The NHL playoffs are like their own season, so in a way this is the opening week for the campaign that will go all the way until mid-to-late June. The Stanley Cup Playoffs started last night with some great games. Right now there are 16 teams with one goal: to bring the Stanley Cup home to their city. The first step of that journey starts this week, and I’m going to break down what I believe to be the best first-round matchup in each conference.
Make sure to stay tuned for next week’s article, when I will do the same thing, but for the NBA playoffs, which start early next week.
NHL Eastern Conference: Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The Capitals will be looking to become the second consecutive team to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, and they begin their title defense against a very solid Hurricanes team on Thursday night.
The Capitals had an eerily similar season this year as they did last year, finishing with 104 points compared to last year’s 105 and winning the Metropolitan Division again. Alex Ovechkin somehow improved on last year’s season by winning the Maurice Richard Trophy again, but this time with even more goals (51 to 49). The Capitals are in a great position to repeat, as they have the best scorer in the league, and three other guys with over 70 points this season: Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson.
However, the team they are going up against is no slouch either. The Hurricanes finished with 99 points this season and a 46-29-7 record. While they don’t have Ovechkin, they do have a talented, young team highlighted by Sebastian Aho, who led the team with 83 points this year, and Teuvo Teravainen, who was right behind him with 76. They also boast a top-10 goalie in the Eastern Conference by save percentage, Petr Mrazek, who lets up under 2.4 goals per game.
The Capitals have the clear advantage, and they swept the season series 4-0 this year, but I can definitely see this series going six or seven games.
NHL Western Conference: Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues
This was an easy one, strictly because of the similarity between the records. Both teams finished with exactly 99 points, but Winnipeg has home-ice advantage because of two more wins. The Jets also have a slightly better goal differential at +28, compared to +24, but the Blues both score and allow fewer goals per game.
Winnipeg has a clear advantage on offense, as Blake Wheeler has accumulated 91 points this season, mostly thanks to his 71 assists, which is third in the whole NHL. They also have Mark Scheifele, who has 84 points and leads the team with 38 goals, and Kyle Connor, another 30-goal-30-assist guy with 66 points.
St. Louis has just one player over the 70-point threshold, center Ryan O’Reilly who has 77, and Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team with 33 goals. Where the Blues really thrive, though, is defense and goaltending. They allowed the fifth-least goals in the league this season with just 220. A big reason why has been the tremendous play of goalie Jordan Binnington, who got called up midway through the season and has posted a 24-5-1 record in the games he started. He has the third-best save percentage in the NHL at .927.
This matchup has seven-game series written all over it.
Danny Barletta is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.