Yesterday we took at look at the Western Conference of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, we look East. The Penguins won it all last year, over the Sharks. Smart money would be on the winner coming from the East again. Yet, which team will it be? Three teams immediately stand out. Pittsburgh and Washington always find their way deep into the playoffs. The upstart pick? The New York Rangers. They have one of the best goalies in the history of the sport who might be riding off into the sunset before too long. Lundqvist is a stud and winning another Stanley Cup would be a very David Ross way of going out. Let’s look at the contenders.
The Washington Capitals
Sergio Garcia just FINALLY won the Masters and got over the hump. The Capitals have also had the same fate of always being the bridesmaid, never the bride. Alexander Ovechkin is one of the best scorers in the history of the NHL, but has yet to hoist the Cup. The Capitals have always had tremendous scorers and added Team USA hero, TJ Oshie. He’s also used to losing in the playoffs after being in St. Louis for several years. His former Blues teammate Kevin Shattenkirk was the biggest name to move in the trade deadline. Shatty could be JUST what the Capitals need to finally reach the promised land. This COULD be the year they finally beat the Penguins. Brandon Holtby is an unsung hero between the pipes. History has said they WILL NOT win it but…the Cubs, the Cavs…anything is possible.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
Hey…wait. What? Maybe THIS would be the team that would equal the Cubs drought. The Leafs not winning a Stanley Cup despite being Canada’s OTHER team (not in Montreal). They also have the OTHER new stud in Auston Matthews. Think of him and Connor McDavid as Lebron and Steph Curry. McDavid is the popular pick, like Lebron. Matthews will be often overlooked and that’s unfair. He is a reason to watch the Leafs night in, night out. William Nylander is also a high draft pick with a very high ceiling. Bryan Boyle is a great veteran leader that is used to the playoffs after several years with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers. Wait…they have Matt Hunwick? And he is an alternate captain? Ummm…take away all the nice things said about this team. Ask an Avalanche fan about him, and if you don’t get punched in the face, you’ll see why.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
Defending Stanley Cup Champs, Sidney Crosby, and if you are tired of the Patriots in the NFL, you would be tired of the Penguins in the NHL. Sid is Tom Brady. Yes he’s crazy talented, yes he’s probably the best in the game, yes he gets away with calls nobody else does, and yes you hate him. You hate him mostly because of jealousy, but also because of…well, just jealousy. Besides Sid the Kid (which he’s not any more), there is some great talent on their roster. Phil Kessel is a cult-hero. He’s that John Lackey, mouth-breather, internet meme superstar, but dude can actually skate. Even if he looks like he’s fond of donuts – ALL the donuts. Chris Kunitz is vastly underrated, and would be the best player on a number of teams. Evgeni Malkin is arguably a better scorer than Crosby. Much like the Patriots in the NFL or Michigan State in March, the Penguins reload year after year, and you can count on them to be there in the end.
The Columbus Blue Jackets
The least sexy pic in the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs. They just find a way to win. Like Wisconsin, or UNI basektball, it’s not for everyone – and they have a cannon. It’s loud. It’s stationed over the media. They also have a lot of castaways from other teams. Not a team of superstars, but a team full of grit guys that can win. Scott Hartnell, Sam Gagner, and Cam Atkinson aren’t household names, even in NHL circles, but they do enough to win. Brandon Saad had a lot of success with the Blackhawks and people forget that he’s in Columbus…probably because he’s in Columbus. They do have a superstar in Seth Jones. THEE guy the Avalanche were supposed to take. His dad is Popeye Jones from the NBA, and he loved hockey and took figure skating lessons as a kid per the advice of Joe Sakic. He could be the next superstar defenseman in the NHL.
The Montreal Canadiens
The winningest team in the history of the NHL. They are the pedigree. Yet…they seem to be making decisions to spite themselves. They let Mark Barberio go to waivers who went to the Avalanche and became their best defenseman. They also fired their current coach to hire their old coach, and traded away PK Subban in the off-season. It’s like the Cubs trading away Anthony Rizzo. They still found their way to the top of the Atlantic Division, but not a lot of people are buying it. Alexander Radulov left the NHL on less than ideal terms, went to Russia, then came back, and nobody knew how good he would be in the NHL again. He had the talent, but did he have the attitude straightened out? He seems to have and scored 54 points. He’s also the reason Roy quit Colorado because Patrick was in love with his game. The NHL is a different game from when Radulov left it last, and he’s going to shine in the new faster NHL. Shea Weber helps fill the void left on the blue line and Andrei Markov is one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. Carey Price is a rock in net. They aren’t as good as they have been in years past, but the pieces are still there for sustained success.
The New York Rangers
Lundqvist is a stud and winning a Stanley Cup would be a very David Ross way of going out
This is your Wild Card pick. The philosophy is to score more goals than the other team no matter how many you give up. The defense was once great but has declined. They have deep deep group at forward and bank on scoring a lot of goals. They buy in whole-heartedly to the notion of “shots on net”. The belief is the more you shoot, the more you score, so shoot as much as you can. Also, they have Henrik Lundqvist, one of the best goalies in the past decade. If he stays healthy and plays as well as he can, they will only need to score a goal or two to win. He’s that much of a game changer. The Canadiens are an ideal matchup for them in terms of substance over style.
The Ottawa Senators
Remember when Bobby Ryan was the next best thing? Yeah, that’s about as memorable as this Ottawa Senators team. Their numbers are….not great. They scored 212 goals while giving up 214. Craig Anderson will be in net. He missed part of the season when his wife goat throat cancer. That might be THEE unknown story in the playoffs that everyone should know. Anderson is a fantastic goalie, and his wife can be a rallying point. A couple of household names on defense help, in Dion Phaneuf and Erik Karlsson. Offensively they don’t have the firepower that a lot of other playoff teams do. Their 212 points are the least of the playoff teams and only 10th best in the East. They don’t score enough to win.
The Boston Bruins
Still getting it done, not getting any younger. Zdeno Chara is the name for those new to hockey to watch. He’s 6’9″ and could really skate when he was younger. He’s a little long in the tooth, but can still get it done. They have a lot of forward depth and put 234 pucks in the net. They use names like Ryan Spooner, David Backes, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand to lead a group of veteran guys who know how to win. Once again the sex appeal may not be high, but they know how to grind out games, put pucks on net, and win. Tuukka Rask is a hell of a goalie and has had playoff success in the past. He has a stable defense in front of him as well. This should be an easy first round matchup.
Likely long term outcome: Could be the South Carolina of the NHL. Nobody talks about them but they do just enough to win. Still, Eastern Conference finals at best.