This article contains opinion.
The NHL regular season came to an exciting finish over the weekend.
The final spot in the Eastern Conference came down to Columbus and Montreal playing their final games Saturday.
The standings are secured, and the first round introduces some interesting matchups. It feels like I just wrote my first column to preview the start of the new season.
Round 1 begins Wednesday and kicks off with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blue Jackets secured the second Wild Card spot with a win against the Ottawa Senators. It’s not the preferred situation, but they made it. The Jackets wound up going 0-3 versus Tampa Bay during the regular season. While the Lightning dominated the NHL the entire season and with all the Blue Jackets’ acquisitions from the trade deadline and on, can they pull off an upset?
In the Metro division, teams can’t manage to get away from each other.
After a hard-fought season, the Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the New York Islanders. Both teams had their hot streaks and bad slumps but these two would place for second (Isles) and third (Pens) in the division.
The next matchup sees the juggernaut Washington Capitals taking on the Carolina Hurricanes.
These “bunch of jerks” from Carolina made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, which was the longest drought in the NHL. After an incredible last few weeks, they’re set to take on the defending Stanley Cup champs.
The Capitals swept the ‘Canes during the regular season, but that’s the past – playoffs create a new atmosphere for teams. Will Carolina’s lucky streak and passion carry them to the second round?
Out West, the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights are going at it for the second consecutive year, this time in the first round.
Both have added plenty of prospects to already stacked lineups. Hockey veterans Erik Karlsson and Joe Thornton are looking to claim a cup for themselves and their teams. After the magic of the inaugural season brought the Knights to the cup finals, can they manage to do it again?
Another high caliber matchup is between the Winnipeg Jets and the St. Louis Blues.
After an impressive start to the new year, the Blues matched the talent of their new star goaltender, Jake Binnington, to claim the third spot in the central. With last years’ experience and a little more depth, the Jets are looking to make it for the long haul.
But as the Blues seemed to find themselves in the second half of the season, will they be able to beat one of the best teams in the Central?
There was a concern prior to the last week of the regular season for the Dallas Stars. Ben Bishop has helped secure the Stars to a playoff spot, but after an odd injury, it looked like the worry toward Dallas’ cup chances dwindled, especially against the rising threat of the Nashville Predators.
However, it looks as if Bishop will be good to go for the first game in Nashville. The Predators are looking to bring a cup home to “Smashville,” and with the impressive goaltending from Pekka Rinne, as well as the stacked lineups, it should make for an interesting series.
Another familiar look is back East with the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs facing off for another consecutive postseason.
Through the regular season, Boston would pull out a win in the two matchups, making dramatic comebacks in the third period. Even with the Maple Leafs seemingly having a rough end to the season, playoffs are here, and it’s a new series of games to play.
Last but certainly not least is the round one matchup between the Calgary Flames and the Colorado Avalanche. Calgary finished first in the Pacific division, and Johnny Gaudreau helped get it there. As for the Avs, early in the season it was clear their first line was ready for any team that came their way.
Looking at early predictions, it seems those favorable teams are those that dominated all year.
A poll taken on the NHL Network predicted the Conference Finals will be Capitals vs. Lightning and Predators vs. Flames. Tampa Bay would defeat the Caps 4-2, and the Preds would win against Calgary 4-3. According to the poll, the Stanley Cup final would be Nashville and the Lightning, with Tampa Bay winning the cup in six games.
These are just predictions, but there seems to be more favor towards the Lightning or the Predators winning the cup.
As the saying goes, “In order to be a champion, you gotta beat the champion.”