After a few days of looking over this year’s Stanley Cup Playoff bracket, I have finally nailed in who I think will hoist the Cup in June.
First off, let’s go through all of the first round series and break down who will win and why:
(1) Nashville Predators vs (WC2) Colorado Avalanche
I am picking with my heart here, at least for this one round. Colorado has the fire power up front on their top line to take over a game at any given point. Although it will be a tough task going up against one of the best defensive core’s in the NHL (Subban, Josi, Ellis, Ekholm) and a playoff experienced goaltender in Pekka Rinne — Colorado has pretty much been playing playoff hockey for the past few months, and Nashville locked up their top spot a while ago. Nashville was in this wildcard spot last year and ended up upsetting the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks which propelled them to a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Upsets happen in the NHL playoffs, and I am seeing a chance here for Colorado to battle it out in a long series against Nashville.
Colorado in 6 games.
(2) Winnipeg Jets vs (3) Minnesota Wild
The Jets are a team that I could see going on a run all the way to the Final this year, but it will all depend on the goaltending they get from the young Connor Hellebuyck — he’s a great young goalie, but there’s no guarantee that his great play will translate to the grind of the NHL playoffs. I am buying into this team to get by the Wild here in round one, because of the top end talent and the fact that the Wild are one of the more notorious teams to choke when it comes to this time of year.
Winnipeg in 7 games.
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs (WC1) Los Angeles Kings
Tough series to pick — the Knights have been great all year and have a Cup champion in goal in Marc-Andre Fleury, while the Kings also have a Cup champion in Jonathan Quick, but also still have their core together from their Cup years. Los Angeles is in a situation a lot like Colorado, as they have been playing playoff type hockey for the past few weeks or more, so they are ready for games like this. I see the magic of Vegas carrying this team through round one — in a tough, long series.
Vegas in 7 games.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs (3) Anaheim Ducks
These two California foes are very deep teams up and down the roster, with playoff experience all over the place. This series will come down to which goaltender can steal games, as is the case most times in the playoffs. John Gibson was one of the top goalies in the NHL this season, but has missed some time recently with an injury. Gibson appears to be back to start the series, and I believe his play can catapult the Ducks over the Sharks in this one.
Anaheim in 6 games.
(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs (WC2) New Jersey Devils
New Jersey has been a nice story this season, led by Taylor Hall’s MVP caliber season and rookies Nico Hischier and Will Butcher — but the inexperience playoff-wise of Keith Kincaid in net scares me quite a bit here, especially going up against the high-powered Lightning. I sense a breakout performance from Steven Stamkos in this series, which could be the beginning of a potential Conn Smythe run for their great captain.
Tampa Bay in 4 games.
(2) Boston Bruins vs (3) Toronto Maple Leafs
This is going to be another epic series between these two rivals. I feel the Bruins should be looked at as one of the favorites to ultimately hoist the Cup this year. Tukka Rask is ready to lead this team deep into the playoffs, and the Bruins should be able to get by the Leafs here. If Toronto does pull of the surprise, it will likely be Auston Matthews carrying them on the scoreboard.
Boston in 7 games.
(1) Washington Capitals vs (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
Washington is a Cup favorite every year, because they have had some much regular season success… however they have been the ultimate choke artists when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Columbus is a dangerous team with scoring threats up and down the lineup and a former Vezina trophy goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky. This will be an interesting series, and the Jackets could scare the Caps like they have scared the Penguins in the past, but I look for Washington to just squeeze by in five very tight games.
Washington in 5 games.
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (3) Philadelphia Flyers
It took all the way up to the last weekend for the Flyers to clinch their spot in the dance, but now that they have made it, they are looking to add to the city of Philadelphia’s recent championship success. But they will have to start their run against the two-time defending Cup champions, and their bitter rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers have in the past been successful at slowing down Sidney Crosby and company and getting in their heads, but that was when this group only had one Cup — they now have three Cups as a core, which proves they know how to win in any environment. Penguins should be able to get by the Flyers in round one.
Pittsburgh in 6 games.
Now that we have gone through the First Round match-ups lets see how I think the playoffs will finish out after this:
Colorado Avalanche vs Winnipeg Jets
It’s just tough to see Colorado getting past two divisional teams they usually struggle with. I think the win vs Nashville will be good for the team going forward, but the Jets will be too much to handle.
Winnipeg in 6 games.
Vegas Golden Knights vs Anaheim Ducks
The magical season for the Knights will come to an end. Even know it would be fun to see Vegas go as far as possible, I see the playoff experience and grit of the Anaheim Ducks veteran forwards carrying this team deep.
Anaheim in 6 games.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins
The match-up that we have looked forward to all season long as these two teams have battled for the Atlantic Division crown. The ultimate result came down to the last game of the season on Sunday when the Bruins couldn’t handle the free-flying Florida Panthers and now have to settle for the No. 2 seed in this division — meaning Tampa gets home-ice advantage. This will be memorable, and it will get Tampa Bay ready for the deep run they are expected to make in this year’s bracket.
Tampa Bay in 7 games.
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Hockey fans get another treat with a Crosby vs Ovechkin playoff series. Will this finally be the year that the Cap get by the Pens? I say no.
Pittsburgh in 7 games.
Western Conference Final
Winnipeg Jets vs Anaheim Ducks
With veteran goaltenders like Rinne, Fleury and Quick in the West, I may be crazy to be calling this match-up of two young goaltenders, but I believe the time is now for these two young American-born guys — Connor Hellebuyck vs John Gibson. They will have carried their teams this far, but it will be the veteran leadership of the Ducks to carry them into the SCF.
Anaheim in 6 games.
Eastern Conference Final
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins attempt at a repeat will get this far, but I feel that the Lightning are too deep for the Penguins to get by them. Just like my picks for the West Final, this East Final will feature two of the bright young goalies in the league — Matt Murray vs Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Tampa goalie Vasilevskiy is going to be around for a very long time, and he will get his taste of Stanley Cup Final hockey this year.
Tampa Bay in 7 games.
Stanley Cup Final
Anaheim Ducks vs Tampa Bay Lightning
My early pick to win the Cup this year came after a certain trade was made in late November — when the Anaheim Ducks sent defenseman Sami Vatanen and forward Joseph Blandisi to New Jersey in exchange for two-way forward Adam Henrique. It was right then and there when I noticed that this team would be stacked in the middle if they all go healthy and made it into the playoffs. Well, I nearly had to change my pick since it took the Ducks until the last week to clinch a spot, but here they are in the dance.
This team is stacked everywhere, with pure hockey players that can get through any situation. It seems like every one of their players can score goals, play solid defensively, throw around the body and do the dirty work in front of the net where it counts. The Ducks are a nasty team, who are not afraid of anyone, and when they have everyone healthy, including their star goaltender John Gibson, they are capable of being the best team in the NHL. And if Gibson goes down again during this run, they can always turn to veteran Ryan Miller who has plenty of playoff experience himself and played great down the stretch to help the Ducks clinch their spot.
I see Tampa Bay as a team that is also built to win and should eventually win a Cup with the core they have, but the Ducks have a core and a head coach (Randy Carlyle) that has been there before, and I think this will pay off in the end.
Anaheim in 7 games.
2018 Stanley Cup Champions — Anaheim Ducks
P.S. – I sort of hope I am wrong here… because I don’t like the Ducks at all, even though I was born in Anaheim, CA. I am a die-hard Avalanche fan, so obviously I hope they go all the way, and I also like the Penguins, Kings and Golden Knights among the other teams that are in the playoffs, so I would be happy to see any of them win as well.