If you're a hockey fan, you know what time it is. Tonight, sixteen NHL teams begin their two-month pursuit of one of sport's greatest trophies: the Stanley Cup. It's never dull, and the playoffs are always good for a surprise or two. We're going to break down the teams within the Eastern and Western Conferences and make some predictions. Is your team destined for the second round? Let's find out!
Eastern Conference matchups
- Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
- Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
- Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes
- New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Folks, the East is stacked. Four of the league's top five teams come from this group, including the frightening Lightning (Tampa tied an NHL record for most wins in a season with 62). The East also boasts the winners of the last three Stanley Cups—2018 champs Washington and Pittsburgh, who won back-to-back in 2017 and 2016.
The Eastern Conference also has some of the season's most inspiring teams, such as the always-up-for-a-party Carolina Hurricanes (in their first playoffs in nine years), and the New York Islanders, who went from having the league's worst defense last year to its best this year. In the end though, only one of these teams is headed to the final...
- Tampa Bay wins the series in 4 games: This is the only sweep that we're predicting. Columbus played terrific hockey in the last ten games to lock down the final playoff spot, but it won't matter. Tampa outclasses them in every category.
- Boston in 6: Leafs fans have been dreading this rematch from 2018 (and 2013) for months. We know why. Toronto has tons of talent, but Boston's swarming, physical style will be too much for their unsteady defense. Yes, again.
- Washington in 6: The Canes have what it takes to give the defending champs a small scare. But in the end, Ovechkin and the Caps' deadly talent will seal the victory.
- New York in 7: This will be the East's tightest series. The Islanders will need to conquer serious nerves to stop Crosby and the Penguins. But their home fans and coach Barry Trotz's wisdom will give them the jolt they need.
Western Conference matchups
- Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche
- San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights
- Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
- Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues
If the East is a mixture of powerhouses and underdogs, the West is a bunch of sluggers who've all taken as many punches as they given out. Outside the Calgary Flames (who coolly answered our preseason questions of them to finish with the second-best record), all of these teams traded really impressive moments with some rough ones. In fact, the Blues were actually the worst team in the NHL on New Year's Day — then they turned on the gas and nearly won their division!
But those ups and downs don't matter anymore — it's all about who can get hot now. As this season has proven, that's something that any of these teams can do.
- Calgary in 6: Calgary can score at will and have a terrific defense. Their only issue? Their unproven goalies, Mike Smith and David Rittich. This will give Colorado a chance to make things interesting. But don't worry Flames fans — Calgary will still come out on top.
- Vegas in 7: Last year, Vegas stunned us by reaching the Stanley Cup final in their first-ever season. We don't think they'll get there again, but the struggles of Sharks goalie Martin Jones will sink San Jose's hopes here.
- Nashville in 6: Dallas played Nashville really well in the regular season. But Nashville knows how to buckle down in the playoffs. Their star defense will shut down the Stars.
- St. Louis in 6: At the start of the season, the Jets were a team that we thought could go all the way. (Hey, they still might!) But their cold spell to end this season paired with the Blues' red hot finish means they'll need to turn things around fast. Like, jet engine fast!
Drop the puck already!
Well, those are our thoughts. How do you think your favourite team will do?