This week marks the official start of the NHL postseason. Wednesday is the day. Get excited. Whether your team is in or out, playoff time is always exciting. Are you involved in a Stanley Cup pool? Are you contemplating picking a team other than your favorite to follow this postseason? Now that the matchups for the first round are set, here are some storylines to follow going into the 2018 battle for the Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic #1) vs. New Jersey Devils (WC #2)
The Lightning finished first in the Atlantic after the surging Boston Bruins slumped in the final week of the season. The Bolts hope that Steven Stamkos will be healthy enough to face Tayor Hall and the New Jersey Devils. While Tampa is the odds-on favorite here, the Devils are fast, young, and playing with house money. Did the Lightning peak too soon?
Washington Capitals (Metro #1) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (WC #1)
Is this the year the Capitals make a deep run? With an established team and strength up the middle, the issue is in goal. Holtby has struggled this season. The Blue Jackets have been uneven this season. One question is whether the offensive acumen of Alexander Ovechkin can overcome the Columbus defense. More importantly, will the Caps keep that damn Jackets cannon quiet?
Boston Bruins (Atlantic #2) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (Atlantic N#3)
This will be perhaps the most exciting matchup of the first round. Both teams are fast, young, and fun to watch. The Leafs may have more skill but the Bruins have grit and experience, always in demand in the postseason. If Toronto is a contender and not merely a pretender, they will need to dig deep to beat Boston’s mix of youth, experience, and attitude. Can they?
Pittsburgh Penguins (Metro #2) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (Metro #3)
The battle of the Keystone state pits the Flyers against their cross-state rival and back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Pittsburgh has dominated the games between these two teams in the regular season and while a Penguin three-peat is too depressing to fathom, it is hard to imagine the Flyers taking them out. The real question is do the Penguins have the determination to continue their postseason dominance?
Nashville Predators (Central #1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (WC #2)
The Predators were the best team in the regular season and will build on last year’s Cinderella run that carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. This team is deeper and hungry. Led by 22-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, who could be a Hart Trophy finalist this year, the Avalanche have plenty to be proud of after rebounding this season and managing to slip into the playoffs. P.K. Subban and the Predators won all four of their matchups against Colorado this season. Can the Avs win one on home ice for their fans?
Vegas Golden Knights (Pacific #1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (WC #1)
The Golden Knights are THE story of 2018, no matter what happens in the postseason. As the league’s newest team, they set a number of records this season culminating in a division title. James Neal, a pending UFA, will be looking to lead the Knights on a deep run. The L.A. Kings haven’t won a playoff series since 2014 when they won the Stanley Cup. Vegas and L.A. split their season series at two games apiece. Can the Golden Knights keep it up?
Winnipeg Jets (Central #2) vs. Minnesota Wild (Central #3)
Winnipeg finished second in the Central and will face the Minnesota Wild, who finished third. The Jets are loaded with offensive talent including Patrick Laine and are looking for their first postseason win since relocating from Atlanta in 2011. Minnesota heated up towards the end of the regular season, as their own MVP, Eric Staal, hopes to lead the Wild against their once and future rivals. Winnipeg took three of the four games in the regular season series this year. Are the Jets for real?
Anaheim Ducks (Pacific #2) vs. San Jose Sharks (Pacific #3)
California battles have made for some of the most hard-hitting and entertaining Stanley Cup playoff series in recent years. The Ducks jumped the Sharks in the standings after their final game of the season, giving Anaheim second place in the Pacific and home-ice advantage in the first round. However, the Sharks took three of the four meetings during the regular season, with the one loss coming in overtime. Who will emerge from the Battle of California?