser, and the ever-talented Elias Pettersson. The Preds can’t match that offence. Again Saros is very good, I just have to believe this Canucks team finds a way to get enough over the line.

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Edmonton Oilers (2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (3)

Preamble: Much like the Leafs’ last-day pivot to the Bruins, I don’t know if the Oilers ever thought they would play anyone but the Golden Knights. The Kings are a considerable step down in pedigree, which should help the Oilers get started on a post-season journey.

Winner: Edmonton Oilers

Really?: No hesitation.

Rationale: The recipe for upsetting the better team usually starts with otherworldly goaltending, and I’m skeptical that at this point of his career Cam Talbot can change that. The driving numbers from this season all love the Oilers, and the Kings don’t create much offence, so most of the hockey should be spent on one end of the rink, which should help the Oilers’ D and goaltending shine.

Winnipeg Jets (2) vs. Colorado Avalanche (3)

Preamble: This has to be the series that hinges most on the goaltending, where it seems like a massive disparity on paper. There are reasons to like either club, but that swing in the crease is huge.

Winner: Winnipeg

Really?: It’s gonna be close, but yes.

Rationale: I still believe elite, top-end guys get it done. In this case, the value Connor Hellebuyck offers compared to the guys in the Colorado crease is what has my attention. If the Jets’ depth forwards can find a way to continue their excellence (the third line is built for the post-season), I think Connor Hellebuyck can do enough to help the Jets take down Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Co.

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Dallas Stars (1) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (WC2)

Preamble: What an absolutely rotten draw for the Dallas Stars, who end up the victim of the Golden Knights’ (legal) salary-cap shenanigans, now facing a roster worth much more in real dollars than any other playoff team. Vegas still needs to gel with all their bodies back in action though, and that can be tough to figure out in playoffs.

Winner: Dallas Stars

Really?: For Vegas, pride comes before the fall

Rationale: This is actually a bigger ask for Vegas than I think most people understand. They’re welcoming back Mark Stone, who hasn’t played in like six weeks. Tomas Hertl is barely up and running with the club. Their goaltending hasn’t exactly been super encouraging. And the Stars quietly won the West, finishing a point from the Presidents’ Trophy, and are averaging a flat two goals against per game in April. Outside “pedigree” and “experience” most arrows point the Stars’ direction.


The original ask was to see this thing through all the way to the final like a March Madness bracket, but I’m drawing the line at predicting things round-by-round. It’s one thing to get things wrong, it’s another to be forced to make predictions between two teams who aren’t actually playing each other. With the way the NHL is weird, and injuries, and goalies getting hot, we’ll need a fresh set of predictions before Round 1. And so, I make that commitment to you.

We’ll see you in a couple of weeks to pick through the matchups of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, surely after I go 8-0.

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