NHL Mailbag: Best chance of a first round upset?

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Okay folks okay gang okay everybody it’s playoff time and last night’s games were great fun and we loved them, didn’t we?

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This week I took eight questions, one on each series (kinda) and that is all you need to know. Thank you.

Let’s go:

Mike asks: “Any chance Martin Jones can just be mediocre and the Sharks can survive the first round?”

Well you have to keep in mind that Martin Jones being mediocre would be an incredible improvement. If he was just league-average this year, he would have stopped 24 additional shots. That’s worth about eight standings points over the course of the season, and boy wouldn’t that have been nice for the Sharks to avoid playing Vegas?

But anyway, yeah, the Sharks are a great team constrained by downright awful goaltending, so if he’s just average they can definitely win the series. Can he be that? I’m not sure. The league average this year was .905 and Jones had just 21 of 56 possible seven-game runs on the year in which he was over that number.

San Jose is such a good team but as I said last week, Vegas — also a great team, especially since the Stone trade — is the absolute worst possible draw for them.

I had the Golden Knights in five.

Marcel asks: “Which of the 16 coaches could be in trouble if their team doesn’t have a good playoff?”

Depends on how things shake out but I wonder about Tortorella if the Blue Jackets get crushed.

On the one hand you can definitely excuse it as, “Well you played the best team in regular-season history.” On the other, depending on HOW they lose these games (i.e. losing a handful of 4-3 and 3-2 games versus losing 5-1 every night) maybe that’s a factor. And maybe also it’s a factor of trading an entire draft to move up basically one spot in the standings and the goal was to move up two so you DIDN’T have the ready-made excuse of having to play Tampa.

Plus the Jackets are gonna lose their best player and their All-World goalie this summer for nothing, and perhaps some other potential contributors like Matt Duchene, so maybe you just move on from John Tortorella for that reason.

In either case, I took the Bolts in five. I wonder if anyone in the national media has the confidence in their take-ology to go CBJ in seven. It would be cool.

Braden asks: “Most likely team not named Tampa to sweep its first-round series?”

Braden this is barely a question but it gives me a great opportunity to talk about the St. Louis Blues.

Since they made the coaching change in November they’ve been among the very best teams in the league and even if you don’t have .930 Jordan Binnington — which they needed to get back into the playoff convo, but it’s their overall strong play that kept them there after Binnington cooled down again — you might not really need him.

The Jets, man, they’ve been all over the place. Like Nashville and Pittsburgh, they’ve suffered more than their fair share of injuries to big-name players (Dustin Byfuglien missed half the year, etc.) so that complicates things, but they’ve also just played really badly and gotten pushed around pretty easily at 5-on-5. The Jets certainly have the star power in the series but they also definitely haven’t played like it basically at any point after U.S. Thanksgiving, so…

I like the Blues in seven but given how this season has gone, I really can’t rule out the Jets laying an egg either.

40 Year Drought asks: “How do you think Brind’Amour will deploy Aho/Staal in the first round against a team with three solid lines?”

Staal is the matchups guy, for sure. Probably gets the Ovechkin line. Aho, who hasn’t scored in a while, will be more sheltered to some extent, at least insofar as Brind’Amour will try to put him in a position to break his duck and pop a few in.

But as you said, not tooooooo many opportunities on this Caps roster to put Aho out against the lower lines, especially with Washington having home ice and thus last change for Games 1 and 2. Even Aho is getting free sometimes, I bet he can expect a healthy dose of Nick Backstrom, and that’s not great for him.

Caps in six because, as you say, depth matters when you’re going all these games against the same team. Hope I’m wrong though. Love those ‘Canes.

Calgary Flames' Matthew Tkachuk adjusts his helmet during practice in Calgary, Alberta, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Calgary takes on the Colorado Avalanche in a first-round NHL hockey playoff series beginning Thursday, April 11. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)
Calgary Flames' Matthew Tkachuk adjusts his helmet during practice in Calgary, Alberta, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Calgary takes on the Colorado Avalanche in a first-round NHL hockey playoff series beginning Thursday, April 11. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

Brandon asks: “When is the last time a true contender had as poor of a goaltending duo as Rittich/Smith, and do you think a team can realistically win the Cup with a duo like that?”

You can definitely win with average goaltending, talent-wise, but I can’t imagine there have been too many teams where their goaltending through all four rounds was league-average.

But I would say that Devils team that went to the Cup Final several years ago definitely didn’t have great goaltending. Brodeur just caught fire in the playoffs. Same with Jonathan Quick the second time the Kings won.

I guess the last time a team won despite bad goaltending was the 2009 Penguins, because Marc-Andre Fleury only went .908 in the playoffs.

I like the Flames in six against the Avs because I think they have the talent to overcome the goaltending against a one-line team. But probably not much more than that.

Very Polite Guy asks: “Which team with momentum heading into the playoffs is most likely to collapse and go out early?”

The Isles went 6-2-0 behind a .945 team save percentage over the last eight games to roll into the postseason, including that season-closing 3-0 win over Washington. That said, the Pens have played like a juggernaut for the last month-and-a-half and Matt Murray has been as lights-out since coming back from injury in December as Robin Lehner.

If we’re gonna call the goaltending a wash, you gotta like the Pens’ forward depth and overall star power a bit better than the Islanders’. Not sure how that’s disputable, really. Both teams went 2-1-1 against each other this year but haven’t played since Dec. 10, which is weird.

Gimme the Pens in six.

Matt asks: “Why does everyone in the hockey world seem to think the Bruins beating Toronto is a foregone conclusion?”

The answer is simple: They’ve done it a few times before with the same results. Just like no one believed the Caps could get out of the second round until they did it, no one will believe these Leafs can beat these Bruins in a seven-game series.

It’s extremely possible, and some models have the Leafs as heavy-ish favorites, but others have the Bruins as narrow favorites and when you’re as good as both these teams are, people don’t like hearing that it’s a coin flip one way or the other.

I took the Bruins in seven just because they’re (mostly) healthy for once and I like the defense better, but it could just as easily be Leafs in six. That’s hockey.

Jazz asks: “Best chance of a first-round upset?”

Insofar as I would barely consider a few lower seeds winning (like Pittsburgh and Vegas, or maybe even Carolina) upsets because of how well they’ve been playing of late, you can probably guess based on the fact that I haven’t brought this series up yet that I think the answer is Dallas over Nashville.

I don’t necessarily think it’s going to happen, but I can certainly see a world where the Preds — who haven’t clicked all year for a variety of reasons — get outscored by Dallas’s top line and Ben Bishop keeps going nuts, as he has all year, at the other end. That’s extremely plausible to me. Despite my early-season feelings about the Preds, they’ve failed to live up to expectations.

So even if I don’t rate Dallas too highly either, the idea that we’re gonna get a grinding seven-game series with a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 results really plays into the Stars being able to pull this off.

I had Preds in seven but I think it’ll be close.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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