After a long, grueling NHL season, the playoffs are finally here. This year’s playoffs have already provided fans with a slew of surprises as the defending champions, the Los Angeles Kings, did not make the playoffs, and neither did the perennial East powerhouse Boston Bruins. The exclusion of these teams opens up the door for younger, up and coming teams like the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, and the Nashville Predators. The games begin tomorrow for what is primed to be a very exciting NHL playoffs.
The Eastern Conference this year has provided 8 great teams from the President-trophy-winning New York Rangers to the 8th seed Pittsburgh Penguins, who just squeaked in the playoffs with a win against Buffalo in the regular season finale. My prediction for the Eastern Conference final game is the New York Rangers versus the Montreal Canadiens.
Recent years have proven that the most important facet a team can have in the playoffs is good goaltending. Montreal’s Carey Price and New York’s Henrik Lundqvist are any offense’s nightmare. Price has posted an outstanding year leading all major goalie categories. Lundqvist is coming off a season derailed by injuries, but he is starting to come back into form at the right time and is backed up by another great keeper in Cam Talbot. I think in the end the depth the Rangers have will be too much for the Canadiens to handle. My dark horse candidate to make a run out of the East is the New York Islanders. Every year it seems like they might make a run but can’t get it done late in the season. This year, captain John Tavares is playing at the top of his game, and the Islanders may have finally found their goaltender in Jaroslav Halak.
The Western Conference this year has shown numerous young teams prove their merit and enter the playoffs. Anaheim is the the number one seed in the west, being tied in points with the St. Louis Blues. The Western playoffs look significantly different than they have in recent years, with teams like San Jose and Los Angeles missing the playoffs. Typically Chicago would be the favorite to win the West and maybe even the Stanley Cup, but the injury to Patrick Kane was devastating, and even though he’s coming back, I don’t think he’ll be the same player right away.
My prediction in the Western Conference is the St. Louis Blues versus the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been good this year with decent goaltending and good all-around depth. Plus, the Sedin brothers are playing great. St. Louis, however, is going to be too much to handle. With goal scorers like T. J. Oshie, David Backes, and Vladimir Tarasenko to go along with great defenders in Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, they have the star-studded roster to make the run to the Cup. My sleeper pick out of the west is the Winnipeg Jets. This is their first time in the playoffs since relocating to Winnipeg, giving their players extra motivation to win for their city. They have plenty of players who have proven they can get it done like Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler, and they are ready to take their game to the next level.
Both teams I chose to head to the Stanley Cup Finals have impressive depth and a mass of all-stars. In the end I think that the experience of the the New York Rangers having lost last year will give them the edge against St. Louis. Talent like Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, and Henrik Lundqvist will lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in over 20 years.