"The Stack" 4-11-18

The puck drops on the NHL Playoffs tonight. At the end of the day (so two months from now), who will be hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup?

The Stack is back on this Wednesday and I know a lot of you may not be excited, but I am pumped for the puck to drop on the Stanley Cup Playoffs (aka the NHL Playoffs) tonight. For the next two months we should see some fantastic hockey games. There is almost nothing in sports better than playoff hockey, especially overtime playoff hockey. Now then, let’s get right to the preview we hope you demand in “the stack” for today, Wednesday, April 11th:

NHL Playoff preview

Eastern Conference

On Monday I went over the playoffs how I would do it if you could seed the playoff teams one through sixteen. As we look towards the actual playoff matchups though, one thing is certain. The eastern conference is loaded. You can make legitimate arguments for at least six of the teams to be the ones to represent the eastern conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay won the Atlantic with Boston finishing in second place and Toronto in third. No other team from the Atlantic made it. Tampa Bay and Boston dominated the division. Toronto has youth, but they are extremely talented led by Auston Matthews.

In the Metropolitan division, we have five teams make the playoffs. The Washington Capitals won the division, but they are bound to disappoint. They will have a tough task against the Columbus Blue Jackets who are the top wild card in the eastern conference. A Pennsylvania rivalry ensues with the second best team in the division, the Pittsburgh Penguins against the third best team in the division, the Philadelphia Flyers. No love lost there. The New Jersey Devils are back in the playoffs which is absolutely fantastic, but they have to play Tampa Bay which is not good for their chances. Apart from New Jersey and probably Philadelphia, I think every one of these other teams has a legit chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh of course is looking to win their third straight Stanley Cup which would be unprecedented in the salary cap era. And can Alex Ovechkin finally lead the Capitals to a conference final? To do so they will have to beat the pesky Penguins most likely in the second round. Let’s look at the series.

#6 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #5 Pittsburgh Penguins (first game Wednesday, 7 PM ET NBCSN)

The seeding numbers next to each team are just where they finished at in the conference in overall points. Because of divisional play, we don’t get to see 1 versus 8, 2 versus 7, 3 versus 6 and 4 versus 5. Hopefully that will come back here soon. As mentioned above, these two teams hate each other. It’s an in-state rivalry. Pennsylvania is geared up for this series. The Penguins are prepared. They are ready to make another run at their third straight Stanley Cup. How do you stop Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? I don’t think you do. The Penguins will be too much for the Flyers in this series.

Prediction: Penguins in 5

#8 New Jersey Devils vs. #1 Tampa Bay Lightning (first game Thursday, 7 PM ET NHL Network)

Taylor Hall has really helped the Devils. He is a major reason why they are back in the playoffs. However, he and the Devils have to go against the skilled and arguably deepest team in the playoffs in the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the New York Rangers South team with all of the players the Lightning have acquired from the Rangers recently and with Steven Stamkos, they should have no problems scoring goals. Andrei Vasilevskiy will do his job in net and the Lightning will win this series easily.

Prediction: Lightning in 5

#4 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #2 Boston Bruins (first game Thursday, 7 PM ET NBCSN)

You want start power? This series has star power. Auston Matthews is the headliner for the Maple Leafs, but don’t let that fool you. They have a lot of other great young stars as well. They are going to give the Bruins all they can handle, but the Bruins counter that with young stars like Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Donato. Add to it veterans like Brad Marchand, Davis Krejci, David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, Rick Nash and the ageless wonder Zdeno Chara and this team is tough to beat. Tuukka Rask has been fantastic in net for them this season. They just need to come out and play hard for 60 minutes which has been an issue at times during the season. Tough series, but I think the Bruins pull it out.

Prediction: Bruins in 7

#7 Columbus Blue Jackets vs. # 3 Washington Capitals (first game Thursday, 7:30 PM ET USA)

We all know about the Washington Capitals’ level of success in the playoffs or lack thereof. This team has not been under the microscope as much as they have been in previous years. That could bode well for Alexander Ovechkin and company. The Blue Jackets are not going to be an easy out. This is a team built to play against the Capitals and make a deep run in the playoffs, but I think Washington’s talent wins out and they take this series.

Prediction: Capitals in 6

Eastern Conference Finals

Tampa Bay VS Washington

Yup, I do not have the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins in this spot. I just don’t think they have that “it” factor this year as they have in previous years. I feel foolish for taking Washington, but at some point they have to come through right? Tampa Bay is the deepest team in the eastern conference and I was all set to take Boston to make it out of the east, but their lack of energy and focus against Florida on Sunday was alarming. It’s dumb of me to pick them, but give me Washington to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.

Eastern Conference champion: Washington Capitals

Western Conference

For years now the Central division has been the best division in the NHL and this year was no different with the best team in the NHL, the Nashville Predators followed by the team that recorded the second most amount of points in the NHL in the Winnipeg Jets. The story in this conference though has to be the Vegas Golden Knights. How they have been able to make the playoffs in their inaugural season is something else. They are an expansion team! Success is not supposed to happen this quickly to a team like this yet they won their division and pretty handedly too. They struggled a bit down the stretch and will this team be ready for the moment of playoff hockey? Thanks to guys like goalie Marc Andre-Fleury, yes. It is going to be something to watch.

Each division got four teams in the playoffs. In the Central, Nashville won the division and recorded the most points in hockey to win the President’s Trophy. They’ll take on the second wild card team, the Colorado Avalanche. The Winnipeg Jets meanwhile will get the Ryan Suter-less Minnesota Wild. In the Pacific division, those aforementioned Vegas Golden Knights get the first wild card team, the Los Angeles Kings, while the Anaheim Ducks, the second best team in the Pacific, takes on the third place San Jose Sharks. These should be some great series.

#4 Minnesota Wild vs. #2 Winnipeg Jets (first game Wednesday, 7 PM ET CNBC)

These two teams are not separated by much. It is about a six hour drive from St. Paul to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and these two teams don’t like each other very much. The Jets have been so good this year, especially offensively. Patrick Laine is great. He has a tremendous wrist shot that comes into play on the power play. The one thing the Jets don’t have is playoff experience which the Wild have a lot of. Having said that, without Ryan Suter, I just don’t trust the Wild’s blue line even if Jared Spurgeon comes back. It pains me to say this, but in a high scoring series, I have to take the Jets.

Prediction: Jets in 5

#7 Los Angeles Kings vs. #3 Vegas Golden Knights (first game Wednesday, 10 PM ET NBCSN)

The scene in Las Vegas should be absolutely electric. There should be no reason to doubt this Vegas team, but playoff hockey is a different animal and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick knows how to step up in the playoffs. He’s done it before. The Kings will slow this series down. Vegas wants to play fast and the Kings will try and throw them off their game that way. Andre-Fleury has played great this year, but I will go with the veteran leadership of the Kings and Quick in net to take down the surprise of the season.

Prediction: Kings in 7

#8 Colorado Avalanche vs. #1 Nashville Predators (first game Thursday 9:30 PM ET NBCSN)

Give the Avalanche a lot of credit for making it this far. This was a team that had just 48 points all last year. Nathan MacKinnon is a special talent, but against the deep and tremendous Predators led by guys like Viktor Arvidsson and Pekka Rinne in net, the Avalanche just don’t stand much of a chance. Nashville got to the Stanley Cup Final last year. They’re looking to get back this year.

Prediction: Predators in 5

#6 San Jose Sharks vs. #5 Anaheim Ducks (first game Thursday 10:30 PM ET USA)

The Ducks have some injuries that will certainly hurt their chances, but the Sharks looked lost in the regular season finale against Minnesota. I’ll take my chance with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and company to win and advance. Give me the Ducks.

Prediction: Ducks in 6

Western Conference Final

Anaheim vs. Nashville

I was tempted to put L.A. in here and that is only if they can get by Vegas in the first round. Winnipeg is also tempting, but I love Nashville too much and I don’t think it matters what team makes it out of the Pacific. They don’t stand a great chance against either Nashville or Winnipeg. These two teams are the class of the division.

Stanley Cup Final

Nashville vs. Washington

Stanley Cup Champion: Nashville Predators

They were oh so close last year. They’re getting back this year and this time, they are going to win it all. We are going to see some great hockey these next couple of months. I am very excited. Enjoy it everyone.

Coming up Thursday: Wednesday NHL Playoff thoughts plus other headlines from the world of sports