Welcome back to another day of NHL Predictions. Each day, Last Word on Hockey takes a look at the games that are happening and gives our predictions for each one, breaking down head-to-head and other factors that may play in. We also have a featured game of the day, which is considered must-watch TV. Today’s featured game is the Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning. Be sure to check out our other NHL predictions in the coming days.
Head-to-Head: Sabres 1-1 Devils
Our first game on the NHL Predictions is a battle in the east. New Jersey remains in contention for the Metropolitan Division title, and likely needs a win here to keep that hope alive. Jack Hughes sits five points shy of 100, which might be doable in these last couple games. Either way, they want to go into the playoffs with confidence, and winning games down the stretch sure helps that cause.
Meanwhile, Buffalo played yesterday, with two more to play after tonight too. The clock fizzled out quite slowly for them down the stretch, despite a strong stretch of play since the second half of March. Unfortunately, they sit just too far behind to realistically expect them to squeak into the playoffs at this point.
The Sabres hang their hats on quite an impressive season as they step out of “rebuild” mode and into the playoff conversation going forward. Tage Thompson also wants to hit the 50-goal plateau, so fans still have reasons to tune in.
Prediction: Devils win 5-2
Head-to-Head: Blue Jackets 2-1 Flyers
Our next game on the NHL Predictions is between two non-playoff clubs. These two squads sit outside the playoff picture, but the games still mean something. They both sit in the league’s basement, where the focus sits squarely on 2023 NHL Entry Draft positioning. The Jackets very well may win the lottery, which undoubtedly would mean selecting Connor Bedard this summer. To keep those odds high, they actually might want to lose out.
The lottery certainly keeps active tanking to a minimum. That said, the incredible talent Bedard possesses has everyone crossing their fingers and toes for that first overall selection. John Tortorella surely won’t allow his Flyers team to tank, though. Travis Konecny remains their only point-per-game player this season. Their only other bright spot has been Carter Hart and his resurgence between the pipes.
Columbus stands in an altogether more bleak position. They suffered dramatically from injuries all season long. When healthy, they certainly rank higher than the abysmal year they went through in 2022-23. Adding Bedard to a group with Patrik Laine, Johnny Gaudreau, and plenty of other exciting young players could mean quite a rise from the ashes in 2023-24.
Prediction: Flyers win 3-0
Head-to-Head: Red Wings 1-1 Hurricanes
Our next game on the NHL Predictions is another battle in the east. Both these teams just played yesterday, so no edge exists in the “rest versus rust” conversation. This game has the making for a fun one, even with seemingly little to play for on both sides. The Hurricanes, though clinched for weeks now, still want to win the Metropolitan Division. The Red Wings, though eliminated from contention, wants to play the role of spoiler to stay motivated.
Detroit should stick that out, too. They trended in the right direction all year, but ultimately fell short. Expectations weren’t to crack a playoff berth this season though either, so no harm, no foul. That said, the dial cranks up next year, especially after the growth they exuded this year. That messaging likely already echoes in their locker room today, preparing for tomorrow. They expect more wins next year in Detroit, and NHL predictions will look similar then too.
But, we aren’t there yet today. The Hurricanes take the “win by committee” approach, and have no bonafide superstars on their roster. But with players like Brent Burns, Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin, Jordan Staal, Paul Stastny, and many more…the team has absolutely no weaknesses. They want to perfect their playoff style now, so Detroit will definitely have their hands full.
Prediction: Hurricanes win 4-3 in OT
Head-to-Head: Capitals 1-1 Bruins
Our next game on the NHL Predictions features the best team in hockey. The fact the Capitals split the season series to-date means they actually beat the Bruins this season. Not many teams can say the same. Boston continues chasing NHL history, with more than 60 wins under their belt. They locked up the President’s Trophy what feels like months ago. David Pastrnak leads them with his first ever 100+ point season, and Linus Ullmark stands as the obvious choice for the Vezina Trophy this year too.
The Caps, if anything, want to get Alex Ovechkin more goals. He has a realistic shot at catching Wayne Gretzky, as soon as the 2024-25 season too if he maintains his current scoring pace. They have some work to do this summer to put together a roster capable of winning again. Truly, 2022-23 can’t end soon enough for the team in the U.S. capital.
Oh, the Caps also enter this one on the backend of a back-to-back. As if Boston needed any other advantages…it sure makes an NHL predictions piece easier to write.
Prediction: Bruins win 3-2 in OT
Head-to-Head: Blackhawks 0-1 Penguins
The Penguins went back and forth between wins and losses for most of March, but strung together a pair of critical wins in their past two outings. They sure need to do the same against an awfully weak Blackhawks team tonight. Trailing both the Panthers and Islanders in the Eastern Conference wild card race, Pittsburgh has to win to keep their hopes alive.
Otherwise, 2022-23 might be the first year since Sidney Crosby was a rookie in which they fail to make the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have never not made the postseason. Expect some major hunger and pace from this Penguins team.
On the other side, Chicago really might rather lose this one. They, like Columbus, sit firmly in the “Bedard Sweepstakes”. Whether their roster feels the same way is unlikely; it’s not easy convincing professional athletes to throw games, nor is it something a team would ever admit to either. Surely, Jonathan Toews wants to win another game or two this year. It might be his last.
Prediction: Penguins win 4-0
Head-to-Head: Maple Leafs 1-1 Lightning
Tonight’s game represents a sneak-peek at the first round series coming up between these two teams. The Lightning and Leafs split the first two games, thought Toronto at least forced overtime in their loss. Toronto will own home ice advantage in the postseason, just as they did last season. The situation feels like a carbon copy of what went down a year ago.
This time around, Toronto is even more desperate to get out of the first round. It has been…awhile, to say the least. And they possess the talent to do it, too. They just continue facing some of the strongest possible opponents right away, since they play in the top-heavy Atlantic Division.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander steer the ship up front. Their counterparts in Tampa are Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. These star-studded lineups never disappoint. Surely, it’ll all be on the table tonight as both teams gear up for another long battle against one another.
Prediction: Lightning win 5-4 in OT
Main Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports