2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Better than Opening Day and Super Bowl Sunday… combined.

Okay…maybe not that drastic.

Nonetheless, it’s time for 16 of the National Hockey League’s best teams to square off against one another in the battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup. For some teams, the next couple of  months are an experience with which they are familiar. For others, it’s a time to prove their worthiness of such a challenge.

How We Got Here

It started about a month ago, when the Washington Capitals became the first team to clinch a playoff berth. The winners of the President’s Trophy ended with a 56-18-8 record, best in the league. Then one by one, more and more teams joined. Dallas, Chicago, and Florida made their cases fairly early in the season, and held them consistently throughout.

OVI

Other teams waited until just about the last possible day to clinch. The Detroit Red Wings top that list. The last time they missed the playoffs, none of our writers here at The College Tailgate were alive. After a very inconsistent final stretch, however, the Wings punched their ticket to a 25th straight playoff appearance. The Philadelphia Flyers ended up being one of the hottest teams down the final stretch, going 6-3-1 in their last ten.

Key Matchups

Oh, I’m so sorry that your team didn’t make it in. No need to develop yet another case of FOMO… here are some key matchups that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

In the East, we have a chance at redemption for the Detroit Red Wings. They’ll take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of the first round last season. And with the rumors of Wings’ star forward Pavel Datsyuk’s retirement circling (that’s right…still not confirmed), you can bet your buns that Detroit will make sure that Datsyuk gets the best chance at lifting the Stanley Cup. With Stamkos out after a successful surgery to fix a blood clot, the Lightning will be without their Captain for the time being. Look for this series to be as close, if not even closer, than last season’s.

Pavel_Datsyuk_with_Stanley_Cup

In the West, The Chicago Blackhawks take on the St. Louis Blues. In the last meeting, the Hawks blew a 1-0 lead, losing 2-1 in overtime thanks to a pair of Vladimir Tarasenko’s goals. The reigning Stanley Cup champions have gone 0-8-4 in their last 12 against Western Conference playoff teams. St. Louis has been riding high on the back of their goaltender Brian Elliot, who stepped up in the wake of an injury to Jake Allen, their other star net-minder. Elliot has the start in game one, and I’d be surprised to see Allen come in at any point early in the series.

Predictions

With all of that being said, it’s time to take a shot in the dark as to who will hoist the Stanley Cup.

In the East, I’m going to have to go with the Washington Capitals. everything about this team screams success; Braden Holtby was far and away the best goalie the league has seen in a while, posting a career-high and league record-tying 48 wins. Alex Ovechkin, fresh off a hat trick to mark another 50-goal season, will be riding the wave of momentum through the playoffs. A dark horse for the East would be the Florida Panthers. With mix of young and old talent, they’ve been the most consistent. Don’t be surprised to see them in at least the conference championship series.

In the West, the Dallas Stars look like a solid choice. After some great off-season acquisitions in Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, the Stars have a stacked lineup with depth. A team that might not seem to be capable of making the journey is the San Jose Sharks. When they face off against the Los Angeles Kings this week, look for Joe Thornton and Brent Burns to use their majestic playoff beards to lead the Sharks to victory.

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