A look at the NHL Playoff picture as the postseason begins
The 2019 NHL playoffs are scheduled to begin Wednesday, and as such The Aggie takes a look at the postseason picture and predicts how teams will fare on their quest for the Stanley Cup.
Early last week, essentially 12 of the 16 eventual playoff teams had secured their position in the postseason, with only the wild card teams hanging in the balance. In the days since, the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets officially qualified as the NHL’s two Eastern Conference wild card teams — beating out the Montreal Canadiens, who had only a 31 percent chance of making the postseason according to projections by The Athletic. In the slightly less volatile Western Conference, the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche punched wild card tickets of their own, with the Avalanche edging out the Arizona Coyotes by only four points in ROW (regulation plus overtime wins) standings. With the picture finally settled, here is the final 2019 NHL postseason bracket.
Starting out West, despite hopes for a deep playoff run, the San Jose Sharks roused more questions than answers in the final weeks of the season as they scuffled toward the finish line. They finally dug their way out of a seven game losing streak with an overtime win against the Las Vegas Golden Knights on March 30, but aren’t necessarily poised to give the Knights much more trouble in their opening round matchup. During the regular season, the Sharks have struggled to defend against the Knights’ high-powered offense, losing two out of their four matchups by scores of 7-0 and 6-3. The Knights’ late-February addition of right-winger Mark Stone, who scored 73 points in 77 games this season, makes Las Vegas an even bigger favorite against San Jose in round one. And for a team like San Jose that is not necessarily known for their postseason heroics, it may be better to bet on the defending Western Conference champions. Look for the Knights to get by in seven games.
With the Coyote’s loss to the Avalanche on March 29, the St. Louis Blues officially completed their dramatic late-season comeback. The Blues, who were the NHL’s worst team on Jan. 3, finished the year 30-10-5, becoming only the seventh team in modern league history to make the playoffs after being in last place on New Year’s Day. The Blues are arguably the hottest team on the ice right now and are carrying significant momentum into their first round matchup against the Winnipeg Jets. Despite dominating the Blues in the regular season, the Jets injury-prone roster may be in jeopardy come playoffs, with the return of defenseman Josh Morrissey and right-winger Brandon Tanev still unknown. Expect the red-hot Blues to defeat the Jets in six games.
Some not-so-unexpected selections are the Western Conference wild card teams being defeated in the first round. The Stars may take the Nashville Predators deeper into the playoffs than fans from Tennessee would like, but with home-ice advantage, it’s hard to imagine the Preds would allow their round one series to extend beyond five games. On paper, the Calgary Flames should dominate the Avalanche in four, maybe five games, but with the return of All-Star right wing Mikko Rantanen, there’s a chance Colorado takes it to six games, but no more.
On the Eastern Conference side of things, playoff predictions may seem a bit clearer — it’s essentially the Tampa Bay Lightning versus any team who tries to step just one toe in front of them. The Lightning’s 62 wins this season are tied with the 1995-96 Red Wings for most in NHL regular season history and their league-best 128 points is among the best of all time. They are one of the most dominant teams in history and with their title odds at +240, the Bolts are the obvious Stanley Cup favorites. They should sweep the Blue Jackets in four games — in a “Lightning” round of sorts — and are The Aggie’s very non-hot-take pick to win the finals.
But regardless of what may already seem predetermined, other teams are destined to make at least a little noise in the Eastern Conference bracket. The Toronto Maple Leafs, despite not officially clinching a playoff spot until late last week, may be the team that most fans sleep on come playoff time. Goalie Frederik Andersen, who has been jumping up the ranks in recent years, has put together one of his best seasons to date. He finished the season second in the league in saves with 1,796 (.917 save percentage) and third in wins with 36. His ability to protect the net will be crucial if the Maple Leafs want to upset the Boston Bruins in round one. In addition, center forward John Tavares, who finished third in the league in goals with 47, will surely be ready to prove himself in the playoffs after many a fruitless year with the Islanders. Assuming the Lightning win their first round matchup, a Maple Leafs-Lightning second round could potentially be a battle between the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.
The opening round series between the defending-champion Washington Capitals and the wild card Carolina Hurricanes may end up like many of these wild card series do — with the first seed team moving on. The Hurricanes have a promising squad, but they are young and haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2009. But banking on the lone veteran presence and playoff experience of three-time Stanley Cup winner Justin Williams, and a few regular season wins over the defending champs, the Hurricanes may do just enough to steal a few wins from the Capitals. Washington in six.
The series between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins may actually turn out to be one of the most evenly matched contests in this year’s playoffs. The two have met in the playoffs five times in the past, with the Islanders taking four of those series matchups. The Penguins slightly superior offense matches up against the Islanders slightly superior defense and will make for an exciting and balanced series. Yet, with the Islanders securing home-ice advantage, The Aggie is picking them to win in game seven in New York.
The first playoff puck drops between the Lightning and Blue Jackets on Wednesday, April 10, at 4 PM.
Written by: Carson Parodi – firstname.lastname@example.org