Tuesday is nothing short of Christmas for hockey fans.
It’s that time of year again. Fans have the highest hopes for their hockey team. The regular season becomes a thing of the past and every team has an equal shot at one of the best trophies in sports.
Although there are sixteen over-zealous fanbases across North America waiting to tell us all why their favorite team will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, only one of those teams will come out on top. That team is obviously going to be the team you bleed for, night in and night out, right?
Well, probably not. Fifteen teams and their fans will have their hopes and dreams crushed, joining the other fifteen who didn’t get even the slightest taste of playoff hockey.
So before you think about taking that day off in mid-June to celebrate your team’s supposed championship, let’s take a deeper look at why your beloved hockey team probably won’t be touching that prized hardware this spring.
Do we really have to go through this all over again?
Well, yes. This is the second year in a row that the Capitals have won the Presidents’ Trophy and the fourth year in a row they have finished with north of 110 points in a season. Those are some nifty little regular season achievements, but let’s face it, the Caps don’t even have an Eastern Conference Final to show for those cute regular season awards. They clearly aren’t even going to sniff the Cup this season.
What makes you think this year will be any different?
The Capitals are heading into the playoffs on fire, but that won’t stop them from another post-season debacle. Hasn’t that happened year in and year out? You know the let down is coming, just wait for it.
“But…..but we’re the defending Stanley Cup Champs!” Ok, Pittsburgh, we get it, you hoisted the Cup last year.
Well, that surely won’t happen again, because history certainly isn’t on your side. No team has won back to back Stanley Cups since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Even more concerning, Kris Letang’s season is now a thing of the past, which is a huge blow to the team.
Plus, we’ve all seen Sidney Crosby throw one of his playoff temper tantrums in the past. In a series that revolves around a heated division rivalry, will that Crosby come out of the woodwork again?
Let’s also not forget there’s a date with Columbus scheduled for the first round of the playoffs. They have allowed the second-fewest goals per game in the NHL this season, along with being in the top 10 in scoring. Do you still think the Penguins can win the Cup again without their star defenseman?
Eh, I’ll pass on that bet.
I think if I see Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews lift the Cup one more time I might quit on the NHL.
Seriously, can time catch up with the Blackhawks? Can someone put the rest of the league out of its misery and stop this team from winning? If history keeps repeating itself, the Hawks are due for another Cup win, but let’s all hope that doesn’t happen.
The beginning of the year looked great for the rest of us. The Hawks didn’t start out too hot and their special team percentages were lower than the ratings on a bad horror movie. That changed for a little bit during the middle of the season, but now we’re back to square one. The Hawks are just 2 for 22 on the power play over the past two weeks, and their penalty kill is operating at 73%.
Bad special teams play will doom you in the playoffs, but seriously they’re going for their fourth Cup in seven seasons, and I’m sure the hockey gods won’t allow anything like that to happen.
Plus, that baseball team from the north side of Chicago just erased the longest championship drought across any sport, so doesn’t that mean that another team from the city has to start suffering?
Columbus Blue Jackets
Welcome to the party, ‘Lumbus.
We know, you’ve been here twice before, but nothing has ever really come of it. The first time Columbus saw the postseason, they were smoked by the Red Wings in four games, and the second time around, they managed to win two games, but common knowledge says you need four to make it to the next round.
Will this year be any different? Probably not.
Yes, you had that fancy little sixteen game winning streak that rivaled the longest in NHL history, but what about outside of that? Well since then things haven’t been too hot. Riding a 1-5-1 record in the two weeks leading into the playoffs isn’t exactly where you want to be, especially when you’re about to face the Stanley Cup Champions.
The Blue Jackets might still be in shock that they went from basement dwellers to legitimacy in just one season, but marveling over that isn’t going to win you a playoff series. If this lackluster play carries into the postseason, the Jackets could be seeing brooms once again.
If you want to talk about a state obsessed with their hockey, look no further than Minnesota.
The Wild had the type of resurgence this year that was akin to what the Blue Jackets went through in Columbus. The Wild snuck into the playoffs last season in a weak division and with only 87 points. However, things turned around this year. The Wild held the second-best record in the NHL this season up until the end of February, then things shifted into free fall mode.
History isn’t on your side, Minnesota.
The Wild stumbled into the playoffs last year after losing five in a row to end the regular season and were taken to the house by a much stronger Ducks team. Clearly, the Wild didn’t learn anything from their mistakes last season.
Despite being the second-best team in the league through March 1st, the Wild have once again managed to stumble their way into the postseason. Since March 1st, the team has an ugly 8-11-2 record. That’s a recipe for disaster heading into the playoffs.
The Wild have a date with the Blues in the first round, a team that has gone 15-3-2 since the beginning of March. This is clearly a case of ‘hot vs. not.’
See you next year, Minnesota.
Should I refer to them as Capitals West?
I guess I can’t do that since they’ve managed to make it past the second round of the playoffs, but nonetheless, they’ve faltered in the postseason as of late.
The Ducks started out the year rather average, holding their own ground through the mid-way point of the season, but like the Blues, they kicked it into a higher gear in the latter half of the season. Since March 1st, the Ducks own a 14-2-3 record, second-best in the NHL over that timeframe. They also came out on top of the Pacific Division.
But does it matter? I don’t think so.
The Ducks have won the Pacific Division four seasons in a row, and they have one Conference Final appearance to show for that, otherwise, each of those seasons ended in disappointment. What’s even more disappointing (or impressive depending on how you look at it), is that the Ducks have had 3-2 leads in all of those series, meaning they are 0-4 in game 7s. Dig even deeper and you’ll find that all four of those game 7s were played on home ice. Ouch.
If the Flames don’t engulf the Ducks in the first round, I’m sure someone will later on.
What a first round matchup this is going to be, original six teams, two huge hockey towns, The New York Rangers vs.
Carey Price The Montreal Canadiens.
They won 10 games this season without their star goaltender, so that’s a start, right?
This one’s pretty simple. If Carey Price suffers any sort of injury in the playoffs, the Canadiens can kiss all of their Stanley Cup hopes goodbye. In fact, Price is the only hope Montreal has at seeing another Stanley Cup this year. Why is that you might ask? Because the Canadiens have decided to stop putting the puck in the net.
In the 2016 portion of this season, the Habs were the fifth highest scoring team in the league. Since the beginning of March, the Habs are the seventh-lowest scoring team in the league. That’s something you really don’t want to see, especially when you’re facing the fourth highest scoring team in the league in the first round. Keep in mind that Montreal’s power play was only operating at 10% over the last month, and as I mentioned before, struggling special teams can be the nail in the coffin in the playoffs.
Even if the Habs manage to get past New York, they’re eventually going to have to face one of the Eastern Conference powerhouses.
The defense is there, the offense is lacking. That’s what’s going to doom the Habs.
The Oilers are like that friend you always call to hang out and join you for some fun, but they always have a lame excuse and can’t come.
After all those top-five picks and miserable years, Edmonton is finally joining the rest of their friends in the playoffs. They have a great power play, a good penalty kill, get tons of pucks to the net, and have a solid goaltender. Nothing is stopping them from going the distance, right?
Maybe, but I’m still going to say this team lacks enough experience to ride it out. The Oilers are the second-youngest team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with an average age of 26.2 years old. The only player with any significant playoff experience is Milan Lucic. He would qualify as battle tested. Other than that, there isn’t anyone on the team who’s been through it before.
McDavid has been outstanding, Draisaitl has been outstanding, I could keep going on and on. But that doesn’t guarantee anyone a Stanley Cup, especially with a team this young.
Don’t get me wrong, the Oilers have a very, very bright future, but it just ain’t gonna happen this year.
New York Rangers
After this Ranger season ends in utter disappointment once again, I feel like the NHL should allow Henrik Lundqvist to choose any team he wants to go to, free of the shackles that New York has put on him his whole career.
Here we are again. Another high-scoring Rangers team that finished with over 100 points in a season, is this their year?
I feel like I could have written that previous sentence about the past five Ranger teams, and each year the same thing rings true, they’re just not good enough to take the final step. It’s funny because, in the period from 2013 to 2017, the Rangers were the sixth-highest scoring team in the league. They’ve also allowed the fifth fewest goals per game. Where’s the problem?
They rely on their goalie far too much.
Lundqvist has played in 61 playoff games since 2013, posting a .925 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. Those numbers are easily good enough to win a Stanley Cup. While the goaltender has held up his end of the bargain, the goal scorers have not. That high scoring Ranger team of the regular season magically disappears come playoff time. The team that averaged 2.86 goals per game in the regular season averages just 2.38 in the playoffs.
Where’s the fun in that?
Talk about trading Lundqvist all you want, but New York has an offensive problem in the playoffs, and when you’re facing one of the best goalies in the world in the first round, that’s a good recipe for an early exit.
St. Louis Blues
I have to give the Blues some credit here, they were the best team in the NHL down the stretch, but then again it wasn’t really all that impressive when you take a look at the schedule.
As I mentioned above, the Blues were an NHL-best 15-3-2 down the stretch, but it’s less impressive when you look at who they were playing those games against. Six of their last 20 games came against playoff teams and eight of those games were against the bottom three teams in the league. The Blues won the games they should have won.
There’s really nothing to be too impressed about here. If the Blues get passed the struggling Wild, they still have to play through their own division and, to be quite honest, they don’t have a stellar record against those teams. They’ve gone 14-12-3 in their own division.
The Blues do have some pretty good special teams, but other than that I can’t see them hanging with the big dogs in the conference.
San Jose Sharks
It’s official, the Sharks have lost all of their teeth heading into the playoffs.
I’m not going to lie, after last season, the Sharks were one of my favorites to return to the Stanley Cup, and for the beginning half of the season, it looked like they would have a fighting chance to do so.
Now, here we are in mid-April, and the tides have turned against the Sharks.
All offense has ceased to exist in San Jose recently, and the Sharks are losing games left and right. Since March 1st, the Sharks have gone 9-11-0, not good enough for a team that is supposed to contend for a Cup. The team has also averaged just 2.40 goals per game over that time span.
The worst part about all of this is, once again, special teams. The Sharks were one of the NHL’s best at killing penalties. In the first half of the season, the Sharks’ pk was near the top of the NHL at 83.5%. Recently, it has plummeted to 78.2%.
Going into the playoffs cold is something no one wants to do, the Sharks aren’t going to be infesting playoff waters this year.
Is anyone even paying attention to this team now that the Leafs are back in the playoffs?
Seriously, they got lucky they didn’t have to face Toronto or else the Leafs would have probably had home ice advantage.
When I think of the Sens in the playoffs, they’re kind of just “there”. Nothing about the team really stands out or impresses me. They did their job this season. The Senators are middle of the pack in just about every stat you can imagine. They sit 22nd in goals per game and 10th in goals against per game. Their nail in the coffin could come in their lack of special teams ability. They have one of the worst power plays in the playoffs at 17%, and they have the second worst penalty kill out of any team in the playoffs at 79.7%.
To make matters worse, they’re facing a Boston team that has the league’s best penalty kill, and one of the league’s best power plays. Couple that with the fact that Erik Karlsson has an obvious foot injury, and your best bet might be to jump on the Leafs bandwagon.
I’ll have to admit, I like the grit, toughness, and speed that the Bruins can mix together. However, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be lifting the Cup come June.
The Sens might not look like a tough opponent for the Bruins, but they will be, and even if Boston beats them, things may get tough looking forward.
The Bruins are already short on defense and losing Torey Krug would be a huge blow to their chances of making a serious playoff run. Krug was injured last week in a game against Ottawa. Zdeno Chara isn’t what he used to be, and losing a speedy defenseman like Krug against a fast team like Ottawa could cause fits for Boston’s defense.
I also mentioned how the Bruins have the league’s best penalty kill. Well, they also take an average of over 10 minutes of penalties per game. If Brad Marchand starts running around and using his stick like a pitchfork again, the Bruins could be killing a lot of penalties. I know it’s the playoffs but I wouldn’t count that out from happening.
The Bruins will ultimately be doomed by a lack of defense and avoidable penalties.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Wow, at long last, Toronto has a chance to redeem themselves from the debacle they suffered against Boston a few years ago.
They won’t have to face Boston, but they’ll have to face the best team in the NHL in the Washington Capitals. And there isn’t much reason to think the Leafs can even come close to getting past the Capitals.
Sure, the Capitals have been perennial chokers, but that doesn’t usually happen until later rounds.
The Leafs are still a young team with a lot to learn. The most important players for the Maple Leafs have never touched the ice in a playoff setting. That’s not to say they don’t have any experience at all. Brian Boyle, Eric Fehr, Roman Polak, James van Riemsdyk, Frederik Andersen, Ben Smith, Matt Martin and Matt Hunwick have all experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the Leafs win one or two games in this series I’ll chalk this season up to one of progress for them, but they are severely overshadowed by the Capitals in this series, let alone the playoffs as a whole.
Get ready, because the Flames could be extinguished pretty early this spring.
The Flames had only two players with 20 or more goals this season, and that was Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund. Other than that, the Flames are a balanced team, but not one that has a real lethal scoring threat.
They were also penalized more than any other team in the league this year. That might get a free pass since their penalty kill has been good this season, but being that undisciplined against the Ducks is something that could haunt them.
Then, of course, there’s also the side story that will come from their first round matchup.
In case you missed it, Mark Giordano took Cam Fowler out of the game last week with a nasty knee on knee collision. The hit put Fowler out for an extended period of time, and you can bet that the Ducks will be out for blood. That isn’t something a smaller Calgary team would want from a more physical Ducks team.
The Flames have been beaten by the Ducks four times this season and are winless in their last 25 games at the Honda Center. There might still be a little Flame in Calgary, but that should be extinguished pretty quickly.
Being a Nashville Predators fan the past few seasons must be like banging your head against a wall and expecting to get a different result, seriously.
Nashville has been a relatively successful franchise since they came into the league. They’ve only missed the playoffs in three out of the last thirteen seasons. That’s pretty consistent regular season success. But that’s about where the magic ends.
The Preds have never made it to a Conference Final, and being the eighth seed this season isn’t going to help those chances.
The Predators will not have home ice at any point in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That might not seem like a big factor, but it could actually end up being a deciding factor. They hold one of the best home records in the NHL at 24-9-8, however, they hold one of the worst road records at 17-20-4.
Now, playing Chicago is probably the last thing that a team that struggles on the road would want, especially in the playoffs. United Center holds more fans than any other arena in the NHL at 22,428. It is by no means a pleasant place for opposing teams to play. The Blackhawks also had a 26-10-5 record at home this season.
If the Preds were to force a Game 7, winning at the United Center would be a tall task to complete. Don’t hold your breath in Nashville, the Predators won’t be preying on any teams this spring.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.