It's that time of year again. Yes, the Stanley Cup playoffs are right around the corner. The best teams in the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference square off to see who will take home the Stanley Cup. Each team has their strengths and weaknesses, but only one team will take it all.
Eastern Conference Teams
The Washington Capitals are once again one of the favorites going into this postseason. Led by Alex Ovechkin, the team based out of our nation's capital looks to move past their second round elimination stigma and move towards their first Stanley Cup. Currently, the number 1 seed in the Metropolitan Division the Capitals will more than likely have an easy first round. The Capitals have clinched a playoff spot.
Columbus Blue Jackets
In a heated race with the Capitals for the President's Trophy, the Columbus Blue Jackets have come a long way since finishing dead last in the Metropolitan Division last year. Currently the number 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division, the Blue Jackets would square off against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blue Jackets have clinched a playoff spot.
After last year's historic run to the Stanely Cup, the reigning champions look to defend their title. With injuries to Bryan Rust, Oli Maata, Trevor Daley, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins look to their AHL affiliate team for young talent looking to make a playoff run. With a tough first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Brian Doumolin will look to take on the challenge after clinching a spot in the playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs
With the rising star of Auston Matthews scoring goals left and right for the Maple Leafs, the 19-year-old forward is a big reason why the Leafs are making the playoffs this year. However, a tough first round may prove to be the ultimate test for this young group of hockey players. They are the number 2 seed Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference so they will take on one of the best teams in the Conference.
Leading the Atlantic Division as the number 1 seed, the Canadiens will take on the New York Rangers. Shea Weber, Max Pacioretty, and Alexander Radulov look to lead their team past the first round. The Canadiens went into the playoffs last year as one of the favorites and fell flat on their face. Who knows what the New York Rangers will pull on them this year.
New York Rangers
It's no surprise to see the New York Rangers in the playoffs... Again! As the first Wild Card team, they take on the Montreal Canadiens, the first seed in the Atlantic Division (unless someone else takes over the first seed in the Atlantic Division). The Rangers have more points than the Canadiens, but the Metropolitan Division dominance has led the Rangers to have fight through Atlantic Division teams, which may actually play in their favor. Watch players like Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash lead the team and do whatever it takes to win.
Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Kyle Turris look to make the Senators a contender in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Coming in as the number 2 seed in the Atlantic Division, the Senators have come a long way since giving up 4 goals to Auston Matthews in their opener. The Sens have a strong enough offensive to power through the defense on the other side of the ice.
Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, and Zdeno Chara are going to try to hold off their opponents in round one of the playoffs. After a season of plagued by injuries, the Boston Bruins have relied on Brad Marchand, one of the league's leading scorers to support them. If Tuukka Rask and Marchand step up big time the Boston Bruins can fly past their foes.
Western Conference Teams
San Jose Sharks
Last year's Stanley Cup Final losers come into this year's playoffs with a vengeance! As one of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Sharks lead the Pacific Division as the number 1 seed. Joe Thornton, Martin Jones, and Joe Pavelski are looking to lead their team to the franchise's first Stanley Cup. The Sharks will be aggressive and will utilize their offensive tools. As it stands the Sharks will take on the Calgary Flames.
The Calgary Flames have been solid this year. If you were to ask me at the beginning of the season if I thought the Flames would be playing this well I would have laughed. The Flames don't necessarily have the history that screams success. However, they look to change that this year.
After getting upset by the Nashville Predators last year, the Anaheim Ducks look to strike back this year. After having some goaltender and defensive issues the Ducks still stayed strong throughout the season and may make it through the first round this year.
The obvious star for the Edmonton Oilers is Connor McDavid. Without McDavid the team is lifeless. If McDavid goes down so does the team. There's nothing wrong with having a playmaker, but if you rely on one player to rejuvenate the team you're in trouble. The Oilers could pull an upset, but I doubt it.
The Predators lost in the second round last year to the San Jose Sharks who went to the Stanley Cup Finals so they weren't too disappointed, but still. The Predators are looking to heat up the offense for a Stanley Cup run of the ages. No big time scorers on the team for the Predators so they will look for their defense and goaltenders to step up as well.
For the longest time, the Minnesota Wild led the Western Conference until the Chicago Blackhawks started setting everything on fire. Over the past few weeks, the Wild have fallen off a bit. Not what you need before the playoffs. The Wild have an explosive offensive and an impressive defense as a great compliment. The Wild could go all the way, but the Blackhawks stand as their biggest roadblock.
St Louis Blues
After struggling the middle part of the season the Blues made some trades which has added stability to their lineup. After trading Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals, the Blues seemed to have found something with Zach Sanford and Brad Malone. The Blues could heat up at just the right time.
As the Western Conference favorites, the Blackhawks are looking to win their 4th championship in the last 8 years. With Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews on fire right now, I wish every team luck against the hottest team in hockey. The Blackhawks are known for high scoring games and they will fight hard until the end.
Any team can step up at any time. Everyone in the NHL has to be good to a certain degree if they can play at the professional level. As it stands I have the Penguins, Rangers, Sharks, and Blackhawks in my final four. Things can still change by the time this is published and when the regular season ends. Go to https://www.nhl.com/stanley-cup-playoffs for a bracket and see how well you can do this postseason. May the odds be ever in your bracket.