NHL Playoff Schedule 2018: Matchups, Predictions and Saturday's Round 1 Guide

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2018

The Bruins hope to gain a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins hope to gain a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are still in the earliest phase, but Game 2 represents a wake-up call for NHL teams that lost their postseason openers.

That's especially true for the Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals. Both of those teams lost in Game 1 to the San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively. If the Ducks and Capitals can win the second games at home, they could breathe a little easier. However, if they lose and have to go on the road down 2-0, they would be on the edge of desperation.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost Game 1 on the road at TD Garden, and they were outplayed significantly by the Boston Bruins in a 5-1 loss.

The Bruins were one of the strongest teams in the league from late November through the end of the season, and Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock needs his team to play a much stronger and more disciplined game Saturday if they are going to avoid slipping to 0-2.

Toronto has plenty of speed with Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and Auston Matthews, but it was not able to dictate the pace of the first game of the series. While the Maple Leafs had a couple of surges, they were not able to capitalize on their chances, and that allowed the Bruins to settle down.

Boston had three power-play strikes in the opening game from Brad Marchand, David Backes and David Krejci, and Backes' second-period strike gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.

When David Pastrnak added to the lead in the final minute of the second period, the Bruins had a key two-goal lead and were not about to let the Leafs back in the game.

The Bruins came out storming in the opener, and Marchand gave them a 1-0 lead, which could have grown to two or three goals if goaltender Frederik Andersen had not made a number of outstanding saves. The Leafs seemed to find their legs after Zach Hyman scored the tying goal in the first period, and they pushed the pace in the first part of the second period.

However, Tuukka Rask was able to keep the Leafs from taking the lead, and once the Bruins went ahead, Toronto had no answer.

One of the keys for the Maple Leafs will be finding a way to slow down Boston's top line of Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand. Those three were able to assert their will in the offensive zone, and they have a chance to be dominant throughout the postseason.

The Leafs must find an answer or the Bruins could put their opponents in a major hole. The Leafs will be without Nazem Kadri as a result of a three-game suspension for his hit on Bruins winger Tommy Wingels, and that will make it that much tougher for the Maple Leafs to make a statement in Game 2.

          

Saturday's Playoff Schedule

New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET: Tampa Bay leads, 1-0.

Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 3 p.m. ET: Nashville leads, 1-0.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m.: Boston leads, 1-0.

San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks, 10:30 p.m.: San Jose leads, 1-0.

Here's a link to the full playoff schedule.

           

The pressure may be greatest on the Washington Capitals. They have endured major playoff meltdowns throughout the Alex Ovechkin era, and the Great 8 has never made it past the second round. If the Capitals are going to square the series, look for Ovechkin to put his stamp on the game.

The Anaheim Ducks are going to need Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique to provide the offensive spark against the San Jose Sharks. After getting blanked at home, Anaheim should be snarling at the start of Saturday's game. However, if that does not lead to the opening goal of the game, it could get unpleasant for the Ducks.

           

Predictions

The Colorado Avalanche played well despite losing the opening game on the road to the Nashville Predators. If Nathan MacKinnon can employ his speed and help Colorado get off to another good start, they could steal a win. Look for the Avs to pull off the upset.

The Capitals are not about to disappear just because they lost the first game of the series in overtime. Instead, Washington should dominate this game with their firepower. In addition to Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom should give the Caps a win to help them even the series.

The Bruins may have recorded an easy win in Game 1, but the game was tight until late in the second period. They would be making a mistake to think this series will not be a challenge. Kadri's absence will hurt, and his lack of discipline will cost his team. The Bruins win a close one and take a 2-0 lead to Toronto.

Evander Kane was the best player on the ice in Game 1 against Anaheim, and the Ducks have to find a way to contain him after he scored two goals in San Jose's victory to open the series. Look for the Ducks to dictate the pace and square the series with a win on home ice.

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