Why Each NHL Team Could Win the Stanley Cup
When the playoffs kick off on Wednesday, 16 NHL teams will have a shot at raising the Stanley Cup, but only one of them will. Here’s a look at why each has a shot to be the first to 16 wins and a summer of championship-style glory:
Nashville Predators Playoff Seed: W1 | First Round Matchup: Colorado Avalanche
The Predators are the best team in hockey. They have the experience-and stinging memory- of last season’s run to the Cup Final. For the most part, this is the same Nashville squad back to improve upon the finish. Adding Nick Bonino and Kyle Turris while bringing Mike Fisher back into the fold sew up some of the holes. Is there a better defense in hockey? P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are having Norris Trophy-type seasons. And, oh yeah, Eeli Tolvanen looks like the second-coming.
Winnipeg Jets Playoff Seed: C2 | First Round Matchup: Minnesota Wild
This is an elite offense. Patrik Laine, at just 19 years old and in his second NHL season, has become a scoring machine and a high-powered weapon on the man-advantage. Mark Scheifele has struggled with health, but he’s averaging more than a point per game. Paul Stastny has been rejuvenated and Blake Wheeler should be getting some MVP love. The power play has few equals. One of the biggest reasons this team has hit a new level? Connor Hellebuyck is the goalie Winnipeg has been waiting for.
Minnesota WildPlayoff Seed: C3 | First Round Matchup: Winnipeg Jets
Look, playoff series in the NHL don’t come down to one player. That’s what makes them awesome. But are there any better stories in the league this year than Eric Staal? The Hurricanes legend had been languishing for years, but now he’s got another 40-goal season and 75 points, his best since 2010-11, and if the Wild do some damage this spring, Staal will be a big reason why. And, lest we forget, there are plenty of other good players on this balanced, experienced roster, including 30-goal scorer Jason Zucker, veteran playmaker Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund. The defense is top-notch too: Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba form a fine top pairing.
Colorado Avalanche Playoff Seed: WC2 | First Round Matchup: Nashville Predators
The Avs’ will go as far as the impossibly fast skates of Nathan MacKinnon can carry them. He’s teamed with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog to form a top-flite first line, while Tyson Barrie and Nikita Zadorov are an underrated defensive unit. Several players on this Colorado team are ready for a chance to prove themselves in a big way, including some of the younger forwards and goalie Jonathan Bernier, who has shown he’s capable of handling the load in Seymon Varlamov’s absence.
Vegas Golden Knights Playoff Seed: P1 | First Round Matchup: Los Angeles Kings
As Elwood Blues would say, the Knights are on a mission from God. Given an infinite number of NHL seasons, an expansion team would eventually win the Stanley Cup. So why not now? They have a goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury who has done it before, not to mention a high-scoring top line trio of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.
San Jose Sharks Playoff Seed: P2 | First Round Matchup: Anaheim Ducks
They’ve turned it on at the right time: San Jose won eight straight games last month. Despite Brent Burns starting the season on a lengthy goal-scoring drought, he still finished one point short of Washngton's John Carlson’s 68 for the league lead among defensemen. Of the traditional Pacific Division powers—including L.A. and Anaheim—the Sharks seem best equipped to school the upstart Golden Knights.
Anaheim Ducks Playoff Seed: P3 | First Round Matchup: San Jose Sharks
Anaheim is in the playoffs for the sixth straight season (only Pittsburgh’s 12-year run is longer), so we can officially say that these guys have been here before. The Ducks have had awful luck with injuries this year (nobody played in every game this season), but that core is still very strong. Rickard Rakell had an All-Star season to lead the way, and Anaheim’s swap of Sami Vatanen for Adam Henrique gives them excellent center depth to go with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. Plus, there’s still Corey Perry, who has eight career playoff GWGs, including four in overtime. John Gibson has been as good as expected this season, but he’s banged up right now as well—if he’s good to go, watch out.
Los Angeles Kings Playoff Seed: WC1 | First Round Matchup: Vegas Golden Knights
You know that Kings core that’s helped them win two Stanley Cups in this decade? Well, its still here and still going strong—maybe stronger than ever. Dustin Brown has completely revitalized his career while Drew Doughty remains firmly in Norris contention. Jonathan Quick had a fantastic season en route to winning the Jennings Trophy. Oh, and Anze Kopitar is having an unbelievable season and is a legitimate MVP candidate. These Kings have been there before, and you know what happens if they get hot at the right time: Lord Stanley goes to Hollywood.
Tampa Bay Lightning Playoff Seed: E1 | First Round Matchup: New Jersey Devils
They’re the best team in hockey. And even if you live in Nashville and disagree, you have to admit the Lightning are better equipped to stomach a stretch of subpar goaltending. They’re deep: seemingly every role player is a former captain of the New York Rangers. And, more importantly, they’re healthy. The last time Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson were all available for the playoffs, they went all the way to the Cup Final.
Boston Bruins Playoff Seed: A2 | First Round Matchup: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Bruins have an elite first line, possibly even the best in the NHL these days. The trio of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand can go toe-to-toe with any other threesome in any zone on the ice. Adding Ryan Donato to the mix gives them an extra game-breaker. They’ve suffered through a host of late-season injuries, but that means integral players like Bergeron, David Backes, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy will be a little more fresh when the postseason begins. In net, Tuukka Rask is one of the most consistent goalies in the league and should get some dark horse consideration for the Vezina.
Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Seed: A3 | First Round Matchup: Boston Bruins
The Leafs set a franchise points record, only taking four regulation losses in the first two months of 2018, and still came in third in the Atlantic Division. They have the top-to-bottom firepower to take the fight to everyone else on their half of the Eastern Conference bracket, starting with Boston, which is stumbling into the postseason after losing four of their final five. After Auston Matthews accounted for a full quarter of the team’s goals in last year’s six-game series loss to Washington, it’s safe to expect fellow youngsters Mitch Marner and William Nylander to rise to meet his level. On the other end of the age spectrum, Patrick Marleau has the look of—hold your jokes, please—a playoff X-factor, showing he still has plenty in the tank after coming over from San Jose and tallying seven points in the season’s final eight games.
New Jersey Devils Playoff Seed: WC2 | First Round Matchup: Tampa Bay Lightning
Taylor Hall has a compelling case to be a Hart Trophy finalist, leading New Jersey in everything this season after a one-year acclimation phase and nearly doubling up the team’s next-highest point-getter, 2017 No. 1 pick Nico Hischier. Hall has set a blistering pace for a team whose success this season is arguably ahead of schedule, and everyone in red has blissfully forgotten that they aren’t supposed to be winning like this yet. With Lightning star Steven Stamkos’s health in question for Game 1, Hall may have an opening to extend that illusion.
Washington Capitals Playoff Seed: M1 | First Round Matchup: Columbus Blue Jackets
There’s at least a couple of reasons to think that this could finally-finally!-be the year in D.C. This is a team that won the Metro Division despite losing a big chunk of its depth scoring last summer. Despite the top seed, the Caps aren’t feeling the pressure of seasons past, which bodes well for a renewed Ovechkin and Co. While goalie Braden Holtby has been struggling, backup Philipp Grubauer and defenseman John Carlson have stepped up their game.
Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Seed: M2 | First Round Matchup: Philadelphia Flyers
Being strong down the middle has been a hallmark of Cup contenders for some time now, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better 1-2 punch than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Adding Derick Brassard to that mix gives the Pens some serious center depth. They won it all without their top blueliner in Kris Letang last season, now Pittsburgh will make a run with him in the mix. A Stanley Cup three-peat? It’s definitely a possibility for a young, hungry team that hit its stride late in the season.
Philadelphia Flyers Playoff Seed: M3 | First Round Matchup: Pittsburgh Penguins
Is there anyone out there who can stop Claude Giroux this season? The MVP candidate’s career-best season helped the Flyers land a third-place finish in the Metro, but he’s not the only source of offense for Philly, which boasted four other 20-goal scorers in Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Defensively, the Flyer have a young, talented set of blueliners including the still-burgeoning Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. A healthy Brian Elliott back between the pipes gives them the best chance of going on a long run.
Columbus Blue Jackets Playoff Seed: WC2 | First Round Matchup: Washington Capitals
In Artemi Panarin, the Blue Jackets have the type of top-level weapon they have not had since Rick Nash was shipped to New York in 2012—Panarin broke Nash’s franchise single-season points record with a couple games to spare, finishing the regular season with 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists). In 19-year-old Pierre-Luc DuBois they have a physical top-line center too young to be scared of going toe-to-toe with the superstar forwards Columbus is set to face in the first two rounds. This team has the skill to aspire to much more than playing those Metropolitan Division blue bloods to a draw.