NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
The Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us once again and 16 teams are prepared to battle it out and host the greatest trophy in sports. This year, as it often is, the field is wide open. Let’s take a look at the teams from the East.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts were the best team in the regular season by a longshot, clinching the President’s Trophy on March 18th and tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a season. Led by Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov, Tampa enters the post-season looking to validate their regular season success with a Stanley Cup. Anything less would be a disappointment barring significant injuries. They will face Columbus in the first round.
A team riddled with injuries, the Bruins still managed to put together an impressive year finishing with 107 points, good for second in the Atlantic. Boston proved that it’s more than just that top line and their depth is incredible. Both Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak missed more than 15 games while the only defenseman to play in more than 70 games was Brandon Carlo with 72. The B’s are one of the most complete teams in these playoffs and have a good chance to beat Tampa Bay if they meet. They will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs added the marquee free agent of the offseason in John Tavares. For the rest of the summer, they looked dangerous and primed to take the Atlantic Division title. Then October came. Toronto’s defense is subpar to say the least and they will probably have a rough time scoring all the goals they need to beat the other teams from their division. They once again have to face Boston, hoping to avoid another heartbreaking first round exit.
For the first time in franchise history, the Caps enter as the defending champs. The team is mostly the same as they begin their run for back to back Stanley Cups. The Caps made a late surge to win the Metro, edging out the New York Islanders by one point. This squad has the talent and experience to make a deep run and they will be exciting to watch. Washington faces the Carolina Hurricanes in round one.
New York Islanders
No, this isn’t a joke. The Islanders have home ice advantage in the playoffs after being predicted by many to have the best shot at Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko. Led by coach Barry Trotz, the Isles shocked everybody, but now it’s time to get down to business. The Islanders defensive and team oriented style of game makes them a threat to go deep plus they have two of the best goaltenders this season in Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehener. Their power play and offense, however, are issues that could keep them from making a run. They clash with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
The Penguins had their shortest summer in a while, losing in the second round to Washington as the back to back Stanley Cup champions. The Pens are on a mission for redemption and, after a rough start, clawed their way into third place in the Metro. They are of course led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the best one two punch at center in the league. The Pens will have to play as a team and they will need Matt Murray to step up if they hope to go far. They open the playoffs against the Islanders.
After a 10 year hiatus from the playoffs, the Hurricanes have finally made it back. Although known more for their “Storm Surge” celebrations following wins, this is a team that shoots the puck more than anyone else in the National Hockey League. The Canes are an exciting team who loves to have fun but they have a tough road ahead of him. One concern for them is goaltending where Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney have a combined 11 games of playoff experience but their defense is solid enough to keep them competitive. Carolina faces Washington in round one.
Columbus Blue Jackets
To say that the Blue Jackets went all in is an understatement after they acquired Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel among other pieces at the trade deadline. After all that, they snuck into the second wildcard. The trades seemed to hurt Columbus to a degree but the moves had to be made with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky both likely moving on at the end of the season. The team with two picks in the upcoming NHL draft has drawn Tampa Bay in the first round. Yikes.
The puck is almost set to drop on the 2019 playoffs. The most exciting time in sports is upon us and the next eight weeks will hold some of the best and most dramatic hockey we’ve seen all year. I predict the Bruins will come out of this side of the bracket and eventually go home with the Stanley Cup.