NHL Playoffs 2018: Updated Stanley Cup Schedule and Championship Picks

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2018

Sidney Crosby already has a hat trick in the series against the Flyers.
Sidney Crosby already has a hat trick in the series against the Flyers.Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins made a huge statement in Game 3 after they were challenged by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second game of the series.

Now the Penguins will try to take a powerful 3-1 lead in Game 4 Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

These archrivals have gone back and forth with one-sided victories in the first three games of the series. Pittsburgh opened with a 7-0 triumph in Game 1, but the Flyers responded with a 5-1 win of their own in Pittsburgh in Game 2.

The two-time Stanley Cup champions were not about to let a loss on home ice lead to any panic or open the door for their opponents. The Penguins have been through too much to question themselves when they lose a game or two in any series.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel can all step up and dominate at any time. Crosby is still the most dangerous player in the league, Malkin has game-changing moves and shooting ability, while Kessel remains one of the top snipers in the game.

The Penguins have an excellent supporting cast up front with Jake Guentzel, Patric Hornqvist (out for Game 4 with upper-body injury) and Carl Hagelin, and Matt Murray has proved he is a superb playoff goalie with two Stanley Cup triumphs under his belt.

Defensively the Pens have some issues on defense that can be exploited, but it seems unlikely that the Flyers can get the best of them four times in a best-of-seven series.

"[Hornqvist] isn't an easy guy to replace," said head coach Mike Sullivan, per Wes Crosby of NHL.com. "He's a unique player for us, and he brings a lot. So I think we're just going to have to, by committee, we're going to have to pick up the pieces and make sure that the opportunities that are given to others that [Hornqvist] normally fills, they're going to get a great opportunity to help this team win a game."

Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier are excellent offensive threats and Shayne Gostisbehere can fire the puck from the back end, but the Flyers have to find a way to shut down or slow down the Penguins. Couturier may not play Wednesday night after he was involved in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas Tuesday, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com.

The Flyers may win one more game in this series or possibly extend the series to seven games, but that's where it will come to an end because of Pittsburgh's edge in talent and experience.

In addition to the Penguins hosting the Flyers, the New Jersey Devils are hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of that first-round series, and the Devils are trying to square the series. The same holds for the Colorado Avalanche as they host the Nashville Predators in Game 4. The San Jose Sharks are trying to sweep the Anaheim Ducks as they host Game 4 of the Western Conference series.

Here's a link to the full first-round schedule of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The second round will get underway April 26 or 27, as the final first-round games are scheduled to be played April 25. If none of the first-round series go seven games, the second round could start earlier.

The conference final round will start in mid-May, while the Stanley Cup final will likely get underway at the end of the month and extend into June.

Filip Forsberg of the Predators has the skill to take over any game.
Filip Forsberg of the Predators has the skill to take over any game.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Last year's Stanley Cup finalists, the Preds, played like a hungry team all season as they won the Central Division and the Presidents' Trophy that goes to the team with the best regular-season record.

The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference has been challenged by the eighth-seeded Avalanche. Colorado has scored the opening goal in all three games, and dictated the pace for 60 minutes in Game 3 as they won their first game of the series by a 5-3 margin.

The speed and talent of Nathan MacKinnon and the solid play of Gabriel Landeskog has proved problematic for the Preds.

Nashville was the eighth seed a year ago and were able to sneak up on opponents. This year they are the team to beat, and every series is likely to be a challenge.

They have loads of talent and are led by Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and goalie Pekka Rinne. The Avs are not concerned about regular-season achievements or the favored status of their opponent, and they will leave it all on the ice in Game 4.

It may not be enough, but the Preds will be forced to work for their win.

Pekka Rinne is one of the keys to Nashville's championship aspirations.
Pekka Rinne is one of the keys to Nashville's championship aspirations.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

       

Championship Predictions

It's still the middle of the first round, but we will offer our predictions for how the rest of the playoffs turn out.

Look for the favored Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins to win their first-round matchups and meet in the second round. The Lightning will have home-ice advantage, but the razor-sharp Bruins will win the series in six games.

Pittsburgh and the Columbus Blue Jackets will meet in the second round, and the Pens will be pushed to the limit before beating the feisty Jackets in seven games.

Vegas will follow up its first-round win over the Los Angeles Kings with a victory over the San Jose Sharks in seven games.

The Preds and Winnipeg Jets will engage in a memorable second-round series, with Nashville surviving in seven games.

The Preds will find a way to eliminate the first-year Golden Knights, and they will get the job done in five games, while the Bruins will eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions in six games.

Boston and Nashville will go seven games, and Nashville's relentlessness on offense and the highlight-reel play of Rinne in goal will give the homestanding Preds the edge. Don't be surprised if the Stanley Cup final is decided in overtime of the last game.

Jubilation in the Honky Tonk will follow.

Related

    Shattenkirk Out 2-4 Weeks with Separated Left Shoulder

    NHL logo
    NHL

    Shattenkirk Out 2-4 Weeks with Separated Left Shoulder

    Newsday
    via Newsday

    Blues Players Start Whaling on Each Other in Practice

    NHL logo
    NHL

    Blues Players Start Whaling on Each Other in Practice

    Barry Petchesky
    via Deadspin

    Ducks' Ryan Miller (Knee) Out 6 Weeks

    NHL logo
    NHL

    Ducks' Ryan Miller (Knee) Out 6 Weeks

    Elliott Teaford
    via Orange County Register

    Sabres Hold Team Meeting Amid Skid

    NHL logo
    NHL

    Sabres Hold Team Meeting Amid Skid

    TSN
    via TSN