The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here, and with it, some of the best and most physical moments in sports spread out over the next two months. There is nothing like this anywhere else, from the action, to the fans and to the teams. Here are the Top 16 as we enter the playoffs:
16. Colorado Avalanche (Western Conference WC2)
The Avalanche are coming off a do-or-die game against the Blues, but have been weak recently. They have gone 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, putting them into a terrible position against the President’s Trophy-winning Nashville Predators. The Avs were the last team into the playoffs and have 95 points, the worst among the rest of the playoff teams.
They are one of the healthiest teams in the NHL, however, with only Semyon Varlamov out. Unfortunately for Colorado, he won’t be back before at least the seventh according to the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. The team is likely to have a boost in performance next season, though, as they have a lot of youth on the team just waiting for their potential to be tapped.
15. Minnesota Wild (3 Seed in the Central)
The Wild have been fairly mild this season, especially coming down the stretch. They have gone 4-2-4 over their last 10, and haven’t had much to cheer for recently. The Wild have also been hit hard by the injury bug, as star defenseman Ryan Suter will be out for the playoffs with a fractured ankle. Other players, like Luke Kunin and Jared Spurgeon, are recovering from bad injuries (although Spurgeon is looking to come back after a partial hamstring tear). These injuries put inexperienced players on the ice in the playoffs, which is a recipe for disaster when it comes to physical play.
14. Columbus Blue Jackets (Easter Conference WC1)
The Blue Jackets are well rested, especially after sitting about half of their lineup against the Predators. Losing that game capped a decent final 10 games for the team, going 6-2-2. The downside to this team is that they are very weak with depth, especially down the middle. Neither of their goaltenders has been stellar this season, either, which is a must-have when weak down the middle. This team is also going against a Washington Capitals squad that is looking to get past the second round for the first time in a long time. With the lack of meaningful depth, however, Columbus is not likely to get far this postseason.
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13. New Jersey Devils (Eastern Conference WC2)
The Devils are in the playoffs on the back of Taylor Hall. Hall had more points than the next highest point scorer on the Devils. The Devils have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. The lack of a true goalie will likely hurt them in this run, as Cory Schneider hasn’t done too well recently, forcing Kinkaid to keep the pucks out of the net. He’s struggling with a below average GAA (2.77) and an average save percentage (.913). New Jersey is also facing a very tough Lightning team in the first round, making an advancement even more difficult.
12. Los Angeles Kings (Western Conference WC1)
The Kings are a team looking to upset the newest team in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights. With a very tired Jonathan Quick in net, the defense is going to have to be lights out this postseason. They only have six players with over 40 points this season, meaning that they are going to have to get contributions from all four lines in order to achieve their dreams of winning another cup. While Kopitar has been absolutely stellar this year, he’s going to need more help in order to win a series, nevertheless a cup.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs (3 Seed in the Atlantic)
The Leafs are looking to finally bring a cup back to Toronto. One of the deeper teams in the playoffs this season, Toronto has gone 6-4-0 in their last 10. They have a great line in Marner, Matthews, and Nylander. So why are they so low on the list? Goaltending. Andersen has allowed too many goals this season. With a goals-against average hovering around 3.00, the team is going to struggle if they get deeper into the playoffs. The more tired a team gets, the more shots their keeper will face. This is when you need a netminder to steal a game. Something that Andersen hasn’t shown that he’s capable of doing on a consistent basis.
It doesn’t help that they also have Boston in the first round. Boston is one of the best offensive teams in the NHL, meaning that the either has to completely shut down a team that has yet to be shut down often, or Andersen is going to need a miracle in order to get past the first round this year.
10. San Jose Sharks (3 Seed in the Pacific)
The Sharks have been consistently inconsistent. Joe Thornton being out doesn’t help anything, either. They are a somewhat deep team but don’t have the depth to go the whole two months to the cup. San Jose has had an average final 10 games, going 5-4-1. Their goaltending has been at best average, with Jones going 30-22-6 with a 2.55 GAA and a .915 save percentage. They have to go through a very physical Ducks team that’s looking to improve on their Conference Finals appearance from last year.
9. Philadelphia Flyers (3 Seed in the Metro)
An up and down season for the Flyers has ended in a playoff birth, which is especially impressive after you consider that they had a 10 game losing streak at the beginning of the season. They have been decent in their last 10, going 6-1-3. They play the Penguins in the first round, which will be a challenge for this team that’s lead by Claude Giroux. Giroux is one of the leading Hart trophy candidates with 102 points in the regular season. That, combined with a relatively deep roster leaves an offense that is just waiting to go off.
The problem with the team is that they have a gaping hole in net. None of the three goalies that played this season have a GAA below 2.6, meaning that the defense will have to show up big time if they want any shot at getting out of the first round.
8. Anaheim Ducks (2 Seed in the Pacific)
The Ducks are as physical as ever, and they have relied on it heavily throughout the season. They don’t have a single player with 70 or more points. The team has been on a hot streak recently, however, going 8-1-1 in their last 10. The goaltending has the potential to be an issue for them, even though Miller and Gibson have been decent this season. If the defense doesn’t show up, they could be in for a lot of long series this postseason.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (2 Seed in the Metro)
The two-time defending cup champions are back to make more history in being the first team in a few decades to win three cups in a row. The Penguins had a relaxed ride into the playoffs, going 6-3-1 in their last 10. They have three players over 85 points this season and have one of the best lines in hockey in Malkin, Kessel, and Crosby. There is a bit of a question in net, though, as Murray has been iffy this entire season. With a weaker blue line, this could be a recipe for disaster for their repeat dreams, especially against an offense waiting to show what they can do when they feel like their backs are against the wall.
6. Vegas Golden Knights (1 Seed in the Pacific)
The Golden Knights are hockey’s feel-good story of the season, being put out of any consideration for anything but worst in the league, which may work to their disadvantage in the postseason. They went 5-3-2 in their last 10 and are coming off of two losses in a row. They have some nice scoring depth, with five players above 20 goals this season.
In addition, they have been sharp in net with Fleury picking up where he left off at the end of the playoffs last season with Pittsburgh. The team did well at the beginning of the season when they weren’t seen as much of a contender. They now have to go up against a difficult Kings team who are looking to upset the hype surrounding this team with a first-round elimination.
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