The NHL playoffs have finally arrived! Starting Wednesday April 11th, 16 teams will begin to battle it out in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Here is a preview of what’s to come, and some predictions by our three writers!
Let’s start with the first round match ups.
Lightning Vs. Devils
With Boston losing its final regular season game to Florida, Tampa Bay has secured the Division title and will face off against the New Jersey Devils. Tampa are heavy favourites here, but you can’t count out Hart candidate Taylor Hall. He is the sole reason the Devils are not a lottery pick right now. It will be an uphill battle for them as the Lightning boast an impressive forward group with a killer power play unit, and newly acquired Ryan McDonagh to help out Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman on the back end. Vasilevskiy hasn’t been great for a while, and that could be the Devil’s way in.
Bruins Vs. Maple Leafs
Rewind to the 2013 playoff series between the Bruins and the Leafs. It’s game 7, and the Leafs are up 4-1 in the third period. As every Leaf fan can recall, Boston miraculously came back and won 5-4 in overtime. Well there is no better opportunity to put that series in the past than to beat them in a divisional rematch. Two very strong second half teams will battle it out and it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win. The Matthews vs Bergeron lines could be a wash, in which case it will be a battle of the depth.
Capitals Vs. Blue Jackets
The Capitals have been a regular season powerhouse ever since they drafted Alex Ovechkin. On multiple occasions they have entered the playoffs as cup favourites but seemingly choke when the pressure is really on. Ovechkin and company aren’t getting any younger and you have to wonder how many chances they are going to get. They should come out firing against the Blue Jackets. I’m not too sure what to think about the Blue Jackets who have a decent roster and top goaltender in Bobrovski. They just lack that high end talent that can elevate you to the next level. Look for the young duo Seth Jones and Zach Werenski to try and slow down the Rocket winner.
Penguins Vs. Flyers
A classic match up between two rivalries who always put on a show. Claude Giroux has just had arguably the best season of his career while Sidney Crosby has been below average (by his standards). We all know the playoffs are a different beast though. It’s going to be tough for the Flyers to take down the reigning two time champs, and the Penguins look healthy and ready for battle. Should be a gritty hard fought battle either way.
Predators Vs. Avalanche
The Predators have some big expectations to fill after finals loss last year, and stellar regular season to follow. Their defense is bar none the best in the league, and its not even debatable. Colorado has their work cut out for them but MacKinnon absolutely has what it takes to carry his team to a series win. The Pred’s are heavy favourites here but do not take the young Avalanche lightly.
Jets Vs. Wild
Historically the Jets have reason to be weary, because they haven’t won a playoff series going all the way back to their Atlanta Thrashers days. This team is craving a win. They have a stacked lineup and fortunately for them, the best player on the Wild Ryan Suter suffered a season ending injury. I just don’t see any way Minnesota can overcome the odds barring an epic choke job by the Jets. Wheeler has been lights out, Scheifele is healthy and Laine gives them a potent power play. Look out.
Golden Knights Vs. Kings
This is not a typo – the Golden Knights are not only in the playoffs in their first ever season, but they have home ice advantage against L.A. Kings. Ask ANYBODY where they picked the Golden Knights to finish this season and every answer is bottom 3 of the NHL. Well they have proven everyone wrong, and made many GM’s look silly for the players they gave up (William Karlsson anyone?). As for the Kings, They are a heavy, strong defensive team built for the playoffs. Kopitar has had another Selke level season, and Drew Doughty is in the prime of his Career. Can Las Vegas keep this miracle season alive or will L.A give them a harsh dose of reality?
Ducks Vs. Sharks
A rivalry of California between two teams who have been dabbling in the playoffs for over a decade. These two teams are consistently a threat year after year, largely in thanks to two Canadian star vets going head to head; Ryan Getzlaf vs jumbo Joe Thornton. Getzlaf has already got his championship ring which he won way back in 2007. Thornton on the other hand has yet to win his and I’m sure the Sharks will be fighting hard to give him a shot before he retires. The Ducks are solid in all 3 zones of the ice and will give San Jose everything they can handle.
Here are some bold (and not so bold) predictions of what’s to come.
Our Gimme Pick
Alex: Jets over Wild
Ryan Suter looks to be out long term. With arguably the deepest offense in the league, the Jets should be able to feast on them. God speed Devan Dubnyk.
Adam: Predators over Avalanche
Offence wins games, Defence wins championships. Nashville’s ridiculously deep defensive core will stop the remarkably effective Colorado offence simply because they have two elite pairings and the third is very very good. Their offence is sneaky good as well, Forsberg is a force, and character guys like Arvidsson can add depth to scoring potential as well.
Greg: Predators over Avalanche
No disrespect toward the Avs, but I don’t think Nathan McKinnon’s MVP worthy season will be enough to dethrone the Western Conference champs from their place in the Cup finals for the 2nd straight season. It’s been a great story for the young Avs, one they’ll likely continue next season, but it’s just not happening this year.
Our Biggest Surprise
San Jose has very quietly finished the season with 100 points. Although finishing behind the Ducks, I think they surprise and take a series or two on the back of Joe Thornton who awaits his first Cup.
Late to clinch but played well all season, New Jersey are a good pick to take down the atlantic division titans in Tampa. They are quick, they are physical, and the game changer will be the early attack that uses high pressing d-men. Will Butcher, Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen are all potential game changers. Nico Hischier and Zacha at center are solid, plus Taylor Hall seems a man on a mission to drive his team for a deep run.
With another Hart Trophy candidate leading the way for them, the New Jersey Devils are a team on fire, with their 1st round opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, heading in the opposite direction. Tampa Bay couldn’t close out the Eastern title on their own terms, needing a Panthers win over the Bruins to solidify top seed. I’m looking at the Devils to be the surprise team in round number one and take out Tampa.
Our Stanley Cup Champion
Alex: Penguins over Jets
Real original, I know. Come playoff time, this team has proven over and over that they have another gear. Having Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel all driving 3 different lines is really unfair. These guys know how to get it done and they will show us how once again. I think the Jets are good enough to take them to game 7, and arguably have a better all around team. However there is that clutch factor that the Penguins have the puts them over the edge for me.
Adam: Bruins over Golden Knights
I want to be wrong, I need to be wrong, but I don’t think I will be wrong. Boston is the hottest team in the world right now and have not shown that they are ready to slow down. The only issue may be depth scoring, as Pasternak, Bergeron, and Marchand are all stacked on one line. Vegas on the other hand are going to prove that they are no flash in the pan. They will benefit from the war between Winnipeg and Nashville in the second round to ride their hot streak to the finals. Boston’s style of play, however, is tailor-made for the playoffs. It’ll be close but begrudgingly Boston takes it over the new guys.
Greg: Predators over Maple Leafs
Another year together, and equipped with Stanley Cup Final experience from last year, I believe this is the year the Cup goes to Music City. As much as you see fans cheering for their own teams throughout the playoffs, you never seem to see anyone rooting against the Preds. GM David Poile has done an incredible job once again, and its sure to pay off this season with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory.
Our Conn Smythe Winner
Alex: Evgeni Malkin
I believe Malkin takes his hot streak straight into the playoffs without a hitch. He’s been known to turn it up in the playoffs before with a Conn Smythe to his name already. Time for Crosby to hand the trophy back over.
Adam: Tuukka Rask
If Boston is going anywhere in the playoffs it’ll be on the back of their goaltender’s near legendary form. Goalies aren’t typical or sexy picks but we all know despite their inherent weirdness they can make or break a team, and for Boston it’s no different.
Greg: Pekka Rinne
Although there were question marks last season, he’s once again solidified his teams back end and will thoroughly deserve this honour after a stellar Cup run. He won’t need to bear the load, but he’ll be back to his regular old self to carry them over the finish line.