We’ve finally made it to mid-April, which means my favorite postseason in all of professional sports has arrived: the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nothing beats the NHL postseason. In single game, the tension is palpable, as any sort of mistake or stroke of luck can lead to agony or joy.
With hockey, the marginal differences that make the game hang in the balance become crystal clear when it’s all on the line, making it by far the most entertaining postseason in of all professional sports.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the competition this season and how it could all shake out. Should I be planning on celebrating finishing my finals by going to see the Ducks? Is THIS the Caps’ year? TSL has answers to your questions about the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the Western Conference, the competition seems as tough as ever.
Last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up, the Nashville Predators, had no sort of Stanley Cup hangover, posting the best record in the NHL, collecting 117 points, and winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
Led by media starlet PK Subban and stand-out goalie Pekka Rinne, the Preds posted one of the NHL’s best defenses, allowing the second fewest goals in the league. They are motivated to get back to the Stanley Cup, so I would be stunned if they don’t cruise past the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.
The other headline opening series in the West features the surprise of the season, the Vegas Golden Knights. Given the difficulties that inherently come with an expansion team’s inaugural season, it’s very rare to see them make the playoffs, let alone win their division. However, although they have been successful, they will be challenged in the first round when they face off against a Los Angeles Kings team that counters all their strengths.
While the Golden Knights have had an explosive offense all year, with five players scoring over 20 goals, the Kings defense is arguably the best in the league. Carried by vets who have been around for the Kings’ Stanley Cup years — like Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown — don’t be surprised to see the Kings pull off the first round upset.
To wrap up the rest of the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets and their balanced team bring the right mix of goals and hard-nosed defense against a solid but average Minnesota Wild. Expect the Jets to fly right by.
In the final first round matchup, we have teams that are pretty similar. The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks post really solid defenses — both ranking in the top 10 in goals allowed — but unimpressive attacks, finishing 19th and 13th respectively in goals scored.
I do think the Sharks’ slightly better offense combined with their impressive penalty kill percentage will lead them to victory in what will likely be a seven-game series. However, my younger self holds in hand a VHS copy of “D2: The Mighty Ducks” and demands me to remind you that “Ducks fly together.”
In the Eastern Conference, some of our staples for the past few years remain, while a few teams that have struggled recently are back in the playoffs: The Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and New Jersey Devils all missed the postseason last season.
The most intriguing matchup in the East is the rematch between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who faced off in the first round in 2013. After Boston blew a 3-1 series lead, one of the craziest game sevens in postseason history took place. Down 4-1 halfway through the third period, the Bruins pulled off an insane comeback, winning 5-4 in overtime to claim the series.
Just like the Jets, the Bruins are insanely balanced, finishing sixth in goals forced and fourth in goals allowed. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs are lead by a three-headed monster of youth.
Star centers Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are all 21 years old or younger, and each scored over 60 points this season. After challenging the Washington Capitals last postseason, the Leafs showed that they have the potential to be a NHL playoff staple for the next decade, and could win a few Cups along the way.
These young stars should make this series another classic one, but ultimately I think they’ll fall short again in a game seven. If you don’t have a team to watch this postseason, I’d recommend following this series closely.
In the rest of the Eastern Conference, we have the ridiculous Tampa Bay Lightning, propelled completely by their insane offensive firepower; they scored 17 more goals than any team this season. Look for Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos to lead the Bolts over the New Jersey Devils with ease.
From the Metropolitan Division we have our usual players, as the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are likely set up for yet another second round matchup. The Pens must be licking their chops, hoping for another opportunity to play the Caps, who they’ve beaten in the second round of the playoffs each of the past two years.
In order to get there, the Penguins will have to beat a veteran Philadelphia Flyers team. With Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Jakub Voracek, the team is pretty top-heavy and lacks stellar goalie play. Given this lack of depth, and Pittsburgh’s strength on the power play, I think the Penguins should advance.
Last but not least is my favorite team, the Washington Capitals. This part is complicated. This season has been different for the Caps: they had a lot of roster turnover, Braden Holtby didn’t dominate the net, and they did not come out with the best record in the NHL. However, the Caps finished the season with a 12-3 record in their last 15 games, and seem to be playing well at the right time.
Thus, I have convinced myself, for the 10th year in a row, that it is the Caps’ year. However, in reality, I’ve accepted that they’ll get to the second round and lose. I’m not letting my heart get broken like that again. (Disclaimer: this is definitely not a reverse jinx.)
They will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they should beat them easily, as Columbus doesn’t have anyone who can match up well enough to stop the “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner, Alex Ovechkin. However, they’ll definitely get rolled in the second round by Pittsburgh — you heard it here first.