Strap on your helmet, tie your skates tight, and throw on that jersey, the NHL season has finally arrived. Last week 30 teams took the ice, all in pursuit now for the opportunity to hoist Lord Stanleyâ€™s Cup in 8 months. Itâ€™ll be a roller-coaster season for everyone, coaches, players, and fans, all leading to the playoffs after 82 regular season games.
16 teams will face-off in the postseason, 8 from the Western Conference and 8 from the Eastern Conference and will battle in 7-games series throughout. They call it the â€œBattle for the Cupâ€ for a reason, as players will fight through injuries and go through daily hardships just to help their team in any little way they can.
I narrowed it down to the 8 final teams that I believe will be left standing, picking the winners in the series, and eventually, the Stanley Cup champion.
Eastern Semis: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins- With Pittsburgh being one of the favorites to win it all heading into this season, I believe they will cruise through the regular season. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin hopefully returning from injuries, the team will have no problem scoring and creating scoring chances for others. With a solid defense, and an outstanding goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins have no trouble knocking out their first-round opponent and advancing here.
Last year, Tampa Bay took many teams by surprise, and came within one goal of reaching the Stanley Cup finals. This year, they return three elite scorers in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier. Tampa Bay has not changed anything in the offseason, meaning no new surprises and an easy way into the Eastern semi-finals.
In the end, I think the Penguins knock out Tampa Bay in a tough seven-game series that goes all the way to the end. Pittsburghâ€™s defense is able to shutdown the outstanding Tampa Bay scorers, and Fleury has a great series keeping his team alive and into the Eastern Finals.
Eastern Semis: Buffalo Sabres vs. Washington Capitals- Last year was a typical year for the Washington Capitals: a successful regular season followed by an early postseason dismissal. This year may be different though, as Washington will have their deepest team within the past 5 years. One of the most electrifying players in the game, Alex Ovechkin, wonâ€™t have to carry the team as much this year with a better defense, and a rotation of 3 strong goalies that will keep Washington in every game. Washington flies under the radar, and advances to the semis.
After a huge offseason where Buffalo GM Darcy Regier spent $75 million on 3 players (Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino), the Sabres seem poised for a big run. With a world-class goaltender in Ryan Miller, the Sabres win their division with ease.
In a surprising upset, I think Washington takes down Buffalo in 6 games, and ends their streak of unsuccessful runs in the postseason.
Western Semis: Detroit Red Wings vs. Vancouver Canucks- With veteran Nicklas Lidstrom returning for his 20th season, Detroit fans are giving out huge sighs of relief. Even better, two of the best forwards in the NHL (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg) look to be healthy for the season. The Red Wings will dominate in a weak division and cruise to the Semis.
After a long offseason, the Canucks are ready to be back on the ice, and seem ready for another run. With one of the best coaches in the league in Alain Vigneault, the Canucks will cruise into the Semis as well.
Detroit runs away with the series, winning in 5 games and doing what Boston did to Vancouver last year, pushes them around. Roberto Luongo, goalie for Vancouver, will have a rough series and show his inconsistency again as Detroit moves on.
Western Semis: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings- With four straight division titles, five straight 100-point seasons, and 2 straight tips to the Western Conference finals, San Jose knows how to get the job done. Like the past seasons, San Jose will dominate with the top two lines in the NHL, and lead the league in almost all of the offensive categories.
The Kings had a huge offseason by signing Mike Richards and Simon Gagne from Philadelphia in huge deals. The best part is, Los Angeles barely lost anything in the deals, leaving them with two excellent scorers and a scary offense. The Kings will battle the Sharks in the division all year, but will come up just short but still make it to the Semis.
In a tough, hard-fought series, the Sharks pull it out in 7 games and advance to their 3rd straight Conference finals.
Eastern Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals- In a surprising series once again, I think the Capitals knock out the Penguins in a great series where the two most popular players in the NHL (Crosby and Ovechkin) go against each other. I think Washington is able to advance on their great defense that can shut down Crosby and Malkin, frustrating an offense that function around them.
Western Finals: Detroit Red Wings vs. San Jose Sharks- In another tough series, I think Detroit is able to outlast the persistent but frustrated Sharks. In the end, the Sharks run out of gas, and the veteran line-up in Detroit is able to find a way to get it done.
Stanley Cup Finals: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings- A thrilling series thatâ€™ll feature two teams with two great fan bases in hockey. I believe the Capitals pull it out in six games, with goaltending being the factor. Washingtonâ€™s deep rotation of 3 goalies keeps them fresh and on their game, and this allows them to shut down the threats of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Washington wins its first ever Stanley Cup, declaring a name for itself for years to come in the NHL.