Finally, after another regular season played down to the wire, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned. They are often referred to as the greatest postseason in sports, due to the increased level of intensity, physicality, excitement and seemingly never- ending overtime, and it is all set to start this week.
There are numerous storylines this year, from the incredible inaugural season the Vegas Golden Knights had that led them to a Pacific Division title, to the playoff return of two teams that finished last in their divisions in 2016-17 (New Jersey and Colorado). As always, the playoffs will keep fans on the edge of their seats and will be nearly impossible to predict. Without further ado, THE 2018 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS PREVIEW:
Series Most Likely to End in a Sweep: #2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs #3) Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers/Penguins is already one of the best rivalries in hockey (and sports in general), so it is enjoyable and entertaining for everyone that they’re adding yet another playoff series to their storied history. However, it may not be enjoyable and entertaining for the Flyers. The Flyers were led back to the playoffs for the first time in two years by Hart Trophy contender Claude Giroux, who eclipsed the 100 point plateau, and once again played all 82 games. Unfortunately for Philadelphians, there is not much after him other than Jakub Voracek. The Flyers have a shaky blue line, charged with defending for any of the three average goalies who will be in net. Pittsburgh on the other hand has the experience of being the two-time Defending Stanley Cup Champions, and carries Sidney Crosby—their third leading scorer, behind Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. This Penguins team may not be able to three-peat, but they will have enough firepower to quickly dispose of their cross-state rivals.
Series Most Likely to go Seven Games: #2) Boston Bruins vs #3) Toronto Maple Leafs
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs (2013 ECQF) was one of the most exciting series in recent memory, with Toronto coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to tie the series at three games apiece, before blowing a 4-1 third period lead in game 7. Since then, each team has only gotten better. The Leafs have added last year’s rookie of the year in Auston Matthews, as well as other young guns Mitch Marner and William Nylander, and have improved since 2013 with the goaltending of Freddy Andersen over James Reimer. Boston on the other hand is led by Zdeno Chara, the recently acquired Rick Nash, and the rat everyone loves to hate—who by the way is the NHL’s 13th leading scorer—Brad Marchand. This series is absolutely filled with firepower from every angle, not to mention that it is an Original 6 rivalry, which always adds a little something extra. Regardless of if you have the Maple Leafs or Bruins winning, this series is definitely going to go down to the wire.
Team Most Likely to be Upset: Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights are without a doubt the greatest story of the 2017-2018 NHL season, and it will remain that way unless the Devils or Avalanche are able to pull off stunning Cup runs. The Knights began the season with the league’s worst odds to win the Stanley Cup at 100/1, and broke countless records for an expansion team on their way to a Pacific Division title. However, their luck could very possibly run out in round 1. They (obviously) lack any playoff experience as a team, and they will be playing one of the best playoff performing teams of the last decade in the Kings. Additionally, red-hot Anze Kopitar, who has quite possibly been the league’s best player, will be leading Los Angeles. The Golden Knights dominated the league earlier in the season, but have not been as good of late, and could easily falter under the lights of their first ever playoff series. It would still be an incredibly successful season for Vegas, and if nothing else, they can probably count on being a nominee for “Best Underdog Story” at the 2018 ESPYs, along with the Loyola-Chicago basketball team.
SERIES OUTCOME PREDICTIONS:
Anaheim Ducks over San Jose Sharks (7 games)
Players to watch: Ryan Kesler (ANA), Tomas Hertl (SJ)
Los Angeles Kings over Vegas Golden Knights (6 games)
Players to watch: Jeff Carter (LA), James Neal (VGK)
Winnipeg Jets over Minnesota Wild (5 games)
Players to watch: Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG), Zach Parise (MIN)
Nashville Predators over Colorado Avalanche (7 games)
Players to watch: Viktor Arvidsson (NSH), Mikko Rantanen (COL)
New Jersey Devils over Tampa Bay Lightning (7 games)
Players to watch: Will Butcher (NJ), J.T. Miller (TB)
Toronto Maple Leafs over Boston Bruins (7 games)
Players to watch: James van Riemsdyk (TOR), David Krejci (BOS)
Washington Capitals over Columbus Blue Jackets (6 games)
Players to watch: Tom Wilson (WSH), Pierre-Luc Dubois (CLB)
Pittsburgh Penguins over Philadelphia Flyers (4 games)
Players to watch: Jake Guentzel (PIT), Nolan Patrick (PHI)
Anaheim Ducks over Los Angeles Kings (7 games)
Nashville Predators over Winnipeg Jets (6 games)
Toronto Maple Leafs over New Jersey Devils (5 games)
Pittsburgh Penguins over Washington Capitals (7 games)
Anaheim Ducks over Nashville Predators (6 games)
Pittsburgh Penguins over Toronto Maple Leafs (6 games)
Stanley Cup Final:
Anaheim Ducks over Pittsburgh Penguins (7 games)