After an absolutely insane end to the 2014-15 NHL regular season, all 16 playoff teams are set. The 2015 NHL Playoffs are set to begin on April 15th, without a few of the locks everyone expected to be there.
When it came down to the line, both powerhouses, the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins were unable to get within the top 8 in their respective conferences. San Jose’s streak of 10 straight playoff seasons came to an end as well. So, there are certainly some teams that were unexpected to make it.
The Ottawa Senators stormed to the playoffs in the last month of the season to find a wild card position. The Calgary Flames surprised everyone by developing into a consistently dangerous team and finding the third spot in the Pacific Division. The Winnipeg Jets managed to squeak into the playoffs for the first time since returning to their home. Possibly the biggest surprise of the year were the Nashville Predators, who weren’t predicted to even make the playoffs, who landed 2nd in the Central Division ahead of the mighty Chicago Blackhawks.
Heading into the playoffs, there are some teams that critics will expect to be Playoff Pushovers, and others that will be considered major dark horses, with a great possibility of upsetting top teams.
Today, we’ll discuss the top 3 possible Darkhorses for the 2015 NHL Playoffs.
3: Winnipeg Jets
The NHL Playoffs are finally back in Winnipeg, for the first time since its relocation and first time in the city since 1996. The Jets were finally able to stay consistent over a full season, mostly due to the rotating goaltending duo of Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson. The Jets play a playoff style of game, combining high speed, hard checking and good goaltending. They face the Western Conference champions in the first round, the Anaheim Ducks.
They have a great possibility to upset this series if all goes well. Their scoring depth must hold up, as they had six 18+ goal scorers this year. Also, they cannot get into penalty trouble. Specifically Dustin Byfuglien must remain cool headed. If he turns into the ugly animal he can sometimes be, Winnipeg won’t stand a chance. Most importantly, their expected starter, Ondrej Pavelec must be able to continue his late season play. He finished the season with three straight shutouts.
The Jets are in tough, but if they can accomplish the small things listed above, they could win this series in 6 games.
2: Ottawa Senators
The miracle team. The Senators went 23-4-4 in their last 31 games of the season to become the first team in history to make the NHL Playoffs after being out by 14+ points at any point of the season. This team is led by young players who all seemed to emerge at the same time. They will lean heavily on them in the first round when they face the Montreal Canadiens.
The Senators have proved they can surprise everyone and they will look to continue that act in the playoffs. They will need their young guys to stay confident against the possible Hart Trophy winner and likely Vezina Trophy winner, Carey Price. Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Mika Zibanejad will need to continue to lead Ottawa on offence and solve Price. In net, the Senators are starting Andrew “Hamburglur” Hammond who is a ridiculous 20-1-2 this season with a 1.79 GAA and a .941 SV%. If he can keep that up, The Senators could create a huge upset.
If the youngsters can hold up their play in the playoffs, Ottawa could win this series in even 5 games.
1: Minnesota Wild
The Wild stormed back from being under .500 before the All-Star Game to a 28-9-2 finish to make up 13 points in the standings. The Wild came into the year with great expectations, none of which were being met halfway through the season… until the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk. They have let up 2.09 GAA since Dubnyk came and are scoring 2.77 G/GP this year. The Wild drew the Central Division champs, the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
The Wild can pull off a minor upset of the Blues if they stick to their game style of post All Star Game. They have significant depth all around, with three NHL calibre players each night who must be scratched. If their 3rd and 4th lines can continue to contribute on offence, their scoring will be more than enough. On the back end, Devan Dubnyk cannot slow down at all for Minnesota to stand a chance. Last year against Chicago, the Wild’s goaltending began to falter and out the door they went. Their defence is extremely solid all around, especially with the emergence of Matthew Dumba who has a cannon of a shot.
If the Minnesota Wild can continue their current play, they could upset St. Louis in 6 games.
Who do you think could be a dark horse this year? Discuss in the comments!
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.