There is no doubt that the NHL playoff season is the greatest among all professional and college sports. This year is gearing up to be a special couple of months as 16 teams prepare to fight for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup. In preparation for the playoffs beginning in just over a week, the Full Press NHL staff got together to answer some questions in an exclusive roundtable.
Ian Glendon – Editor-In-Chief of FPC; FPC NHL Managing Editor
Mike D’Abate Patriots Managing Editor; NHL Writer
Tyler Kading FPC MLB Managing Editor; NHL Writer
Kevin Gesterling NHL Staff Writer
Hunter Welcher NHL Staff Writer
What team has been the biggest surprise this season?
Glendon: My heart wants to say the Boston Bruins. What they have done this season and continue to due, no one could have foreseen. However, they just happen to do it the same season the expansion Vegas Golden Knights found success from the first drop of the puck. Entering the final week of the season, the Golden Knights have spent the entire season near the top of the Western Conference standings and look to remain there. For that, they are the biggest surprise in the NHL to this point.
D’Abate: The Boston Bruins have turned the collective beads of NHL fans this year, and with good reason. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has done an amazing job of not only keeping his team competitive but consistently one of the best in the league. The Bruins have weathered the loss of stars such as Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy. Brad Marchand is a legitimate contender for the Hart Trophy. Goaltending from Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin has been solid, as well. It’s true that the Bruins were expected to improve this year. However, their emergence as a potential Cup favorite makes them the biggest surprise thus far.
Kading: The Chicago Blackhawks. Coming off a season where the Hawks were first in the Western Conference, a slight decline was expected. However, after the trades of Artemi Panarin, Markus Kruger and Niklas Hjalmarsson, the retirement (via long-term IR) of Marian Hossa, and the loss of Trevor Van Riemsdyk in the expansion draft, the Hawks struggled mightily throughout the whole of the season, missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Much of that struggle is due to long-term health concerns for Corey Crawford, who is struggling with vertigo. It’s not a positive surprise, but it’s shocking to see a team so dominant during the regular season last year look completely lost the next year.
Gesterling: The Boston Bruins get my vote, I think many people thought that they would get into the playoffs but I doubt anyone would have thought that the Bruins would be a top three team in the NHL at this point of the season. Especially if you consider the roster full of rookies. It is shocking what the Bruins have done.
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The Golden Knights deserve an honorable mention though because I don’t think anyone would have envisioned them going this far, they have a strong group of talent and a head coach who is in the running for Jack Adams.
Welcher: Vegas is one of the most surprising teams of the past decade. They were supposed to be terrible this year and teams underestimated them because of it. Their ability at home, combined with a somewhat weaker Pacific Division this year, has proven that they will likely do well in the playoffs, and for years to come.
Which team do you feel has the most momentum heading into the playoffs?
Glendon: The Boston Bruins. Following Sunday’s loss in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins have now picked up points in nine consecutive games. They are 5-0-4 in that span. What is most impressive is that they have done this without a number of key players for large chunks of time. With a game in hand and a two-point lead over the Lightning in the East, the Bruins could seemingly wrap up the top seed with a win over the Lightning on Tuesday.
D’Abate: The Nashville Predators have seemingly hit their stride at the right time. While the Bruins have been a great feel-good story, Nashville sits atop the league and is a clear favorite in the West. Despite some late injury concerns regarding Viktor Arvidsson, the Predators are once again primed to prey on their competition as the playoffs loom on the horizon.
Kading: The Vegas Golden Knights. All year, Gerard Gallant has been able to tap into the “underdog” philosophy, and they are playing like a team that has nothing to lose. Normally, this mentality is used during the postseason, and I don’t believe that there is any reason to doubt that Gallant will be able to tap into this philosophy then. If the Knights play with the same mentality that has gotten them to this unprecedented, historic spot, I don’t see how they don’t have all the momentum going into the playoffs.
Gesterling: The Capitals and Blues have been the hottest teams recently with five and six-game winning streaks. But I think the team that is the hottest team going into the playoffs are the Nashville Predators, they have been on fire the last couple of months and I can see them making another run at the Stanley Cup. They are the clear favorite out West.
Welcher: The Predators have been lights out over the last month and a half, going 21-4-4 since February. They just set the franchise record for points in a season, and are the front-runners for the President’s Trophy. If they can keep this hot streak up, I don’t see any way they don’t get to the Conference Finals again.
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