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NHL Playoffs 2016: Schedule, Stanley Cup Bracket Format and Predictions

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2016

Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) skates against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 6-2. (AP Photo/David Banks)
DAVID BANKS/Associated Press

Based on the way the seeding lined up, NHL fans could be in store for an exciting few weeks in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The recent format changes over the past few years have created even more parity, and that likely won't change with many division-rivalry games set to take place right out of the gate. The lack of reseeding after the first round also allows us to picture some dream matchups if the top teams can advance.

No matter which teams are able to win the best-of-seven series, there will likely be some memorable action that takes place in Round 1. In order to make sure you don't miss a moment, here is the full schedule for the opening round as well as predictions for each series. 

Note: Full bracket is available at NHL.com.

Eastern Conference

Eastern Conference Schedule
Florida Panthers (A1) vs. New York Islanders (WC1)
GameMatchupDateTime (ET)
1NYI at FLA4/148 p.m.
2NYI at FLA4/157:30 p.m.
3FLA at NYI4/178 p.m.
4FLA at NYI4/208 p.m.
5NYI at FLA4/22TBD
6FLA at NYI4/24TBD
7NYI at FLA4/26TBD
Tampa Bay Lightning (A2) vs. Detroit Red Wings (A3)
1DET at TBL4/137 p.m.
2DET at TBL4/157 p.m.
3TBL at DET4/177 p.m.
4TBL at DET4/197 p.m.
5DET at TBL4/21TBD
6TBL at DET4/24TBD
7DET at TBL4/26TBD
Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (WC2)
1PHI at WAS4/147 p.m.
2PHI at WAS4/167 p.m.
3WAS at PHI4/187 p.m.
4WAS at PHI4/207 p.m.
5PHI at WAS4/22TBD
6WAS at PHI4/24TBD
7PHI at WAS4/27TBD
Pittsburgh Penguins (M2) vs. New York Rangers (M3)
1NYR at PIT4/138 p.m.
2NYR at PIT4/163 p.m.
3PIT at NYR4/197 p.m.
4PIT at NYR4/21TBD
5NYR at PIT4/23TBD
6PIT at NYR4/25TBD
7NYR at PIT4/27TBD
Source: NHL.com

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers

While the Capitals have been the best team in the NHL throughout the majority of the season, there is a major concern with the level of play down the stretch. They went just 3-3-3 in the final nine games and had only a single victory in the last five.

In reality, the last month of the season wasn't to the level we have come to expect from this team.

With that said, this is still the best top-to-bottom lineup in the sport, with Alex Ovechkin leading a deep roster of talent. The Capitals finished second in both goals scored and goals against and can beat anyone in the league when they are playing well.

Even if the struggles continue, there is still enough ability to handle Philadelphia in the first round.

Prediction: Capitals win 4-2

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

One of the big stories for this series will be the health concerns for Pittsburgh. Josh Getzoff of PensTV noted key players Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray and Bryan Rust did not practice Tuesday. Murray's absence could be especially noteworthy with fellow goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury also day-to-day, as the team announced.

Murray has given the Penguins a huge boost down the stretch, but if he and Fleury are out, the team would have to rely on Jeff Zatkoff between the pipes.

Despite the injuries, though, head coach Mike Sullivan remains confident in his players:

Pittsburgh Penguins @penguins

Sullivan: There is a belief in room that if we play a certain way, we give ourselves best chance to win, regardless of who's in lineup.

Considering this squad won 14 of 15 games before resting its stars in the final game, there is reason to believe. The Rangers have their strengths, but the Penguins are playing better at this stage of the year.

Prediction: Penguins 4-2

Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders

Unlike some of the series in these playoffs, neither the Panthers nor the Islanders have a lot of recent history to showcase. Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post noted the drought for each team:

Matt Porter @mattyports

It's a battle of teams that haven't won playoff series since we were all much younger or not born: Panthers (1996) vs. Islanders (1993).

Obviously, players such as Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo have plenty of experience for Florida, but otherwise this team won't enter the week with too much confidence for a No. 1 seed. Another reason for caution is the poor special teams during the season as the Panthers ranked 23rd in power-play percent and 24th in penalty-kill percent.

If the Islanders can get an extra man, this could lead to some success throughout the series.

New York also has a true difference-maker in John Tavares, who is red-hot with nine points in his last four games. If he can play to his ability and get everyone involved, the wild-card team can pull off the upset.

Prediction: Islanders win 4-3

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings

Apr 6, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey (center) receives congratulations from after scoring in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TOD
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If Tampa Bay were at full strength, this would be a different series. Unfortunately, injuries have destroyed this roster, including top scorer Steven Stamkos. As good as Nikita Kucherov has been, it's difficult to replace 36 goals heading into the playoffs.

With a handful of other players also expected to miss time or at least be limited, the door is open for Detroit to take advantage.

The Red Wings are the weakest team in the Eastern Conference, finishing with just 93 points on the year while being outscored by 10 goals, but they have good balance offensively and can pull off a surprise over last year's conference winners.

Prediction: Red Wings win 4-3 

Western Conference

Western Conference Schedule
Dallas Stars (C1) vs. Minnesota Wild (WC2)
GameMatchupDateTime (ET)
1MIN at DAL4/149:30 p.m.
2MIN at DAL4/168 p.m.
3DAL at MIN4/188:30 p.m.
4DAL at MIN4/209:30 p.m.
5MIN at DAL4/22TBD
6DAL at MIN4/24TBD
7MIN at DAL4/26TBD
St. Louis Blues (C2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (C3)
1CHI at STL4/139:30 p.m.
2CHI at STL4/158 p.m.
3STL at CHI4/173 p.m.
4STL at CHI4/199:30 p.m.
5CHI at STL4/21TBD
6STL at CHI4/23TBD
7CHI at STL4/25TBD
Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC1)
1NSH vs. ANA4/1510:30 p.m.
2NSH vs. ANA4/1710:30 p.m.
3ANA vs. NSH4/199:30 p.m.
4ANA vs. NSH4/218 p.m.
5NSH vs. ANA4/23TBD
6ANA vs. NSH4/25TBD
7NSH vs. ANA4/27TBD
Los Angeles Kings (P2) vs. San Jose Sharks (P2)
1SJS vs. LAK4/1410:30 p.m.
2SJS vs. LAK4/1610:30 p.m.
3LAK vs. SJS4/1810:30 p.m.
4LAK vs. SJS4/2010:30 p.m.
5SJS vs. LAK4/22TBD
6LAK vs. SJS4/24TBD
7SJS vs. LAK4/26TBD
Source: NHL.com

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 26: Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars skates against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 26, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

There are enough question marks on defense for people to question the Dallas Stars as a legitimate contender, but the offense will easily be enough to get into the second round.

Dallas finished the year with the most goals in the NHL, featuring three players scoring at least 30 on their own. Even if Tyler Seguin doesn't return from his recent injury, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza are each dangerous enough. Considering 15 different players tallied at least 10 assists during the season, this is clearly an attack that is tough to stop.

Minnesota should be happy it got to this point, but winning this series appears to be a long shot.

Prediction: Stars win 4-1

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

This might be the best first-round series in the playoffs. Both teams have had excellent regular seasons, and both have the talent on both ends to make a deep postseason run.

The biggest difference between these squads is the recent playoff history, which heavily favors the Blackhawks.

While the Blues have suffered numerous early exits and disappointing showings at this stage of the year, Chicago has raised the Stanley Cup in three of the last six years. Even with the success, the players remain hungry and don't take anything for granted. Captain Jonathan Toews explained his mindset, per Brian Hedger of NHL.com:

You can kind of consider the amount of hockey some of these guys [in here] have played [the past few seasons]. This is the meaningful hockey to us. It's an opportunity that we don't want to throw away. You work hard to get here. It's not a given you're going to make the playoffs every year. It's not a given that you're going to get this type of opportunity so I think the slate is clean. We're starting over.

The focus to not settle for past success is what keeps the Blackhawks a contender every year. They won it all from this exact spot in the bracket a year ago, and they should challenge for another title this time around.

Prediction: Blackhawks win 4-3

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. the Ducks defeated the Avalanche 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It seems like most top contenders have one goalie they can rely upon for the bulk of the season, but that hasn't been the case with the Anaheim Ducks. Both John Gibson and Frederik Andersen have been effective in net, and they could both remain active throughout the playoffs. 

This strategy hasn't been a problem this year, as the team allowed the fewest goals in all of hockey. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com credits this to head coach Bruce Boudreau:

Pierre LeBrun @PierreVLeBrun

That the Ducks won the Jennings for fewest goals against this season, just shows you the kind of job Bruce Boudreau did to change his team

The defense prevents many easy looks at the goal, which in turn makes anyone look good in net.

With a balanced offensive attack led by excellent passer Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks have what it takes to easily get by Nashville.

Prediction: Ducks win 4-2

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

This will likely be a competitive series after these teams produced a memorable battle two years ago. The Kings came back from down 3-0, allowing them to go on a run to win the Stanley Cup.

San Jose will be back with a vengeance behind elite centers Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, either one of them capable of making a major impact on a game. Still, this series will likely come down to goaltending, which gives the advantage to Los Angeles.

Martin Jones has had a strong season for the Sharks, but Jonathan Quick is as trustworthy in net in big moments as anyone in the league. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner tends to step up when it matters, and he can lead the Kings to a narrow win in a highly anticipated series.

Prediction: Kings win 4-3

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