(Photo credit: Lisa Gansky)
Everyone loves playoff time and they begin in less than a month! April 11th will see 16 teams fight the long grind to win the coveted Stanley Cup. But who will take the prize home?
First, let's clarify the initial playoff bracket:
Tampa Bay (A1) v Florida (W2)
Boston (A2) v Toronto (A3)
Washington (M1) v Philadelphia (W1)
Pittsburgh (M2) v Columbus (M3)
In the East, it looks like Florida should get into a wildcard spot as they have been rolling recently. I project that they will get in ahead of New Jersey. The only other real change to today’s current standings is Philadelphia falling into a wildcard and Columbus sneaking into the Metro top three. Philly has won three of their last ten whereas Columbus has picked up eight wins in their last ten.
Nashville (C1) v Dallas (W2)
Winnipeg (C2) v Minnesota (C3)
Vegas (P1) v Colorado (W1)
San Jose (P2) v LA (P3)
I have kept the West as it is at the moment as I feel that looks like the most likely scenario. Anaheim might break in ahead of Dallas, LA or Colorado but for now, this seems to be the most likely playoff scenario.
First Round - East
Tampa Bay beats Florida in four games: The Panthers will just be happy to be in the playoffs against their great rivals Tampa. The Lightning, though, are deep and will look to make up for lost time as they missed the playoffs altogether last season.
Tampa should take the series easily and I think a sweep could be on the cards.
Toronto beats Boston in seven games: Toronto and Boston is possibly the most unfair opening round matchup in playoff history as both sides have been at the top of the standings most of the season.
This series could even swing in the favor of who is the most healthy as both sides are battling injuries to their star players. Toronto edges it - revenge for game seven in 2013.
Washington beats Philly in six games: Philly reminds me a lot of the Leafs from last season in that they are young and maybe ahead of schedule. Washington probably only has a couple more years of true contention and they need to go deep this year to appease their Fanbase.
I think the Capitals will get through this tough series in six.
Columbus beats Pittsburgh in five games: The first real shock of the playoffs is here! Pittsburgh are out in the first round as fatigue from two straight cups leads them to defeat against the defensive Columbus Blue Jackets.
This series could be similar to Nashville’s victory in four games to Chicago last year.
First Round - West
Nashville beats Dallas in five games: Dallas should return to the playoffs this year after missing out last season. Their issue is that they look likely to run into Nashville who is arguably the best team in the NHL.
The Predators look awesome this year and should breeze past the inconsistent Stars. Smashville will be in full voice again this spring.
Winnipeg beats Minnesota in four games: The Wild are currently sat nine points below the Jets who have been marvelous this season. I suspect that Winnipeg will breeze past the stars as they have the firepower and defense to stop the Wild from causing an upset.
Colorado beats Vegas in seven games: This season has been brilliant for both sides and the fact they are in the playoff question is remarkable. Colorado has been excellent this season with Nathan MacKinnon being in the Hart conversation for most of the season.
I think this will be tight but Colorado edges it.
LA defeat San Jose in seven games: Both sides are probably heading toward rebuilds soon because of their aging rosters. But this could be the last hurrah for the teams as serious contenders for the cup.
LA missed the dance last season but I think they will be back with a bang this year - they edge the Sharks in seven games.
Second round - East
Tampa Bay beats Toronto in six games: Toronto will view the second round of the playoffs as a success this season and will provide valuable experience to their young team. The Lightning though should squeeze past Babcock’s Leafs as they have such a strong roster.
Toronto lacks the defense to deal with Tampa’s firepower which is why I have Tampa taking this series.
Washington beats Columbus in five games: The Capitals make it to the Eastern Conference finals - all they needed to do was avoid Pittsburgh!
Columbus has only been to the second round once in franchise history - they lost 4-0 to the Red Wings in the 2008/09 season. This time they will at least win a game - but still go out miserably.
Second round - West
Nashville beats Winnipeg in seven games: It seems cruel that these two sides have to face each other in the second round as this deserves to be the Western Conference final - but here we are.
Nashville and Winnipeg will battle out an intense series - but last years finalists squeak into the next round. Winnipeg will benefit though from these big games as a lot of their young roster will experience the playoffs for the first time.
Colorado beats LA in six games: Wow, last seasons worst team in the whole NHL has made the Western Conference finals! Colorado has the luck of the draw on their side as LA are possibly the worst side left at this stage.
The Avalanche’s firepower is enough to see them past the Kings.
Conference final - East
Washington beats Tampa Bay in six games: Alex Ovechkin finally gets to play in the Stanley Cup final as Washington beat Tampa in what should be a high action, high-scoring match up.
Tampa Bay has years of contention ahead of them so losing this game should only act as motivation to come back next year and do well.
Conference final - West
Nashville beats Colorado in four games: While the Avalanche provided the ‘feel good’ story of the playoffs. Ultimately, their dreams came to a crashing end in the conference finals where a Nashville side dismantled them easily to earn themselves some rest before the final.
For Colorado, this shows that their window for contending is open.
Stanley Cup final:
Nashville defeats Washington in seven games: After last seasons disappointment of losing to Pittsburgh in the final - Nashville takes the next step and defeat the Capitals in seven games. Home ice advantage would prove crucial as both sides won all their home games.
For Ovechkin and the Capitals it could signal the end of an era - for Nashville it seems like only the start.
Hart Trophy - Nathan MacKinnon
Vezina Trophy - Pekka Rinne
Conn Smythe - PK Subban