Another year, another round of hype surrounding Stanley Cup contenders and their hockey fans. This is the time when more players finish their checks which translate to games that average 80+ hits a game instead of 30-40. Pleasant surprises and disappoints are bound to happen, it does every year. Who would of thought Vegas would go to the Stanley Cups Finals last season against a cup thirsty Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals squad. One thing is for sure; Washington isn’t cup thirsty anymore. Meanwhile, the Blues, Sharks, Jets, Preds, Golden Knights and Blue Jackets are in the hunt for their first one still (Jackets only team in the east). Can’t wait until June to see how this plays out!
Calgary Flames (P1) vs Colorado Avalanche (WC2)
- Offence: Flames
- Defence: Flames
- Powerplay: Avalanche
- Penalty Kill: Flames
- Goaltending: Avalanche
- Flames: Matthew Tkachuk
- Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov
This will be a high-flying, run-and-gun series as speed and opportunity will be key for both teams for all of the games they play. The Avs are definitely an underdog but if Varlamov stands on his head, he’ll downright steal games from the Flames. Matthew Tkachuk can be a difference maker if he gets under the skin of Avs star players Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen. This will NOT be a boring series and don’t expect a lot of structure in either team’s games which, by the way, will drive coaches crazy.
- The Flames will win this series in 6 games
Nashville Predators (C1) vs Dallas Stars (WC1)
- Offence: Predators
- Defence: Stars
- Powerplay: Stars
- Penalty Kill: Stars
- Goaltending: Stars
- Predators: Roman Josi
- Stars: Jamie Benn
It looks odd that the Stars have the advantage in almost category but they only had a slight edge in GA and PK than Nashville, who’ve been very good defensively as well. A lot of credit to the great defensive numbers the Stars have posted is because of Ben Bishop who has been outstanding all season.
There are a few concerns with Nashville heading into the playoffs this season. Their powerplay is dead last in the league (12.94%) plus their trade acquisitions, Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund have not been playing well since joining the Preds. Roman Josi is the captain of the team and needs to jump start their powerplay and his squad if they want to succeed as they’ve been flat during the late season stretch.
The Stars have been playing clutch hockey during the stretch and have won important hockey teams against other teams vying for a playoff spot and they look very poised to do well as a darkhorse. Bishop has been their MVP posting great numbers (GAA: 1.98, Sv%: .934) all season long despite playing in front of an inexperienced defensive core. Their top scorers are scoring although their secondary scoring needs to step up a bit as the Stars are near the bottom in goals scored (29th in the league). The key will be Jamie Benn making big plays in clutch situations as that is where he thrives.
- The Stars will win this series in 6 games
San Jose Sharks (P2) vs Vegas Golden Knights (P3)
- Offence: Sharks
- Defence: Golden Knights
- Powerplay: Sharks
- Penalty Kill: Golden Knights
- Goaltending: Golden Knights
- Sharks: Brent Burns
- Golden Knights: Marc-Andre Fleury
The Sharks and Golden Knights have become sort of a riddle that is like an enigma. During the month of March, the Golden Knights and Sharks have played great during the first half while they stunk during the last half of the month. Both teams come into the playoffs struggling but the small break between now and game 1 of their series will bring a new perspective into light.
The Golden Knights have a great play-by-committee system where they use their depth to their advantage in exposing their opponents weaknesses in causing turnovers during their transition game. How the Sharks break out of their defensive zone (Mostly talking about Brent Burns) will be important and can’t afford any mistakes in that area. This is where the Sharks need to be clean if they want to win.
While the Golden Knights play a great transition game, they will still have trouble with the amount of depth the Sharks have with their scorers. The Sharks have a top 9 up front that can downright snipe at will if given the opportunity. This is where Fleury will be tested and if he can fend them off he’ll steal some games for VGK.
For the Sharks to have the best chance to win, they need to work a great powerplay and play a puck possession game down low. Luckily that is their strength but it’s going to take everything they have to beat Fleury. They need traffic in front of him in addition to taking good shots on him.
Overall, this series will see a lot of strategy from both teams as the coaches will takeover the structure of the game. In the end, this will go to the Sharks in 7 games but man that was a tough choice.
Winnipeg Jets (C2) vs St. Louis Blues (C3)
- Offence: Jets
- Defence: Blues
- Powerplay: Jets
- Penalty Kill: Blues
- Goaltending: Blues
- Jets: Patrik Laine
- Blues: Jordan Binnington
You have to give the Blues huge credit for making an incredible comeback and saving their season. That is thanks to rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington. He has been playing some unreal hockey down the stretch during the second half of the season and he is the MVP of this revived Blues squad. How he handles playoff hockey should come as some concern as expectations and ability to elevate your game are of most importance. His task won’t be easy on an offensively loaded Jets squad who have been playing mediocre hockey as of late but have won some key games against tough opponents during the stretch.
The Jets boast one of the best offensive teams in the league and can score in many ways. The big issue is their penalty kill and discipline which sharply declined late in the season but luckily they have some time to work on those kinks before they kick off their series. Patrik Laine needs to get it going if the Jets want any hope on getting Binnington off his game. Will Laine start scoring again? The answer is yes.
The Jets are a much bigger team than the Blues but it isn’t clear how much the Jets want to use their size and play a gritty game against the Blues. It is recommended that they play a more physical game against them as they players who can lay the body if they really want to. The Blues need to use their hockey I.Q. and quick feet if they want to catch Winnipeg taking some undisciplined penalties against them. That’ll be key as Winnipeg hasn’t had a good PK in quite some time.
- A lot in this series will depend on who can carry momentum the most and who can set the tone the earliest. Whoever is leading by game 3 will likely carry this series to the finish line. Jets in 5 games.