What’s in store in for 2019 NHL playoffs
Seven months ago, the first puck dropped in the 2018-19 NHL season. Since then, 31 teams have finished an 82 game regular season with the sixteen best teams beginning the post season on April 10.
Between the Eastern and Western conferences there are four divisions; the Atlantic and Metropolitan in the east, and the Central and Pacific in the west. While the format of the playoffs in the NHL has been questioned lately for so many teams continuing into the postseason, each spot is fought for throughout the entire season.
There are eight teams in every division besides the Central, which only has seven, and the top three teams in each division get a playoff spot while the next two best teams in the conference, not division, earn a wild card spot. There are eight teams from each conference in the playoffs, with four rounds played. The fourth and final round is the Stanley Cup Championship.
Each round is a best of seven series with games five through seven only being played if necessary. The playoffs will last all the way through April and May and will end in June.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been the hottest team in the league and tied the record for most wins a single season with 62 while also earning the President’s Cup, which means they had the most wins in the league by the end if the season. They will face off against the second wildcard team in the east, the Columbus Blue Jackets. While the Jackets struggled midway through the season they finished strong and won seven of their last ten games.
Tampa Bay is the clear favorite to win the series, as they are also favored to win the Stanley Cup. The Lightning also won all three of the regular season meetings between the teams, and the only advantage Columbus seems to have in the series is a better goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, and, if he plays his best, the Jackets have a chance of taking the series to six or seven games.
The second series involving an eastern conference wildcard team is the Carolina Hurricanes who face off against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals. The Caps are the clear favorites after finishing first in the Metropolitan for the second year in a row. Every matchup favors Washington especially because they have Alexander Ovechkin, one of the best players to ever play the game of hockey.
In four regular season meetings, Washington was victorious in all of them. On paper it looks as if Carolina might have a better team than Washington, but the Capitals are much more experienced in the playoffs and they’re hungry to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.
The last two of five Metropolitan Division teams that made it to the postseason are the Pittsburgh Penguins and The New York Islanders. The Islanders were one point away from clinching first place in the division which would have given them an easier first round matchup than the Penguins who have won it all three times in the past decade.
The Islanders secured home ice for the first time since 1988, and it could be a strong advantage for the team who does not have much of an edge over the Penguins. This is the first time in two years that they will be in the playoffs, but the Penguins haven’t missed the postseason in 13 years and are always a strong contender to win the Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh clearly has a better offense with a first line that is led by Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, but New York has one of the best defenses in the league and a goaltender which is in strong contention for the Vezina, an award that is given annually to the best goaltender in the league.
The last series in the East is between two Atlantic a Division powerhouses, the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two teams are in familiar territory and will be facing each other in the first round for the second season in a row. Last year the series went to seven games and ended with Boston winning 7-4. The teams are pretty evenly matched but the result of last year’s series could have a mental effect on either team.
The Leafs struggled throughout most of March but if the team performs as they did for the majority of the season, they’ll be able to compete with the Bruins. With Auston Matthews and John Tavares leading the Leafs offense it will be hard for Boston to stop them unless defensemen like Zdeno Chara play near perfect. The Bruins won three of the four meetings between the two, but both teams have a good chance of advancing to the conference semifinals.
The Calgary Flames clinched the best record in the Western Conference, and they’ll face the Colorado Avalanche, one of the wildcard teams. Calgary is the obvious favorite on the series, having won all three regular season meetings between the two teams. They also have a better offense and defense than Colorado. Both teams have evenly matched goalies but the Avalanche have the seventh best power play in the league and that could become the determining factor in the winner of the series.
The Nashville Predators won the Central Division title for a second consecutive year and they will play the wildcard Dallas Stars. In the five regular season meetings between the two teams, the road team won four of the five games proving that Nashville’s home ice may not be an advantage.
The Predators have one of the top defenses in the league, and that is the biggest separating factors between the two teams. While the Stars have a better goaltender, Nashville had three defensemen that had at least thirty assists. The team will need to keep their defensive players involved on both ends of the ice, especially considering they have the worst ranked power play in the NHL.
The second Central Division face off will be between the Winnipeg Jets and the St. Louis Blues. Prior to hockey starting in January 2019, the Blues were in last place, in the entire NHL. Since then the team performed above expectations and has achieved an almost Cinderella story by making it into the playoffs at all. While the Jets won 75% of the meetings this season, the Blues are tough competition, and, on the defensive end, allowed the fourth fewest goals to be shot in the whole league.
Both teams have strong power plays, and need to stay out of the penalty box considering neither team has a great penalty kill. The two teams are evenly matched and the series could go either way, but if the Blues are able to steal a game in Winnipeg, the series could swing in their favor.
Following a historical inaugural season by the Vegas Golden Knights, their first round will be a rematch of last seasons Western Conference semifinals where they beat the San Jose Sharks in six games. This season the Sharks finished with 101 points and decided second place in the Pacific Division, while the Golden Knights finished in third. Each team won two of the four games between the teams this year and the series could go either way.
After acquiring Mark Stone from Ottawa at the trade deadline, Vegas’ offense has been near unstoppable. It will be interesting to see how the Vegas offense matches with San Jose’s powerhouse defense that is led by Erik Karlsson. The Sharks have a top ten power play and the Golden Knights have one of the worst, but Vegas is backed by one of the best goalies in the league, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Despite making it to the Stanley Cup Final last year, Vegas does not have a strong advantage over the Sharks who, have the capability of knocking Vegas out in the first round.
While anything can happen in the playoffs, two months from now, a team will be etched into history (and the Stanley Cup) and become world champions, and it may not be a team who anyone expected to get there.