The playoffs are finally upon us. After months of apathy, occasionally from the team and even fans, hockey’s second season is set.
Can the Pittsburgh Penguins write history? Can the Vegas Golden Knights write a Cinderella story? Could the Stanley Cup return to Canada for the first time in 25 years?
Entering the playoffs, there isn’t one dominant team. Tampa Bay, which dominated most of the season, fell back to the pack and Boston could have won the Atlantic Division in the final game of the regular season. The Atlantic Division third-place team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, had nearly as many points as the Metro Division winner, Washington Capitals.
The Pittsburgh Hockey Now Staff–the only Pittsburgh outlet comprised of three active Professional Hockey Writers Association members–weighed in on the Cup chase.
The Stanley Cup final will match the Penguins against the Vegas Golden Knights. OK, that is more of a wish than a strong or bold belief — Nashville is more likely to get to the final — but the hockey world would be so much richer if it could be Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray & Co. against the little expansion team that could and beloved goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The first step on this end for that to happen is the Penguins beating the Flyers, and there is a good reason the bandwagon is packed with people picking them to beat Philadelphia in five games.
Eventually, Sid will beat Flower in overtime in Game 7. Come on hockey gods, you know this is exactly how it should be.
As much as I love Shelly’s hope, and my gosh what a story that would be, I’ll put my 10-0 record over the last four years on the line and predict the Penguins won’t make the Stanley Cup Final.
The Boston Bruins are just too good. They’re fast, deep, young but have leaders, and there isn’t a glaring weakness. The Penguins won’t have the legs to overpower Boston. The Penguins path to the Stanley Cup requires Boston be upset, as the Penguins could get past Tampa Bay, Toronto, and New Jersey.
Watch out for Winnipeg in the West. They are everything I love about hockey: They are big, physical, they can score and their building shakes to the foundation for hockey acts, not silly prompts or college cheers. The Nashville Predators are top-six heavy and those teams don’t usually win Stanley Cups. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne on the road is also a huge question mark.
Taylor Hall could propel the Devils to the Eastern Conference Final. The Devils are the darkhorse in this race to silver. Their inexperience is a problem but perhaps Brian Boyle and Ben Lovejoy can guide them.
I hate making predictions, but then again I did call the Predators making the Final last year as the West’s second wild card, so maybe I should like the whole Nostradamus thing more?
Anyway, there’s plenty to love about how these playoffs are setting up. You have a two-time defending champion in the tournament for the first time since 1999. Canada’s biggest city has a legitimate contender for the first time since 2004. A team from freaking Las Vegas is the second seed in its conference in its first season. And a team from Tennessee might be the favorite to hoist the trophy? Wow.
I’ve been saying all year the Penguins will make the East final, so I’ll go out on that limb for real. No one in the Metropolitan Division bracket should scare them. The Atlantic is another story, where I believe Tampa Bay will edge Toronto in the second round. From there, I see a Lightning victory in seven games over Pittsburgh.
The West seems a bit tougher to predict, but put me with Dan in the Winnipeg camp. They’ll survive the Preds in the second round and wipe out the Kings in the conference final. The Jets were back six years ago, but they’ll climb the mountain with a Cup Final triumph over the Lightning.
Boston has the best chance to dethrone the Penguins in the East, but their road looks extremely difficult. I am watching the Devils-Lightning series closely after the underdogs went 3-0 during the regular season. The Bruins will make it through to the Eastern Conference Final with a pair of wins in a pair of seven-gamers, thanks to their strong depth up the middle and take on the defending champs. The Penguins will have to steal a game in Boston, which has never been an easy feat for them.
In the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets haven’t received the love they deserve. The Jets have three strong centers, two elite goal scorers, a top defensive pairing that is as good as any in hockey and a very good young goaltender. They’ll take on familiar foe, the San Jose Sharks for the Western Conference crown.
The Finals will be high(er) scoring, and the Pittsburgh Penguins will prevail over the Winnipeg Jets in seven games.