With the last of the 82 games each team plays, matchups and rankings have been finalized and it is time to battle it out to see who will raise Lord Stanley after just 16 intense victories; this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
This year, it came down to the wire as one of the biggest matchups last night being the St. Louis Blues vs. the Colorado Avalanche; if the Avs won in regulation, they would punch their ticket into the playoffs, but if the Blues won in regulation or if the game was tied after regulation, the Blues would be. If it wasn’t fate, then it was just meant to be as the Avalanche over came all the defeats from last season, and officially became the league’s top underdogs of this season as they defeated the Blues 5-2 and marched their way into the final wild card spot.
The matchups will be very interesting this season, here’s a look at the Western Conference:
The first matchup will be the Pacific Division Champions (1) Vegas Golden Knights vs the (2nd wild card) Los Angeles Kings. This matchup is pretty close, as the Kings won the season series 3 games to 2 games; out scoring the Golden Knights 14-12, which shows that their offensive abilities are fairly equal. Taking a look at the goaltending matchup, it will most likely be the Golden Knights, Marc-Andre Fleury against the Kings top goalie, Jonathan Quick. While both goalies are very experienced, with Marc-Andre Fleury’s success in Pittsburgh, winning three cups, but the overall prediction by analysts and fans: the Vegas Golden Knights, will win the series in 7 games.
The next matchup is going to be called: The Battle of California, as the (2) Anaheim Ducks will take on the (3) San Jose Sharks. Both of these teams are very familiar with the playoff scene and have tons of experience. These teams were only separated by one point in the standings. The Sharks won the season series 4 games to 2 games and outscored the Ducks 18-11 in those 6 games. While the Ducks’ goalie John Gibson, is injured, their backup goalie Ryan Miller isn’t a bad choice to go with as a replacement. He’s gone 12-6-6 and has a .928 save percentage. Taking a look at the Sharks, their offensive ability and strong goaltending in Martin Jones, the Sharks are a strong team as well as Anaheim. Prediction: Sharks win the series in 6 games.
The matchups from the Central Division are the following:
Following an intense game against the Blues the (2nd wild card) Colorado Avalanche will be taking on the league’s best team and President’s Trophy Winners: the (1) Nashville Predators. The Predators swept the season series 4-0 and outscored Colorado 17-8. Nashville has proven to be an offensive scoring machine against Colorado. Goaltending for Nashville has been an incredible story as Vezina Trophy Finalist: Pekka Rinne has a 42-13 win/loss record. The Avalanche however, have lost a few big pieces to their team as they’ve lost defenseman Erik Johnson and goalie Semyon Varlamov. It’ll have to up to Jonathan Bernier to stop the offensive push of Nashville, but the prediction: Nashville in 5 games.
The next matchup in the Central is the (2) Winnipeg Jets vs the (3) Minnesota Wild. The Wild have had far more playoff experience than the Jets. While the season series may have been split equally at 3 games to 3 games, the Jets outscored the Wild 16-14, so again a very close matchup, but with the young talent Winnipeg has in Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, they have some amazing offensive chemistry. The Wild aren’t too far from the scoring depth themselves, but taking a look at the goalie matchup, the Jet’s Connor Hellebuyck has been lights out this season as he’s posted a 44-11 record. The Wild’s goalie Devan Dubnyk has a 35-16 record, but has more playoff experience. The final prediction: Winnipeg wins the series in 6 games.
That’s a look at the West, now to the Eastern Conference:
The (1) Washington Capitals will be taking on the (2nd wild card) Columbus Blue Jackets. This matchup is a coin flip, because both teams have many things working with them and against them. Obviously Washington will have the home-ice advantage but their offensive touch is well-known around the league. The Caps and the Blue Jackets each scored 12 goals in the season series, but the Caps won the series 3-1. Clearly this is going to come down to a goalie matchup as Washington’s Braden Holtby (34-16-4) will be going against the Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky (37-22). Another close matchup, but with the playoff experience Washington has, the final prediction: Washington Capitals win in 7 games.
The next Eastern matchup from the Metropolitan Division is the (2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs the (3) Philadelphia Flyers or known as: The Battle of Pennsylvania. These two teams are infamously known for hating each other immensely. This will most likely be the most physical series out of them all. The two teams were only separated by two points in the standings, but with the season series, the Penguins swept the Flyers 4-0 and outscored them 20-11. With Pittsburgh trying to three-peat, the Penguins are going to come at the Flyers hard with that top line of Malkin, Crosby, and Kessel. Despite goalie struggles for both clubs Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray is looking to stand tall against the Flyers’ Petr Mrazek, who was a mid-season trade from the Detroit Red Wings. Despite both clubs having a lot of fight in them, the final prediction: Pittsburgh in 6 games.
Now moving over to the Atlantic Division, the (1) Tampa Bay Lightning will be taking on the (2nd wild card) New Jersey Devils. Another interesting matchup as the Devils swept the Lighting in the season series and the Devils outscored the Lightning 11-8. With the young team of New Jersey and the offensive weapon in Taylor Hall, the Devils pose as a serious threat in the playoffs, but with late season acquisitions in defenseman Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, the Lightning have a stacked team along with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Goaltending is another key factor. The Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy posted a 44-17 record. The Devils’ goalie situation will be interesting, but they will most likely go with either Cory Schneider or Keith Kinkaid, but Vasilevskiy’s stats show him to be the better goalie. So the final prediction: New Jersey Devils in 7 games.
The final matchup of the first round is another rivalry and a trip to the past as the (2) Boston Bruins will take on the (3) Toronto Maple Leafs. This is a rematch of the first round matchup back in 2013, where the Bruins completed the dramatic game 7 comeback by overcoming a 3 goal deficit with 3 minutes left in the 3rd period and scoring the overtime winner, which would send them further on in the playoffs and eventually the finals, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Leafs have a super young team who already have amazing chemistry. Young-gun, superstar Auston Matthews will prove to be a valuable asset yet again, but Boston has been one of the hottest teams all year round. The goalie matchup will be Toronto’s Frederik Andersen (38-21) vs Boston’s Tuukka Rask (34-14). Another close matchup, but the final prediction: Toronto in 7 games.
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