With another regular season in the rearview mirror, it's time to dig into the best time of the year (well, for some people, at least): The Stanley Cup Playoffs! What are we excited to see? Are there surprises in store? And what about the Canadian clubs?
Let's hit the ice for some predictions!
For the last two seasons, that champion has been the Pittsburgh Penguins. Once again, Sidney Crosby's team is in the playoffs, facing off against their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. These two Pennsylvania clubs do not like one another. And Philly is known around the league for having some of the loudest, most intense fans around. This is going to be some fun watching!
VEGAS. In their first season in the league, the Vegas Golden Knights shocked everyone (and we really do mean everyone). They not only made the playoffs, they were one of the best teams in the league. Now comes the real test. Can this flashy upstart team handle the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings? We don't know how this will turn out, but we're sure it will be an exciting series!
And now, Canada!
Though this year was not the best one for Canadian teams, it wasn't the unimaginable "No Canada, No!" playoffs of three seasons ago. The Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs are in. And they're both very good teams. How will they fare? Let's start with the Jets ...
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
Ever since Winnipeg got their beloved Jets back in the league in 2011, they have been slowly getting stronger and stronger. Today, they are a legit Cup contender and the best team in Canada. Their defense is full of giant oak-sized players like Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba. Their forwards—such as captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Nikolai Ehlers, and Paul Stastny—are like weirdly elegant bulldogs. Full of skill, and very strong. And then, there's Patrik Laine.
In only his second NHL season, this Finnish sensation seems destined to be the best NHL goal scorer since Alex Ovechkin. And even goaltending, the one huge weakness for Jets over the years, seems strong thanks to an excellent season by Connor Hellebuyck.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild have lost their number one defenseman, Ryan Suter, to injury. They are a very tenacious team and no pushover. But the Jets don't just look like a team destined to win this series—they look like a team that could win it all. They also beat the Wild three of four games this season.
As long as Hellebuyck can stand the playoff pressure, the Jets win in six games.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins
If you don't know what happened in 2013—a.k.a. the last time these two teams met in the playoffs—well ...
The Leafs' performance in Game 7, after leading the game 4–1 in the third period, is one of the worst collapses ever. Back then, the Leafs were a flawed team trying to keep up with a Bruins club that won the Cup in 2011 and would go to the final again that year. But this isn't 2013 ...
This year, the Bruins are again excellent, full of stars like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and young gun David Pastrnak. But the Leafs are loaded, too. Their talented, goal-scoring 'kids'—Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitchell Marner—make Toronto a nightmare to defend against.
It will be a must-watch series, full of drama, nerves, and great hockey. And if Toronto can keep those nerves at bay, we believe that they will end the curse of the 2013. The Leafs win in six.
And the champion will be ...
Anything can happen, but the Nashville Predators did come super-close last year, losing in the final to Pittsburgh in six games. This season, they were even better. They have the league's best defense, one of its best goalies, and a group of forwards who are all as good at checking as they are at scoring. They may be the league's best team, and we think the playoffs just might prove it.
What are your predictions? Let us know in the comments!