By Caroline Sweeney
Approximately 2,500 games later the stage is set, and the matchups are finalized. After playing a long 82 game season, 31 teams have been whittled down to 16, all in the pursuit to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup. The playoffs began on April 11 with the first round matchups.
The Western Conference matchups for the first round are the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche, the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Los Angeles Kings, and the Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks.
First round matchups for the Eastern Conference are the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New Jersey Devils, the Bostons Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I predict that the Western conference finals will include the Nashville Predators against the San Jose Sharks, with the Predators prevailing for their second appearance in the cup finals.
For the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Bruins will be playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. If the Bruins win, they will head to the cup finals against the Nashville Predators.
Three playoff series that I am mostly looking forward to watching is the Flyers and the Penguins, the Lightning and the Devils, and the Golden Knights and the Kings.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the past two Stanley Cups and are on the hunt for a third. The Penguins are one of the favorites to win the cup because of the simple fact that the team has won the cup multiple times in past seasons.
The Penguins have also shown their power and resilience during the regular season. With the number one ranked power play percentage and goals on power plays, it is difficult to defend against this dominant team.
Most importantly, the Penguins also have two of the best players in the league in Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Those two players alone give them a leg up on the Flyers. However, the Flyers have the ability to get under the skin of the Penguins players.
Once that happens, the Penguins begin to struggle and make poor plays, opening the door for the Flyers. When the game is not going the way the Penguins want it to, they become overly aggressive. The Penguins take unnecessary penalties, and these penalties lead to opportunities for the Flyers to score.
In the west, the Golden Knights have been the major surprise throughout the NHL season, despite being an expansion team with nothing but young, inexperienced players from other teams and a few veterans that have been in the league for years.
With a 51-24 regular season record and ending with 109 points, the Golden Knights lead the Pacific division and occupied third place in the Western Conference. Even with their impressive regular season, the Golden Knights will probably not make an impact in this year’s playoffs because they are an inexperienced playoff team and do not have the same depth in players that the Kings do. The Kings have a majority of the same players from the team who won the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup.
The Kings were the number one team in goals allowed, despite having a top ranked, former Vezina trophy winner in Jonathan Quick. The Kings let in a lot of goals, and the quick shots and slick hands of James Neal and William Karlsson have made their mark on this playoff series and the regular season.
The playoffs are unpredictable, and anything can happen. Teams that have been at the top of the standings, like the Tampa Bay Lightning, have the real possibility to lose in the first round to the New Jersey Devils.
Naysayers may argue that what happens in the regular season is an indication of what is to happen in the playoffs. But every team is now on a clean slate since making the playoffs. During the regular season, the Devils swept the Lightning, one of the top teams in the league. The Lightning were number one in goals scored and second in power play goals.
Tampa Bay has built their team through the draft and made big moves during free agency, so they will not fall in the first round. They are simply too good in many different categories.
Anything goes in the playoffs. NHL analyst, commentator, and former player Edward “Eddie” Olczyk said it best: the playoffs are a war, players are bloody and beat up, like nothing you have ever seen.
So anything can happen. Maybe the “City of Champions” feeling will inspire the Flyers and Philadelphia will have a third parade.
Contact Caroline Sweeney at firstname.lastname@example.org