This article is part of our FanDuel NHL series.
The NHL makes its long-awaited return Saturday, with five games on the docket after 12:00 PM Eastern time. The Toronto bubble will feature Rangers-Hurricanes, Panthers-Islanders and Canadiens-Penguins matchups, while the Edmonton bubble will host Blackhawks-Oilers and Jets-Flames games. While these technically aren't considered playoff games, that's more a matter of semantics, as the intensity level and team-specific preparation that comes with playing an elimination series should certainly lead to a playoff atmosphere.
As the fifth seeds in their respective Conferences, and thus the top seeds in this play-in format, the Penguins and Oilers will be heavily favored against the Canadiens and Blackhawks, who both just barely snuck in as the 12th seeds when play halted. Meanwhile, the two series involving New York teams both offer contrasts in styles. A defensive-minded Islanders team that aims to take away space from the opposition will take on a Panthers team that rarely struggles to score but leaks chances on the other end. While the Hurricanes drive possession and usually outshoot the opposition, the Rangers rely on shot quality over quantity and strong play in net. Lastly, the Jets-Flames rivalry reignites in what will be the first series between two Canadian clubs since 2015.
As long as he gets the nod over Tristan Jarry ($8,500), Matt Murray ($8,700) should be the chalk play in net. The two-time Stanley Cup champion is a proven playoff performer, and his Penguins will be heavily favored against an inferior Montreal club. Pittsburgh just missed skipping the qualifying round with 86 points in 69 games before the pause, while Montreal just snuck in with 71 points in 71 games.
Connor Hellebuyck ($8,300) earned a well-deserved Vezina Trophy nomination with an outstanding season that featured a 31-21-5 record, 2.57 GAA and .922 save percentage for a Jets team that iced a significantly weaker defense corps compared to recent years. The outstanding Winnipeg netminder will look to pick up right where he left off against a Flames team that averaged 2.91 goals per game this season – second-fewest among the teams in this slate.
Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky ($7,600) is a high-risk, high-reward option in net. On one hand, he posted a brutal 3.23 GAA and .900 save percentage this season and got shellacked for five goals by the Lightning in Florida's exhibition game. On the other hand, the Islanders had the least productive offense of any team taking the ice Saturday with just 2.78 goals per game this season, and Bobrovsky posted a sparkling 2.41 GAA and .925 save percentage in 10 playoff games with the Blue Jackets last season. Florida's fate likely hinges on which Bob shows up for this series, and the same goes for fantasy players who hitch their wagon to him.
Dominik Kubalik ($4,700) led all rookies with 30 goals this season and picked up right where he left off in Chicago's 4-0 exhibition game win over the Blues on Wednesday, potting two power-play goals and dishing a helper. At just $4,700, Kubalik's a terrific value play against Edmonton, especially since he should see plenty of ice time for the top-heavy Blackhawks.
If Bobrovsky's off his game, expect Mathew Barzal ($6,400) to take advantage for the Islanders. The fleet-footed center is terrific at generating chances with his speed, and while Barzal's finishing still leaves a lot to be desired, he led the team in points with a 19-41-60 line in 68 games.
Connor McDavid ($8,800) ranked second league-wide in points with a 34-63-97 line, but he was remarkably overshadowed by teammate Leon Draisaitl this season. The two stars usually skate on separate lines but share the ice on Edmonton's league-best power play (29.5 percent), and locking in at least one of them should pay off against a Blackhawks team that finished with 11 fewer points than the Oilers during the season.
If you're stocking up on stars and need a cheap lineup filler, Kaapo Kakko ($3,500) could be your man. The rookie second overall pick seemed to be running on fumes for much of the season, and it's hard to blame him considering he went from playing a full professional season in Finland last year to representing his country in the IIHF World Championship, then right to rookie camp with the Rangers followed by the preseason and his first NHL season. The pause offered a much-needed opportunity for Kakko to finally catch his breath, and he looked more spry and decisive with the puck in New York's exhibition game against the Islanders. While he wasn't rewarded in that game, a well-rested Kakko should have no problem outplaying his $3,500 valuation.
FORWARD LINE STACKS
Penguins vs. Canadiens
If the Canadiens-Penguins series lives up to its billing as the largest mismatch of this round, this line should dominate. Crosby had a 16-31-47 line in 42 games, and he should only get better now that his favorite winger has returned. The extended layoff has allowed Guentzel to heal up from his shoulder injury. Guentzel was rolling with a 20-23-43 line in 41 games before getting hurt, and he's already established himself as one of the league's premier playoff snipers with a 24-19-43 line in 41 career postseason contests. Sheary brings some affordability to this stack and should benefit from plenty of open ice as the Canadiens focus on shutting down his linemates.
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Despite leading the league in points, Draisaitl isn't even the priciest center on his own team, as he comes in $300 cheaper than McDavid. Just skating on a line with a guy who posted a 43-67-110 line in 71 games automatically make both of these wingers viable. Yamamoto started the season in the AHL, but the diminutive winger flourished by Draisaitl's side after getting called up, posting an 11-15-26 line in 27 games. Ennis was brought in at the trade deadline and posted a 2-2-4 line in nine games for the Oilers. Like Yamamoto, Ennis makes up for a lack of size with good hands and skating ability.
Hurricanes vs. Rangers
While New York benefited from tremendous goaltending from Igor Shesterkin down the stretch, the Rangers leaked quality chances all season. Among teams in action Saturday, only Florida allowed more goals per game than New York's 3.14, and the Rangers' 77.4 percent penalty kill was the worst. This trio produced the majority of Carolina's offense, as all three members of this line posted between 61 and 66 points while no other healthy member of the team finished with more than 36. Teravainen led the team with 21 power-play points while Aho led the team in goals overall with 38. Svechnikov ranked second in both categories, with 20 power-play points and 24 goals.
Mark Giordano ($5,800) does it all for the Flames. Though Calgary's captain dropped from 74 points in 78 games last season to just 31 points in 60 games this season, Giordano still finished 21st among defensemen in shots (157) and ranked seventh league-wide with 148 blocks. Giordano's well-rounded game gives him a high floor, and he's more than capable of chipping in offensively to boot.
Adam Fox ($4,400) gave the Rangers all they could have hoped for and more as a rookie, even though he missed out on a Calder Trophy nomination. The Harvard product ranked 15th among defensemen with 42 points and took care of business in his own end as well with a plus-22 rating. Fox and fellow rookie Ryan Lindgren ($3,500) should be deployed as New York's top defense pairing, which should lead to plenty of opportunities to rack up secondary stats in addition to Fox's offensive output.
Pittsburgh's John Marino ($3,700) is another young, affordable defenseman worth a look here. He's fully recovered from facial surgery and was enjoying a solid rookie season prior to going down with a 6-20-26 line and plus-17 rating in 56 games.
If the Canadiens want to stay competitive with the Penguins, they'll need a strong performance from their best skater. Shea Weber ($5,000) is relatively affordable in this tough matchup, and the veteran blueliner put his cannon of a shot to good use with a 15-21-36 line in 65 appearances this season.