Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Every spring the top 16 teams in the NHL duke it out for eight weeks to see who will earn the right to lift the greatest trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup.

The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us and there’s a great combination of traditional powerhouses and upstart franchises that comprise this year’s field.

Playoff regulars like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are back again along with newcomers like the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets.

Despite the urge to crown the expansion Knights as first-year wonders, it will be a familiar group that finally gets over the hump and takes home the title.

How is it all going to go down? Let’s take a look.

(Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

 First Round

Metropolitan Division

1 Washington Capitals (49-26-7) vs. WC1 Columbus Blue Jackets (45-30-7)

The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs twice since moving over from the Western Conference. Both times they went up against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins—and lost in the first round.

It doesn’t get any easier this year when they face off against the Washington Capitals in the opening round.

The Caps won their third straight Metropolitan Division title and the season series against Columbus, going 3-1-0.

The biggest factor in this series will certainly be goaltending.

In recent years the Capitals have always been able to turn to their trusted goaltender, Braden Holtby. But Holtby has struggled this season, with career-worsts in GAA (2.94) and save percentage (.907).

But it’s backup Philipp Grubauer who will get the start in Game 1. The 26-year-old went 15-10-3 over a career-high 28 regular season games, posting a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Meanwhile, Columbus will ride the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky and his 37-22-6 record, 2.42 GAA and .921 save percentage into this year’s playoffs. Despite another strong regular season, Bobrovsky has a history of struggling against the Caps.

In 14 career playoff starts, he’s gone an underwhelming 3-10 with a 3.88 GAA and .887 save percentage. Against the Caps this season, he was 1-3 with a 3.04 GAA and .868 save percentage.

Columbus’s hopes of winning rest on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. Past playoff history states they won’t go far.

The Pick: Capitals in 6

2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6) vs. 3 Philadelphia Flyers (42-26-14)

The Pittsburgh Penguins are trying to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders achieved that milestone from 1980-83.

In order to do so, they must get past their bitter rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.

This is their first playoff meeting since a high-scoring, penalty and suspension-filled six-game series in 2012 that the Flyers ultimately won. There were a total of 56 goals, 314 penalty minutes and three suspensions handed out.

It is unlikely that tempers will boil to that point this time around, but that still doesn’t mean there won’t be bad blood between the teams.

The Flyers will be playing with a chip on their shoulders after being swept by the Penguins in their four-game season series. That they were able to shake off a 10-game November losing streak that could’ve easily derailed their season shows that this group has the resilience needed to pull off a playoff upset.

A key component of the series could very well be the play of each squads Special Teams. The Flyers 29th ranked penalty kill (75.8 percent) will have their hands full against the Penguins top-ranked power play (26.2 percent).

The Penguins power play and experience will be too much for the Flyers to handle.

The Pick: Penguins in 6

Atlantic Division

1 Tampa Bay Lightning (54-23-5) vs. WC2 New Jersey Devils (44-29-9)

The Devils finished with the one of the worst records in the league last season, earning them the first overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. The Lightning, on the other hand, fell one point shy of making the playoffs last year.

The Devils rebounded nicely and posted a solid regular season to put themselves back in the playoffs. The Lightning were atop the standings in the league for the majority of the season until the red hot Nashville Predators raced by them at the end to claim the President’s Trophy.

The Lightning are powered by Hart-candidate Nikita Kucherov‘s 100 points (39 goals, 61 assists) and Vezina hopeful Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s league-leading 44 wins. Don’t forget stars like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman or young studs like Brayden Point and Mikhail Sergachev, either. The Bolts are talented and deep.

The Devils have been led by the MVP play of Taylor Hall and the emergence of backup-turned-starter Keith Kinkaid.

Kinkaid, who has been the starter since Cory Schneider went down with an injury, went 16-3-1 with a 2.32 GAA and a .931 save percentage to help the Devils get into the playoffs.

Hall and Kinkaid will give the East’s top seed a real hard battle. But ultimately, the Lightning’s depth will be too much for New Jersey.

The Pick: Lightning in 7

2 Boston Bruins (50-20-12) vs. 3 Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7)

When you hear that original six franchises like the Leafs and Bruins are playing you know it’s a series with great history. One only needs to recall Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins remarkable Game 7 comeback in 2013 to be reminded of how intense this matchup can be.

Led by Auston Matthews, the Leafs have a slight edge in terms of offense (3.29 goals per game to Boston’s 3.25) while Boston has the bigger edge on defense (2.57 goals against per game, as opposed to 2.80 for Toronto).

This is one of the most evenly matched first-round series and looks like a slam dunk to go seven games. Toronto looks ready to finally slay the dragon and advance to the next round.

The Pick: Maple Leafs in 7

NHL


 First Round

Central Division

1 Nashville Predators (53-18-11) vs. WC2 Colorado Avalanche (43-30-9)

Less than a year removed from their magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Nashville Predators have played like a team possessed, going a franchise-best 53-18-11.

Looking at Nashville’s depth up front is enough to strike fear into any opponent. Then you take a look at their defensive corps—the NHL’s best—and you might reluctant to even take the ice.

But the blueline of Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, and captain Roman Josi will have their hands full with Hart trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon roaming the ice.

MacKinnon has been a human highlight reel for the Avalanche this season, recording 97 points (39 goals, 58 assists) in only 74 games. But one of the biggest developments for Colorado has been the emergence of Mikko Rantanen (29 goals, 84 points).

While backup goalie Jonathan Bernier has playoff experience, not having goalie Semyon Varlamov available for this series hurts the Avs’ chances of pulling off the upset.

The Avalanche have a lot of talent to sneak up and upset the West’s top seed, but the Preds know better than to overlook a lower-seeded opponent.

The Pick: Predators in 6

2 Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10) vs. Minnesota Wild (45-26-11)

The importance of home ice is well known and two of the best home teams during this past season will face off in round one.

The Jets owned the league’s best home record at 32-7-2, while the Wild were right behind them with a 27-6-8 record in their building.

Patrik Laine‘s 44 goals alongside a hard-hitting defense and a Vezina-caliber goalie will give the whiteout-loving fans of Winnipeg plenty to cheer about.

Minnesota may not have a skill advantage, but they do have a massive edge when it comes to playoff experience. The Wild have a total of 748 playoff games on their roster which greatly overshadows the Jets’ 282.

Injuries could be a factor in this series. The Wild will be shorthanded defensively, as Ryan Suter is out for the year with a fractured ankle while Jared Spurgeon might miss a game or two in the series. As for Winnipeg, defenseman Jacob Trouba‘s status for Game 1 is still up in the air after injuring his ankle in the regular-season finale.

In the end, the Jets’ high-powered offense will prove to be too much for Minnesota.

The Pick: Jets in 7

Pacific Division

1 Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7) vs. WC1 Los Angeles Kings (45-29-8)

It’s hard to imagine that at this time a year ago, the Vegas Golden Knights were nothing more than a logo and had only one prospect on their roster.

Now they are real contenders with a chance to do something no expansion team has ever done in the history of sports—Win a championship in their first season.

The division-rival Kings will prove to be a tough task for the Knights to overcome in their first-ever playoff series.

Despite Vegas rolling four lines that can all do damage, it’s the Kings who have both the best forward (Anze Kopitar) and best defenseman (Drew Doughty) in the series.

The series will come down to goaltending, and this is as close of a matchup as you could get.

Both Jonathan Quick and Marc-Andre Fleury both have won multiple Stanley Cups (two and three, respectively) and both have been on their game this season.

This is one of the tougher series to call, but the speed and finesse of the Knights will knock the crowns off the Kings.

The Pick: Golden Knights in 6

2 Anaheim Ducks (44-25-13) vs. 3 San Jose Sharks (45-27-10)

This is the first time since the 2008-09 season that these two California rivals will face-off in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Ducks have the momentum heading into the playoffs, ending the regular season on a five-game winning streak and winning 10-of-12 to secure second place in the Pacific Division.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have cooled off since their eight-game winning streak in March, losing five of their last six games. But that shouldn’t deter Sharks fans, as they still have a talented top six and strong defense to go along with solid goaltending.

That said, the Ducks are banged up. Cam Fowler, who saw more ice time (24:51 per game) than any other defender, is out for the series with a shoulder injury. All-Star goalie John Gibson suffered a lower-body injury on April first and his status remains unclear.

If Gibson can’t go, that could be all the advantage the Sharks need.

The Pick: Sharks in 6

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Second Round

1 Washington Capitals (49-26-7) vs. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6)

The Caps’ reward for getting out of the first round is another meeting with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins yet again in the second round.

The inability of Alex Ovechkin-led teams to make the Conference Finals is well documented, and it appears that this season will be no different.

The issue in most of those second-round exits for the Caps has not been Ovechkin, but rather the goalie and other position players becoming pedestrian in key moments. With Braden Holtby having one of his worst seasons statistically and Philipp Grubauer‘s lack of playoff experience, that doesn’t bode well for Washington.

The Penguins return most of the core that has won back to back Stanley Cups, including 23-year-old goalie Matt Murray.

Murray is a remarkable 22-9 in 31 career playoff starts and has made big saves when called upon. He may be the X-factor in this series.

As much as it may pain Caps fans, they won’t be seeing the Conference Finals unless the rest of the team raises the level of their game—and the Penguins fall apart.

The Pick: Penguins in 7

1 Tampa Bay Lightning (54-23-5) vs. 3 Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7)

This may be one of the most high-flying, exciting series of the playoffs. Tampa Bay has the league’s top offense while Toronto sits right near them at third.

The season series might deter you from picking the Leafs in this one. But when you take a closer look, you realize that Toronto held 3-0 leads in two of the games that they lost. Additionally, in one of those 3-0 games, Auston Matthews wasn’t even on the ice.

The point is that the Leafs can really give the Lightning a run for their money.

Both of these teams rely on speed and skill but it might be the most physical team that will prevail.

With Matthews on the ice, bet on the Leafs not blowing two 3-0 leads again.

The Pick: Maple Leafs in 7

(Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

Second Round

1 Nashville Predators (53-18-11) vs. Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10)

The teams with the two best records in the league and two of the NHL’s best fanbases go head-to-head in the second round.

Both of these teams are so good at home that it will take a really strong-minded effort to steal a road game and win the series. If any team in the league would be able to go into Winnipeg and do that, it would be the Nashville Predators.

Pekka Rinne can hold Winnipeg’s high-flying offense at bay on his own, and the Preds will go into the raucous environment in Winnipeg and steal a game.

The Pick: Predators in 6

1 Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7) vs. 3 San Jose Sharks (45-27-10)

This series is geared more towards speed and skill rather than physicality, and that will be very good for Vegas.

Joe Pavelski poses quite a test for breakout star “Wild Bill” William Karlsson. But his 43 goals will be more than up to the task.

The season series was won by Vegas (they went 3-0-1 against the Sharks), but three of the four games were one-goal games and two went to overtime. Needless to sa,y these teams have been close all year.

But it’s been Vegas who’s scored the timely goals all year and you can bet on that again.

The Pick: Golden Knights in 6

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Conference Finals

2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6) vs 3 Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7)

There are so many storylines that will surround this series that even if it goes seven games, you still might not get to all of them.

There’s the Penguins bid for a three-peat, the Leafs searching for their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since winning it all in 1967, Phil Kessel against his former team, the list goes on and on.

But from a hockey standpoint, the two teams stack up evenly. Both have depth and scoring ability on all four lines. Each has a potent powerplay, above-average defense and a goalie that can win games on their own.

The Leafs played the Penguins well this season going 2-1-0, and the Air Canada Centre will be rocking like there’s no tomorrow. The Penguins, a team that has overcome all sorts of adversity to win those two Cups, may have finally hit the end of the road.

Auston Matthews and company light up the scoreboard, Fredrik Andersson shuts the door and the Leafs give their fans something they’ve waited 51 years for.

The Pick: Maple Leafs in 6

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Conference Finals

1 Nashville Predators (53-18-11) vs 1 Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7)

The NHL’s Cinderella team from last season faces the fairytale team from this year.

It’s Vegas against Nashville with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line. That sentence may take some getting used to.

This matchup pits two incredibly talented and deep teams against each other. They both come at you with four lines of offense and rely on three pairs of solid defense to hold the fort for their Vezina caliber goaltenders.

Nashville’s record against Vegas is nothing special  (1-1-1), but there were three big pieces missing that are now a part of the fold.

First is forward Ryan Hartman, who Nashville acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline. Additionally, former captain Mike Fisher is back after a nine-month retirement to add to an already stacked forward group. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, defenseman Ryan Ellis is back after missing the first 48 games of the season.

Ellis used last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals to prove his worth as an elite defenseman. He backed up that talk by recording 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in only 44 games of action.

While Vegas won over the hearts of NHL fans everywhere, their magical run comes to an end at the hands of the Preds.

The Pick: Predators in 7

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

1 Nashville Predators (53-18-11) vs 3 Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7)

The bright lights of hockey’s biggest stage won’t intimidate the Predators, who have been on a mission to get back to the Finals.

The last time the Maple Leafs made it this far in the playoffs, Neil Armstrong was still two years away from landing on the moon and the NHL only had six teams.

There is not only pressure on the Leafs to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 51 years, but also to become the first Canadian team to win the cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

This will allow the Predators to catch the Leafs and their youngsters like a deer in the headlights early in the series. By the time the Leafs regain their composure, it will be too little, too late.

The 2018 Stanley Cup Finals will be a coronation of the league’s best team after a season of dominance.

The Pick: Predators in 6
Conn Smyth Winner: D, P.K. Subban


ESNY - Elite Sports NY

Staff Picks

Matt Di Giacomo, Islanders Boss

East First Round
Capitals vs Blue Jackets: Capitals in 6
Penguins vs Flyers: Flyers in 6

Lightning vs Devils: Lightning in 6
Bruins vs Maple Leafs: Bruins in 7

West First Round
Predators vs Avalanche: Preds in 5
Jets vs Wild: Winnipeg in 6

Golden Knights vs Kings: Kings in 6
Ducks vs Sharks: Sharks in 7

East Second Round
Capitals vs Flyers: Capitals in 6
Lightning vs Bruins: Bruins in 6

West Second Round
Predators vs Jets: Predators in 7
Kings vs Sharks: Kings in 6

East Finals
Boston vs Capitals: Bruins in 6

West Finals
Predators vs Kings: Predators in 6

Stanley Cup Finals:

Predators vs Bruins, Predators in 6

Conn Smyth Winner:

F, Filip Forsberg

This is going to be a fun, raucous year for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the East, the Bruins and Leafs will be locked into an aggressive seven-game series with a couple of overtime thrillers sprinkled in. The Flyers are positioned to upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who thanks to recent questions defensively and in net, will be effectively dethroned with an early and emotional exit.

For the West, the fairytale Golden Knights fall back down to Earth with a thud as they are dispatched in 6 games by the playoff tested and refreshed LA Kings, who stretch their journey through the Western Conference Finals where the retooled Nashville Predators are eagerly awaiting them after teaching the rookie Jets a lesson in round two.

The 2018 Stanley Cup Finals will be one for the ages featuring an aggressive, offensive battle between two deep forechecks and goaltending that will do all it can to not be totally shelled out by the end of it. The NHL season comes to an end with Nashville becoming the first runner-up to get back into the cup finals and win since the 2008-09 Penguins, capturing the city’s first title.


Billy McInerney, Staff Writer

East First Round
Capitals vs Blue Jackets: Capitals in 5
Penguins vs Flyers: Penguins in 6

Lightning vs Devils: Lightning in 4
Bruins vs Maple Leafs: Maple Leafs in 7

West First Round
Predators vs Avalanche: Predators in 4
Jets vs Wild: Jets in 6

Golden Knights vs Kings: Kings in 7
Ducks vs Sharks: Ducks in 7

East Second Round
Capitals vs Penguins: Penguins in 7
Lightning vs Maple Leafs: Lightning in 6

West Second Round
Predators vs Jets: Predators in 6
Kings vs Ducks: Kings in 6

East Finals
Lightning vs Penguins: Lightning in 7

West Finals
Predators vs Kings: Predators in 6

Stanley Cup Finals:

Lightning vs Predators: Lightning in 6

Conn Smyth Winner:

F, Steven Stamkos

The Lightning have the edge on the Predators in goal and at forward. Pekka Rinne is an great goalie but Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the best goalies in the NHL, and arguably already on top of the league. At forward, the Tampa Bay’s one-two punch of Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov outmatches Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen.

Tampa also has excellent scoring depth with players like J.T. Miller and Brayden Point. On defense, the Predators have arguably the best unit, but if any group can match up with them it’s Tampa’s big three of Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev. Tampa just seems to have a little too much talent, and the Predators will fall just short for the second straight year.


Dominick Renna, Staff Writer

East First Round
Capitals vs Blue Jackets: Capitals in 6
Penguins vs Flyers: Penguins in 6

Lightning vs Devils: Lightning in 5
Bruins vs Maple Leafs: Maple Leafs in 7

West First Round
Predators vs Avalanche: Predators in 5
Jets vs Wild: Jets in 7

Golden Knights vs Kings: Golden Knights in 7
Ducks vs Sharks: Sharks in 6

East Second Round
Capitals vs Penguins: Penguins in 6
Lightning vs Maple Leafs: Lightning in 6

West Second Round
Predator vs Jets: Predators in 6
Golden Knights vs Shark: Sharks in 6

East Finals
Lightning vs Penguins: Lightning in 7

West Finals
Predators vs Sharks: Predators in 6

Stanley Cup Finals:

Predators in 6

Conn Smyth Winner:

F, Filip Forsberg


Gary Harding, Contributor

East First Round:

Capitals vs Blue Jackets: Capitals in 5
Penguins vs Flyers: Penguins in 5

Lightning vs Devils: Lightning in 6
Bruins vs Maple Leafs: Bruins in 7

West First Round:

Predators vs Avalanche: Predators in 5
Jets vs Wild: Jets in 6

Golden Knights vs Kings: Golden Knights in 7
Ducks vs Sharks: Sharks in 6

East Second Round:

Capitals vs Penguins: Capitals in 7
Lightning vs Bruins: Lightning in 7

West Second Round:

Predators vs Jets: Predators in 7
Golden Knights vs Sharks: Golden Knights in 6

East Finals:

Lightning vs Capitals: Lightning in 6

West Finals:

Predators vs Golden Knights: Predators in 6

Stanley Cup Finals:

Predators vs Lightning: Predators in 7

Conn Smyth Winner:

F, Filip Forsberg

My thoughts are that the playoff seeding will be the tightest in a long while. I think many of these series will go seven games, so I feel it will be a survival of the toughest. Nashville learned a lot of lessons from last season, and the trend is that the team that lost the prior year gets to get to the next level from their experience. I think Nashville will just do that. That city will go quite berserk if they win. I am looking forward to seeing that.


John Fiorino, Contributor

East First Round:
Lightning vs Devils: Devils in 7
Bruins vs Maple Leafs: Bruins in 7

Capitals vs Blue Jackets: Blue Jackets in 6
Penguins vs Flyers: Penguins in 5

West First Round:
Predators vs Avalanche: Predators in 5
Jets vs Wild: Jets in 6

Golden Knights vs Kings: Golden Knights in 7
Ducks vs Sharks: Sharks in 6

East Second Round:
Bruins vs Devils: Bruins in 5
Penguins vs Blue Jackets: Penguins in 7

West Second Round:
Predators vs Jets: Predators
Golden Knights vs Sharks: Sharks in 6

East Final:
Bruins vs Penguins: Bruins in 6

West Final:
Predators vs Sharks: Sharks in 6

Stanley Cup Finals:

Bruins vs Sharks: Bruins in 6

Conn Smythe:

F, David Pastrnak

This year’s Stanley Cup playoffs will be a surprising one. In the first round, the New Jersey Devils will take out the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. While it seems crazy, the Devils have had Tampa’s number all year and this could be a very long series.

San Jose will take on Nashville in the conference finals and in six games, the Sharks will win on home ice stunning the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Boston and Pittsburgh will have a grueling series with heated emotions and special teams being the deciding factor. Rask outduels Murray and the B’s take out the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Boston faces San Jose in a series that has a good balance of scoring and defense. Pastrnak and Rask lead the Bruins past the Sharks who’ve stunned everybody taking out Anaheim, Vegas, and Nashville along the way.


Steven Bassin, Contributor

East First Round:
Capitals vs Blue Jackets: Capitals in 6
Penguins vs Flyers: Penguins in 5

Lightning vs Devils: Lightning in 6
Bruins vs Maple Leafs: Bruins in 7

West First Round:
Predators vs Avalanche: Predators in 5
Jets vs Wild: Jets in 7

Golden Knights vs Kings: Golden Knights in 6
Ducks vs Sharks: Ducks in 7

East Second Round:
Capitals vs Penguins: Penguins in 6
Lightning vs Bruins: Lightning in 7

West Second Round:
Predators vs Jets: Predators in 6
Golden Knights vs Ducks: Ducks in 6

East Finals:
Lightning vs Penguins: Penguins in 7

West Finals:
Predators vs Ducks: Ducks in 6

Stanley Cup Finals:
Penguins vs Ducks: Ducks in 7

Conn Smyth Winner:
F, Adam Henrique

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