This year's NHL regular season culminated to an expected finish for some, but for others it was a down-to-the-minute scramble for their playoff lives. Now that the schedule is set and the teams are ranked, it's anybody's guess as to how these clubs will perform in the postseason.
As I look at the list, I see teams that could come from the back of the pack and make a run, and also some big names that have a lot of potential to disappoint.
New York Rangers
I love what the Rangers did this season. They're coming into the playoffs first in their conference and are carrying a lot of momentum. I also love that they open the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators, which should prove to be an easy endeavor for this hot team. They have superior leadership and numbers on their side, both of which will come in handy against Ottawa.
The team that stands between the Rangers and a Cup has to be the Bruins, who are in pursuit to repeat as World Champions and have played at a level that, at times, was better than the play put forth by the Rangers. The Rangers bested the Bruins in regular season play, but that does not shield them from having to face them again in the postseason.
If the Rangers can manage to get past the Bruins, then I don't see anything standing in their way of becoming Eastern Conference Champions and earning the right to play for the Cup.
The same can be said about the Bruins that was said about the Rangers; the team has played exceptionally all year. Adding to this, the Bruins carry the title of National Champions. This not only proves that they have what it takes to win it all, but also it's a motivating factor for the Bruins players.
The Bruins open up the postseason against the Capitals. It's a series that I don't think the Bruins will have a problem putting away, considering how lackluster the Capitals, especially the once-dominant Alexander Ovechkin, have been all season. I do have to say, though, it may be an interesting series due to the back-and-forth nature of the two teams during the regular season.
The Rangers have a less-than-stellar postseason record as of late and have a tendency to choke when things are looking good for them. Whether or not the Rangers show up to play will weigh heavily on how the Bruins will do in the playoffs this year. If the Bruins can get past the Rangers, then the Bruins will go on to compete for another Stanley Cup.
I have Pittsburgh down as the "Must Watch" team of the postseason. Sidney Crosby is back, Malkin is dominant, the team has been playing well, and on top of that one can not logically count the Penguins out of any game they are playing in.
Furthermore, the Penguins open the postseason against none other than the Philadelphia Flyers. That alone makes for an epic postseason. The Flyers are injured and their goalies are streaky despite having good numbers and records. At this point, I have to give the edge to the Penguins based on their high-powered offense and the Flyers' shoddy defense, but anything is possible when these two teams meet.
The Penguins still have a lot to fight through if they make it past the Flyers, though. If they make it far enough, they will have to face either Boston or New York, both opponents could spell disaster for the Penguins. To me, I don't see the Pens making it past either Boston or New York. Sorry, Pittsburgh, you'll have to wait until next season.
St. Louis Blues
I may have sounded like I was in love with the Rangers, but I truly am in love with the St. Louis Blues. They have bested every playoff team during the regular season and have put up great numbers throughout the season. They have seen excellent play from captain David Backes and T.J. Oshie and will continue to see a heightened level of play come postseason.
This is really a gut prediction, but I like what I've seen from them so far. The Blues outshine any other team that they might have to face. I feel like this is the Blues' season, and that they will do anything to capitalize on the success they've had this year.
I'm sorry, Canucks faithful, but I smell an upset this year and foresee another riot in the streets of Vancouver. The Canucks have played very well this season, and it's been rewarded in the form of the President's Cup. It's just that I don't see them beating the Blues.
Don't get me wrong; the Canucks are an outstanding team that deserve a shot in the finals, but, again, I have the feeling that this is St. Louis' year, and that nothing will stop the Blues en route to a Stanley Cup.
Stanley Cup Final
The Final Series
For the final game, I see the New York Rangers taking on the St. Louis Blues, with the Blues coming away with a championship. To many this may sound bold, but it's what I'm betting on this year, and I advise everyone else to do the same.
The series will be close, however. The series will probably go the distance and be decided in the final game. I'll take the Blues over the Rangers in a knock-out, high-scoring brawl for the title!