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Stanley Cup Playoffs picks | Projected lineups, starting goalies
Boston Bruins: Charlie McAvoy, D -- The Bruins defenseman was limited to 54 games in the regular season but scored 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) with the vast majority coming at even strength (25). The Bruins have a potent top line and power play (25.9 percent, third in NHL) but need McAvoy healthy and dominant as a shutdown defenseman, especially after the injury to Kevan Miller (knee). McAvoy could help the Bruins win the 5-on-5 battle against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have elite centers John Tavares and Auston Matthews on separate lines.
Carolina Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov, F -- The No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft scored 20 goals and 37 points in 82 games playing in mostly a second or third line role but showed signs of promise with seven multipoint games, including two three-point games. Svechnikov, who has formed chemistry with goal-scoring defenseman Dougie Hamilton on the second power-play unit, needs to not only maintain his recent top-six usage but also find greater scoring consistency for Carolina to upset the defending champion Washington Capitals.
Video: MTL@CAR: Svechnikov goes five-hole to win it in OT
Columbus Blue Jackets: Sergei Bobrovsky, G -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are the most dominant team in the NHL with the highest-scoring offense (3.89) and best power play (28.2 percent), so Columbus' best chance of competing with the Presidents' Trophy winners is if Bobrovsky overcomes his past playoff struggles. Bobrovsky, who's 5-14 with an .891 save percentage in 24 playoff games, looks to carry over his strong finish to the regular season; he went 18-8-0 with a .930 SV% and seven shutouts in the final 26 games.
New York Islanders: Ryan Pulock, D -- The Islanders power play was third worst in the NHL (14.5 percent) during the regular season, but Pulock had nine power-play points on mostly the second unit and an NHL career-high 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists) in 82 games. If Pulock helps narrow the power-play gap compared to the Pittsburgh Penguins (24.6 percent; fifth in NHL), the Islanders could take advantage of their home-ice advantage and win the series. Pulock had three points (one goal, two assists), two on the first power play, in six playoff games in 2016. Three of Pulock's nine goals in the regular season were game-winning goals, making him a potential finisher as the series progresses.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jake Guentzel, F -- The Penguins could be primed for another deep postseason run if Guentzel sustains his breakout regular season (NHL career-high 40 goals, 76 points in 82 games) and past playoff success. Guentzel has the most goals over the past two playoffs combined (23), and the elite duo of Guentzel and Sidney Crosby combined for 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in four games against the Islanders in the regular season.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Yanni Gourde, F -- The Lightning have the NHL's highest-scoring player in a single regular season since 1995-96 in elite right wing Nikita Kucherov, who has played most of the season on a line with elite center Brayden Point. But the third member of that trio has been in flux lately, with Tyler Johnson being the most frequent option this season but Gourde the latest to get a trial. Gourde, who has regressed in his second NHL season (48 points in 80 games), could help Tampa Bay reach another gear if he produces like he did as a rookie (64 points in 82 games).
Toronto Maple Leafs: William Nylander, F -- The Maple Leafs right wing had a late start to the season after a contract dispute and never regained the scoring touch from his first two NHL seasons (61 points in each). Nylander played long stretches of the regular season on the third line but has been back with Matthews more often down the stretch. If Nylander, who was held to 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists), six on the power play, on 5.4 percent shooting in 54 games, has a bounce-back postseason, the Maple Leafs could have enough offensive firepower to stun the Boston Bruins in the first round.
Washington Capitals: Tom Wilson, F -- After returning from a season-opening suspension, Wilson was a valuable top-line forward for the Capitals with an NHL career-high 22 goals and 40 points in 63 games on the opposite wing of NHL goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin (51). That lineup placement and physical prowess (200 hits this season) have become the standard for Wilson, who had 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 21 games in the 2018 playoffs and is a difference-maker anytime he's on the ice.
Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk, F -- The Flames and Colorado Avalanche have elite first lines, so secondary scoring will be crucial in their first round series. Tkachuk, who plays on the second line with center Mikael Backlund and first power play with elite forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, produced nearly a point per game (77 points in 80 games), 24 power-play points, 207 shots on goal and brings a physical element (104 hits) that could wear down the top-heavy Avalanche over a seven-game series.
Colorado Avalanche: Philipp Grubauer, G -- The playoffs did not go well for Grubauer last season, when he started Games 1 and 2 over Braden Holtby for the Capitals but allowed eight goals on 49 shots faced in back-to-back losses for Washington. But Grubauer has been arguably the most efficient goalie in the NHL down the stretch of the regular season, going 9-2-2 with a .956 SV% and three shutouts in 14 games. He has fully emerged past Semyon Varlamov as the starter and presents a goalie advantage for the Avalanche against the Flames, who have an inconsistent tandem of David Rittich and Mike Smith.
Dallas Stars: Miro Heiskanen, D -- The Stars have the difficult task of matching up with the Nashville Predators' deep defense of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm in the first round. In order for Dallas to hang with the Predators, their defense will have to be active and responsible on both ends. Heiskanen, who led all rookies with 23:06 per game, will need to shoulder an even heavier workload and also chip in points to offset Nashville's scoring defense. Dallas' upset bid hinges on the secondary contributions of players like Heiskanen, who had 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in the regular season, and right wing Mats Zuccarello.
Video: DAL@EDM: Heiskanen picks the corner on Koskinen
Nashville Predators: Mikael Granlund, F -- The Predators wing, acquired from the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 25, has been held to five points (one goal, four assists) in 16 games since the trade. The top unit of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson has remained intact, leaving Granlund in a secondary role without strong linemates. But Granlund has past playoff experience (21 points in 39 games) and regular-season success (67 points last season; 69 in 2016-17) that could spark a deep run for the Predators. If Granlund finds his groove, he could boost Nashville's power play, worst in the NHL during the regular season (12.9 percent).
San Jose Sharks: Erik Karlsson, D -- Arguably the biggest X-factor of the upcoming playoffs, Karlsson was limited to six games since NHL All-Star Weekend because of a groin injury but is expected to play in Game 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights. Karlsson had an epic playoff performance for the Ottawa Senators in 2017, scoring 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 19 games in their run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. If Karlsson and fellow elite defenseman Brent Burns each produces a point per game in the playoffs, the sky is the limit for the Sharks in the wide-open Western Conference.
St. Louis Blues: Jaden Schwartz, F -- The Blues made a drastic in-season turnaround over the second half of the season under coach Craig Berube, but their rise in the standings came without much contribution from Schwartz. St. Louis has only gotten 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) in 69 games from Schwartz, who was nearly a point-per-game player last season (59 points in 62 games). If Schwartz plays at an elite level on the second line with center Oskar Sundqvist and wing David Perron, the Blues can emerge from the Central Division bracket.
Vegas Golden Knights: Paul Stastny, F -- The center has the luxury of playing with valuable wings Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone on the second line but also faces the challenge of getting each to reach his playoff potential. Stastny had 15 points (six goals, assists) in 17 games on a line with wing Patrik Laine for the Winnipeg Jets last postseason and has 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists) in 72 playoff games. Vegas could be poised for another deep playoff run if Stastny elevates the performance of Stone (13 points in 27 playoff games) and Pacioretty (19 in 38).
Winnipeg Jets: Kevin Hayes, F -- The Jets center has scored 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 20 games since being acquired from the New York Rangers on Feb. 25 and had a NHL career-high 55 points in the regular season. Hayes could lift underwhelming wings Patrik Laine, who regressed from 44 goals and 70 points last season to 30 goals and 50 points, and Nikolaj Ehlers, who was held to 37 points (21 goals, 16 assists) in 62 games after a quiet 2018 postseason (no goals, seven assists in 15 games). Whichever of the Jets and Blues' second lines has a breakthrough series could determine the outcome.
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