By Cesar Hernandez
Published: April 18th, 2019
The time of year that many hockey fans have been awaiting is here. The Stanley Cup playoffs is guaranteed to be intense and full of surprises. Sixteen teams hope to be champions come June. Some hope to win their first ever title like the Washington Capitals did last year; others would like to end historic cup droughts, and some will try to continue a reign of dominance by winning consecutive titles.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners, Tampa Bay Lightning, will try to capitalize the season with a Stanley Cup after tying the record for the most amount of wins in a season. The number one team in the Western Conference, Calgary Flames, will try to take their strong regular season form into the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference matchups consist of Atlantic and Metropolitan Division teams. First place in the Atlantic Division Tampa Bay Lightning vs. second wild card place Columbus Blue Jackets; second place and third place Atlantic Division rivals Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins; Metropolitan Division leaders Washington Capitals vs. first place wild card team Carolina Hurricanes; and second place team in the division New York Islanders vs third place Pittsburgh Penguins. In the West, first place Pacific team Calgary Flames play second wild card team; second and third place Pacific teams San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights matched up; along with first place Central team Nashville Predators and first place wild card team Dallas Stars and second place Winnipeg Jets vs third St. Louis Blues.
As for the first week of playoff matchups (April 14), many matchups were filled with closer results than expected and plenty of surprises happened. Tampa Bay with the most regular season records set fell 0-3 against a Columbus team who clinched their playoff position in the second to last day of the regular season. The results shocked the hockey world because Tampa Bay failed to translate their regular season form to the playoffs for yet another season. The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs have their series tied at one game a piece. This should be as tight as expected because of the talent both teams have. The Maple Leafs chase their first title since 1967 and Boston since 2011. This could be a less intimidating road to the conference finals if Columbus can execute a series win against Tampa.
The Metropolitan Division sees local New York Islanders silence doubters of their playoff inexperience against one of the most successful teams in recent times the Pittsburgh Penguins. Many expected their experience to prevail against the Isles, however, the tactical masterclass of head coach Barry Trotz and consistent mix of defense and offense have shut down Pittsburgh. One more win can see The Islanders play the next round at the Barclays Center after a boisterous homecoming in the first round at the Nassau Coliseum. Reigning champions Washington Capitals are up 2-0 against an underdog Carolina team. The “Bunch of Jerks” as they are nicknamed, have shown to be a threat against an experienced Washington team that could be pressured to drop games in the first round.
Pacific Division matchups see the Calgary Flames tied at one game a piece against the Colorado Avalanche. Another heavy favorite to go to the Conference finals has seen some complication. Compared to the talent in the Maple Leafs and Bruins matchup, the other Pacific series involving the Sharks and last year’s Western Conference Champions Golden Knights. At the moment, they are tied one game a piece in a mini-rivalry that has sparked between the two this season.
The Central Division has proven two series to be closely matched as The Winnipeg Jets gained a game back after losing their first two home games against St. Louis. The Nashville Predators who have shown deep runs in the last two playoffs are tied one a piece against the best defense after the league-leading Islanders in least goals scored. Many games showed tight contentions with the Blue Jackets and Islanders success over their rivals, being the matchup that has raised the most eyebrows.