A Wild Card team is never a favorite in the first round, but they don’t need to be to make some noise in the NHL playoffs. Although they went 0-4 last year, in 2019, all four Wild Card teams won their first-round matchups. With the postseason starting today, we’re ranking this year’s four squads based on their chances to upset the division winners.
1 – New York Islanders (vs. Carolina Hurricanes)
The Isles may have barely made it into the playoffs at all, but now that they’re here, they could be dangerous. With Mat Barzal returning for game 1 against a Carolina team that really didn’t look all that good to end the season, New York comes into the series at +180 to move on. Goaltender Ilya Sorokin has been one of the best in the league all year, and if he’s on his game, the Canes could be in serious trouble. Without Andrei Svechnikov and Max Pacioretty in the lineup, scoring goals won’t be easy in any series for Carolina, let alone against the defensive style of New York. Expect this series to be a very close one.
2 – Winnipeg Jets (vs. Vegas Golden Knights)
The Jets come into the first round with the best odds at moving on for any of the Wild Card teams at +140. Their lineup has experience and toughness everywhere on the ice, and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck will give them an advantage over most teams in the crease. This season, we’ve seen some great stuff from the Jets, but some pretty abysmal stretches as well. If they can find their game from the beginning of the season, this series will be very close, especially given the fact that Vegas is a bit of a question mark in goal right now. However, if the Jets play like the team we often saw in March, this one could be over quickly.
3 – Seattle Kraken (vs. Colorado Avalanche)
In their second year as a franchise, the Seattle Kraken will make their playoff debut against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Kraken had a great season, but getting past the first round is not going to be an easy task. The West’s top Wild Card team is currently +250 to win the series, and on paper, it makes sense. The roster and level of playoff experience simply doesn’t match up with Colorado. However, the Avs will be without Gabriel Landeskog for the playoffs and Cale Makar for at least the beginning of this series, so it’s certainly a possibility that Seattle will test them more than some people expect. Plus, when the series goes back to the pacific Northwest, Seattle’s home atmosphere should be electric.
4 – Florida Panthers (vs. Boston Bruins)
Florida didn’t exactly get the easiest draw going up against Boston in the first round. The Bs are the Stanley Cup favorites, the Presidents’ Cup winners, and just had one of the best regular seasons of all time. Thankfully for the Panthers, none of that matters anymore. An upset like this happened just a few years ago to the Lightning in 2019, and we all know that anything can happen in the NHL playoffs. Unfortunately, Boston will be about as tough a place to play as any this year, and if the Panthers don’t at least steal one win in the first two games, things could go downhill in a hurry for Florida.
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