Can you feel something in the air? That's right, the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs begin Wednesday, April 12. And are there ever a lot of excited people in Canada.
Last year, no Canadian teams made it to the playoff for the first time since the 1969-70 season. It was a bit of a national embarrassment, and clearly teams were driven to make sure it didn't happen again. The Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs are all in this year's showdown. But how will they match up against powerhouses like the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals?
Lace up your skates, folks! Let's hit the ice for a preview of each best-of-seven game series!
Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
It's the best team in the league for the second year in a row playing last year's worst team. The Maple Leafs and their crew of wonder rookies (including Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander) have given Toronto's long-suffering fans a season to remember. But can they really upset the mighty Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and the rest of the Caps juggernaut? No.
The Leafs are a fast, skilled team, but they've already exceeded expectations for this year by making the playoffs. In this series, Washington will teach them a hard lesson they can use to be better in the future. Capitals win in five games.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
These two teams had the second (Pittsburgh) and fourth (Columbus) best records in the league. The Blue Jackets have unreal goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and a rough-and-tough lineup that will keep opponents in check. Still...
The Penguins not only have a ton of stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, they won last year's Stanley Cup. It will be a close series, but Pittsburgh's experience will see them through. Penguins in seven games.
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers
Montreal goalie Carey Price is probably the best in the world. He can win games even when his team isn't playing that well. New York's goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, usually has a similar reputation, except that he hasn't had that great a season. We think this will be a low-scoring series, but in the end, Price will be just that little bit better.
And that should be enough. Canadiens in six.
Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins
The Senators played the Bruins four times this season, and they won every single game. So this should be a piece of cake for Ottawa, right? Not so fast. The Bruins have a number of Stanley Cup-winning veterans, including Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. Ottawa hasn't earned the nickname "those pesky Sens" for nothing—the stellar combination of defenseman Erik Karlsson and goaltender Craig Anderson will keep the series close.
But in the end, Boston's playoff experience will make them the steadier team. Bruins in six.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
Chicago has won three of the last seven Stanley Cups. One year, they'll run out of steam. But not yet. The truth is that no one would be surprised if Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith led the Hawks to another Stanley Cup championship. Nashville has a quick defense (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi), excellent scoring forwards (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen), and a very good goalie in Pekka Rinne.
But the Hawks almost always find a way to win. Which they will in the end here. Hawks in six.
Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
The Blues made it to the conference final last year and ended this season playing like one of the best teams in the NHL. (Also, their superstar forward Vladimir Tarasenko is one great guy.) That combination of experience and momentum is why we think that they can defeat the Wild. It will be a super tight series and Minnesota won't give up (their goalie Devan Dubnyk can be a real handful).
But when the game is close, they don't have a game-breaking goal scorer like Tarasenko. And St. Louis does. Blues in seven.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames
The Flames are a lot like the Leafs this year: a team full of exciting young players (Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett) who impressed a lot of people by making the playoffs. But the Ducks are loaded with proven players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, and Cam Fowler. The types of skaters who can be counted on to kick things up a notch during the playoffs.
The Flames are just getting started becoming a great team, whereas the Ducks are already there. Ducks in five.
Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks
In two of these series (Washington vs. Toronto, Anaheim vs. Calgary) we have talked about how young teams are going to get schooled by a group of experienced veterans. This series will go the other way around.
Yes, the Sharks went to the Stanley Cup final last year and they have been one of the league's best teams in the last fifteen years. They know how to play hockey. But Connor McDavid is the only player to score 100 points this year. And his Oilers not only enter the playoffs winning 10 of their last 12 games, they now have veterans like Milan Lucic and Benoit Pouliot to teach their talented youth how to stay calm under pressure.
Edmonton will be a force to be reckoned with this Stanley Cup playoffs. Oilers in seven.
What do YOU think?
Whew! That's a lot of hockey. Who do you think will come out on top? Let us know in the comments!
Ottawa in 5.