Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to repeat but with a wide open Eastern Conference can they do it?
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The Stanley Cup Playoffs are quickly approaching with the regular season officially done. League powerhouses and surprises alike make up the 16 teams that will compete for Lord Stanley in June.
Of the local teams, only the New York Rangers moved onto the postseason, as they secured the first wildcard as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers will take on the Atlantic Division champions, Montreal Canadiens in the opening round.
The playoffs are set up in a division based format where the top three teams from each division make up the first six seeds for each conference. The two next best teams, regardless of division, make up seeds seven and eight. So despite the Rangers having a higher point total than both the two and three seed in the Atlantic Division, they will actually have the seventh seed overall.
The bracket suggests, 2017 could be the Rangers year. After all, they finished only one point behind the Canadiens and ahead of both the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins to go along with their solid play in recent years against Atlantic Division foes.
The difference this year is that Carey Price is healthy and the Canadiens have a new, all-star defenseman by the name of Shea Weber. This could give the Rangers fits on offense, however, if they play their style of hockey and win based on defense, there is no reason that the Rangers can’t get past the opening round. The Rangers would also be favored in their potential second round matchup against either the Senators or Bruins.
The biggest question of this year’s playoffs lies within our nations capital. Are the Washington Capitals finally going to win it all?
The Washington Capitals won the President’s Trophy, awarded to the team that amasses the most points throughout the regular season, and made a big move at the trade deadline acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk joined forces with Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, Braden Holtby and captain, Alexander Ovechkin who is one of the best pure goal scorers of all-time and was honored as part of the NHL 100 revealed back in January.
The President’s Trophy is quite the feat, but winning that and not following through on the Stanley Cup can be compared to the Golden State Warriors of a year ago, winning an NBA record 73 games in the regular season, but falling short in the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So, will the Caps go all the way? History says no, in the two seasons prior that they have won the Presidents Trophy, 2010 and again in 2016, in both instances they failed to make it past the third round. With that being said, this year seems different. Unlike years in the past, it is not all about offense. Instead, the Capitals played solid defense and won the William M. Jennings trophy by allowing the fewest goals against per game. If the Capitals can make it through the second round passing the young Toronto Maple Leafs, and then either the reigning-champion, Pittsburgh Penguins, or the Columbus Blue Jackets, anything is possible.
In the Western Conference, the young and talented Edmonton Oilers were no fluke in the regular season. They finished second in the Pacific Division with a record of 47-26-9 for a total of 103 points. The solid play of goaltender Cam Talbot, and cornerstone player Connor McDavid have elevated the Oilers to a level they haven’t seen in a long time.
The Chicago Blackhawks, dubbed by The Hockey News, “the modern day dynasty”, have one fear; the Los Angeles Kings, who lucky for Chicago did not qualify for the playoffs. The St. Louis Blues present another tough opposition for Chicago as after years of losing to the Blackhawks in post season play, the Blues avenged themselves knocking off the Blackhawks in the opening round last year. Perhaps it was a one-time thing, or maybe the Blues have finally figured out how to conquer the modern day dynasty. If the Blues don’t get in the Blackhawks way again, it’s Chicago’s conference to lose.
Finally, the darkhorse has to be either the Anaheim Ducks or the Minnesota Wild. Both teams have gained playoff experience over recent years and have lost to the champions of the West, the Blackhawks and the Kings. Losing to those teams and extending the series as far as possible has more value than people think.
Minnesota had a disappointing post-trade deadline record of 8-11-2, which was somewhat salvaged through their strong finish posting a 4-1 mark over their final five games. If the Wild can keep the recent play from a 4-game winning streak alive, their first round match-up with the Blues will be something to look out for, and might be the most competitive series in the first round.
Overall, the playoffs are there for the taking. There are two major teams to look out for, those being the Capitals and the Blackhawks. The reigning-champion Pittsburgh Penguins will have their hands full with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Oilers, with little to no playoff experience in their core have a chance to make some noise based on the matchups they have, however, teams like the Rangers, Ducks and Wild who have paid their dues in recent years have a chance to prevail yet again this year.
Like 2012 when the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed, the bracket is completely unpredictable. But that’s what makes the playoffs so great. Every team will give it their all and whoever reaches 16 wins first will hoist Lord Stanley. These players and teams do it all. Because it’s the cup.