NHL Playoffs 2018: If the Season Ended Today

Oliver Antone, Writer

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NHL Playoffs 2018: If the Season Ended Today

As the 2017-18 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa has come and gone, and the halfway mark in the season is well upon us. With no NHL players competing in the Olympics it’s hard to pin down who will play who in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs; however, what if the season were to end today? Here are the strengths and weaknesses of the teams what would make it, and who they’d play.

Tampa Bay Lightning:
Strengths: The return of Steven Stamkos has become a blessing to Tampa Bay as they have lived up to every expectation this year. On top of this, all worries about Vasilevski are gone. Number 88 is a star in net, and with a strong D-Core and unstoppable offense in front of him, the Tampa Bay is a shoe in for the Cup this year,

Weaknesses: None. Yes, I said it. There is no stopping this team. Stamkos and Kucherov are cold on the ice with an offensive production through the roof. If this team loses a single game in the playoffs the league will be shocked.
Vega Golden Knights:
Strengths: Let’s face it, no one saw this coming. Vegas rallied around a tragedy, and when they should have burned out they didn’t. This new team is riding a high, and they sit at the top of the conference with a chance for the President’s Trophy. They have no clear stars. All they do is share the puck and it works. Every goalie has spent time on the Injured Reserve, and the next man up plays godly. Malcolm Subban looks like a future Vezina Trophy Winner, and he’s playing behind Fleury.

Weaknesses: Running out of steam. Someone is going to figure out how to stop this team, or they will lose momentum. Plus, their coaching staff does not know what to do during the playoffs. They’re an all-depths team with no young guns to speak of. If Fleury faces another injury before the playoffs, Subban will not be able to carry this team.
Boston Bruins:
Strengths: I will be the first to say it, no one expected this. The Bruins’ young guns are running this town. Dalton Henin has crept into the Calder race with 31 points on the season, 15 in his last 17 games. Noel Accari stepped in to replace Frank Vatrano on injury, and is performing at his peak. Charlie McAvoy enters every game on the first line and hits hard like his mentor Zdeno Chara. Veterans are also in peak form as David Pastrnak racks up goal after goal, alongside Patrice Bergeron’s mult-hat-trick season. Brad Marchand remains white hot to top an impeccable first line. David Backes on the third line looks like his old self as he plays in peak form. Tukka Rask has returned to Veznia Form and shows no signs of stopping. Topping it all off, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy knows what works for this team. He’s spent so much time in the AHL that he knows how to handle these young guns. The Bruins are a threat in this year’s playoffs and are hungry to bring Lord Stanley to Boston.

Weaknesses: Their youth. NHL on NBC described it best, this team plays every game like it’s their last. These young guns are trying to keep their spots in the roster, when those spots are guaranteed in the playoffs, what happens? On top of this Rask has an irrational fear of high stakes games. This is a player that asked out of the 2014 Bronze Medal Game in Sochi because he couldn’t handle the pressure. An upside to this is that Anton Khudobin is waiting in the wings to take Rask’s spot.

San Jose Sharks:
Strengths: San Jose has had a rebound year. They caught post-Cup fever last lear. However, this year the Sharks are back in peak form trying to go back for their chance at the gold. Offensively, they are solid and their defense is stellar as well. A rough start to the season gave them motivation enough. If they don’t lose their hot-streak, they may be back in the Finals.

Weaknesses: Goaltending, go ahead and try and name their goaltender. It’s Martin Jones. He’s weak in the net, and defense is what prevents him from letting up multiple goals a night. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not bad. However, come the playoff situation he doesn’t seem fit for the job. Especially on top of Jone’s recent injury, forcing the Sharks to play more aggressive.

Washington Capitals:
Strengths: The Capitals may not be the team leading for the President’s Trophy, but Alex Ovechkin has remained an offensive machine. On top of this, Braden Holtby is in peak form as one of the top goalies in the NHL. A strong offensive and defensive core makes no team want to play the Caps.

Weaknesses: The curse. As sports have shown, curses are known to last. Washington’s Curse keeps them out of the Stanley Cup finals, and has done so for years. Despite having possibly one of the best teams in the NHL year-after-year, the Caps cannot get into the Cup Final. It’s reasonable to fear that just like recent years, the curse will strike. However, sports teams love to break curses…

Winnipeg Jets:
Strengths: This young offense that the Jets have used is phenomenal. Patrick Laine is putting teams to shame, in front of unreal goaltending performance. Whatever Winnipeg did this offseason worked! They are an imminent threat to the NHL and are hungry for blood this playoffs after being in the basement for so long.

Weaknesses: Their defense. No one has really heard much about how great this defense is, and there’s a reason. Winnipeg has spent all these years building up their offensive core, and neglected their defence. This allows teams like San Jose, Vegas, and Chicago to expose them. Possible trade deadline action could better this team, but for right now, its not looking up for the Jets.

New Jersey Devils:
Strengths: This year the Devils have emerged as a surprise team like the Jets and Bruins. Corey Schneider has become the Martin Brodeur prospect he wants to be. The American-born goalie (despite leaving the Jan. 23 game early) is looking to mark his name on Lord Stanley’s trophy, and he seems to be the back for the Devils.

Weaknesses: They rely too much on Schneider. Notice there weren’t many strengths. They play as a team, but have no truly notable players. In the game on Jan. 23, once Schneider left, the team put up no fight to come back from the one-goal deficit. Without Schneider, this team doesn’t have much to play for. In fact, Schneider may crack under the pressure of the playoffs.

Nashville Predators:
Strengths: This team is still riding the playoff high. Post-Cup-fever did not affect this team in the slightest. Despite losing their captain and a bit of their core, the team rebonded hard. Only making one major acquisition, the Preds play hard and like a team. Pekka Rinne is playing like a star, and when he isn’t on the ice Juuse Saros is stepping up and proving himself as an elite goalie.

Weaknesses: I can’t pinpoint it, but they aren’t quite there yet. The Preds are playing like they’re the top of the league, and acting like it too. That’s the problem. This team acts like they already have the Cup in their hands, and it’s dangerous for them. It’s exactly what happened to the Blackhawks last year, and look where they ended up.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Strengths: To say the Leafs have re-emerged as a powerhouse would be a stretch; however, Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews has turned this team around. What was once guaranteed wins for teams are now hard fought battles. Their coaching staff has found the strategy to win, and are keeping the pressure off of Anderson. A D-Core lead by Morgan Rielly rounds out this squad to make them menacing and Cup Contenders.

Weaknesses: Matthews and Rielly run this team. Bad performances from Anderson are extremely noticeable on this squad, and they still don’t have depth to the team. Their starters and second lines produce offensively, but that’s about all. This team doesn’t seem playoff ready yet, but they could be in the next few years.

Calgary Flames:
Strengths: Calgary has found some magic this year. Johnny-Hockey is playing like his usual self, but the real stars are the goaltenders. This young core of goalies is deadly, playing backup is Providence College graduate Nick Ellis. Ellis is only the tip of the iceberg, goaltending as a whole is stellar. Defense looks prime as well, still in need of work, but in good shape.

Weaknesses: There’s not much kick to this team, they win games, they play well

Philadelphia Flyers:
Strengths: Who said the Flyers can be good? In all honesty, what this team has come to become hopefuls is odd… With not too much of an offseason this team’s strengths are limited.

Weaknesses: It’s all hype. A team just doesn’t become good, and the Flyers have done nothing to improve this team. Honestly, they haven’t even played some real teams and their matchups against the Penguins lack excitement. It’s one thing like the Bruins or Golden Knights who have a decent showing going, well rounded teams, and future potential. If the Flyers actually make this year’s playoffs the world will be shocked.

Dallas Stars:
Strengths: Tyler Seguin. Seguin is an offensive beast who has propelled the Stars out from where they were in a rough patch. Dallas is slowly on the rise, and seamingly grows as a threat each and every day. Ben Bishop has the back of this team propels them past their woes and hardships. If they can discard a few draft picks and pick up a little more defense, Dallas may be on its way to their second Cup.

Weaknesses: Honestly it’s a lack of hype. Hockey in Texas cannot pick up, and honestly Nashville only picked up hype due to the playoffs. If Dallas can pick up this playoff season, they may be a threat.

Columbus Blue Jackets:
Strengths: Sergei Bobrovsky is a huge threat with one objective: win games. He backs an offensively savvy team that has strong potential. Well rounded defense and offense shows signs of the team they were last year… but they have flaws.

Weaknesses: Columbus has lost hype since they dropped the win streak last season, and they are yet to recover. They’re trying to give their fans that same feeling but are failing. This team is trying to hard to be what it once was instead of focusing on the team at hand. In fact, they made almost no changes to the squad. Maybe if they listen to their coaching staff and realize that they are Cup contenders, they may be able to pull something off.
St. Louis Blues:
Strengths: Again, not much of a team here. Allen backs them, but offensively they aren’t solid. Defense on the other hand is another story as it seems rock solid this year. Tarasenko remains an offensive juggernaut who carries this team, and with Allen backing them, they may be able to make a run.

Weaknesses: They’re a wildcard spot fighting for nothing. They have no solid leadership, as if they’re still wallowing in their sorrows after the loss of David Backes. St. Louis needs to get their stuff together, they have a chance. This team has nothing to fight for and the only reason they may scrape in is because the Blackhawks can’t win.

Pittsburgh Penguin:
Strengths: They’ve re-found their drive. It took a bad start for Matt Murray and Sidney Crosby to realize they need to get their butts in gear. They lost a lot of hype, but if they keep this moment and scrap in, they’ll be well on their way to a three-peat.

Weaknesses: When I started this article, the Penguins weren’t even on this list. They are on and off on hot streaks and lengths of cold. Pittsburg has caught post-Cup-fever hard and can’t find the magic they once had. They mourn the loss of Marc-Andre-Fleury like a child mourns a lost puppy, when honestly they should treat him like a goldfish. Pittsburgh is a solid team with Cup potential, but they fell off the face of the earth. If they want a chance they need to get off the couch and stop playing NHL 18, stop being in useless advertisements, and need to play hockey.

Colorado Avalanche:
Strengths: The Avs had a successful offseason this year. In fact the team is possibly a threat… in the next few years. This team’s offense is developing, but their D-Core needs some work. On top of that this team has consistently held their wildcard spot, surprising a lot of teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll have to wait and see how they come out against some high quality teams.

Weaknesses: They aren’t developed yet. Colorado has potential to develop, but it’s just that, potential. A young team may have success over the years, and I wish them luck if they make this playoff cycle; however, their division isn’t the strongest this year, and they haven’t face too many tough opponents. In the weeks ahead they’ll have a few real opponents that they have to defeat to stake their claim in this year’s cycle!

EPIC PREDICTION TIME!

I’ll now take my chances with each series and how they’ll go as of right now…

Round 1:
Tampa Bay vs Philadelphia: Tampa (4-1)
While the Flyers may attempt to get a win in, it’ll be hard to take four from the gods of hockey. Give the Flyers the first game in Philly, apart from that Tampa’s overpowering offense will claim this one.

Boston vs Toronto: Toronto (4-3)
This series will be tight between two conference-rivals. Young squads pinned against each other, with strong D and powerful offenses. However, it pains me to say it, but when it comes to a Game 7 at TD Garden, Auston Matthews’ squad will claim it in overtime with a final score of 4-3 to end a 4-3 series.

Washington vs New Jersey: Washington (4-2)
It’s unfair for New Jersey to play this squad, however Schneider will most likely back them through two wins but an inevitable fall to the Caps.

Columbus vs Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh (4-3)
Like I said, Pittsburgh is dangerous in the playoffs, Columbus is not. The Blue Jackets will put up a fight, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. However, the cannons will not be sounding for the Jacks come game 7.

Vegas vs Colorado: Vegas (4-1)
Colorado won’t only win a game, they’ll win Game 1 in Vegas. They’ll stun the Knights right into the hellfire they’re going to reign down on Colorado after it. Right into a 4-game straight series win.

San Jose vs Calgary: San Jose (4-0)
San Jose overall is just the better team, I predict a sweep for the dull fact that I can’t see Calgary putting up a fight. San Jose will make quick work and move on.

Winnipeg vs Dallas: Dallas (4-2)
Winnipeg isn’t playoff experienced, Dallas is. Dallas can make work with their offense, and Ben Bishop’s backing to take round 1 in 6.

Nashville vs St. Louis: St. Louis (4-3)
Posting this article from Nashville puts me in a lot of risk, but the Preds don’t care. If they keep playing like they run the league they’ll be shocked at what’s to come. They play like Chicago did last year, and will end up playing golf before May. After losing both games at home, Nashville will try and fight back but inevitably fail.
Round 2:

Tampa Bay vs Toronto: Tampa Bay (4-0)
Toronto will be no match for Tampa, an easy sweep is in store to break the hearts of Toronto fans for another year. If they put up a fight, good for them, but they have no backing against this god-squad of a team.

Washington vs Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh (4-3)
The curse strikes again! Washington stands no chance against an angry Penguins squad, and I see Crosby in peak-form for this round of the playoffs. Enough to clinch a W in another 7 game epic.

Vegas vs San Jose: Vegas (4-3)
Riding high off of their previous wins, San Jose will win every home game in this series. However three words come to mind: Vegas at home. Unstoppable.

Dallas vs St. Louis: Dallas (4-3)
St. Louis is not a strong enough squad to beat a team like Dallas. This seems like a series of two weak teams high on momentum. In fact, these two teams will be so evenly matched, 7 games may not be enough. I predict 4 of 7 games to go to O.T.

Conference Finals:

Tampa Bay vs Pittsburgh: Tampa Bay (4-3)
I mean come on! The top team of the league versus the Cup champions! A tight game for all 7 as Murray will stun Stamkos, but Vasilevski will be on point as well! In the end, the future kings will defeat the current monarch.

Vegas vs Dallas: Vegas (4-3)
This game will come down to who the home team is. Dallas will play like Nashville did against the Knights. However, the Knights will be too much at home for Dallas and they will overall head for Lord Stanley.

Stanley Cup Finals:

Tampa Bay vs Vegas: Tampa Bay (4-3)
Wow. Did not expect to have Vegas in the Finals. It seems stereotypical of me to pick the two top teams, but as I set up this bracket, no team could match these two. Boston could beat Tampa, and Nashville could beat Vegas, but both will end up stunned in the first round to leave us with Tampa v. Vegas. So who wins? In an epic back and forth battle, Tampa Bay. Vegas will claim their first three home games, but Tampa will stun the city of Las Vegas, and hand the Golden Knights only their second loss at home this playoffs. Stamkos will get his ring, and Ben Bishop will be left to wish to be back in Tampa.

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1 Comment

One Response to “NHL Playoffs 2018: If the Season Ended Today”

  1. Dulin Kelly on February 2nd, 2018 11:30 am

    As an avid hockey fan myself I can’t say I agree. Your weakness for the Preds is that they play great hockey, and you claim they are riding a playoff high, which is simply not the case. Also, saying that the Predators will lose in the first round to a weaker team, and then go on later to say they could beat the Golden Knights is a heavy contradiction. I would like a valid explanation for your claims against the Preds, as well as you to fix the contradiction. Sincerely, Dulin Kelly.

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