Here are our free NHL picks as the first round of the Playoffs are set and while five of them will be very close, hard-to-predict contests, three of them should be a lot easier to figure out.
New York Rangers to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins
This is just a matchup of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Penguins barely made the NHL playoffs, leaving it to the very last day. They had to edge out the Buffalo Sabres to finally secure a spot. They’ve been absolutely horrendous over the last month or so, and they enter the playoffs having lost 11 of 15. Their offense has completely disappeared as they’ve averaged less than 1.80 goals per game in that span.
As for the Rangers, they’re the best team in the NHL in terms of points and no team has been better than them over the last couple of months, especially for those backing them with NHL picks. They’re offense is top-three in the NHL and we know what goaltender Henrik Lunqvist brings to the table. Look for this to be a quick series as the Pens are not up for this.
NHL Pick: Rangers in 5
Tampa Bay Lightning to beat the Detroit Red Wings
Speaking of teams heading in opposite directions, the Red Wings have been a sinking ship while the Lightning come in with some momentum. The Red Wings have lost 13 of 20 coming into the postseason and are having some real issues in net. They’re allowing 2.91 goals per game since the All-Star break, which is the seventh-worst number in the NHL. The problem is now they’re facing Tampa Bay, who was the highest-scoring team in the NHL this season (3.17 goals per game).
The Lightning took three of the four meetings with Detroit in the regular season and this series shouldn’t be much of a struggle for them. They won eight of 12 to end the year and clearly enter with a bit of steam. But the bigger factor here will be home-ice advantage. No team won more home games this season than Tampa Bay. They should win the first two games in this series and never look back.
NHL Pick: Lightning in 5
Anaheim Ducks to beat the Winnipeg Jets
The Jets might be a trendy pick among some bettors to pull the upset here as they’ve played fairly well down the stretch of the season. They won 10 of 14 and fended off the Los Angeles Kings for one of the wild card spots in the Western Conference. A lot of their success was thanks to the stellar performance in net by goaltender Ondrej Pavelec but most signs point to him not being able to keep that up. He lost twice to Anaheim this season, giving up eight goals while posting a 3.82 GAA and .881 save percentage. For his career, he’s got a 3.53 GAA and .900 save percentage.
Anaheim played relatively well down the stretch of the season, winning nine of 13, and while the Jets will simply consider being in the playoffs a success, the Ducks are ready to take the next step.
NHL Pick: Ducks in 6