The most unpredictable postseason in professional sports, otherwise known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s a postseason like no other as the atmosphere, and play intensifies to a level that can’t be measured into proper words. Even the most casual hockey fan (if those even do exist) embraces the Stanley Cup as one of the most exciting elements in all of professional sports. It’s a postseason where 8 seeds reach the Stanley Cup final, a postseason where teams have triumphed an 0-3 deficit to win a series, and a postseason that can see a 60 minute game turn into near a 100 minute game. The unpredictability that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs can’t be questioned, but we’re going to give it our best ‘slap’shot (sorry, too easy) to keep the unpredictability at a bare minimum (not that we’d want to, but you get the idea).
1 Tampa Bay Lightning: 4
WC New Jersey Devils: 2
New Jersey won all three regular season meetings between the two (yes, you read that correctly). However, all three meetings came prior to the trade deadline before Tampa Bay had a chance to bolster their defense by adding Ryan McDonagh, and assuring their offensive depth with JT Miller; both courtesy of the New York Rangers’ fire sale. The Devils payed a visit to the New York fire sale as well (honestly, who didn’t), and acquired scoring threat Michael Grabner. In addition they added much needed size with F Patrick Maroon from Edmonton. While some may see the regular season as a possible tell tale for a potential upset in the making, Tampa Bay’s moves assure that they enter the playoffs with no glaring weakness, and there’s a reason they outdueled Boston in the final weeks to obtain the number one seed in the Atlantic. New Jersey enters the playoffs red hot, and will look to continue that momentum to swing a possible upset. While we expect the series to be closer than some might think, Tampa Bay has a complete, and more talented roster, while certain areas clearly still need to be addressed in Jersey; Tampa Bay in 6.
2 Boston Bruins: 4
3 Toronto Maple Leafs: 3
Expect a physical series between two division rivals. Toronto got the upper hand in the regular season, but we expect different results this time around. Boston has an edge where it matters most, goaltending. Tuukka Rask likely makes the difference in this series, as he proven to be one of the most clutch goaltenders in hockey. Toronto has capable firepower with its top unit with Auston Mathews, Zach Hyman, and William Nylander, the problem that will likely be Toronto’s demise will be their defensive inconsistencies. Ron Hainsey is solid, but after that it gets a tad fuzzy. The Bruins should be able to take advantage of the lackluster defense, and ultimately control the pace of a tightly contested series; Boston in 7.
1 Washington Capitals: 3
WC Columbus Blue Jackets: 4
This might be a 1vWC matchup, but don’t be surprised it plays out more like a 2v3 series. Washington offers tremendous offensive firepower with Alex Ovechkin leading the way, but as is the problem every year, their defense is mediocre at best. The Capitals are quickly being known as a ‘good regular season team.’ In hockey language, this usually translates to scoring capability than can win games 5-4, or 6-5 in the regular season, but have trouble biting down defensively come playoff time. Any hockey fan knows that most playoff games are not necessarily going to see 10-11 goals per game. In the new, faster NHL goals have become more frequent, but once you hit the second round, each goal becomes more valuable than the previous, as there’s no guarantee another one is coming. Sure, maybe Washington sneaks by Columbus in round one, but there will be a point where they will meet a defensively sound team that has the capability to shutdown their offense, and it will become a battle of the blue lines, something that Washington has yet to figure out despite the regular season success. Columbus is likely the best wild card team in the playoffs, and could easily give the Caps fits. They bring scoring capability, great goaltending, and a solid defense to a series that many may end up being surprised by. Then again… Maybe not; Blue Jackets in 7.
2 Pittsburgh Penguins: 4
3 Philadelphia Flyers: 1
Say what you want, ‘they’re old,’ ‘they lost key pieces,’ ‘they aren’t nearly as dominant as they were a few years ago.’ All of this noise, but nothing to show for it other than back to back Stanley Cups. It would be foolish to dismiss the Pens due to a regular season not living up to the usual ever so high standards. Do the Penguins have the most talented roster on paper? No, probably not. They do have two guys by the names of Sydney Crosby, and Evegni Malkin, if those guys play up to their capabilities, they can carry the team themselves to a potential three-peat. On the flip side, Philadelphia is coming off a year where they just obtained the second pick in the NHL draft. This year it’s all about the number 262. Why 262 you ask? That is the total number of points their three headed monster, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier combined for to lead this team back to the playoffs. Do we need to explain how ridiculous that is? If so… BEYOND RIDICULOUS. Wayne Simmonds brings a physical, veteran presence that is most effective in a rivalry playoff series such as this one. To be the team to crown the defending champs, you don’t necessarily need scoring ability such as this, you need a shutdown defense that contain the two names mentioned above. The Flyers do not only lack a shutdown defense, they lack consistent goaltending. Those are two big ‘gulps,’ for any opposing team facing the Pens in a best of seven series. Flyers may win a game or two off of temporary adrenaline lead by their offensive trio, but you can’t beat the Penguins 4 out of 7 times with no defense, or goaltending. It’s just not going to happen; Penguins in 5.
1 Nashville Predators: 4
WC Colorado Avalanche: 0
Nashville remains one of the favorites to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and for good reason. Aside from finishing atop of the Western conference, they are as a complete of a team in recent years. They’re scoring capability is not only evident, it’s an extremely balanced attack that has seen 15 different players score at least ten goals this season. If you were curious about number 16, it’s star defenseman Ryan Ellis, who finished with 9 goals, and 23 helpers from the Nashville blue line. That’s why Nashville is so dangerous, there is no Crosby, Ovechkin, or Hall to focus on shutting down, they can put up numbers in a variety of ways, so setting up a countering game plan against them has to be an opposing coaches’ worst nightmare. Forget about their balanced scoring attack, as attempting to curate any type of offense against them is a daunting task in itself. Are you ready? Ryan Ellis, PK Subban, Roman Josi, and Mattias Eckholm are their top four. All four of those guys are likely any other teams top defenseman, yet here Eckholm sits as Nashville’s four. This is why Nashville is built for the cup, and why anything short of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance will be attributed to a disappointing season. Oh, wait! They’re goaltending… Pekka Rinne can be considered a top five goaltender in the NHL, and was a big reason for their Stanley Cup run last season. So if the Ads do find a way to get past the all-star defense, they then have to find a way to beat an all-star goaltender. The Avs are a young team on the rise, and this series isn’t about them being incapable as much as it really is about the Preds being too capable; Predators in 4.
2 Winnipeg Jets: 5
3 Minnesota Wild: 1
The Jets are quietly one of the best teams in hockey. The reason they continue to go vastly unnoticed is the likelihood that they play in a Canadian small market such as Winnipeg. The league will begin to take a bit more notice this year, as they continued to impress throughout the regular season with their top-notch offensive attack, solid defensive unit, and consistent goaltending. The Wild are a good hockey team, but it seems they have hit a peak in terms of achievement. While a few years ago they won the NHL free agency sweepstakes by claiming Zach Parise, and Ryan Sutter, Minnesota has failed to surround the duo with a good enough supporting cast to be a true cup contender. This year is a similar situation, as there was never much doubt the Wild would be apart of the 16 team tournament, but at the same time there really isn’t much doubt that they won’t be able to make much noise; Jets in 5.
1 Las Vegas Golden Knights: 4
WC Los Angeles Kings: 3
Expect this series to be a long, hard fought series that could go either way. Vegas has cracked the record books as obtaining one of the most successful inaugural seasons in not only NHL history, but in professional sports. The setup of the expansion draft assisted them not only to assemble one of the better rosters on paper, but teams pleading to keep certain players assisted their long-term success as they accumulated numerous compensation draft picks. Vegas has no stand out star, what they do have is a plethora of capable talent that can be tough for even the league’s best to keep up with. What does LA bring to the table? A solid roster that not only has experience playing with one another, but Stanley Cup experience as well. Jonathan Quick seems to always turn his game up ten levels when the playoffs begin, and we expect no different in 2018. The Kings clearly don’t match the Vegas scoring capability after their top line finishes their shift(s), but the Kings do match, and likely have an advantage when it comes to defense, and goaltending. Jonathan Quick has single handedly stolen a playoff series before, and he’s more than capable of doing it here. While Marc Andre-Fleury has is no stranger to playoff success, he doesn’t bring the same consistent impact Quick brings to the table. This series is a toss-up, as Vegas will look to their offensive agility to wear down LA, while Los Angeles will look to their sound defense, and goaltending, and more or less wait to capitalize on a Vegas mistake (no guaranteeing there are many of those). In the end, the Golden Knights prevail in 7.
2 Anaheim Ducks: 4
3 San Jose Sharks: 3
Another Pacific region ‘toss-up’ as both teams have seen numerous shining moments throughout the year that many could mention either as potential cup contenders. The Sharks were revitalized at the deadline with the addition of star forward Evander Kane. Kane has delivered, and will be crucial in San Jose’s potential playoff success. Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture round out San Jose’s convincing scoring threat, and Anaheim will need to make it a top priority to contain those three to take control of the series. Anaheim brings solid offensive firepower as well with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Rickard Rakell. While those three aren’t the top tier scorers they once were, they still have the capability to lead a team with the right supporting cast. The defensive matchup is loaded for both sides, and will likely be the difference in the series. Anaheim brings Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Brandon Montour, and Francois Beauchemin as their top four, all more than capable, and deserving of playing in a playoff atmosphere. San Jose counters with Brent Burns, Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Justin Braun. It’s funny because the battle if the blue lines is likely where this series will be won, but to give either even the slightest advantage is almost impossible. As for goaltending, the Sharks will need the good Martin Jones to show up. There have been times where one can consider his talents as good as any, and then they’re have ben other times where he barley qualifies as an NHL backup. Jones recorded a .915 save percentage, with a 2.55 GAA, but struggled down the stretch. The Ducks are hoping to have John Gibson between the pipes, as prior to his injury, he was one of the best goaltenders in the league with a .926 save percentage combined with a 2.46 GAA. If he’s unable to go, the Ducks will look to Ryan Miller, whose stat line of .926 SV%, 2.35 GAA, and 4 SO in 24 appearances is more than admirable for any backup goaltender. Miller also played extremely well down the stretch, so if Anaheim is forced to call on Miller, it shouldn’t necessarily be the Ducks’ demise. We’re taking the Ducks in 7, but don’t pencil that in, it easily could go the other way.