Stanley Cup Predictions: Powerhouse Power Struggle
April 11, 2017
With the regular season coming to an end, the Stanley Cup race looms over the professional rinks of North America. The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to defend and repeat hoisting up the cup as they did last year, but this season might prove differently with a flurry of fresh teams hungry to take their spot. Only time will tell, as the puck drops on Wednesday, Apr 12.
To start off with the Western Conference, Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators matchup. The Blackhawks have claimed the throne of the Western conference and the reward is earning home ice advantage for their first game on Thursday, Apr 13. The Blackhawks looked consistent this year with a few exceptions of devastating losses to bottom-dwelling teams, but overall the Hawks have a high performance and highly skilled lineup. Patrick Kane leads the team at 5th in the league for assists and tied at 2nd with Sidney Crosby for points, but he is not separated from the rest of his teammates. Duncan Keith is tied at 11th for assists and Artemi Panarin at 11th for points, giving the Blackhawks a chance to have a great cup run this year. On the other end of the ice, the Nashville Predators have a very tough challenge ahead of them. The Preds barely scraped by, making the playoffs due to the Los Angeles Kings losing to the Arizona Coyotes on Apr 2. They were the last team to secure a playoff spot in the West. Being only 7 points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, the Preds had to keep their performance up towards the end of the season to earn their spot. The season was out to a rocky start, but the Preds gain
ed momentum throughout, although not enough to be a contender for their division. The Preds have had a significant change to their team by trading former captain Shea Weber to the Canadiens and gaining P.K. Subban in return, but this created a captain vacancy that needed to be filled. After trading Weber, it became a tough situation to replace such a high calibre blueliner with someone who could fill his role just like he did. Even with the trade, the Predators strike a sense of fear into other teams by having a notorious starling line like the Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg trio, defensive pairing P.K. Subban
and Mattias Ekholm that dominate the ice, and a star goalie Pekka Rinne between the pipes. Overall, I do believe the Blackhawks will take the 1st round in 6 games against the Predators, due to their solid lines and veteran roster.
The next matchup is the Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks. The Oilers have had a very great season
this year. The 20-year-old captain Connor McDavid has taken the NHL by storm. McDavid leads the league with 100 points and has brought the Oilers to their first playoff appearance since 2006. This has created a fired up and playoff-ready team that is looking for a run at the cup. Goalie Cam Talbot is at a tie lead with Braden Holtby for 42 wins this season, and has looked very strong all year. The Oilers are working well together and skating like a young team with a very young captain leading them. This has all payed off for them, by giving them a comfortable seat at 2nd in the pacific, only two points behind Anaheim. The San Jose Sharks have had a great season this year too. The past years have been successful for them as they faced the Penguins last year in the Stanley Cup final, but the Sharks hold an old and veteran line up that does very well on a lot of teams, but falls apart when put up against younger and more skillful teams. The Sharks have had great runs in the playoffs, but I believe this year the Edmonton Oilers will secure the first round in five games.
The third matchup is the St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild. The Wild have had an incredible season this year, sitting 2nd behind the Blackhawks and only three points behind them. Devan Dubnyk has had an amazing season as a goalie, carrying the Wild throughout leading them out of their slump from last season. Dubnyk is the key to the Wild’s recent success, but a mere goaltender can’t keep an entire team together.
The St. Louis Blue have had a great season too, finishing 3rd in the Central division. The Blues appear to being on a hot streak right now winning 15 of their last 19 games with two overtime losses. The Blues have a strong team with Vladimir Tarasenko on their starting line and captain Alex Pietrangelo on the blueline. adding a great depth to their time on the ice, and this is exactly what the Wild lack. I don’t believe the Wild will succeed in the playoffs with just the goalie saving all the shots for them, but not dishing out any themselves. This leads me to believe that St. Louis will sweep the Wild in four games.
The fourth matchup is the Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames. The Ducks have had a good season this year, finishing 1st in the Pacific Division only two points ahead of Edmonton. The Ducks have held the Pacific Division champion spot since the 2012 – 2013 season, but haven’t gotten a grip on winning any Stanley Cups in that timeframe. The Ducks have maintained solid lineups throughout their years, but never seem to solidify in the postseason. The Calgary Flames have not made a playoff appearance since the 2013 – 2014 season, and were ultimately brought down by the Ducks in the 2014 – 2015 season. Things have changed for them this year however; they have added rookie Matthew Tkachuk to their lineup, and are utilizing a younger team to bolster their chances at a playoff run. Johnny Gaudreau (61 pts) and Sean Monahan (58 pts) have led the team and have been on fire all season, giving them their playoff appearance this season. It seems the Flames are using the same philosophy as the Oilers, replacing older players with young and skillful players to lead the team, and it has been working for them so far. But having a strictly young team does have its trade offs, as they have finished tied with the Nashville Predators for a wild card spot. Calgary has not seemed to perform well against Anaheim and their highly skilled team, leading me to predict that their playoff run will be cut short to a five game downfall by the mighty Ducks.
Moving on to the Eastern conference, starting with the Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Presidents trophy winners for two years in a row now look to make another run at the cup. The Capitals have had one amazing season this year, finishing with the most points out of any team, but this does not seem to carry over into postseason as they have never won a Stanley Cup. Being a team that holds one of the most deadly lines in the NHL will pose a serious threat to teams that lack strong blueliners to defend against their skilled puck handlers. T.J. Oshie netted 33 goals this season putting him at 13th, but the rank comes with a four-way tie. Even at a four-way tie, two of those are Washington players with Alexander Ovechkin being the other in that rank with Oshie. Another performing star on their line up is Nicklas Backstrom, being second to only McDavid (70) for assists at 63. The Caps hold even more accolades in the top performing players this year. Nicklas Backstrom logs 86 for points, sitting at fourth overall and Ovechkin making the top ranks as well sitting at twentieth with 69 points. It isn’t just the lines and defensemen doing well, goaltender Braden Holtby is having an incredible season. Holtby is second in the league behind Sergei Bobrovsky in GAA with a 2.07, as well as having the most shutouts at nine. Even with all the high performance stirring around their team entirely, it always seems that the Caps fall apart in time for the playoffs, but this year might prove differently for them. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a surprising team to make the playoffs this year, sitting with the second wild card position in the eastern conference. Auston Matthews is on fire his rookie season being second in the league for goals, netting 40 overall. Matthews is also twentieth in the league for points, but he isn’t the only performing player on the Leafs. Nazem Kadri sits at twentieth in goals with 32, and Frederik Andersen sitting at second in shots against with 2052 and saves at 1883. Even with a high performing team, their playoff appearance is very surprising and Toronto is definitely not ready to face such strong teams such as the Capitals, leading me to believe the Capitals will take the series in five games.
The next matchup is the Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators. The Bruins sit comfortably at third place in the Atlantic and are well deserving of that spot. Bruins left wing, Brad Marchand has led the team in goals, assists, and points, as well as posting some pretty noteworthy stats in the top performing players. Marchand sits sixth in the league for points and fourth for goals. Boston also has a very high calibre goalie blocking shots. Tuukka Rask is among the top goalies in the league for some time now and have definitely lived up to his ranking. Rask sits seventh in GAA with a 2.23 and second in shutouts. On the other hand, the Senators look strong this year, finishing second in the Atlantic ahead of the Bruins by 3 points. Ottawa has been doing well as an entire unit, especially Erik Karlsson posting 54 assists and finishing sixth in the league for that category. Another outstanding player is goaltender Craig Anderson, posting a 2.28 GAA and .926 save percentage puts him in a high rank among this year’s goalies. Even with the Senators placing higher than the Bruins, there is something about Boston that seems to outperform teams in the postseason, which leads to believing the Senators will put up a hard fight, but ultimately lose to the Bruins in seven games.
The next matchup is the Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers. Montreal has placed first in the Atlantic, and has been a fierce team this year. Even with the coaching change early in the season, the Canadiens are keeping consistent and it has been working for them all season. After trading P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators and gaining Shea Weber, Montreal has been working very well with the trade.
Weber seems to have fit well into Canadien skates and has made some decisive moves for them to keep them at first. Max Pacioretty leads the team in goals with 35 followed by Alexander Radulov at 18. The Habs don’t just have depth on the ice, but a Vezina and Jennings trophy winner defending the goal for them. Carey Price has a GAA of 2.23 this year and a .923 save percentage, making him one of the top goalies in the league. Montreal has a mix of players that have proven to work very well together and stay strong through tougher games, making them a strong contender for the cup. Going over to the Metropolitan division, The New York Rangers finish fourth with 102 points and claimed the first wild card spot in the East. The Rangers have been rather quiet but effective this year, claiming the top wild card spot with a comfortable distance from the Maple Leafs points wise. A noteworthy player on the Rangers is their goaltender Antti Raanta. Raanta posted a 2.26 GAA this season, but does not rank high among the other top performing goalies. The Canadians seem to have the clear easy win in this series, and a sweep of the first round in four games.
Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the reigning champions from last year, holding the cup at centre ice after defeating the San Jose Sharks in six games.
The Penguins hold second in the entire league at 111 points, and have easily brought the fire from last years run. Sidney Crosby tops the list as one of the best offensive leaders in the past years being first in goals, netting 44 and second behind Connor McDavid with 89 points. Crosby might be the figurehead of the Pens, but other players have shown that it isn’t just the Crosby show in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have highly regarded players that clearly demonstrate that Pittsburgh is a team to fear. Puck handlers such as Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Conor Sheary bring some great depth and skill to the ice. The forwards are not the only ones to fear as the blueliners are just as solid. Justin Schultz has been a great defenseman this year, but with the loss of Kris Letang for the rest of the season, the Pens defense has been significantly crippled. Moving to the Columbus Blue Jackets, where they are a surprise making it to the playoffs, but their chances are already dwindling before their first game. The Blue Jackets must overturn almost impossible odds to defeat the powerhouse Penguins. Columbus has taken the approach of a younger team by adding Cam Atkinson, and this has paid off with Atkinson being ninth in the league for goals with 39. A huge surprise is the performance of Sergei Bobrovsky, and his big number turnout on the stat board. Bobrovsky leads the league with a 2.06 GAA and a .931 save percentage. The Blue Jackets might see the first round of the playoffs, but the road will be treacherous for them, as they face one of the top performing teams in recent years. The Penguins are looking to take an easy victory in the first round and dominate the Blue Jackets, leading to the belief of a 5 game victory for the defending champions.
This concludes playoff predictions for the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup. I believe this year will hold not many surprise appearances, but a lot of powerhouse teams putting up a hard fight for the cup.