After a long and strenuous journey, the Capitals finally broke through, got over the hump, and won the Stanley Cup last season. Years and years of regular season success and division titles had ended in crushing defeats to rivals like the Penguins and Rangers. However, last year they rewrote all the narratives and exercised the demons with a second-round victory over the Penguins, and from there wouldn’t be denied their chance to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. Now, hot off their fourth straight division crown, they look to defend their title.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes ended the longest playoff drought in the NHL this season, surging their way up the standings with a spectacular second half of the season. With markedly improved goaltending, a solid blue line, and some good young talent up front, the Canes are looking to once again embark on a deep playoff run and win their first Cup since 2006.
Continue reading NHL First Round Playoff Preview: Capitals vs. Hurricanes
The Maple Leafs have had quite the turnaround from their miserable state a couple of years ago, ascending to prominence behind a talented young core led by burgeoning superstar Auston Matthews. However, the Leafs have yet to break through with this core in the playoffs. They gave Washington all they could handle in the first round two years ago, and last year couldn’t quite overcome a 3-1 deficit to the rival Bruins. Having acquired superstar John Tavares in the offseason, the expectation is to not just make the playoffs, but win once they reach them and eventually hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since the original six era (1967).
Their journey yet again begins in Boston, against their old rivals, the Bruins. The Bruins have reestablished themselves as one of the titans of the east with three straight playoff appearances and two straight hundred-point seasons. The Bruins have experienced some success in the last decade or so, winning a Cup in 2011 and making another Final in 2013. The Bruins will lean on their experienced core plus some of their talented youth to bring them back to the Finals and potentially win their second Cup this decade.
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After a historic regular-season where they tied the record for wins in a single season (62), the Lightning have established themselves as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They have enjoyed a nice stretch of success in the Stamkos era, making the playoffs five of the last six seasons and making four conference finals since 2011, including one appearance in the Cup Finals. However, this year looks like their best opportunity to break through and finally win their first Cup since 2004; in fact, with how good the Lightning are, it may be Cup or bust.
Meanwhile, this is the most successful stretch in Blue Jackets history, having made the postseason for the third consecutive season. However, they have yet to do anything in the playoffs, having only won five playoff games in their 19th year of existence, the only franchise that has yet to win a playoff series. After their well-documented collapse against the Capitals in last year’s playoffs (blowing a 2-0 series lead coming home), the Jackets now look to take down Goliath and win their first series in franchise history, and potentially more.
John Tortorella was the head coach of the Lightning when they won their only Cup back in 2004. Now, as coach of the Blue Jackets, this is the first time he will coach in a playoff series against his former team. Will the Lightning steamroll past their former coach on their quest to cement their legacy as one of the greatest teams of all time? Or, can Tortorella pull something from up his sleeve and lead the Blue Jackets to defeat the behemoth and win their first ever playoff series?
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The Golden Knights embarked on one of the most improbable and incredible runs last year in their first season in the league, winning the Pacific Division crown and rolling right through the Western Conference to make the Stanley Cup Finals. This year, they look to not only repeat as Western Conference champions but take that final step and bring the Stanley Cup to Vegas.
Standing in their way are the Sharks, perhaps the team they have built the strongest rivalry within their young history. A perennial contender, the Sharks have had great regular season success, and have made playoffs all but six years throughout their entire 28-year existence (they’ve only missed twice since 1998). However, all this success has not translated well to the postseason, with only one appearance in the Cup Finals and three in the conference finals in this span. The Sharks are looking to put an end to this playoff futility and finally win the Cup.
Last year, these two planted the seeds for a rivalry in their second-round tilt, a spirited affair that the Golden Knights ended up winning in six games. This year, as the rivalry grows stronger, will the Sharks get revenge? Or will the Knights again prevail and defend their crown?
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The Flames excelled this season, clinching the best record in the Western Conference for the first time since 1990. With a balanced scoring attack led by superstar Johnny Gaudreau, and a Norris-caliber season from defenseman Mark Giordano, the Flames will look to put it all together and win their first playoff series since 2015, make the Cup Finals for the first time since 2004, and eventually bring the Cup back to Calgary for the first time since 1989.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since the lockout in 2005. After a historically bad season in 2017, they recovered to make the playoffs as a wild card last year and put up a valiant effort against the President’s Trophy winning Predators before bowing out in six games. Now, they look to exercise some playoff demons of their own, looking to win their first series since 2008, and first Cup since 2001.
In the first meeting between these western adversaries, will the Flames continue their excellent regular season and make a deep playoff run? Or, will it be the Avalanche upending the Flames and making noise of their own?
Continue reading NHL First Round Playoff Preview: Flames vs. Avalanche