Previewing 2018 NHL Playoffs

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The NHL playoffs are finally back as 16 teams will be going into the postseason with aspirations to win the coveted Stanley Cup. 15 will go home empty handed, while one will be crowned champions. With that being said, lets preview each team:

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins

The Bruins “perfection” line or their first line made up of David Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand was elite both offensively and defensively this season as each player posted over 30 goals.  There was a stretch earlier in the season where the trio’s stingy defensive game didn’t even relinquish an even strength goal for more than a month. They have been in a funk the past 5 games both offensively and defensively in which the Bruins have gone 1-3-1

The top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara/Charlie McAvoy was absent most of April as both were nursing injuries that kept them out of the line-up for a couple weeks.  McAvoy was visibly rusty and cautious in his first few games back, but the last few games he has been noticeably assertive in his transition/offensive game.  Looking for a big series from him.  When it comes to Chara it will be interesting to see how the 41-year-old blueliner handles himself against the speed of forwards such as Matthews, and Marner in their matchup with Toronto. 

The goalie battle between Tuukka Rask and Frederik Andersen will be an absolute focal point of both clubs as each of the netminders have shown stretches of dominance, as well as sheer mediocrity.  It will be a major deciding factor to see which goaltender can step up under the bright lights of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Things seemed bleak for the squad for the past month or so, but turned things around nabbing a wild card spot. Led by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and up and coming young star Artemi Panarin, this is a dangerous team that any club should be on the look out for. They are also great defensively so they will be difficult for any team, even the high powered offenses.

New Jersey Devils

Nabbing the final playoff spot and playing in the difficult Metropolitan Division, don’t take these guys lightly as people have argued. With Brian Boyle leading the offense, and having support from Kyle Palmieri and Patrick Maroon, their offense is sneaky good. Plus they are a fast team.

Philadelphia Flyers

With an improved defense and goaltending, the Flyers could make a deep run in the playoffs. Claude Giroux leads the squad with help from defenseman Johnny Oduya and Wayne Simmonds, this team could have had a better record had it not played in such a tough division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The reigning Stanley Cup Champions will be looking to make it a three peat as they are experienced, talented, and really fast. Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the NHL, leads this team with studs like Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, and rising star Jake Guentzel (who shined in the playoffs last year), they are one of the favorites to win a Cup.

Tampa Bay Lightning

After a disappointing 2016-17 season, this juggernaut is back and are looking to win the Stanley Cup. Steven Stamkos, their best goal scorer, leads this dynamic offense with the help of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Victor Hedman and with Andrei Vasilevskiy minding the net. This squad is dangerously good.

Toronto Maple Leafs

A young, talented, and exciting team to watch, they could be the team to watch in these playoffs. With youngsters in Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and Nazem Kadri and having seasoned veterans of Patrick Marleau and Tomas Plekanec playing along side, this team could be a dark horse pick.

Washington Capitals

After coming off to back to back seasons losing in the second round of the playoffs despite high hopes, the Capitals are back as the one seed in the Metropolitan Division with hopes they can finally break through. With the greatest goal scorer of our generation Alex Ovechkin leading the way with support from Niklas Backstrom, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The biggest question will be the goalie situation with Braden Holtby’s struggles and Phillipp Grubauer’s awesome performance of late. That is their biggest question mark and it could cost them.

Eastern Conference Matchups

Tampa Bay vs New Jersey

New Jersey may have played in a tough division, but they will be playing a juggernaut in Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay have a high powered offense that may be too much for New Jersey, but the Devils did win all three matchups during the regular season

Predictions:

James Rowe: Tampa Bay. Regular season means nothing now and the Lightning are just too freaking good.

Tali Raphael: Lightning. Just a bit more playoff experience and success with Tampa Bay. Also, Keith Kincaid is the starter for the Devils-not someone I’m trusting at the moment.

Ryan Corbin:  The New Jersey Devils are more than capable of pulling out 1-2 wins against this Lightning squad due to both the Hart Trophy caliber of play from winger Taylor Hall on top of the struggles of Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.  However, NJ is dealing with goalie issues themselves.  Corey Schneider recently lost his job to Keith Kinkaid, and they don’t necessarily have the greatest blue-line.  It’s hard to imagine the Devils being able to squeak out more than that with a team as potent as the Bolts.

Boston vs. Toronto

The Maple Leafs have seemingly skated circles around the Bruins this season with a 3-1-1 record, 2 of those wins were without star forward Auston Matthews.  However, most of their perceived dominance over the B’s were either at a time when the team was riddled with injuries, or before their ascent to one of the best hockey clubs in the NHL from mid-November until their recent skid in their previous 5. They have yet to face the current best version of this Bruins team with a full line-up.  With Rick Nash finally recovered from a concussion, the Bruins are as close to full-strength as they have been in months.  Expect both teams to put it all on the line in what could be an all-time great series.

Predictions:

James: Boston. Bruins seemingly played their best hockey in the second half and I thought they were the best team in the Eastern Conference in the last month.

Tali: Bruins. I’d love for Toronto to make it deep into the playoffs, but I don’t see it happening this year. Tuuka Rask is also a reliable playoff netminder.

Ryan: This series is the Bruins to lose.  Ever since winning games at an absolute torrid pace for the majority of the season, the Bruins fell into a slump in their final 5 games going 1-3-1, throwing a way a golden opportunity to claim the Eastern Conference’s number-1 seed and home ice.  On paper the Bruins have as good a chance as any to win not just this round but the Stanley Cup.  It all depends on which team shows up against a tough Leafs opponent.  The Bruins have the edge in puck possession and play-making, but the Leafs have the edge in speed and skill.  Goaltending is a wash between Andersen and Rask.  On paper Rask is a former Vezina trophy winner who should be able to steal some games for the Bruins, but tends to wilt in the spotlight.  Ultimately, I think the Bruins step up their game and take this series.

Washington vs Columbus

The Blue Jackets may have played well down the stretch, but the Capitals have been incredibly consistent for the almost the entirety of the season. The Capitals took three of four games this season.

Predictions:

James: Washington. Columbus has played well of late, but I just can’t seem them being able to beat the Capitals.

Tali: Columbus. There is no sense in trusting Washington to make it happen in the playoffs. The question is whether it is a first round exit or second round exit.

Ryan: Columbus has been playing some fantastic hockey since the trade deadline, receiving significant contributions from mercenary-for-hire Thomas Vanek.  They have a good deal of firepower led by former Chicago phenom Artemi Panarin.  I imagine that Chicago would like a re-do on that trade given their current playoff position.  With that being said I simply don’t think its going to be enough to overcome Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals.  They are simply a more complete team with a heavy on the puck, hard hiitting style that should translate well to the playoffs.  Although we say that every year… Capitals for this round.

Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia

The Penguins and Flyers will reignite a rivalry and bad blood could be on full display. Both squads play at a fast pace, which could mean it could be high scoring in this series. However, the Penguins have swept all four games this season.

Predictions

James: Pittsburgh. The Penguins know how to win and experience means everything in the playoffs.

Tali: Penguins. It hurts me to say it, but it’s going to take a massive effort to defeat the two time defending champions. Just a loaded team.

Ryan: Claude Giroux has put the team on his back this season notching over 100 points and putting himself squarely in the Hart conversation.  A surprisingly strong season from Petr Mrazek has also aided the Flyers surprising efforts this season.  With that being said, the Flyers have little chance of overcoming a squad as talented and deep as the Penguins.  The Penguins biggest question mark has to be the health of netminder Matt Murray who has spent time out with a concussion this year.  Other than that, I think we’ve seen this story before.  Penguins.

Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks play tough, but they also score a lot of goals. Although, not one player on the Ducks scored more than 35, meaning that they distribute the puck well enough. One question mark is their goaltending, with John Gibson playing 60 games this season, and ye olde Ryan Miller picking up 28 in his own right.

Colorado Avalanche

This team went from worst to the playoffs and look to pull off a cinderella story like Nashville last season. They are led by a youngster named Nathan MacKinnon who has been the talk of the league and might be a future star.

Los Angeles Kings

They are an experienced squad who have won two Stanley Cups. Led by seasoned veterans Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty and with Jonathan Quick in net, this team is still incredibly dangerous.

Minnesota Wild

This team always seems to be on the cusp of breaking out and going on a deep playoff run, but never amounting to anything. Could this be the year? Playing in a tough Central Division, Zach Parise leads this team into battle and with their speed, could finally break out and go on a deep run.

Nashville Predators

What a defense on this squad! Pekka Rinne and PK Subban are obviously the headliners, but the team is a holistic unit in keeping things tight. They are the defending Western Conference champions and this season’s President’s Trophy winners, and they look to build on those successes with an eye toward a championship.

San Jose Sharks

This could be the last hurrah for an aging Sharks team with seasoned veterans Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture on the team, but they are also still very talented to go on a deep run especially with Martin Jones minding the net.

Vegas Golden Knights

The ultimate rookie franchise story is now looking for a deep playoff run. The draft has provided Vegas with depth nearly unparalleled in the league. Look to William Karlsson to lead the attack for this squad. However, the question will be whether the defence can scaffold Marc Andre Fleury as the competition gets harder. Can they ensure clear sight lines for Fleury against strong opposition, especially in a first round netminder duel against Jonathan Quick and the Kings?

Winnipeg Jets

Quite a balanced trio between Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Laine, and Blake Wheeler. And they racked up the points during the regular season. Can the third and fourth lines support playoff untested Connor Hellebuyck into the playoffs? If he’s hot, it won’t matter, but his play over the past few weeks implies an inconsistency in defensive play.

Western Conference Matchups

Nashville vs. Colorado

Two Central Division rivals going at it, so it could be a lot of drama. However, the Predators have been in this position before so they are more experienced than the Avalanche. Nashville won all four games this season.

Predictions

James: Nashville. I just think they are the class of the entire Conference.

Tali: Nashville.

Ryan: Nashville has a Presidents Trophy under their belt and has played fantastic hockey all season.  Fueled by last years loss to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, believe this team is on a mission to succeed where they previously failed.  The late addition of former captain Mike Fisher should serve as a shot in the arm for a team who didn’t even need one.  Predators take this one.

Winnipeg vs. Minnesota

This could be the most interesting matchup as Minnesota is looking to finally break through and the Jets will look to finally prove themselves. Winnipeg won three of the four contests this season.

Predictions

James: Minnesota. More playoff experience in the Wild.

Tali: Winnipeg.

Ryan: Winnipeg is a big, fast, and skilled team that will be a force in the Western Conference bracket.  I expect them not only to win this round, but to make a deep run.  With superstar talent like 19 year Patrik Laine (44 goals in only his second season) and stud blue liners such as Dustin Byfuglien, its going to be hard for an injury stricken Minnesota Wild team to keep pace.  Winnipeg.

Vegas vs. Los Angeles

A really incredible story as the Golden Knights, an expansion franchise, made the playoffs in their first season, but they will have to take on an experienced Kings team that are looking for their third Stanley Cup.

Predictions

James: Vegas. Why not?

Tali: Los Angeles.

Ryan: There hasnt been a better story in the NHL this season than the Cinderella story of the Vegas Golden Knights, but the story ends here.  The Knights are made up of a host of gritty, over-achievers seemingly cast off by other teams during the expansion draft.  Regular season success was a surprise, but the playoffs are a different animal, and an animal that the core of the LA Kings have tamed in the recent past.  Anze Kopitar his having another great year, and you can never sleep on a team with a franchise defenseman like Drew Doughty who is arguably the top D-Man in the league.  The goalie battle between Quick and Fleury will be compelling, but I have to give the Kings the edge in this one.

Anaheim vs. San Jose

The battle of two Californian teams as they are both on a collision course, literally, with how physical both squads are. Also, both teams will be trying to erase years of playoff heart break for their fans.

Predictions

James: Anaheim. I just think they are more well rounded

Tali: Anaheim.

Ryan: Anaheim

 

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