NHL Playoffs 2018: Updated 1st-Round Schedule, Dates, Times and Predictions

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2018

David Pastrnak celebrates a goal for the Bruins.
David Pastrnak celebrates a goal for the Bruins.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing a crisis as they return home to the Air Canada Centre.

While they were one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, they have been taken apart by the Boston Bruins in the first two games of the series and must find a way to turn it around when the two teams meet on Monday night.

The Bruins have scored 12 goals in two games, and they have been led by the stellar line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak—the latter is coming off an artful three-goal, three-assist performance in Game 2.

Toronto's defense has been sliced and diced, and its penalty kill has been embarrassed by the ferocity and efficiency of the Boston attack. 

Mike Babcock is clearly one of the best head coaches in the NHL, and he is now put to the test of turning this situation around immediately. The Leafs have to find a way to blunt the Boston attack and find a way to get to Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

He has made timely saves in both the 5-1 victory in the first game and the 7-3 triumph in the second game of the series. The Leafs have flashed their speed and are capable of finding open spaces in the Boston defense, but they must do much more than they have done in the first two games.

The Leafs need Auston Matthews to set the tone in Game 3.
The Leafs need Auston Matthews to set the tone in Game 3.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Auston Matthews is the Maple Leafs' best offensive player, and he must find a way to break free from the coverage provided by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. The 6'9" strongman with the longest reach in the league has not allowed Matthews to have the time and space in the offensive zone to threaten the Bruins' goaltender.

"Look, we were outplayed for two games," Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey said, per Anthony Gulizia of the Boston Globe. "Certainly, if you add it up, it's what, 12-4? We deserve every bit of criticism far and wide. The good news is the story isn't totally written yet. We've got some work to do and can continue to improve and we can try to change the story."

The Leafs will have the final change in the games in Toronto, and they would seem to have a better chance of finding those openings at home.

      

Monday's Stanley Cup Schedule

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m., NBCSN. Boston leads the series 2-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils, 7:30 p.m., CNBC, Tampa Bay leads the series 2-0.

Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche, 10 p.m., NBCSN. Nashville leads the series 2-0. 

Anaheim Ducks at San Jose Sharks, 10:30 p.m., CNBC, San Jose leads the series 2-0.

All times are ET. Games can be live-streamed on NBC Sports Live.

Here's a link to the full first-round schedule.

        

The Colorado Avalanche return home after dropping the first two games of their series with the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators on the road.

However, while Toronto got taken apart in its first two games, the Avs were quite competitive against the NHL's best regular-season team.

Colorado scored the first goal in both games and was able to play on even terms for 40 minutes in Game 1 before dropping a 5-2 decision. The Avs were pushing hard at the finish of Game 2 before dropping a 5-4 decision.

Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are capable of dictating the pace, and the Avs will get tremendous support from their home crowd. An early lead will mean even more at home than it did on the road.

"We let them hang around a bit," Predators center Nick Bonino said, per Adam Vignan of the USAToday Network. "You get up two in the third, you want to be able to win those games. I know we won, but letting them stick around can be dangerous the more games you get into a series."

Nashville is capable of winning on the road, and stars like Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Viktor Arvidsson and P.K. Subban can take over any game.

        

Predictions

The Bruins dominated Toronto in two games in Boston, but don't discount the Maple Leafs. They had an excellent year, they are loaded with speed and they have a lot of pride. Babcock is a brilliant coach who should get the best effort out of his team.

Boston will push hard and this should be a back-and-forth game, but look for the Leafs to pull out a key victory.

New Jersey should play its best game on home ice. The Devils have a game-breaking player in Taylor Hall, and he will take advantage of Tampa Bay's less-than-stellar defense. The Devils win the game and make this a series.

The Avs are playing pressure-free hockey. Nobody expected them to do anything against the powerful Preds, but they have pushed hard to this point. Look for Colorado's speed to make the difference as the Avs win a game and avoid the sweep.

San Jose has won two games in Anaheim and come home with a huge advantage. It looks like the Sharks are in control of this series, but if Anaheim can play on even terms for the first half of the game, doubt will creep in for San Jose. Rickard Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf will set the tone, and the Ducks win on the road and start to turn this series around.

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