NHL Playoff Picture 2018: Bracket Predictions and Teams to Watch

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2018

Steven Stamkos and the Lightning are trying to hold on to the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Steven Stamkos and the Lightning are trying to hold on to the top spot in the Eastern Conference.Associated Press

The jockeying for playoff positioning continues in the NHL, with the regular season coming to a conclusion April 8, but it's not just the teams at the bottom of the playoff structure that are playing crucial games.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins are battling for first place in the Atlantic Division and the top position in the Eastern Conference. Boston had a chance to move into first place Tuesday, but the Bruins could only pick up one point as they dropped a 5-4 decision in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets.

The Bruins are one point behind Tampa Bay but have a game in hand, and the two rivals still have two games remaining against each other.

Click here for a look at the standings. 

While the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers battle for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, and the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche battle for the Western Conference wild cards, here's a look at six teams to watch once the playoffs begin.

          

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning have been the top team in the Eastern Conference for most of the season, and they are trying to hold on to that position.

Tampa Bay has incredible offensive skill with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy has largely done an excellent job this season in goal.

The Lightning have had a complete team most of the season, and they should remain dangerous in the postseason.

           

Boston Bruins

The Bruins have been one of the surprise teams in the league this year because they were expected to battle for one of the last playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, Boston found its stride in late November and has been sharp since that point. While they have battled a series of injuries recently, the Bruins are expected to be healthy for the playoffs.

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy and Olympic star Ryan Donato, who scored an impressive goal Tuesday night (above), could lead the Bruins to a long playoff run.

           

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have not had a stellar regular season, and they are trying to hold off the Columbus Blue Jackets for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions have huge star power with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and if they get the goaltending, the Penguins could make another Stanley Cup run.

Pekka Rinne has been stellar in net for the Predators.
Pekka Rinne has been stellar in net for the Predators.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

            

Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators had a brilliant postseason run last year before falling to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

They have an excellent chance to finish with the league's best record, and they probably have the best defensive crew in the league, led by Roman Josi and P.K. Subban. Meanwhile, Pekka Rinne appears to be on track to win the Vezina Trophy for his work in net.

     

Winnipeg Jets

The Winnipeg Jets have chased the Preds for most of the season, and it appears they will fall just short of catching them. However, they are a big, strong and fast team, and they have a number of stars in Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien. The Jets could be dangerous once the playoffs start.

Reilly Smith has been a go-to scorer for the Golden Knights.
Reilly Smith has been a go-to scorer for the Golden Knights.Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

            

Vegas Golden Knights

The first-year expansion team has been leading the Pacific Division since the early stages of the season, and the Vegas Golden Knights have a three-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury.

While the Golden Knights are largely considered a crew of overachievers, they have a number of top players in William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault who have been consistent all season.

         

Bracket Predictions

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1. Boston Bruins
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan Division

1. Washington Capitals
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Columbus Blue Jackets

Wild Card

1. Philadelphia Flyers
2. Florida Panthers

          

Western Conference

Central Division

1. Nashville Predators
2. Winnipeg Jets
3. Minnesota Wild

Pacific Division

1. Vegas Golden Knights
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Los Angeles Kings

Wild Card

1. St. Louis Blues
2. Colorado Avalanche

Related

    Flyers' Gudas Suspended 2 Games for High Stick

    NHL logo
    NHL

    Flyers' Gudas Suspended 2 Games for High Stick

    Sportsnet Staff
    via Sportsnet.ca

    Report: Senators Offer Extension to Mark Stone

    NHL logo
    NHL

    Report: Senators Offer Extension to Mark Stone

    Ottawa Citizen
    via Ottawa Citizen

    2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

    Who's moving before Feb. 25?

    NHL logo
    NHL

    2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

    Who's moving before Feb. 25?

    TSN
    via TSN

    Players Brace for Moves as NHL Trade Deadline Approaches

    NHL logo
    NHL

    Players Brace for Moves as NHL Trade Deadline Approaches

    Sean Leahy
    via ProHockeyTalk