It’s spring. Flowers are blooming, the temperature is rising and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to begin.
First off, step off with your “hockey is a niche sport” and “nobody likes hockey”. Go watch Steph Curry and the Warriors win another NBA title. The Patriots have a monopoly on the Super Bowl and we’ll see whether the Yankees or Red Sox didn’t blow a lot of money for nothing when the MLB Postseason rolls around.
If you’re like me and have a horse in the race (mine is in it for the 13th-straight season), it adds to the excitement. If you’re a casual fan, this is the time to hop on the wagon.
The NHL regular season begins in early October and end after the first week of April. If you make the playoffs, you need to win 16 games over two months to be crowned champion.
The intensity level and speed go up ten notches during the playoffs. 16 teams all want the same trophy. Guys have played with fractured and broken bones and illness to get their names on the Stanley Cup.
Another great part of playoff hockey is sudden-death overtime.
Oh my God, it’s the best! And when the games go into double, triple and quadruple overtime, you are watching a test of strength and will play out on ice. Also, those playoff tickets are expensive, which means you get two games for the price of one if it goes three overtimes.
My team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have won it five times in my life and I was old enough to remember three of them. The 2009 title was my first and will always be my favorite. 2016 and 2017 we’re amazing, too. I was on the city’s south side in ’16 and watched it from my apartment in Oklahoma in ’17.
Whether your team has won it before or has never reached the top, everyone this Wednesday has the same chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Lightning in 5
–The Lightning won 62 games this season, tying the 1995-96 Red Wings for most wins in a season, so they’ll be the biggest Cup favorite. The Blue Jackets, who were big buyers at the trade deadline, had to be relieved to get in, but are stuck with a tough matchup.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: Boston in 7
–Aw, the series that makes hockey fans scream about the current playoff format. The old format makes much more sense, if the league didn’t reduce the number of divisions from three to two. Any way, this will be one of the best first round matchups. Boston is still a contender and Auston Matthews, Jonathan Tavares and the Leafs want to take that next step forward.
Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes: Washington in 6
–In the last few weeks of the year, the Caps crept up on the Islanders and took the division. The Hurricanes are the dark horse in this tournament. The young squad won’t have “Storm Surge” celebrations after wins at home during the playoffs, but many will be pulling for the “Bunch of Jerks”. Unfortunately, Washington is more experienced and erased its reputation as “chokers” with last year’s Cup win.
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins in 7
-I will write this with as little bias as possible.
The Islanders looked like a lost team when Jonathan Tavares signed with Toronto over the summer. But the hiring of Barry Trotz (after the Capitals wouldn’t give him more money) helped turn the team around. This team doesn’t have a superstar. Everyone just appears to pull their weight. They’ll play this round at the old Coliseum, which will be a big advantage, but will move back to Brooklyn if they advance. For the Penguins, it’s business as usual. If Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Letang and Murray play the way they’re expected to, this team could again be in the mix.
Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche: Flames in 6
–The Flames surprised many as the best in the conference after failing to make the playoffs last season. The Avalanche are back in for the second-straight year, despite a weaker record compared to wild card chase in the east.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks: Golden Knights in 7
-Vegas fans have never known life without playoff hockey. The Sharks, who could be described as the new Capitals, will look for payback after being eliminated by the Golden Knights on their way to the Final in their inaugural season.
Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars: Predators in 5
-Like the Avalanche, the Stars might be just an above-average team that got the first wild card. The Predators, who fell to wins shy of their first Stanley Cup two years ago, will look to get the taste of a second-round exit out of their mouth this year.
Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues: Jets in 7
–The Blues resurgence in the second half of the season was stupendous. They went from out of the playoff picture to nearly winning the Central. The Jets finally won a playoff game for the first time last year and turned that into two series wins before losing to Vegas in the conference finals. Winnipeg, the Green Bay of the NHL, is a team to watch out for.