The NHL Playoffs are one of the best spectacles in all of sport as 16 teams are whittled down to the final pairing who square off for the oldest professional sporting trophy. Every hockey player wants to get their name on Lord Stanley’s Cup in just under two months. With seven changes to the playoff field from last year, there are several teams that will feel like this could be their year.
Washington Capitals (Metropolitan Division Winner)
The punchline surrounding the Capitals is when they will lose, not if. For all of his regular season success, Alexander Ovechkin has not been himself in the playoffs and they are a big candidate for a first round upset. Columbus is a tough first round opponent in good form and the Capitals could be out sooner than expected… again.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Metropolitan Division 2nd Seed)
You cannot count out the back to back defending champion as they try to become the first team since the 1980’s to complete a hat-trick. If Matt Murray can put together a good month and a bit the Penguins have more than enough talent to be lifting the Cup.
Philadelphia Flyers (Metropolitan Division 3rd Seed)
If anyone is going to be able to rattle the Penguins it is their first round opponent Philadelphia. To get through that series will require a lot of effort and energy so a deep run might be out of the question but whoever plays them will be feeling the effects going forward. Not to mention it has been Philadelphia’s year for championships with the Eagles and Villanova already bringing trophies back to the City of Brotherly Love.
Columbus Blue Jackets (Wild Card Team 1)
Since the trade deadline the Blue Jackets have been in remarkable form and you can not assume they will be a walkover coming in as a wild card team. Line depth is an issue for them but the top line battles will be very entertaining.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic Division Winner)
The weakest of the top seeded teams, Tampa has serious questions about its ability to keep the goals out. They have had to rely heavily on Andrei Vasilevskiy in goals throughout the season and he started to look a little bit flat in the last couple of weeks. If he is off his game in any way the Lightning will be in big trouble.
Boston Bruins (Atlantic Division 2nd Seed)
After a very rough start, the Bruins have been one of the best teams in the league. Playing in plenty of high scoring games they have the forward depth to roll out four strong lines. Defensively they suffered a blow to a group that was already quite inconsistent with Brandon Carlo. On their day they can match it with the best of them and would fancy their chances in any series.
Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic Division 3rd Seed)
Whoever loses the Boston-Toronto series will feel very hard done by as both teams feel like they could be in the mix in June. With Auston Matthews back in the lineup, Toronto have their superstar forward ready to go, the big question behind him is who will score the goals if they get into a shootout.
New Jersey Devils (Wild Card Team 2)
They will be very happy to have drawn Tampa Bay in the first round having pulled off a season sweep against their Floridian opponents. Each game was decided by one goal but the Devils can pounce on any little mistake. It would not be a surprise if they run Tampa close in this series but head to head they are overmatched against just about every opponent.
Nashville Predators (Central Division & Presidents’ Trophy Winner)
They have been the best team in the league from start to finish this year and are our favourites to raise the Cup in about two months. Defence is key at this time of year and they have one of the best in the league in P.K. Subban plus a Vezina Trophy favourite in Pekka Rinne. They just keep coming at teams and will not let up in any matchup.
Winnipeg Jets (Central Division 2nd Seed)
When the Jets are on fire they are one of the most fun teams in the league to watch, scoring at will. Unfortunately for people trying to pick their games they are very selective with which games they show up. With a questionable power play and special teams, their range is very wide from a first round exit to the Final.
Minnesota Wild (Central Division 3rd Seed)
Late season injuries have caused playoff expectations for the Wild to be greatly tempered. At full strength they should be competitive with just about every team in the playoffs, but their defensive group will be stretched too thin in a seven game series.
Colorado Avalanche (Wild Card Team 2)
This is a very top heavy team and their top line can create problems but once you get down that roster they can be exposed. Colorado do enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league but the effort they expended to get to this point will not help them when things step up a notch.
Vegas Golden Knights (Pacific Division Winner)
Las Vegas has been easily the best story to follow in their debut season, setting all sorts of records and claiming an unlikely division title. They have a tough first round matchup with the Kings who have plenty of playoff experience on their team, however the energy and unique home ice advantage Vegas provides makes them a must watch proposition.
Anaheim Ducks (Pacific Division 2nd Seed)
Anaheim have a fantastic goaltending duo and they are the big reason they made the playoffs in the first place. Ryan Miller is perhaps the best remaining backup in the playoffs and it is very fortunate with starter John Gibson dealing with injuries. They have a tough first round matchup that could easily go to seven games but the local rivalry between them and San Jose has some intriguing components.
San Jose Sharks (Pacific Division 3rd Seed)
If they are healthy then they can compete with any team in the west. They have a great record against their Californian rivals, going 6-1-1 against them this season and if they can get to the Conference Finals they can take advantage of ill discipline by any opponent they meet. Add in the emotion of possibly sending off Joe Thornton with a win and they are a dark horse.
Los Angeles Kings (Wild Card Team 1)
While the roster might have some familiar names on it compared to the last time the Kings won the Stanley Cup, this is not the same team. They will be counting on Las Vegas having playoff inexperience and perhaps pounce on them early in the series to get the upper hand. Even if they can get out of the first round it will be a big ask to beat either one of their California rivals in the second round.