It’s that time of the year as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally back and many hockey fans will be ecstatic to watch some of the best drama sports can provide (and that’s no joke, every game is outstandingly close). While it’s weird to say this now after all those years of heartbreak, teams will be gunning for the defending champion, Washington Capitals, who look to retain the Stanley Cup. With that being said, let’s preview each team and series.
Boston is a pretty lethal team with a lot talent up front in the forwards with such players as David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand, along with such other top notch players like David Krejci, Marcus Johansson, and Jake DeBrusk. However, they are balanced too with a solid defensive corp in Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and Torey Krug. The Bruins also have a great goalie in Tuuka Rask who puts up Vezina Trophy like numbers every year. While there were a lot of injury issues this season for them, they are a pretty well rounded team.
In what feels like an eternity, the Hurricanes are back in the playoffs. However, don’t sleep on this squad, they are really talented and dangerous. They got into the playoffs based on their possession style type of play. They have some top tier talent in Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, Michael Fearland, and the ageless wonder Justin Williams. However, their best player is Dougie Hamilton who has been the key part of their successful run to the playoffs. Goaltending is a big question mark as they don’t have an established goalie. They will have to go with whoever has the hot hand in either Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus limped into the playoffs, but here they are trying to prove that their end of season struggles are thing of the past. That being said, they do boast some talent here as they are primed to make a deep run and could do so. With such players as Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin, Pierre Luc-Dubois, Seth Jones, and Josh Anderson leading their offense and defense. They also have a very good goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. Keep an eye on what they do these playoffs, they could upset.
New York Islanders
The Islanders came out of nowhere and played some great hockey this year. That being said, they could make a deep run in the playoffs and even possibly hoist the Cup up later this June. The team lost their prized star in John Tavares in free agency so many thought New York would struggle, but that would not be the case. Their is some top talent in Matthew Barzal, Anders Lee, Devon Toews, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey. The goaltending will likely be netminder Robin Lehner’s job for the postseason, however backup Thomas Greiss can fill in well if things go awry for Lehner.
Not able to pull off a three-peat last year, the Penguins look to win a third Stanley Cup in four years with a deep run this year. Pittsburgh has an abundance of talent in players like Jake Guentzel, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Patric Hornqvist, but also top notch superstars in Evgeni Malkin and possibly the best player in the league in Sidney Crosby. While their offense can compete, the defense is suspect. The goaltending though is solid with youngster Matt Murray in the net, however, if struggles do arise, the Penguins are in a bunch of trouble.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay has been a really good team the last few seasons, but this year, the Lightning were really freaking good. They came close breaking so many records that thinking they are not the favorites to win this year is foolish. Oh, and they won the President’s Trophy. There team is loaded with talent like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Cedric Paquette, but this team has many others which makes them deep. This team is stout defensively and pack quite a punch offensively, there is one thing that makes them even more dangerous and that’s their goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy who is probably going to win the Vezina Trophy. This team is just too good.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Well if Tampa Bay have a lot of fire power, then this team is not far behind as they are loaded with young, but great goal scoring talent. After adding John Tavares in the offseason, it just added more offense to an already great one. They are blessed to have such players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly, and veteran Patrick Marleau. However, their Achilles Heel is their defense. They allow a lot of goals, so they will need to score more than they allow. Simple concept, but hard to pull off. They do have Frederik Andersen at net, but he is either really good or really bad and they will have to bank on hoping he is really good or else their season ends early.
The defending champions come in with their fourth straight Metropolitan Division title, but there is a very good chance they could repeat this year as they are deep and well rounded. This team might have the best chance at beating Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Capitals will have to actually make it if that is the case. That being said, they are loaded with talent with players like T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, Andre Burakovsky, and Tom Wilson, but they also boast superstars Nicklas Backstrom and possibly the best goal scorer in the league Alexander Ovechkin. These guys are really good and will be very tough to beat and if their goalie Braden Holtby plays like an absolute beast in the net, it will be tough to even score on them.
The Flames came out of nowhere this year and finished first in the Pacific Division, but this team is really good. There is some good talent here in Mark Giodarno and Johnny Gaudreau, however, there is also great players in Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, T.J. Brodie, and Mikael Backlund. The concern is their goaltending as Mike Smith was bad this year and backup David Rittich played well, but he’s a backup for a reason. They have to bank on them performing well if they want to win the Stanley Cup.
With a late push for the playoffs, the Avalanche are back. Colorado has a lot to like as they are young and have some good talent like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Carl Soderberg, and Tyson Barrie. The Avalanche are on the rise and could become a force in the near future, but there will be a lot of growing pains here for Colorado. However, what gives them hope is Philipp Grubauer in the net as he has been playing really well of late. Their hope is that he can continue that into the playoffs.
The Stars are very interesting team as they have some good seasons and then play like a mediocre the next, but they had a great one this year and are back in the playoffs. Dallas has a crop of talent that is fun to watch like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Mats Zuccarello, and Miro Heiskanen, but their goalie Ben Bishop is sensational has he puts up Vezina Trophy like numbers. This team is sneaky good and could make a first round upset.
The Predators are back in the playoffs again and will be looking for some magic this time around again like they did in their Cup finals run a couple years ago. Nashville has a collection of talent that is so good, it could very well win it this year with the likes of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, and Mattias Ekholm leading their squad. Also, with Pekka Rinne in the net, they feel supremely confident about their chances and look to win their first Cup in franchise history.
San Jose Sharks
It seems pretty annual at this point to talk about San Jose in the playoffs as they seemingly make it every season, and for good reason, they are a really good team. With the likes of such talent on the team as Evander Kane, Gustav Nyquist, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, and Erik Karlsson. They also have a solid goalie in Martin Jones, but Jones has struggled this season so the Sharks will hope that he can be back to his best for the playoffs if they want any chance of advancing.
St. Louis Blues
Blues seemed like they were going to have disappointing season as they started the season off badly, but they managed rally off one of the most incredibly impressive run to the playoffs and here they are as the hottest squad going in to the postseason. They’ve got some talent like Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson, and Brayden Schenn. However, their goaltending has been sensational since Jordan Binnington became the starter as he only lost 5 games en route to making the playoffs. It should be interesting how he handles the playoffs as he is probably the x-factor for the team.
The Jets have a collection talent that could take Winnipeg all the way to the championship and people should take them seriously. With the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Kevin Hayes on the team, they are a super dangerous squad to compete with as they should give any side a thorn on their sides. While Connor Hellebuyck has not been at his best, he’s been playing well of late and that could be key for them if they want to beat the juggernauts. They are a fun team to watch and Winnipeg is a team that has all the making for a championship.
Vegas Golden Knights
After a remarkable inaugural season where they played all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, Vegas is back and they have proven that they are a good team, however, they don’t have the seeding like last year and it will be interesting to see what they do this Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are some talented players like Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, and Brayden McNabb, but they also have a great veteran in net with Marc-Andre Fleury who has been a rock in front of the goal. It should be interesting how things turn out this year for them in the playoffs.
Matchups and Predictions
Tampa Bay vs Columbus
Tampa Bay won all three of the games this season
James Rowe: Tampa Bay. This series won’t even be close.
Boston vs Toronto
Boston won three of the four games this year
James: Boston. I think it will actually go down to seven games, but the Bruins are the better team.
Washington vs Carolina
Washington won all four matchups this season
James: Washington. Carolina is better than some think, but the Capitals are a really good squad. It could go six games.
New York vs Pittsburgh
The two teams split the season series
James: New York. Lots of people think Pittsburgh is going to win this, but I think it will come down to defense and Pittsburgh’s is not very good.
Nashville vs Dallas
Nashville won three of the five games this season
James: Nashville. Dallas has some talent, but Nashville is just simply better.
Winnipeg vs St. Louis
Winnipeg won three of the four games this season
James: Winnipeg. St. Louis could make a series out of this, but the Jets are destined to win this year.
Calgary vs Colorado
Calgary won all three games this season
James: Calgary. I really like what Colorado has on their team, but Calgary has proven to be a really good team this year.
San Jose vs Vegas
The two teams split the season series
James: San Jose. I like the talent that San Jose has and I think this will go seven games, but the Sharks I just feel like are a better team.