Baseball just finished its first full week of the season and that means that the NHL season is coming to a rapid close. The Washington Capitals are looking for their first ever Stanley Cup after being ousted the last few years in the second round; the Chicago Blackhawks–our hometown team–are in the thick of things yet again, and the Minnesota Wild were on a tear the entire season only to slow down at season’s end. Basically the entire Metropolitan division could make a run for the title. This year’s playoffs could go any which way. Hockey fans across the country can look forward to one of the better Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent memory. What a fitting way to celebrate the NHL’s centennial season.
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #W.C 2 Nashville Predators
The Chicago Blackhawks were the top team in the Western Conference this season, posting a point total of 109, 3 points ahead of the next closest team. The Blackhawks started off the season pretty slow, but picked it up towards the end of the season. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the catalysts for the Blackhawks, so look for them to post very good games moving forward. The Nashville Predators clinched the second Wild Card spot with a point total of 94. The Predators are a middling team in terms of points against, power play percentage, and penalty kill, ranking 15th, 16th, and 15th in each category respectively. The Predators are led by their young left winger, Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson paced the team in the regular season in points (61) and goals (31). The Preds will need a big playoff performance from him if they want to continue to the second round.
#2 Minnesota Wild Vs. #3 St. Louis Blues
The Minnesota Wild Started off the season hot and that continued for most of the season until a brief slump towards the end of the season derailed their hopes of a number 1 seed. Led by a new coach in Bruce Boudreau, the Wild are in the best position the franchise has ever been in to make a deep postseason run. Mikael Granlund led the Wild in points with 69, and they will need him to continue to make plays. The Wild are also hoping that their new additions of Martin Hanzal and Ryan White will help add depth to their front line. Devan Dubnyk will need step up in the playoffs if they want to go far. The St. Louis Blues are led by Vladimir Tarasenko, one of the best players in the NHL. Tarasenko led the Blues in points (75) and goals (39). The Blues will need him at his best if they want to beat the Wild.
#1 Anaheim Ducks Vs. #W.C 1 Calgary Flames
The Anaheim Ducks were the best team in the Pacific Division with a record of (46-23-13). The Ducks were great in two statistical categories this season, and this might help them in the playoffs. The Ducks were 3rd in the league in goals against and were 4th in penalty kill. Ryan Kesler is the player to watch for on the Ducks. The hard nosed forward has no qualms about getting in someone’s grill. He will be a fun player to watch in this series. The top Wild Card team, the Calgary Flames, has had a bit of a rough patch down the stretch, but are looking to rebound. Losing their last 3 games coming into the playoffs, the Flames are essentially mediocre at every facet of the game. The top performer on the Flames is Johnny Gaudreau, who led the team in points with 61. Watch out for the scrappy Flames team to test the Ducks in this first round matchup.
#2 Edmonton Oilers Vs. #3 San Jose Sharks
Connor McDavid is a bona fide superstar for the Edmonton Oilers. At only 20 years of age and in his second season, he won the Art Ross Trophy as the points leader for the entire league. Posting 30 goals and 70 assists in the 82 games played, the Oilers will live with and die with the play of McDavid. The San Jose Sharks have been close so many times in the last couple of years, even making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year against the Penguins only to lose in 6 games. Will this be the year the Sharks make it over the hump? If Martin Jones has anything to say about it, they will. Jones has had a bit of a down year and he will need to get back to last year’s playoff numbers if the Sharks are going to get back to the finals.
#1 Montreal Canadiens Vs. #W.C 1 New York Rangers
The Montreal Canadiens might have been the best team in the Atlantic Division during the regular season, but that is not saying much when basically all of the teams in the Metropolitan division that made the playoffs had a better record than the Canadiens. The Rangers had more wins than the Canadiens, but had less overtime losses. The Canadiens are 4th in goals against and that helps them stay in games, but when they get down early it’s hard for them to come back. The Rangers, on the other hand, are 4th in goals per game. This series will be the offense of the Rangers versus the defense of Canadiens.
#2 Ottawa Senators Vs. #3 Boston Bruins
The Ottawa Senators are the only playoff team that has a negative goals for vs goals against for the entire season. The Senators are -2 on the year and are going up against a team in the Boston Bruins who have a +22 mark in that category. Unless some of the losses that the Senators had were of massive margins–and they won only close games–it is shocking at how they are the 2 seed. The Senators are 22nd in goals for and 10th in goals against. Erik Karlsson better have a very good series. The Bruins have been in the Playoffs before and know what it takes to win, but that is not all that it takes to go far. They also boast the best penalty kill in the league and a very dominant defense, which will help them. Brad Marchand of the Bruins is playing some very good hockey currently. Pacing the Bruins in points (85) goals (39) assists (46) and plus/minus (+18). The Bruins look like a team that can make a surprising run to the cup.
#1 Washington Capitals Vs. #W.C 2 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Capitals are the best team in the NHL. They are leading the NHL in goals against, are 3rd in goals for, and are 3rd in penalty kill. This Washington team has it all. An overpowering offense, a stifling defense, and a fantastic goalie. The Caps are probably the strongest candidate to hoist the Stanley Cup aloft at the end of the Playoffs. The Toronto Maple leafs might have made the playoffs, but they are little in the way of a road block for this Caps team. Alex Ovechkin and company will most likely run over Maple Leafs on their way to the second round. The only thing that might stall Washington will be some stellar goalkeeping by Frederik Andersen.
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. #3 Columbus Blue Jackets
Sidney Crosby will go down as one of the best to ever play the game, but it will be interesting to see if the top scoring team in the NHL will have its way against one of the best goalies in the league. Sergei Bobrovsky has a 2.06 goals against percentage this season. It has always been said that defense wins championships, but sometimes overpowering offenses can overwhelm even the best defense. This is a must watch matchup between two of the better teams in the league. Whoever comes out on top will be a top contender for the cup.